I’m standing before my old high school
It’s been 10 years since I touched the door
But to heal the old pain we must face it again
So I’ll walk down that hallway once more
David Wilcox, Last Chance Waltz
The following story is from the life of a boy – a boy who once lived and now lives again. It is a story the telling of which I will leave to him, for it is his story and it is best that he tells it. Hear him now…
The Lost Heart
Life was slow in the village. But life was also fun, and full of hope. At that time, American films and television shows, as well as most of the other foreign programs had only been in the country for a few years, but I did not know that. I simply enjoyed them. In those days I took everything for granted, and oh, how happy I was. It is only now, after some time in the darkness, that I can see clearly how sick the world around me has been; it is only now that I can see my own sickness.
But this is now, and I will not speak of the present. This story is about my past and I must tell it well…
As I said, life was quite slow once. Slow, before it got faster, and very fast, before it slowed down again. Back in those first slow times, I was a king. I was the prince of my little world; I was the center of the universe.
You see, one of my problems was that I was too sheltered. Nothing big was happening at the time I was born; the war of my grandfather had been fought and won long ago, and the war of my father – that endless striving for staying afloat – was being fought for me at that very time, and all I had to do was feed of the spoils.
At the time when I was still locked inside myself, confused and self-obsessed, my father had already started working and had been expelled from five schools; never for doing badly at his studies, mind you, but always for fighting. He was a beast, my dad, just the opposite of me. At the age of fifteen, I already knew that I was not a man like him. I knew, deep down in that mysterious place where knowledge is turned into understanding, that I will never become a man worthy of my own respect, and the respect of anybody else.
I was, in other words, a loser.
When the other, normal boys kicked the football and ran around like maniacs, screaming and hollering at each other, I stayed away from them – I could not do that; neither of those things were natural for me. Most of my attempts at being an athlete ended with the others jeering at me and mocking me, and even though we did not have any really ‘bad kids’ in our village, the others` opinion about me, as being a not-quite-like-them type of guy, filled me with self-pity, bitterness, and resentment. I was no good and I knew it. I know now, I can see it, that I was inwardly comparing myself to my old man, that I was trying to race against him as I was growing up. But this was one race I could not win, and the knowledge of this deepened with every passing year, until that one night, when it finally cemented itself over my heart, freezing my dreams and stifling my true voice. From that night, I began to change.
From that night, I began to die.
You see, we were never close, me and him, and I always wondered why. Why was it that everything I did was not good enough for him? Why was it that we never enjoyed any time together, apart from the times when I helped him, quite fearful and anxious, with his chores around the house? Why was it that he always expected me to be ‘strong’ and not allow anyone to ‘push me around’, to be as he had once been and do as he had once done?
Did he not see that, while he loved sports, I loved reading; did he not see that while he was strong, I was weak; did he not hear me when I woke up at night, screaming with terror, waiting for the embrace that never came?
He was my hero, yes, and I held him up as a standard – no, as a god that must be pleased and appeased. ‘What would dad do if he was here’ – this is what I always asked myself, deep down in that forgotten chamber, the place that is abandoned and shut up in most people. Yes – but I was not like them. He was more like them; he has shut the door within, and could now simply live and be, undisturbed by what people thought about him, knowing he was always in the right…
And in the right he was, quite often. This was what made it very hard to know the truth; this was what made it impossible for me not to adore him.
This was also why, in that deep and secret place, I hated and feared him.
He was not my father. I had no dad. He was my king and my god; he was also the slayer of my soul.
I am getting too deep again, and this was not my intention. It was the facts that I was after, not all the stuff behind them. I must forget, I know, but I cannot help it; I have been cursed with deeper vision and a bleeding heart. And death; I have been cursed with a slow and painful death. It began on the night I was telling you about.
I was fifteen…
On that night, I was wearing a black T-shirt which was stamped with the name of The Prodigy and had the terrifying face of their frontman Keith Flint on the front – you see, back in 1999 they were my favorite band. In those times I devoured their music like a ravenous teenage beast; in return, they gave me hope. I hoped that, after my immersion into the world of music, after my entrance in the local party scene (though you could hardly use that term for what used to take place in that little rural community), the others will forget my clumsiness as an athlete and my weakness as a person; I hoped they will forget that I was what I hd always known myself to be, even before that day – a weakling and a pushover, a boy not worthy of his father`s name. And my hoping, it seemed, worked, at least for a while.
It was my sense of humor, I think, that began to turn the tides; it was that good-hearted desire to simply have fun and be the life of the party (but that only when there were none of the more serious males around) that made me a good companion, liked from both boys and girls. And it was in those years – the time between the end of my first decade and the half of the second – that I was at my happiest. You see, I was a believer back then, a true believer in the ‘live and let live’ philosophy. And because, in those few short years, I had finally achieved the nirvana of my adolescence – that living when I, left undisturbed by all, disturbed none – I was as happy as anyone could be.
Life was good and the world held promises. There were treasures, I began to discover, riches hidden in the darkness of life; there were jewels hidden under the cloak of night, gems that I could not see in the daytime. The eyes of the girls shone like precious stones, reflecting the light of the moon, the stars, and the projectors in the restaurant that turned into a nightclub every weekend. And that was when my weapons, those tools forged to secure my survival in the world, were most used. A fighter I could not be – this I knew only too well – and my nice-ness overflowed; I could not stand up and face another when it was called for; I could not be right and stand my ground – but I was forgiving, and I was accepting, even of those who did not want to be accepted. The stories I had read back in those lonely years, were now used for fuel, and the fire of my pretense bathed us all in its warm, seductive glow.
All was forgotten, and all was now well. I was new, and life was good again.
Until that night.
* * *
I knew the boy, of course I knew him. And he knew me too, but this did not stop him. He needed someone to fight with; he wanted to test his strength but had no courage. And so he found the perfect man to meet those needs.
After his provocation, to which I half-jokingly protested (I could not hear my voice, it was too weak and too quiet) he grew serious, and this was when my knees started shaking. I know, it Is hard to believe, but I have always been that way around other boys – all those that seemed to be more confident, more alert, or more aggressive that I could be. And I know why…I know why now.
It was him, my father, whose image they evoked…
But it was him, my father, whose strength I needed to become a man; it was his love and his fury that I needed to face them! But how could I receive anything from him while we were so far apart? And how could I be closer to him if he was so cold and scary?
But this is now, and that was then. Now, I am strong, and I am dangerous. Then, I trembled like a leaf.
* * *
The first blow landed on my jaw and made my head snap to the side. I saw stars and felt no outward pain, though the pain within was growing every second.
‘What have I done to you? What have I done?’
My voice sounded weak and feeble and I was disgusted with myself. Why, oh why didn`t he just kill me and get it over with.
This time, it was my nose. My face was already burning at that time; whether with shame or pain, I could not tell.
Slowly, methodically, my assailant worked me as if I was a piece of raw meat, pounding me with his fists in sadistic, youthful delight. I did nothing to defend myself – my body felt overcome with an apathy that came from deep within, from the soul that knew well its weakness and the futility of any action I could have taken. This had been, after all, my lot in life: I was a weakling, and weaklings got beaten.
We were in the darkness behind the nightclub, at the back of the old Communist building. I had always found it comfortably dark there, but there was no comfort for me that night. The old, good things of my previously quiet life, the things I had always looked at and loved for their warm familiarity, were growing more hostile and more remote around me with every second. Even the music sounded hollow, empty and void of life. The song that shook the old place from within as I myself was being shaken from without by slow but accurate blows, was called ‘Ghetto Superstar’; its tune I will never forget. Months and years later, I played that same song at home while, trying to ‘toughen myself up’, I practiced blows and kicks on my mother`s pillows, rehearsing a dreaded confrontation with my enemies.
I don`t remember how many times he hit me, five six, or maybe ten. But I remember well the feeling of despondency that overcame me as I dragged myself back home. I was not hurt, save for one blackened eye and a reddened face, but, as far as I was concerned, I had been destroyed; I had been attacked, violated, and left for dead – left as good as dead. Yes, death was far more desirable than the fate that awaited me in the next days, months, maybe even years. I did not even know if a wholesome, happy life, the life I had just begun to find, was possible for me anymore. How would I look at my peers; how would I look at the boy who had beaten me – not with anger, as I had none; how would I look at myself – that stupid, childish self whose face I disliked ever since I could remember?
Hot with shame and inner torment, I opened the door of the house. It was not yet midnight and it was hot. My traumatized soul recoiled with horror as I realized that my father was still awake, watching the football game. It was a couple of years before the first air conditioner was installed in our house, and all doors and windows that had mosquito nets on them were opened, apart from the front door.
Inside, the man whom I respected but did not love, waited for me.
As I stepped into the television-lit room, I made a big mistake. I was a rookie in everything I did in life, no matter how long I had done it for; I was also a weakling, and weaklings never win.
Greeting my father briefly, before my eyes could meet his, I pulled the T-shirt over my head, proceeding to take it of me as I quickly walked away from the danger zone and toward the back of the room.
‘Wait,’ he said sharply, a vigilant bulldog, suddenly alert and ready, an old, battle-hardened warrior who, though wearing only his boxer shorts, was fully dressed, clad in the ageless regal robe of his grim dignity.
‘Come here and let me look at your face.’
Sheepishly, I obeyed. Had I not been humiliated enough already?
‘Who hit you?’ he asked me sternly. I looked at him. He was brimming with a scary tension that seemed to have shed fifteen years from his back. The tattoo on his chest was no longer old and grey, belonging to the past; it was now alive, and it was dreadful.
A coffin and a cross, this is what it was; and it was my coffin, and my cross.
I told him who had done it; I spoke in a hushed voice, void of emotion, void of any pain, though God knew, there was enough pain to drown us both. I was silent, dry, and broken. I felt shame but it was far from my lips; I felt sorrow but it did not touch my eyes. I was barren.
His blue eyes pierced me with fierce intent. They were for me, I knew, but I knew it in my head only. The hard blue gaze penetrated deep into the very depths of my lost, confused soul. It swept through all the masks, pretenses and defenses; like a blade, it ran through me and traveled fast down to the most secret chamber of my being, to discover emptiness and loss. I was disarmed and I was beaten, but it was not the enemy without that had done that. It was the wolf who hid under my roof; it was he who murdered my heart; it was he who drank my bitter blood.
‘Listen now son…listen to me now.’
The blue gaze was now too firm and steady, too hard and impossible to bear. I squirmed but I made no sound and did not move.
‘In the days to come’ my father began in a low, controlled voice. ‘You must find him when he is alone. And you must beat him, and beat him well.’
‘None of those brats should push you around — you must not let them!’
His voice was now raised and that dreadful tension was gripping him again, making his aged body young and brilliant with some dark, malicious potency. He was a god, and like a god, he was immortal.
‘If you let him get away with what he did to you,’ he continued, knowing little of the torment in my soul. ‘They will all try to do it, they will all think you would let them do what they like to you…’
My father`s voice dropped again; it sounded cold and unfeeling to me, like the voice of a general who sends his best troops, already beaten, starved and ravaged, back into the battle, back to their certain death; like the voice of a crime boss who orders the death of an innocent man; like the voice of a father who, intending to make his son cold and invincible as steel, cares nothing for the soul of the boy, the soul which should have been nurtured and loved before it could be hardened for battle.
There were no feelings within me, save for the shame and the confusion. I did not know what to do, or what to be, and I walked over to the end of the room and sat on a bed, making myself busy with changing my clothes. Even though it was more than twenty years ago, I still remember it all – the brown tiles on the floor, the broom in the corner, my black socks…
I think that perhaps he saw what I had no strength to utter and, I can at least hope, he sought to make things right. It was then that he drove the dagger deeper into my heart.
‘Ah, forget it…’ he said in a voice that failed to appear gracious and understanding; he could barely hide his disappointment. ‘You are not like that. You are not made for this sort of things.’
The last sentence did not even have the thin coat of pretense that clothed the previous ones; it struck its mark, clean and true to its malicious purpose.
I was dead.
There were no tears. There were no emotions. My family had never had the time and the freedom for such things. Within me, there was only emptiness and some vague, dry sorrow. Oh, but the emotion did come, and it poisoned my whole being. But it was not strong, not in that way, it did not have to be expressed and released; this was not its design. It was a hatred for myself and a burning desire to die and finally be done with. My mind formed words that my lips did not utter; instead, they floated back and forth within me and around me, keeping me numb and occupied, taking my attention away from the bloody throes of my dying heart.
A worm…a worm, and not a man…
Never…you will never become a man…you will never be like him…
I hate you…little, twisted, ugly boy – a boy that has not grown and will never grow…I hate your dull, ugly face, and I hate your slow, clumsy body…
Why are you still alive, worm? Don`t you know the world doesn`t want you?
I want you dead; you must not live, you hindrance, you burden, you awkward, heavy load – die and be gone forever!
I want to kill you, and raise another one in your place…you are a mistake – a mistake!
You must die.
Curse you. Curse your very life…
I will kill you…I cannot let you live.
I don`t know how long my torment lasted; maybe a minute, or fifteen minutes. But I remember that, when I finally got up and left that hot and heavy room, each slow, heavy step of my feet took me further away from everything that was good and real in my life.
A child cried in the dirt and I did not pick him up to comfort him – this world is no place for children; I stomped on him and kicked him until his screams were heard no more. He is still there, rotting in the darkness, and I am still here, empty and alone.
I did not know what I was doing. None of us know…it happens too quickly, or in a slower, more secret way, but the result is always the same – we lose our heart, or we give it away. It is taken from us, or it is killed. Look around you, you who read this, or better still – look in the mirror if you dare. Look at them; look at us all…
Do you see the walking corpses? Do you see the empty shells of life, the souls that are dead but are still living? Our land is full of shadows…
They were once alive but are now empty; we were once ourselves but we gave it all away without knowing. A sad story indeed, and a fate we all suffer.
No – if these wraiths are running the world, I want no part of it. There is not much more I can tell you now…you heard it all; you have seen the beginning of my downfall.
Oh, life went on, on the surface, and the seasons came and went as they did before. But in this new season, as my dying soul withered inside of me, my body grew stronger and my wish was granted — a new self was raised at last. Masks, as many as the stars over my quiet village, were put on and taken off – so very often. Hard muscles covered a heart that was too soft to be left exposed… A new regime had taken power and the great purge had begun, for this new rule had no mercy for the past. Old dreams were put to death and old desires perished. What was new was cold and gleaming and it had no truth and hope; but it had efficiency, and it had power to survive. The world no longer seemed that bad, and in the years to come, joy began its gradual return.
* * *
Oh, the smells…
The stale, dusty aroma of the white powder as it hit the nose; the scent of perfume, youth, and gentle skin; the smell of victory and triumph; the sharpness of the whisky and the sweet softness of the cocktails – it all connected, blended into one, and day after day I chased it, and I caught it. I was not like the loser Gatsby who reached pitifully for the distant green light; my life was in my hands, and I took in through my pores. I was alive – alive! The front – oh, the front was nice; it stayed nice, for I had not become a beast. Not only nice, of course, but effective too. Did I not tell you – there were exams taken and work done; names were whispered and love was pledged; there was a plan for success and a promise for life…
But let me tell you something, you who read this – it all came to nothing in the end, for I could not live without my heart. I could not love without my heart.
* * *
No more. No more…
I cannot bear it any longer.
Long have I sat into the nothingness; long has my soul suffered while I toiled day and night to heal the ache that would not heal…
I am going on a search, on a quest if you wish, and I will plunge down into the darkness. The coward does indeed die a thousand deaths and I have died many…
I will leave this live of endless dying; I will take the risk and go back into the darkness. It was there that I lost my heart, and it is there I must return…into the heart and into its pain; before the heart dies its finall death and my sentence becomes final.
There is terror that awaits me there, and this time, I will face it…
And if I live, I will tell you of my journey.