Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rosetta Stone

We were people with a purpose, Carly and me. It was as if we shared a common language; an arcane tongue learnt from the walls of our souls. Our early conversations were a revelation: she was my Rosetta Stone and I hers.

Through Carly I began to understand, to see, life’s possibilities: a future far greater than I had ever dreamed. We talked of greatness, of the burning desire to be the best; the intangible feeling that we could achieve whatever we set our minds to. And we talked of the struggle; wasted effort; paths that led nowhere; failing to find our place in the world. Grief became our secret mark of honour.

We would wake early and run beneath the predawn sky. Our spirits seemed to mingle together and soar amongst those clouds from heaven.

This closeness made our first argument feel so much fiercer than perhaps it was. But we both fought to win: win at any cost. We each used knowledge of the other as a weapon, and were both deeply wounded as a result.

After a few days, when things had cooled down, we met at a café and made peace. I think we were both secretly pleased that our argument had been epic; had been great. But we made a vow never to argue again, which, looking back now was a mistake.

We became too careful with each other. We didn’t speak of dreams, or passions. We never talked of greatness or the burning desire to be the best. We talked about cornflakes and TV shows, celebrities and toothpaste. We got comfortable. We stopped running and started to put on weight.

This transition, this descent, happened slowly, so slowly that neither of us realised what was happening. Then one night, as we sat watching TV, I caught a glimpse of the reddening sky through a picture window. Something in me stirred. I told Carly I was going for a run, got changed, and headed out the door. Birds were settling their day’s last disputes and the sky was luminous. As I ran, fresh cool air filled my lungs: I felt alive.

I returned home exhausted but elated. Carly was on the couch in her pyjamas, eating chocolate from a half empty box. She didn’t look up when I entered the room.

We argued.

As we argued life began to flow through us. We argued for hours, blaming each other for what we had become. I called Carly a name and she slapped me across the face. I tasted blood, and it was good.

Carly was shocked by what she’d done, but I told her it was the right thing to do.

And we talked.

We talked through the night, remembering our passion for life and for each other. And, as dawn lifted night’s veil from the earth, we whispered a solemn oath: that we would never again forget ourselves; and we would always make time to argue.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Plan

The tension in Mark’s back spread upwards. Tension crept into his shoulders; his neck; his jaw; and the corner of his left eye. Mark tightened his grip on the steering wheel and frowned: gridlock.

It had been a tough day: finished things had been undone, and unfinished things had become more complicated. It was a day in which tense people forgot their manners and tension spread throughout the office.

Mark relived every troubling moment of the day while he drove. By the time he got home he was exhausted and tired. He unlocked the front door and headed straight to bed.

As he entered the bedroom he caught a glimpse of his own care-worn face in a full-length mirror.

“This is your fault,” he whispered.

And then anger gripped him: tension and weariness were evaporated by the fierce fire that rose within him.

“This is your fault.” A shout this time, flecks of spittle flying.

Mild mannered Mark became a god of fury.

“You’re a joke; a has-been. You’re nothing.”

For the next hour Mark raged at his own reflection. Strong language; derision; mocking and hurtful words: Mark was a river in flood.

Many hateful things were said that night as Mark recounted all the times he’d let himself down. He told himself that he was ugly and useless and a failure.

“The world would be better off…” but he didn’t finish the sentence. Instead he shrugged his shoulders, and sat down.

He sat with his head on his knees, thinking about his life; about his plans; about the things he’d hoped would happen that hadn’t: and the things he never dreamed would happen that had.

Outside, night fell, and a cricket began to chirp.

Slowly Mark raised his head. He could see his sad reflection in the bottom of the full-length mirror.

“Truce?” he whispered.

He got up and walked over to a cupboard that stood in the corner. He opened the door and pulled out an old exercise book that had the words ‘The Plan’ written in big bold letters across the front. Mark remembered the young man he had been; the young man with the big ideas: the big plan.

He sat down and began leafing through the book. Every now and then he would tear out a page, crumple it up and throw it over his right shoulder. Then he took a pen and began to write. He wrote for several hours before collapsing into bed, tired but happy.

Mark slept well.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


James’s mother corners me the moment I enter the room.

“James is in New York,” she says.

Apparently she thinks that no further introduction is required; nothing need be said to bridge the decade long gap since I had last seen James, or his mother.

James had been a thin, slightly anxious child. He was very different from the other, more rambunctious, boys his age. Consequently, James found it hard to make friends, which is where his mother stepped in.

James’s mother thought he should associate with popular kids. She would ring there mothers and arrange for James to go to their houses after school.

This didn’t go down well with the popular kids. Their frustration at James’s mother was probably the reason James copped such a tough dare: walk through the school’s swimming pool, fully clothed.

It was a sunny day in the middle of summer and a gentle breeze was playing music in the tree tops. James slowly lowered himself into the waist-high pool and stood on tip-toes by the edge. A group of onlookers sat nearby calling for James to get on with it. He began to walk, but soon realised that his shorts were in the water, and the water wasn’t getting any shallower. He stopped walking, clearly trying to decide whether he should continue, or return to dry land and forfeit the dare.

James forfeited the dare.

The rules of forfeit dictated that he must tell the group the name of the girl he loved. James squirmed for nearly quarter of an hour before divulging that he loved Fiona, the sun bronzed Australian-Diplomat’s daughter with the sparkling white smile. I think we all loved Fiona, we were just too young to realise it. So we teased James, running around chanting “James and Fiona up a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

That night, James’s mother phoned all the popular kids’ mothers: James was not to be teased.

There was a fair amount of grumbling in the playground the next day, but no one dared tease James: everyone was afraid of the repercussions when they got home.

“James is in New York,” James’s mother repeats.

James’s mother’s is an anxious woman; I hadn’t realised that when we were kids. There is an unnerving desperation, a deep sadness around her.

I reach out and touch her arm.

“I’m very sorry,” I say. I pause a moment before leaving the room.

It’s a warm sunny day in the middle of summer and a gentle breeze is playing music in the tree tops.