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Are You Going to Scarborough Fair?
A Mnemosyne story
Start at the beginning of the Mnemosyne series
Someone once told me that the most potent human sense was smell. Scents trigger the most intense memories, bring you back to the past as accurately as a picture. For me, that hasn't been true. My sense of nostalgia and emotional impact is linked to sound.
The impact, in this case, was that of a cold knife of sensation up my spine. My muscles writhed and clutched together, turning into a Gordian knot of tension and fear. It was as if the sound was invested with a physicality that rocked me back - my entire body jumped an inch in every direction.
I hadn't intended to reply. Well, I'm not sure I intended NOT to reply. There simply wasn't any conscious thought put into the question. The shock of hearing his voice set my body on autopilot, and the response was my natural course of action.
My question was greeted with a darkly familiar chuckle. It had a condescending tone, but one that invited the target to participate in the joke rather than remain on the losing side of the humor, if only you would just CHANGE whatever it was that was the trigger of the laughter. "Who else would it be?"
I drew in breath to respond, and realized that I had not the slightest idea what to say. I was not prepared to believe that this was Kevin, and not a delusional figment of my imagination. My mind had reached a certain point of inertia of faith - that place at which the evidence of a thing in which you do not wish to believe has mounted to the point where you have no emotional or logical recourse than to start believing, and buy in completely. From there it is a downhill slope, each small piece of data collected, be it real or imagined, doubly reinforcing that this thing you had no desire to see in the first place is real and right there in front of you.
I had begun to truly believe in the strange events that were surrounding me. Kevin's voice was contrary to the new rationality that I had been constructing in my mind to fit onto my world. Thus, it was even difficult to react to it in a proper fashion, if a proper fashion could even be found absent any universal strangeness.
He had assaulted my father, psychologically and emotionally abused me for years, and robbed me of both money and pride. How does one go about behaving around such a person, years after the fact? There existed within me a conflicting desire borne of the fantasy into which my reality has changed. I wished both to have revenge upon him, and get the screaming closure for which the wounded parts of my soul still longed. Yet, at the same time, I wished badly to continue to try and forget my hurts, to erase them as I had destroyed shopping centers and work bus routes, so that I could exist in some formless void with Kevin, devoid of anything other than the presence of someone to which I had given my entire being. Because I knew that if I gave into that desire, that would be the final rendering of the universe in my mind - only Kevin and I existing in nothingness.
"What, nothing to say? You called Kathleen and asked about me, you'd think you actually had something to say." He always called his mother Kathleen. That was something that had always bothered me about him.
"It's good to hear your voice." It wasn't. I don't know why I said that. I replayed the conversation a thousand times in my mind, wondering what possessed me to say it. Good was the last feeling associated with his voice. Terror. Gut-wrenching anguish. Confusion, temerity, manic hilarity, any of those would have been a better choice. Not good. I have wondered each and every time that if I had responded differently, with something else, if I could have avoided everything that came after. I'm sure that I could not, but that doesn't stop the niggling pain in the back of my head that a silly thoughtless response destroyed everything in my life.
"Oh, good? I'm glad to hear it." It was impossible to tell if he was being honest or not. His words dripped with gratitude, dropping every hint of sarcasm and condescension. "I'm sorry Kathleen acted so strangely. Things have been difficult."
"I understand." My reply was short as I cut off a quavering in my voice. My throat seemed to seize for a moment before I could continue. "How have you been?" I desperately did not want to know. What had it been like, not existing?
"I'm well, now. Everything that happened . . . it was difficult. More so for you, I'm sure. But, it finally hit home with me how bad things had gotten, and that I needed to make a change. I wish I could say that I never fell down again after that, but it wouldn't be true. There's . . .I'm clean now. That's what's important. I'm clean and I'm getting my life back together. It's great to hear from you. I've wanted to call you, but thought it best not to. I just . . .I wanted to say I'm sorry." Kevin's words came in a torrent, difficult to pull one apart from the next. It was so out of character for him that the already strange situation took on an air of absurdity. It was the way I always wished he'd spoken to me - in great torrents of truth and revelation.
There had been many times when I imagined this exact phone call from Kevin. I pictured a great dam inside of me bursting open in a flood of emotion, and the feeling of release that I would be granted at finally having him say the things I needed him to say. Though the words came, the dam did not burst. There was only a dull ache of disbelief in my chest, and a feeling of emptiness and loss, like waking from a pleasant dream and trying to hold onto it as long as possible.
"I. . .well . . .look, there are things that . . .ummmm. I . . . just don't know what to say right now." For the first time in the conversation, the truth tore itself free from the prison of my patterns. The number of questionary threads in my consciousness was too large for me to tie together into a simple knot. What Kevin real? Was he sincere? What did he remember? How did he feel about things? It was too much. "I've got a thing tonight, and I need to . . .this just isn't a good time for this. I want to talk, but I need some time to process this." Again, the truth, burning my lips. It hurt to even speak to him.
"You have a date?" Even as confused as I was, the warning flags went up immediately. Kevin's one honest emotion, the only facet of himself not obscured by pretense and illusion, was jealousy. He would get irritated when people on the bus looked at me, and incensed if I flirted even a bit while at a club. For all of his manipulations, he clung to the idea of me like a life preserver on the Titanic. And, like Leonardo di Caprio, he went down with that ship.
I did NOT want Kevin getting involved in my life while I was trying to put something together with Theodore. I think it was then that it first occurred to me that choosing Kevin to return to the world was a huge mistake. Desperation overpowered truth in that moment. "No, no, I don't have a date. I just need some time."
"Ok. I can understand that. You were the offended party, obviously. I'll give you a little space. Still, it's nice hearing from you again." The words were reasonable and apologetic. The tone was not.
"Yeah, you too." Again, it wasn't.
"I'm . . .should I let you go now?" He'd let me go years ago. He'd never really HAD me, only his illusions and delusions.
"Yeah, I think that would be best. We'll talk again soon." I hoped that I'd kept the eagerness to get off of the phone out of my voice. If there was anything I could count on Kevin for, it was extending conversations when he thought someone didn't want to talk to him. He derived real pleasure in creating social awkwardness, and watching the ensuing squirming. He was a sadist that way.
"I'm sure that we will." He put an odd emphasis on the word 'sure'. It made me uncomfortable the way he said it - like he knew where I was and was watching me right at that very moment. Like the beginning of a horror movie. It was so unsettling to me that I hung up immediately.
There were several hours to kill before I had to meet Theodore downtown. I decided to workout at the gym and try to burn the taste of the conversation with Kevin out of my mouth. Often when I have difficulty with a situation, I'll just hit the treadmill and run until I can't string two thoughts together about it anymore. It's a satisfying way to resolve my problems - I get to forget things and look good at the same time.
The trouble with that was that I didn't want to forget Kevin again. I wasn't sure where I stood regarding his return, but if I'd gone to the trouble of recreating him, I didn't want to simply banish him again. So I decided to try and keep him in the back of my mind while I ran, rather than simply let exhaustion obliviate him.
That workout was an irritating experience. I like to move my mind into a thoughtless zen when I run. I was too frightened of doing that, not only because of Kevin, but because I was worried that if I did manage to find a space devoid of the thought, the whole world would cease to exist. So, I trotted for what seemed to be endless miles on the treadmill, counting the number of times the seams in the tread rolled past. Each time the stress-whitened line on the dark rubber came up over the lip of the machine, I'd try to think of something different in my life. Papa Poppa, Theodore, my apartment, SitSurvey, Pauline, Janice . . . . Kevin. The words became a mantra in my head, repeated with care not to make the sounds and feel of the images associated meaningless with repetition.
After the workout, I went back to my apartment and showered, and then had another hour to kill, so took a small nap. Sleep had been a dicey prospect since the entire whatever it was had started. There was a real worry that if I went to sleep I wouldn't wake up, or if I did things would be terribly wrong. In the end, it was a fear that I had to swallow. I don't function well on no sleep, and have basically an impossible time keeping myself awake. After a few nights of waking to find the Earth still existed, I became more comfortable with the idea. So, an afternoon nap wasn't out of the question.
When I woke, I realized that I had done no planning for what to do if the proper bus to take me to downtown didn't arrive. My work bus hadn't, so there was really no reason to suspect that a route I rarely took would still be in operation. I settled the matter by sitting on my couch for a long few minutes and bringing up every memory I could find about a bus I had only been on four or five times. When I went downtown, I nearly always went straight from work, not my apartment.
It could have been luck, or it could have been a direct result of my conscious attempt to summon the bus, but when I got to the stop, it had just pulled up and was letting people on. The vehicle actually started to pull away from the curb as I was walking up, and I had to run up to the front and pound on the door a few times to get the driver to stop. As I got on, he muttered an annoyed "Be on time."
The street fair that happens weekly in town is a lively affair. It starts at noon and usually wraps up at the same time the bars close, around 2 in the morning. For the majority of the day, a great tent city takes over roughly eight city blocks, shutting down traffic to the streets and filling them with row upon row of shops selling anything you can imagine. As the day winds down, the knick-knack vendors begin to move out and the eateries and bars move in. Every type of liquor and bar snacks is sold, and public drunkenness is politely ignored by the police unless it gets out of hand. The fair is kind of unique out of city fairs in that it continues year round, even through the winter. Hot cocoa is sold at every third stall, and one street is always completely cleared and filled with a thin layer of water to make an ice skating rink where races and hockey games are held. It is a mix and mash of everything the city has to offer, where streets become rivers of laughing and crying people, each shoving against the others as they move to and fro in the bustle of life. I hate it.
When I got off the bus I was cursing myself for not setting a more specific meeting place with Theodore. The crowd on the streets was thick with people wearing black wool winter jackets, and picking him out of that haystack would be difficult at best. I wandered for nearly thirty minutes through the crowds, passing through all manner of shouted conversation and laughter, as well as swimming through the scents of a thousand deep fryers bubbling oil in below freezing weather. I finally planted my foot on the cement base of a lamppost and hoisted myself above the crowd to get a good look around.
I spotted Theodore almost immediately. He was seated on a dolly full of empty beer kegs only half a block away. My first impulse was to start waving wildly. That did not have the desired effect, as half the crowd on the street started waving at me and cheering. I quickly ducked down off of the lamp and cut my way through the mass of people until I found the stand of kegs.
Theo grinned at me and waved his arms hugely as I walked up. "That was like that scene in that movie where the guy walks across the crowd of people in the subway." He laughed and reached out to take my hand, which I gave to him.
"I think that was a Crocodile Dundee movie, nerd." Theodore wasn't really much of a nerd. He preferred to watch rugby to chess. Still, knowing a scene from a Crocodile Dundee movie was pretty nerdy. It was cute, but after my talk with Kevin, I didn't want to talk about movies.
"How are you doing?" It was a question I didn't really want to answer. I wanted to talk to Theodore about what was going on, but how do you explain that you are apparently the be all and end all of the world without sounding completely insane? You don't. I also wasn't ready to talk about Kevin, but I felt that I owed him some kind of explanation.
"I've had kind of a weird day. I got a call from an old boyfriend. He wanted to talk about old times, but I wasn't ready for that kind of interaction with him. We had a bad falling . . ." I trailed off, because something in the crowd had caught my eye.
"You had a bad falling out? Is that what you were going to say? Are . . . are you ok?" Theo's voice caught in a moment of concern as he stared at me. I wasn't look at him, but rather over his shoulder, my eyes staring into the crowd. There was no answer that could come to my lips as the burning and clawed hand of panic closed around my throat, choking off any response. All I could do was raise my arm and point vaguely into the crowd. Theodore turned to look, a questioning expression on his face.
Standing out from the horde of people thirty feet away was a tall black top hat, which I was certain was perched upon the head of Kevin.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010