© Els Vanopstal
© Els Vanopstal
“Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été.”
(“In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer”)
– Albert Camus
I could spend the rest of my life being angry at the world. It would be easy. Take away the most important person in someone’s life and watch them fall apart. It would be very easy to grow into thinking there’s no use for anything. That there is no such thing as right or wrong and that no one gets what they deserve. That good people are rare and power is always in the wrong hands. That everybody only thinks about themselves. That the best thing that could happen to our planet is for the human race to go extinct.
And maybe all this is true. Well, it probably is. I am not going to lie. I was never very good at it. But perhaps there is hope.
I was never very proud of myself. I have lived my entire life in fear. Fear of failure, fear of falling, fear of never getting what I want, fear of getting what I want and hating it. Fear of walking the streets alone, fear of being too different, fear of being hurt, hated, misunderstood. Fear of saying too much or – in my case – rather too little. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not deserving anything worth living for. Fear of death. Fear of living. Because of this, I have lived most of my life inside my mind, inside my heart, which was mostly closed. My eyes, too.
Loving Christophe may have been the first thing in my life that ever felt right. That I did right. Meeting Christophe was imminent. I never questioned it. It was destiny. Truth. Love. Things that I was never sure of actually existed. Things that in a just world, never should have been mine. Me, a coward. But they happened. They made me a better person. And even though my heart, my dreams and my destiny have been shattered, I am not broken. Somehow all those little pieces are still holding on to each other, and are making it work. I can still love. I still dream. I still hope. Maybe more.
I am less afraid. Because it doesn’t matter. Because everything matters. Because people need to make other people’s life more bearable, not the opposite. We are all alone. None of us is alone. Not even this strange person writing this to you. I believe in the power of words, you know. If it weren’t for Bukowski, Thoreau, Camus, Nin and all those strangers and friends who have written to me, I might not be sitting here writing this right now. And you would never be reading this. And maybe it’s not important that you read this. Mere words. My mere world.
Perhaps I will never know love like that again. Nobody expects to be struck by lightening twice. Whatever happens, I accept my destiny. I accept the wonky crooked path that was designed for my feet only. And if I am to walk that path alone, I will. And if at some point I get lost, that will be okay too. Because in the end, I am only human. And that is all that can truly be expected of me.
But I’ve never been really good at doing what is expected. A crooked path for crooked feet. Guided by a single beat.
The beating of a heart.
And I wish for you the same.
Since you left, the alarm clock on your side of the bed has stopped ticking. After years, we’ve run out of the pepper you put in the mill yourself, and the salt that we used is all gone. They have finished renovating Martin Luther King Square, and it is different, so different from how you’ve seen it last (over a year ago?). They have painted parking signs on our street and installed speed bumps right around the corner. But the cherry trees are blooming, as they do each year. And I wish I could take your photo amongst them, as I did each year.
It is hard to explain the quiet around our house. Our dog Louise, who is sleeping against my leg as I write this, has grown so much taller. I remember her standing up against the couch trying to lick you. It would take much less effort if she would try that now. She’s still her silly self but she has gotten calmer (she became a woman about a month ago). The couch is still long, long as you left it, but there’s no one lying on your side of it. I have a card standing on our dining table with your face on it, smiling back at me if I look in that direction.
I still have cereals for breakfast, but sometimes I drink coffee or even tea (I try not to finish yours but people who come over seem to prefer it over the one I bought). I haven’t been to the bakery, to them I am as gone as you are. I have been to Thailand with my sister and her friend. I know I would never have gone if things had gone differently. I sat on an elephant named Lucky. I put my hand in her mouth to feed her, washed her in the river while she rolled over and dove under the water with me on top of her. I missed you there but at the same time knew there would never have been a time where we would have been together in that moment, in that place.
I don’t know what to do with all your pictures. You have left your dreams and talent behind, with me. I don’t even know what to do with mine. It feels as if things should have happened to me, instead. You belong here. You had the ability to live in this world, to function properly. I don’t. I’m a stranger and I’m strange. I have no chance. But I try out of principle. Because I won’t give up. Because you never did. You were one hell of a man. You always kept going, through all the pain and the suffering, even when you were almost entirely paralysed. You have done more than I could have ever asked.
But I often wish we wouldn’t have had to go through all that. Me being afraid to kiss you, afraid to go near you when I had a sore throat (again). Afraid of giving you some kind of infection you wouldn’t be able to fight because the chemo killed your immune system. Unable to hold your hand because your hands hurt from the Guillain-Barré. Unable to feel your hug because you weren’t able to lift your arms. Not knowing what to do with my hands when you were dying.
I look for reasons to explain why this had to happen. But there is no explanation that can justify the pain you’ve had to go through. Yet strange things have been happening. Strange coincidences. People’s words stuck in my head, then nullified by other people. People who took me for a romantic because they saw me scribbling in a notebook while laying by a pool. I never would have used that word to describe myself but maybe I am. Maybe I am the biggest romantic I know. When I see two old people who love each other after all those years, I think it’s the rarest thing. But when I remember you and I, I think we could have made it.