Tuesday, February 28, 2012


There’s still a yearning for that uncertain time when the puzzle had just been dumped out of the box, when you were separating the pieces into two piles of outside and in, then further organising these piles into colours, before working out a place to even begin.

You had been backpacking around Europe, aimless and free, for four months when things went awry. It was a trip you had taken to find yourself – this is the official story, at any rate. This is what you told your family and friends back home. See, the idea of backpacking conjured up benign images of students in hostels, organised tours of famous landmarks, light socialising in ageing public houses, and you were more than happy to keep this illusion alive.

However, this official story couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Instead, you forwent the dull discomfort of hostels in favour of a string of divey rented rooms, couches of trusting locals, and beds of open-minded European women. You were only five weeks in when you stopped noticing the picturesque beauty of cathedral after cathedral, castle after castle, and statue after statue. And there was nothing light about your socialising. By the age of twenty-four you were already a seasoned drunk and connoisseur of illicit pharmacology, able to keep up with the best of them.

You were tearing through a moderate inheritance like a glutton tucking into his favourite dish, the dollars evaporating pint by pint, smoke by smoke, pill by pill. You were unrelenting. A one-man riot. The very centre of a nonstop, no holds barred, party. The living personification of Sodom and Gomorrah.

And then it stopped.


Just like that, with a sort of inverted roar, the camera spinning, zooming in for an up-front, unflattering close-up, everything just sort of froze.

It was dark, and you lay on your back in a strange room, suddenly awake, your naked legs tangled in the legs of another.

This was as clear as your head had been in months, and you knew that you had arrived at something of a critical juncture.

You tried to speak, but your throat was parched, impossibly dry, and could manage only a croak.

“Have a drink,” she said, lifting a glass of warm flat beer to your lips.

You guzzled back a quarter pint in two gulps, allowing the acrid fluid to wet your throat, before asking the obvious. “Where am I?”

She laughed then, a tinkling, fragile sound, likely not understanding the scope of your confusion, or realising how serious you really were.

“Where am I?” you repeated.

“At my place,” she flatly replied, and lighted a cigaret. You watched the cherry zigzag through the dark in your direction as she handed it to you.

You were suddenly painfully aware that none of this was real. This was some kind of bad film, with you little more than a mediocre actor with a walk-on part. You watched this crumby movie now through a gauzy veil, only giving it a further level of unreality, allowing you further distance. Your consciousness was slowly floating, drifting, unravelling.

You’re now pretty sure this is what your psychiatrist means by dissociation.

“No. Really. Where am I?”

“Take this,” she said, and pressed a tiny pill into your mouth.


You awoke hot, a sheen of sweat covering your entire body, with muscles twitching, heart racing, supernovae of colours bursting just behind your eyelids as the MDMA started to work.

She was gone, you thought, and you were simply a body on a bed, hollowed out, empty.

You screamed, but nothing came out.


The flashing red lights, the sirens of an ambulance. Medical personnel telling you to calm down. Recuestate. Cálmate. Respira hondo.

Restraints. A needle in the arm.


You awoke next to the intrusive bright white of a hospital room. Clean. Simple. A portrait of the Virgin Mary hung on the wall past your feet.

There was an awkward telephone call with your parents. You explained that someone must have slipped something into your drink. They were sorry, they said, and they understood. These things happen.

They would make arrangements to get you home.


There was wonderment there, in that first trip abroad. Some kind of simple, crazy, detached, free-floating bewilderment, in which you were free to just wander and wonder what the hell you were doing. It was perfectly OK. You weren’t supposed to know what you were doing – you were taking a moment, however long you needed, in fact, to just look at the picture on the front of the puzzle’s box and ruminate.

You had dumped out the pieces. You were separating the pieces into two piles of outside and in. You were further organising these piles into colours, before working out a place to even begin.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


You were long gone by then, and with each day that had passed a million years had crept in to fill the void. A day gone, and you couldn’t remember the feel of her skin. A week gone, and you couldn’t remember the smell of her hair. A month gone, and you couldn’t remember the taste of her lips. A year gone, and you couldn’t remember the sound of her voice.

You will never forget the day you needed the help of a photograph to remember what she looked like. You were around a decade gone, you woke up in the morning to an old song on the radio, one of her favourites, and you could not conjure up her image. You lay in bed awake for a time agonizing over this absence of memory, the last shred of memory you had of her, but nothing would come. Bested by the passing of the ages, you reluctantly dragged yourself out of bed, pulled opened a desk drawer, and withdrew a 4x6 photo.

Her, standing in a crowded market in Damascus, disgustedly pointing at a wretched pile of cured animal parts: hooves, hocks, and heads. She wasn’t even smiling – how could she, really? – but it was the only photograph you had. You examined it for a time, taking in her short raven hair, tanned skin, and green eyes. Imagined her exquisite curves beneath those khaki pants and jacket. Found your mind going to another place, another time.

But even then, you were all too familiar with the fallibility of memory. Nothing is ever remembered as it truly was. Each time a memory is called forth it’s modified, altered by every thought and experience occurring between then and now. You nurture different biases. Form different ideals. Nostalgia pollutes, and soon you’re writing fiction. Layering coats of paint on an old fence. Like a stone in a polisher, each memory becomes smoother, shinier, prettier with each trip around the drum. Your reverie broken by this sobering line of thought, you tossed the photograph back in the drawer.

You were long gone by then, with a thousand Mediterranean photographs to peruse. Decaying architecture. Turquoise coasts. Crowded cobblestone streets. Yes, by the time she realised you had left the continent, you were long gone, sitting in another airplane, crossing another border, flipping through these photographs, always lingering on the same one.

When you fled, you had no way of knowing how much you would miss her.

You were around a week gone when guilt raised its ugly head, and you crowded into a ratty telephone booth in Algiers. Needless you say, she wouldn’t return your calls. Why would she? She was too good for you, and when you up and left without telling her, you proved it to both of you. Packing up your few things. Sneaking off to a train station in the middle of the night. Buying a ticket to a place you couldn’t yet pronounce. It was all so... you. You were simply showing her who you were. Doing her a favour.

Twenty years gone, and you still think of her. You imagine what could have been. You wonder where she is now, who she’s with, what she’s doing. You begin to consider what a complete jerk you were back then, until you realise something quite startling: considering time’s masterful way of buffing memories to a glean, you were probably even more of a jerk than you can even begin to fathom.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

the ride

What does one do when all of his dreams have come true? Wish for a time when his dreams lay in pieces, of course. Perhaps even a time before this, a darker, primordial, dream-free time, in which one just was. Meandering. Existing. Coasting.

There was a long stretch of time, a veritable highway cutting through the pitch black night of a foreign land, which was marked with blind, concentrated anticipation. You knew not what lay just beyond the twin beams of headlights cutting through the darkness before you. You knew not what lurked in the alien countryside, or in the blank sky above. You knew only the small patch of illuminated asphalt in front of you, the yellow lines zipping by, the hum of car wheels, the radio playing your favourite tunes.

You held that wheel tight.

You didn’t even have a destination – you simply drove, focused on keeping your car on the road. Then, all of a sudden, you were there. You had reached a destination you didn’t even know existed. No map, no plan, you were confounded. How could you arrive somewhere you didn’t know existed? Could a road simply end? How could that be possible?

Yet there it was. You had arrived. And everyone patted you on the back, and told you how fortunate you were. Complimented you on your navigation skills. Said there weren’t many who could drive quite like that. You smiled because you didn’t know what else to do.

Flash forward to today, you hide. Hide the happiness, hide the contentedness, hide the success behind alternating masks of indifference, wanting, and motivation. No-one back home wants to know how happy you are. There’s a quiet wanting for the gypsy’s life, anyway. The carefree, nonconformist life of a bohemian. Is there somewhere else to go from here?

Each morning, you sneak out of your grand house in the nondescript suburbs, walking barefoot across the cool bristle of carefully manicured grass. You smile and wave to a neighbour. Tactfully chase his cat out of your garden with a discreet hiss. Feel the warmth of a morning sun on your cheek.

You sneak out to the garage with a cup of strong coffee to admire, to caress, to polish that old car. You admire its clean lines. Its ageless beauty. Its spirit. You sink into the bucket seat, your spine creaking, a knee popping. You put your hands on the wheel, your foot resting gently on the gas pedal.

You dream.