Sunday, October 17, 2010


The first time I saw Emma she was sitting at a table in the middle of the staff cafeteria. She was an eddy-current in a stream of mindless human activity. She was herself, and I was in love.

Emma was graceful and calm; stylish and elegant; carefree and sunny. She was perfect. To look at Emma was to see my own flaws, my own short-comings, in stark relief. I was suddenly and painfully aware of my own lack of style and grace. I was flawed and inadequate.

That night I went home and stuffed all but my best clothes into old boxes. My wardrobe was empty except for a two pairs of pants and three long-sleeved shirts.

Emma made me want to be a better person. I would see her almost every day, and every day I longed for her – to be a person she could love. I longed for her calm – longed to be at peace with myself.

The city library had an extensive section on meditation. I borrowed every book and practiced for an hour a day. I joined a gym and went six days a week. Other gym members would laugh at my intensity. “There’s no rush,” they would tell me. But there was.

For a year my life became very small, revolving around the gym and meditation classes. The occasional glimpse of Emma was all it took to keep my world turning.

My efforts started to pay off. My mind became expansive and focused, and I looked and felt much better than I had. But I began to realise what most people already know: I would never be perfect.

With this in mind I decided to talk to Emma.

I got up early and meditated for an hour, dressed slowly, and made my way to work. That morning’s work was a blur, and lunchtime arrived in a flash.

Emma was standing in the lunch queue when I arrived at the cafeteria. My ears were buzzing as I walked towards her. She looked uncomfortable as I approached, and when I asked her if she would go out with me she said that she wouldn’t.

I had spent too much time thinking about this to give up so easily, so I tried again the next day. This time Emma was more forceful, more emphatic. As she spoke my world began to crumble.

That night I sat on my bed and thought about Emma. I thought about how she’d shrunk away as I approached her. I thought about all I’d done to make her want me. I thought about what was left of my life and it didn’t seem like a lot. I sat there without blinking, my body numb, and a coldness forming in my heart.

I didn’t go to the gym after that and I gave up on meditation too. I would fall asleep in my clothes and go to work without changing. I seldom showered and the closest I got to cleaning my teeth was gargling gin. I didn’t shave. I lived on pizza and beer. I kept away from the staff cafeteria.

Time passed without measure, until one day I found myself doing something I hadn’t done for a long time: I was looking in the bathroom mirror. There was something different about me, a kind of gravity and seriousness that suited me. I wasn’t graceful or elegant, but I was something else: I was broken and still standing.

That day I decided to have lunch in the staff cafeteria. My hair was a mess, I was unshaven, and I’d slept in my clothes again.

Then something unexpected happened: Emma had seen me as I walked into the room, and as I moved near her, she smiled at me and waved. I was tempted to walk up to her and say hello.

But I didn’t.