21 May A Life
I told him that we needed to speak about it. That he would feel so much better once he got it out there. Out of his system. He asked me why and when I had thought about it for a moment I answered, that I wasn’t sure. It’s what they say, I said, the Psychologists and Them people. The people who know things. He laughed and asked me who those people were? Laughing the way he used to laugh at me. I answered that “Them” were the people who had studied, who knew things about the human brain that he and I didn’t know. Sometimes you just have to listen to people I said. Please. He said that the people I was talking about were those who found knowledge in books and not life. There was nothing that a book can teach you, he said, if you’re not living. Are you living? I asked. But he didn’t answer, instead he pulled the cover over his head, blocking out the world, blocking out the light. Blocking me.
* * *
We met long before the problems started. Long before the demons decided to move into his mind and make him a stranger to the world. His name was Mathias and he had moved to our town from a city I never knew the name of. His parents had gotten divorced and he and his father had moved out here, just the two of them. His father was longing for nature. The city had been too much for him so they had packed up and left. No one had bothered to ask Mathias what he wanted but he had liked the city and didn’t want to leave. When we first met I asked him about his mother, where she was and if he ever missed her, but he said that his mother never wanted him. Not even when she was around. Taking care of him had been an obligation, one she was planning to get out of as quickly as she could and she had made that very clear to him ever since he was a little boy. Anyway, he didn’t think about her anymore, he said, and he’d rather we didn’t speak about her if that was OK with me.
I was lighting a cigarette when I met him. Behind the school building, hiding from the teachers, and the students who thought smoking was cool but who would tease you for doing it anyway. He asked me for a lighter and I asked him how he had planned to light the cigarette in the first place, but then offered him the lighter before he had a chance to answer my question. We got talking. He told me that I was beautiful and I told him that I wasn’t which made him laugh. It was the first time I heard the laughter and I think that’s what kept me from walking away. He asked me what my definition of beauty was and when I couldn’t answer he explained it to me, and that’s when I fell in love.
It was known in school that he was a bit of a nutcase and a loner. There were rumours going around that he’d been living in a mental institution back when he lived in the city and the move was supposed to be a fresh start for the family. Someone else said that he had driven his mother to commit suicide. I never told him about the rumours because I found it unnecessary to burden his heart with this type of petty conversation. I was never scared or worried about what people were saying. I found myself drawn to him in ways that I couldn’t explain and when my friends warned me to stay away from him, I kindly told them to keep their opinions to themselves.
My parents didn’t want me to see him. They were scared for their daughter and I didn’t blame them. We had always been a close family and I guess that the dreams they had for their perfect little girl were crushed when they realised that she wasn’t perfect after all. The first time he came to our house he was dressed in some kind of jumpsuit, all black with gloves and everything, and he had powdered his face white which made him look like some medieval ghost. When I asked him why, he said that he didn’t know how to act in situations like that. It was nerves that made him do these things. That was the first time I ever got angry with him but I didn’t tell him that. I introduced him to my parents and the looks on their faces when they saw my new friend, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
We talked and I asked him why he was insisting on making himself look like a mad man. What the hell was he getting out of it? He laughed and said that people had already made up their minds about him and that his behaviour wouldn’t make a difference either way. It’s easier, he said, to play along with the game than trying to change it. I told him that his problem was that he made life more difficult then it needed to be, attached meaning to everything. Sometimes all you need to know is that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening. Sometimes that’s enough, I said.
It is difficult to try to explain our relationship to the outside world. People ask me what I saw in him that made me stay. What the reason was behind my unbending love for someone that seemed so strange to the rest of the world. Maybe it was because his crazy stories opened my eyes to see the world in ways I had never seen it before. Or maybe it was the way he knew the secrets of my body,and how, with a glance, a caress, a touch, he could wake it, like no one else ever could. I don’t know. What I do know is that from the moment when I first met him behind that school building, I was his, utterly and completely.
I didn’t realise that something was wrong until long after I had passed the point of no return. Long after we moved into the little house, complete with pictures of happier times and a sign reading Mr and Mrs. I was happy, even excited to play the role of the wife, cooking us dinner and rubbing the dirt off his work shirts. But I had no idea what to do once the dreams started and I found myself being the one waking up with him at night, comforting him, telling him that it was only a dream. And I didn’t know what to do when he started speaking about the voices in his head. The ones that were telling him what he had to do. I told him that he needed to see someone, we couldn’t do it on our own any more and I guess something in him saw the reality of the situation and decided for once to not fight. He saw a psychologist and they told him that there was something wrong with his mind and gave him pills to take. Once a day. They said that he had a negative self-image and a warped way of seeing the world. They also said that he needed to get out of the house. Surround himself with some nature. Flowers and trees. That sort of thing. When he got back home he asked me if I still believed that psychologists were the ones who “knew” things and we laughed at that. I wasn’t too sure any more. Still I made sure that he took his one pill a day because deep down I was hoping that the psychologist did know.
We had good days and bad days. Days when he wouldn’t get out of bed and I would go about my day trying my hardest to convince myself that I wasn’t dying on the inside. And then there were days when we would sit by the beach, wrapped around each other, and he would tell me about places he wanted us to go. Places he had seen in magazines and in his mind. Someday we will go to those places, he said. Some day.
One evening he came home and told me that he had it all figured out. He had received a message and now he knew how to make it all better. I wasn’t to worry any longer, everything would be fine. I asked him about this message and he said he couldn’t get into it now, that he had sworn a vow not to tell, but in time it would all be clear.
I remember very vividly, the chill that went through my body as he was saying all of this and I remember wondering if he had forgotten to take his pill that day. When I look back at that moment now, I wonder if things would have played out differently had I been more nosey, a bit more on the case. But however much I twist and turn it, I still come to the conclusion that the forces in motion were far more powerful than I ever was.
Later that evening when we had sat down for our dinner he announced that we were going out dancing. Tomorrow night, he said. I want you to wear your best dress. I didn’t know what to think of this change of events. Change of everything that I had ever known. I wanted to ask him if he was okay but he seemed so happy, so normal. I didn’t want to ruin it with silly questions. So I put on my best dress.
The dance was really just a room that had been cleared of all furniture. But the atmosphere was refreshing. The girls were pretty in their dresses and the men were handsome. Everyone was dancing, holding on to each other or swaying their hips the way people do. To my pleasant surprise, he was talking to people, normally, almost charmingly and he even managed to crack a few jokes. I started to think that maybe, maybe this was a turning point. Maybe the message or whatever he had received had come from some higher realm. Some kind of power, finally giving him a well-deserved rest. It was one of the best nights of my life
After the dance we decided to walk home. I was feeling a little tipsy from the wine I had been drinking and I was in a good mood, chattering away more than usual but I could feel a change in him although I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t so. As we were walking I grabbed for his hand and I was expecting that familiar squeeze, the soft caressing of his thumb on my skin, assuring me that everything was fine. Through all the years and everything we had been through he had never once failed to give that to me whenever I had asked for it. But that night, his hand was limp and cold and that’s when I knew that I had lost him.
He was gone when I woke up the next morning. I got up and made breakfast but I couldn’t eat. I washed all the clothes. Dusted the house. I swept the floors and polished every piece of cutlery that I could find, just to keep myself sane while waiting for him to come home. When I was done, the clock had made its way to six and it was getting dark outside. I started preparing dinner because a part of me still believed that he would be home any minute now, hungry for a meal. I set the table and I waited.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened but at some point while I was sitting there, staring at the empty plates in front of me, it dawned on me that he wasn’t coming back. Not tonight and not ever. In that moment I knew that it was true and there was nothing else for me to do but to sit there in my solitude, and silently weep for the friend that had been taken away from me.
* * *
I wonder what was going through his head when he was firing those shots. If he knew the damage he was causing. I wonder if he would have done it if he’d known that the boy was only seventeen and that he was on his way to the supermarket to buy the ingredients he needed to make his mother a cake for her fifty-fifth birthday. And would it have made a difference if he’d known that the girl on the pavement, the one that seemed to be in a hurry, had just found out that she was pregnant and was rushing home to tell her husband the news? And finally, would he have turned the gun on himself if he’d known that I was planning to grow old with him? Planning to stay by his side until my dying day?
It amazes me, this thing we call life. How it can just grab you by the feet and turn everything upside down. He was here one day and then he was gone. And gone was the person that I had been with him. She couldn’t survive on her own.
Written By: Badria Ahmed