Earning Wisdom

“I thought I would never see you again.”

She sat across him, the same serene smile that he remembered from that day years ago. She was older, and her eyes reflected the trials that her path had taken her through. When she emailed him saying that she would be in his city, he didn’t dare to believe it. Then he gave her his phone number, and she called him.

He recognized the voice instantly. They only spoke for a few minutes, but in that time she had arranged to meet him, as well as say a few things about her life now. She had married, and had a son. Her new job involved a lot of travel, so she would be in his city for a few days. Would he like to meet and catch up?

He said no.

She said she understood. She wished him well, and hung up.

He called her back 15 seconds later.

“You are not seeing me again,” she replied mischievously. “You are seeing me again for the first time.”

“You’re right.”

“I am happy that you decided to meet me.”

“I am too. At first I wasn’t sure but,” he couldn’t finish the sentence.

She didn’t ask for it to be completed. The waiter brought a new pot of tea.

“So… how are you?”

“I am well, thank you.” She sipped her new cup of steaming tea. “You are well?”

“I’m good. I moved here after… when…” he searched for the right words. “I moved here to find myself.”

“You are still searching?”

He thought about the question. The tea was just right. Not scalding, but hot enough to warm his insides. It was a cold day outside. “Yes and no.”

She said nothing, waiting.

He was silent. It wasn’t an awkward silence, though. She’s always had what he believed to be an endless amount of patience, especially for him. She was comfortable with simply being in a place, until she wasn’t there anymore. It unnerved him, initially, but he soon appreciated the trait greatly.

“I know that I’m not complete. I’ve found the beginning of my journey, but I’m not at the end yet.” He paused. “That’s not exactly how I feel, but that’s as close as I can get to describing it right now.”

“You’ve let go of the anchor that held you down in the middle of your journey, and you are now resuming it.” Her voice was quiet but certain. “You gave me the same gift, you know.”

“I did?”

“You let me go. I would have waited for you, but you did not ask me to.”

The thought confused him, but it didn’t feel wrong. “I didn’t know what I was going to do at the time. All I knew was that I was bound to return home. It wouldn’t have been right to ask that of you.”

She just smiled, teacup at her lips. “I was not wrong to love you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“There is nothing to be sorry about. We lost nothing, and we are here today.” She shrugged. “Do not regret, my friend. Love is limitless, if you let it be.”

Her phone, resting on the table, warbled a happy tune. A picture of a young boy was on the screen. “My son,” she said, picking up the phone.

Just as she started to speak, his phone also bleeped. His boss. She nodded. He picked up his phone as stepped away to take the call.

She had just finished her tea when he got back to the table.

“I have to go.”

“I know.” She stood up. “It’s been settled,” she said, indicating the little tray with a generous tip. “Thank you for being here.”

After a moment of hesitation, he stepped into her and hugged her tightly. She reciprocated.

“This will not be the last time, I hope?” he said into her ear.

“Never.”

“Until next time then.”

They parted ways, and resumed their journeys.


This was written as part of The Daily Post‘s Writing 101 prompt, The Serial Killer, Part II.

“… you wrote a post about losing something. Today, write about finding something.”

The response to the first part of the Serial Killer exercise is here.

Thank you to Neil Gaiman, who said: “Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it.”

Obligations of the Lost

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha

“You can stay with me. We’ll figure it out.” Her face was serene as always. That’s why she would be good for him. She never worried, never fretted.

“You don’t know how much I want to stay.” He held her hand tenderly. “You’ve been so kind to me.”

She smiled at him.

“You’re going home.”

“Yes.”

“I know.” She looked far away. “I understand.” Acceptance. It was part of her. She did her best, and was at peace no matter what the result. Once he thought that she simply hid her emotions well. No one could just accept all the things that didn’t go their way. She was an exception. It was Buddhism, she said.

“You only lose what you cling to.” – Buddha

He didn’t know what to say.

She said nothing. The breeze sent strands of dark brown hair into her face. She brushed them back into place with her free hand.

He was suddenly fighting back tears. There was no way he was going to let himself cry. Not with her.

“It’s a beautiful afternoon,” she said quietly. “Let’s walk back.”

She stood and tugged at his hand. He followed, still struggling to compose himself.

The unfamiliar streets passed by in a haze. She guided him through, wordlessly, gently. Her strawberry scent melded with the smells of the streets. The put-put of the scooters and the unintelligible voices of street vendors reached his ears, but left no impression. They arrived at his hotel after an indeterminate amount of time. He’d lost touch with his senses. All he could focus on was her, and his slowly swelling grief.

Back in his room, she guided him to the bed and undressed him, then made love to him. For that brief moment, he forgot that he was leaving this amazing woman. Her ministrations comforted him, washing over and through his welling emotions like the waters of the Lethe.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

She lay beside him, running her fingers through his hair, her eyes bright. “Thank you,” she said, “for everything.” Never bitterness. As always, she showed her heart. Never anything but the truth, no matter how hard for her.

He smiled back, held her head in his hands, and kissed her forehead. It was one of the most difficult things he’d ever done in his life, that smile, that kiss. He knew she was saying goodbye, but she would not say the words. He knew he had to let her go, because he would not stay.

The welling emptiness that had begun to fill him that afternoon had dissipated. As her parting gift she had taken it away. He knew he could never emulate her. “I will miss you,” he said.

She melted into his arms, wrapping him in a tight embrace. Her wet cheek touched his, her scent enveloping his consciousness. “When you remember me,” she said into his ear, “help someone. Be kind to others, and to yourself. We are all flawed beings, doing our best to live our lives. You have your own path, and I have mine.” She kissed him, one final deep kiss. “When I remember our time together, it will always bring a smile.”

She stood and dressed in the darkness, the only illumination streaming in through the window from the neon of the city below. Then she stood at the doorway, looked at him one last time, and walked through. The door closed behind her with a quiet click.

He could not see her face, but he knew she was smiling.

“In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?”
– Buddha


This was written as part of The Daily Post‘s Writing 101 prompt, The Serial Killer.

“Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.”

Thank you to Sugar, who encouraged me to finish this piece, and the others to follow.

Revolving Doors

“You know I’m divorced. I’ve been in a similar situation.”

“I know. I’m not saying that you don’t understand.”

There was a pause at the other end of the line. He knew she was being careful.

“You know you can speak freely. You know you can’t hurt me.

Silence.

“I haven’t been alone in twenty years.” It was his turn to pause. “Ok, that’s not true. I’ve been alone for the last ten. Even with a bunch of people around me all the time, I was alone. I’ve told you this, I think.”

“You have, indirectly.”

“Yeah. I tell you things I tell no one else. I still don’t know why.”

“I tell you things I don’t tell anyone else either. I’m just as clueless.”

“We’ve been talking for six years. If we didn’t talk about these things, we would have run out of things to say to each other a long time ago I guess.”

He knew she was still on the other end, quiet.

“You still have apprehensions?”

“Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.”

He tossed the contradictions in her accent around in his mind. This has always been a completely irrational thing for him. And yet, here he was.

“I need to ask again. Would you meet me?”

“I don’t know.”

“So there’s only one way to find out. I’ll show up at the airport, and wait for you.”

“Are you serious?”

“For the first time in twenty years, I can do this. So yes, I am serious.”

“What if I told you to not come?”

He paused for a beat. “I would anyway. I need to find out if this is real or a mirage. What we have right now is an illusion.”

“I really don’t know.”

“I’m sorry if this feels like I’m forcing you to decide. There’s been enough time. Everything that we can say without being face-to-face has been said. Let’s find out if this relationship can survive, well, us.”

“You’ll come here?”

“I’ll be at your airport the afternoon of Friday. I will email you a picture of me when I land. If you’re there, you can decide if you want to approach me or not.”

He waited for a response. More silence.

“In the end the decision will be yours. The cost of travelling to your city is worth knowing if you can overcome your fear. I’m not afraid anymore. I have nothing left to lose. All I ask is if you decide to not meet me, email me goodbye. You’ll not hear from me again.”

Her voice was soft, but steady. “Please understand… I can’t promise you anything.

“I know you can’t. See you soon.”

 

Open Door

“Goodbye.”

“That’s it then? Twenty years, just ‘goodbye’?”

“If I tried to kiss you you’d kick me in the nuts. Or slip a knife between my ribs.”

“I could have done that last night if I wanted to.”

“Do you?”

“Right now, no. I’ve thought about it though.”

“So, yeah, goodbye.”

“You’re not going to apologize?”

“I’ve already said I’m sorry. Several times. This is my fault.”

“That’s not the apology I want.”

“I don’t know what you want. I don’t understand. That’s why I’m standing at this door right now.”

“Oh really? And you understand what she wants?”

“Our relationship isn’t like that.”

“You don’t seriously think I’m going to believe you’re not fucking the slut.”

“I’m not. You don’t know her. We just… talk. We listen to each other. I was lonely for so very long. She listens and doesn’t judge me.”

“I don’t judge you.”

“You do. We’ve had this discussion before.”

“I don’t judge you!”

“See, you’re not listening. Only I know if someone’s judging me, and you’re judging me. That’s how it feels.”

“Stop being so condescending!”

“I’m not, I’m just saying that we haven’t had sex. I haven’t cheated on you. Ever.”

“You don’t call that cheating on me? You spend time with this woman. You tell her things you don’t tell me!”

“We both have secrets.”

“That’s not a secret, it’s another woman!”

“She’s a friend.”

“Yeah right.”

“She is.”

“Tell me with a straight face that you’re not going to sleep with her, you’re not going to move in with her, you’re not going to marry her.”

“I don’t know what the future holds.”

“Answered like a cornered animal.”

“You can think what you want. It doesn’t matter anymore. That’s why I’m standing at the door right now.”

“It’s so easy for you to walk away. You have the career, the money, the connections. What do I have?”

“That isn’t my fault.”

“As if you were going to stay home to take care of the kids, cook meals, clean the house, do the laundry.”

“We could have gotten a housekeeper if you wanted to work. We went over this a hundred times.”

“I’m not going to have a nanny raise my children.”

“Newsflash. A nanny did raise your children while you went shopping, partied and wasted your time.”

“Who’s judging who now?”

“Of all those things, which would you consider productive?”

“Maintaining our family’s social standing is just as important as your job.”

“I don’t want to fight anymore. That’s why I’m standing at the door.”

“Walk out that door and it’s over. There’s no turning back.”

“It was over years ago. We were just too stubborn to admit it.”

“We? You gave up. Marriage is a process. Anything can be worked through. Except you decided to cheat on me.”

“Look, I’m not going to fight anymore.”

“Who’s fighting? I’m just stating facts.”

“Those aren’t facts.”

“Yes they are.”

He looked at her for seconds that to him seemed years. The last twenty years flashed through his mind. “Thank you.”

She looked at him. So much of her was wrapped up in him. How did it come to this? She had no answer.

The door closed behind him.

“I love you.”

X’ed

I stumbled upon a letter on the path. It was an “X”. I picked it up. It was a hefty “X”, carved out of some kind of black rock. I turned it in my hands, wondering why it was on the path, and who had left it there. While running my fingers on its surface, I felt something etched onto it. On the centre of one side were the letters “ED”.

I stopped, stunned. Ed was my name. Was this “X” meant for me? Who would do this? What did it mean? Did “X” mark the spot?

I panicked. I had been walking the whole time. I looked back and retraced my steps, but every spot along the winding path through the trees looked like the last. I couldn’t remember where I had picked up the “X”.

Did this mean I was “X’ed”?

I had to find whoever left this “X” on the path. I needed to know if this was meant for me, Ed.

Three Notes

As a child of the 80s, I was raised into the New Wave era. Don’t get me wrong, I love 80s music. From my totally biased point of view, no good music emerged after the 80s signed off. That’s the catch, because I can objectively say that they made damned good music a long time before 1980.

While the soundtrack of my life is littered and scarred with pop and rock and country, classical music accentuates the highs and lows. Perhaps reflecting the dominant darker side of my muse, the cello has the unique ability to rip my soul bare. Its mournful tone takes me down to my base humanity, and gives me permission to drop all my shields. There are many, many weighty shields to lay down.

Le carnaval des animaux: Le Cygne. Carnival of Animals. The Swan. The first time I heard this, no one needed to tell me what it was about. I didn’t know what it was called. But I knew that this was a swan song, a dirge. A celebration of life and a passing all at once, the lilting piano in the background supports the thick cello-string farewells. This is one of the few things that can bring me to tears. I played it on infinite loop after my first heartbreak, until there were no more heaving, hacking teenage tears left to cry.

The Rach 3. More formally, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor. This piece of music is my secret theme song. I’ve always found it to be fascinatingly complex, and have found both triumph and rage in it at various points in my life. It’s not quite brooding, but there’s a controlled fury in the music that lends itself to times when passions demand expression. If I could play the piano, I’d spend a lot of time trying to play this piece. I’d need to, give that it’s reputedly one of the most difficult piano pieces around.

Air on a G String is one of the more popular violin pieces in existence. More properly “Air” from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068, Bach’s instantly recognizable masterpiece is a staple of weddings everywhere. I like to think of music as life’s soundtrack, and this is what a good day would sound like to me. At the end of the day, we all do the best we can with the time we’re given. “Air” is to me the sound of friends talking over a beer after work, couples making love by the fireplace, a long walk during a cool night, playing with your faithful dog on the beach at the break of dawn. It’s the sound of birds flying through the air, rain falling through a canopy of majestic trees, gentle waves caressing the sandy shore, the smell of newly-baked bread being taken from the oven. It’s strange that one tune can be all these things, but that’s exactly what this one is to me.

 

Longhand and the Bridesmaid

So. I signed up for Writing 101. It’s no so much to develop a blogging habit, as it is to sustain a writing habit. After a couple of weeks of being able to write every day, it’s suddenly a struggle again as work spikes and I have to write as part of the work. For some reason, if I need to blow a few hours on technical, report or proposal writing, I get blocked for period. I can force myself to write non-work things but it takes a lot out of me. Strangely, this doesn’t happen even if I spend hours on Excel spreadsheets. Go figure.

The first day of Writing 101 is a “free write” or stream-of consciousness writing. I’ve been doing this on and off for years in my struggle to keep my artist alive, using Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” exercise. In keeping with that practice, I do this longhand.

My handwriting is terrible. When I was a child, penmanship was something you got marks for in grade school. Being a pretty good student, my barely-passing marks in penmanship (I don’t think they ever failed anyone) really messed up my report card. Once, I got so angry and told the teacher that it was stupid to have handwriting grades count towards the averages for medals. That cost me a hit to my grade in conduct, which made me even angrier. (I had little control over my temper as a child.)

In six years of grade school, I racked up five second place finishes and one third place finish in my class. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, and all because my longhand wasn’t even close to classical cursive. I blamed it (and I still do) on my brain moving faster than my hand, and my hand cramping and hurting because of the pressure to keep up with my brain. (I will continue to believe this to this day, when my 60 wpm touch-typing speed keeps up way better than my longhand ever did. As a bonus, my hand hurts way less often.)

Ironically, I had better grades at calligraphy (I went to a school that taught Chinese language and history in addition to English). It might be because I never pressured my hand to keep up with my brain, since I think in English. It takes time to translate from English into Mandarin, and that’s assuming we weren’t just copying the characters for their structural beauty rather than for meaning.

How long will it be before people cease to learn how to handwrite altogether. Instead of a pen and paper, kids learn the “written” language with a keyboard, physical of virtual?