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Old Wounds Revisited
A Mnemosyne story
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I was twenty-three when I became God.
The early twenties is an age when deific passions are prone to run their course through a man, and in retrospect I am not surprised that I was chosen for this sort of Becoming. There had always been a feeling buried deep in my heart that I was different that those around me. I know that is true for many people, but for all of my life when looking into a mirror, I knew that the world would flex to my whim. It should have been apparent to me far earlier than it, in fact, was. I had always led a charmed life, never wanting for anything and having only to stretch out my hand and reach for what I desired in order to receive it. I am only surprised in my own failure to understand the consequences of a successful life, and what it would mean for a man without the scars of struggle and toil to be granted his every wish.
That is not to say that I did not have my share of defeats in life, or that I am lazy. I have worked diligently when I wanted something badly enough, and have experienced the same rises and falls in life and love to which all people are subject. No, I was simply born handsome, intelligent, and charming, and when one possesses these qualities in abundance, life opens up before you as a broad and easy downhill slope.
When I look in the mirror I see dark curly hair, casually tousled in a fetching way framing a slender fey looking face. Tousled hair is a difficult illusion to weave, and one that I have spent many hours laboring over; I'm quite proud of it. I have olive skin and dark eyes, which is fitting from my Greek ancestry. In fact, I'm sure that if I visited more museums I could find old statues and busts that look very much like me. I am blessed with a look of the ages, and it has helped me tremendously, as have the many hours I have spent at the gym to maintain my appearance. My father has always told me I take after my mother, and in old photos I can see the resemblance. She died just after I was born, and I was raised solo by my father, Stephanos Poppadoppolis, or Papa Poppa as he was called around the neighborhood.
In a satisfying dovetail of my looks, my mind has always been quick. My father has described me in the past as "smart enough to be stupid." Early on in my childhood I stood out from my peers in all matters academic. The basic building blocks of modern education came easily to me, so I never learned the skills of putting effort into my work. Study was a concept alien to me. All the way through my graduation from Feldon University as a business and IT double major school was merely a social vehicle and financial building block for me. I was not motivated by any love of learning.
I was, however, motivated by a desire for money and status. I was lucky that the program at Feldon was well regarded on a national level, as it allowed me to live at home and help my father with his gyro shop. We were not poor growing up - on the contrary we were quite well off, as my father owned several apartment complexes in the city. He was a great lover of the Greek American stereotype, however, and his great love was in wearing a thick black moustache and selling bad gyros to college students.
I spent many formative years in Papa Poppa's, and I definitely have my father to thank for my solid financial grounding and business sense, both at the business and company levels. My father was a strange man, having a sense of financial wizardry and then dressing like one of the Super Mario brothers. But I loved him and when he asked that I work for him to help pay for my education, I was happy to do so. Living in one of his apartments free of rent and off campus helped add to my popularity, which was a bonus in the equation.
When I entered college the tech bubble had long since burst, but it was still broadly obvious that tomorrow's upper class will ride to the lofty heights on a wave of abstract digital information. An average college program in technology trains students to be computer scientists. The field of the computer scientist is university itself - in theories and elegant solutions to obscure postulations. Many students never realize this, expecting to fall out of the back of the university and into an upper middle class job at a tech firm. Those days had ended before my fellows and I had ever arrived, and I did not wish to be groomed to reside in an academic bubble. I chose to create a bridge between the practical side of our computer science program and Feldon's business school.
The work at Feldon was not difficult, but as I had never learned to study and had limited time to apply myself, I required help to succeed at the level I desired. Thus, I developed skill at networking and group motivation that proved quite useful to me after graduation. I was charming and popular, and certainly would not drag any group I joined down. So I had no end of offers of study groups and project mates. If someone else is willing to push the car, shouldn't you sit in the driver's seat and steer? They contributed answers and ways of thinking that I needed, and I contributed me. That may appear to be a self-gratifying ego stroke, but I believe that my contributions were valuable to those groups. Any person joining a group affects the dynamic of that group in some fashion, altering the relationships of its participants, the flow of its conversations, and any number of other factors. It is quite possible for a person's mere presence to improve the quality of work produced by a group, and I have always been such a person.
After my graduation I had the tools of my success in my grasp. What I lacked was an overarching path or goal, and experience. My grades at Feldon had been good enough to earn my consideration at nearly any large scale tech conglomerate to which I applied, and my fraternity contacts could certainly have put me in touch with the appropriate people with whom to speak. However, I felt that immediately entering a large company like that would only train me to be a flunky, rather than give me the room necessary to flex my wings a little. So I chose to apply to small companies and businesses that would have only half-fledged IT departments. New places that wouldn't have established pecking orders to the fifth degree up the promotional ladder. Managing one employee at a fried chicken shack is better than being a drone at a Fortune 500 company.
That is how I found myself entering the IT department at SitSurvey a year ago. It was a small company that large companies hired to administer their business intelligence and customer satisfaction surveys. It was not a glorious name to build my reputation on, but I smelled opportunity as soon as I walked in the door. The wide spread of cubicles, half-empty and littered with the remains of a constantly revolving workforce, showed a company that barreled along buoyed solely by the tidal wave of money that was being thrown at them, rather than any type of business acumen or efficiency. Any company that posts slogan posters that read "Leverage Yourself!" in its bathroom is not being helmed by the likes of Warren Buffet.
The IT department was small when I entered, consisting of myself, a fresh out of high school girl named Janice, and the IT Director Ronald Reagan. Ron claimed that he had been an actor in his younger days, specializing in cowboy roles, and changed his name to honor the man whose career and politics he emulated. I doubted the part about his acting career, as the man was barely over five feet and almost as round as he was tall, but he certainly emulated the ex-President's memory capabilities. He was the kind of IT man that had cut his teeth on the old steel colossi mainframes that once squatted like great spiders to catch thrashing geeks in their webs. His day had come and gone, and he knew it, and was simply whiling away his time until retirement in this backwater. I think he may actually have been named Ronald Reagan by his parents and just wanted a nice story to tell people when they asked.
Janice, on the other hand, was quite sharp. SitSurvey was the type of place where septum piercings and metal spikes driven through the folds in the skin of your neck were not bars in the way of being hired. She was the type to come on strong and attempt to intimidate quickly by showing you how intelligent she was, and how little she cared about you. I knew the type before meeting her, and easily turned things around with her by creating a united front against Management. At the first I was worried that she would be competition. Janice was almost as smart as she believed herself to be, and had seniority of nearly a year over me with the company. However, it quickly became clear that the last thing she wanted to do was to move up the rungs of the SitSurvey ladder. She was simply getting some work experience before she pursued a higher education. I helped to connect her with some old professors at Feldon, and after that we were war buddies in the IT trenches.
The main responsibility of IT at SitSurvey was to maintain the workstations that fed the drones their surveys out in the cubefarm. The age and care that had been previously put into these machines dictated that this was a never ending treadmill of irritation. The drones had an incredibly high turnover rate, and thus were not enfranchised enough to begin thinking about caring for their workspace. At least one drone a week was fired for surfing porn while on the job, and subsequently infecting their PC with all manner of viruses and spyware. Fixing a machine involved balancing precariously between sticky puddles of dried soda and layers of snot wiped on cube walls and desks. The cubefarm was the death of humanity.
It was not a pleasant work existence, but every day I could feel the sand of work experience add weight to my resume. All I needed to make my decision to work in this minor level of Hell worthwhile was a year in a management position. I had no particular love for Ron, but I also had no grief with the man, so if I was going to rise, I did not want it to be at his expense. Unfortunately, he was as intractable in dealing with new ideas as his namesake, so for a year I was relegated to my role as fix-it man. My opportunity finally came when Ron was away on vacation, and I was asked to look into the feasibility of a new survey administration software package. I'd already designed a new system myself and presented it to Ron, but he turned me down, citing budget problems and the man hours it would require as too large to consider. When the Shark asked for a meeting with me, I was ready.
The Shark is a type of man I can respect, but not like. He's always swimming through the office, in and out of the cubes and break rooms, looking for blood in the water. It's how he makes his mark to his seniors - by presenting the dead carcasses of inefficient employees to the gods of Management. He is so fiendishly clever in spinning his role in these situations as saving, or even making the company money that I cannot help but admire his slippery cunning. As a human being he has as much value as a Brillo pad, but as a Shark he swims with the best of them. I'm only lucky that at that meeting it wasn't my blood he smelled in the water, but Ron's.
Ron and the Shark had been at each other's throats for years. The Shark lacked any technical knowhow at all, so Ron was able to technobabble the man into a confused holding pattern for nearly a decade. Impressive from a man that needs to spend fifteen minutes every day trying to remember where he parked. I had given the Shark the opportunity he had been looking for and within a few weeks, Ron was on the way to enjoy his new retirement, and I was being promoted to position of IT Director. Janice was nothing but happy, as Ron tried to play grab ass with her at every company event. After a year of dealing the pedantry of being a plumber for data pipes, I had arrived at the first step in my career.
I decided that it was a time for celebration, was feeling quite generous and full of life. My father had just renovated the top floor of an executive apartment building, so he offered the lounge as a location. He was quite proud of me, and told me that I could invite anyone. This was quite a big deal for my father, as I have not always had the most trustworthy or responsible of friends. It meant quite a bit to me. It was also the beginning of the end - where I begin the real tale of how I must end.
My father's offer stirred up emotions and memories in me that I had quite carefully buried as deep as possible, forcing them out of my mind with a zealotry bordering on religious fervor. His voice on the phone when he made the offer was rich with emotion, and he slipped into Greek, something he hadn't done since the last night I saw Kevin.
Kevin was my first real love, and like most first real loves, it was a great damaging experience. We met within my first few weeks at Feldon at an outdoor folk festival on the campus quad. I had no particular interest in folk music, and was there only because it was the social place to be for the evening. After a few hours of awkward dancing on the grass, I volunteered to take a stint at a vegetarian animal rights booth among the proselytizing cause stands that always surrounded the quad. I am neither a vegetarian, nor particularly concerned with animal rights, but I was concerned about the blisters rapidly forming on my feet, and I wanted to sit down for a while. I knew the people sitting at the booth, and they let me give them a break and take sign-ups while they went out and danced.
While I sat resting, the oddest person I had even seen sauntered up to the booth. He was wearing a deerstalker cap, and had a great curved pipe in his mouth, which he was smoking, a Pixies T-shirt, and no shoes at all. Attractive is not a quality I would quite place on him. He was slightly pudgy around the waist, and his hands and feet were too small for his height, and he had a scraggly half-grown beard that did not make him look wild and unkempt in a sexy way in the slightest. As I sat there looking up at him, he adjusted his glasses, which looked to have been soldered together in several places, took his pipe out of his mouth, blew a smoke ring into the air, and said "Now, now, Watson, the game is afoot." And that is how I met Kevin.
I am not into geeks. I like tidy people that seem to be complete packages wrapped neatly and efficiently. Geeks are all loose ends and things poking out at odd angles. Not my cup of tea at all. However, there was something so bizarre about Kevin that he transcended a simple description such as geek. He was probably the funniest person I have ever known, given to loud and proud public antics to drum laughter from even the most taciturn of our professors. He was also in Feldon's technology track, though he was also considering philosophy. He said he needed a practical field to fall back on if his IT plans didn't work out. Kevin was the first person to love me not for how I looked or for my social standing, but because I did things like crinkle my nose in a way he liked when I laughed. I will always be thankful to him for that, and I will always be angry at him for failing me.
Kevin was not a person that marched to the normal social rhythm. He would have long delayed silences, and then respond while someone else was talking as if no time had passed at all. He and my father did not get along at all. As always, I should have listened to my Papa when he gave me advice, but I was in love, and giving advice to someone in love is like using a spoon to empty an ocean. The odd behavior was endearing to me at first, but over time it began to become more and more erratic.
After two years together, Kevin began disappearing for hours at a time. Things would disappear from my apartment. He had trouble remembering to attend his classes and his grades began to slip. Finally, near the end of a semester, he simply disappeared for a week. I actually filled out a missing person's report for him, and canvassed every neighborhood around Feldon posting pictures of him. When he arrived at my apartment in filthy clothes and smelling of urine with no explanations, I had had enough. I told him I couldn't see him anymore and kicked him out.
After asking around with some of his old friends, I discovered that Kevin had been a heroin addict for as long as I had known him. Knowing him, he started using heroin solely to emulate Sherlock Holmes as some sort of obscure joke. I curse myself for an idiot for not putting the obvious pieces together during our relationship, but I had never been exposed to any sort of drug abuse before. It is difficult not to wonder what parts of our relationship were real and which were only a dream wrapped in a drug induced haze. Were the parts of Kevin that I loved real, or solely the product of a drug? The thoughts were difficult for me, and I had great difficulty in coping.
Thankfully, Kevin did me one last great favor. While I was staying with some friends and attempting to recover from the broken relationship, he tried to rob my father's store after hours. He chose the one night my father was there late taking inventory, of course. He could never simply choose the easy path. Papa Poppa was not about to let the S.O.B. who broke his son's heart rob him blind as a going away present, and they fought. My Papa ended up getting slashed across the face with a knife, and Kevin ran off. For some reason Papa chose not to press charges against Kevin for the incident. I've never asked why. But, that was the last either of us saw of Kevin. Papa was left with a scar on his face, and I was left with one on my heart.
That incident made it much easier for me to handle the loss. Despite everything, I could not seem to stop loving Kevin. However, was so over the top that I decided the best way to deal with it was to simply put it out of my mind and not think about it. I did such an effective job of this that even in attempting to relate the story I've told a lie about it. I said that I had suffered no great tragedies, but of course I have. It is simply so difficult for me to even think about Kevin now that I unintentionally erase him from my own account of my life. It was difficult, so I ruthlessly obliterated it from my being.
My father's Greek had stirred all of this up in me after years, and I decided that if he was going to give me carte blanche for my party, I would invite Kevin. There was a mix of curiosity and spite in my decision, and also somewhat sadly, love. I wanted him to see how well I was doing, and to see how much he had destroyed his life, which I was sure he had. I thought that it might give me some kind of closure after all of this time, to help suture the wounds I hadn't even remembered I possessed. I asked my father what he thought about it on the phone, and his response surprised me. "Kevin who?"
I laughed it off, sure he was joking, and told him that I would come by the store and see him the next day, which I did. He was making a take-out box for a young man with a mohawk when I walked in, and he waved me back behind the counter for a hug, issuing into his regular tirades about not seeing him enough since I started working for the "survey devils." We had our usual visit, with me helping him behind the counter, and him catching me up on the more interesting details of his tenant's lives. Toward the end of the visit, I pressed the question again, asking "Papa, are you ok with me inviting Kevin to my party?"
He gave me a strange look and wrinkled his moustache, which he only does when he's puzzled by something. "Son, you keep asking me for this Kevin. Who is this Kevin you are insistent about?" I laughed at this again, nervous now. Papa was using his serious tone of voice and seemed concerned that he had forgotten something important to me. It was so incongruous that if it was a joke it was a poor one, and my Papa doesn't make poor jokes.
I began to speak, to make a comment about the Papa's scar, but as my eyes were pulled to it by the thought, I realized that there was no scar on my father's face. Only the clean lines of age ran across his sweaty dusky skin. And that was when my world really changed for the first time, though I wouldn't understand it until later. I healed my Papa, but I broke the world.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010