The end of one year and the beginning of another seems to set ghosts dancing on the edge of my days until I acknowledge them in some way. I usually pacify them by writing a poem, making some art, or just sitting with a glass of wine and remembering what they brought to my life, what would be lacking without their transit through my reality, and how they left the dust of some of themselves on me in some way.
Today the ghost took the shape of a man I met many years ago. I was at a very disillusioned point in time. I'd just survived a serious illness and wasn't sure I wanted to get my hopes up and believe I was going to live. I was like a rock in the river that the water washes over in degrees of cold, heat, purity, and sediment-stuffed surprise attacks. He was the ultimate cynic and of course I had to check out what made him this way because he seemed to come by it so naturally it was almost a gift.
There's an old joke that the most dangerous words a woman can say are "I can save this man." But in his sense of salvation it was less the man himself I wanted to save, than it was I wanted to understand what he represented. I thought if I could understand the depths of the system that made him who he was, I could learn something previously unexplored about the nature of war and use it for peace in that roundabout way of believing if you know the enemy, you can defeat it on its own battlefield.
For us the battlefield was mental. He was arrogant, opinionated, highly intelligent in that raw, forced disciplined way of being intelligent that comes from systemic discipline rather than desire to know and understand. He spent much of his life as a piece of machinery in a country that didn't value him as a human being beyond what he could contribute as a functioning piece of working asset.
That made him shit to relate to in any way but intellectually, and in that he excelled. His mind was a mysterious path that I jumped in eagerly to explore. I wanted to know what made him so cold to those he professed to love with a passion found only in the pages of his favorite literature, and I realized it was because he never learned to value human beings. He grew up knowing he could be easily replaced at any time, that he had no value beyond what he could provide in the moment, and that if he wanted to succeed in maintaining a relative and safe anonymity, it was best not to dwell too long in the emotional realm because that was the path to danger.
Of course this was unacceptable to me. I was and am the ultimate romantic when it comes to people's mental playgrounds. I know there's something special hidden inside everyone and I dig and dig until I get a glimpse of it. Sometimes that's enough for me, and at other times it is the hand that reaches out and drags me down the rabbit hole.
He was the biggest rabbit hole I ever fell into and it was a trip that while I have no desire to ever repeat again, I wouldn't trade for anything because it gave me an understanding of what war, what meanness, what lack of respect for a humanity creates in a population.
I'm a stubborn woman and because I believe in people's essential goodness, I was able to relate to him in a way that satisfied me at the time. I stuck to the path that we shared: literature, cultural music, and nature. I didn't want to look too deeply inside the part of him that was cruel and callous, that could profess friendship and then cut your heart the next day for his own amusement.
He was the little Prince of every mother who thinks her son is the chosen one, and the nightmare of every woman who tried to relate to him on an emotional level. I watched him go through relationships as if they were disposable jars he could stuff with his dreams and then throw away when they became too ordinary.
I think if anything defined him, other than being a train wreck son of a flawed human system, it was that he feared the ordinary. As he was growing up, the sensitive child he must have been at some time was brutally smacked down and he learned to adapt and mimic the ordinary mediocrity of existence. He didn't stand out. He didn't draw attention to himself. He merely existed.
But within that existence there was a lovely and nurturing escape: books. It was our deepest connection to each other, this eternal appreciation of books as lifesaving devices. I always carried a book around with me as a child. It was my foil against the shyness that haunted me most of my young life, the fear of interacting with strangers, the terror that someone would hurt me or tease me or try and destroy me. For him, it was the small glimmer of hope that maybe one day life would resemble something close to what he read about rather than what he was forced to live on a day to day basis.
But for both of us, the books that saved us also spoiled the ordinary for us. We could never settle for anything that was tedious, mediocre, boring. Life had to imitate art or it was neither life nor art.
I eventually couldn't handle how he treated women, the callousness in which he broke their hearts and walked away without a second glance when they stopped being princesses in magical kingdoms needing rescuing, and instead became ordinary women. I could understand it, but I couldn't condone it. So I walked away. It broke my heart in a way I never expected it to, but to stay would have damaged my honor, my integrity, my sense the world as a beautiful place.
Even after all these years he remains in my thoughts and for him, for all the potential that I hoped he would one day realize, I made something beautiful for him, something to contemplate, something to say thank you for the first lessons on what it meant to point a camera at something and have it return back at least a small piece of what the eyes and heart saw and created together.