The World is Big. Keep Going, Son
As the late night revellers milled around me, my familiar sense of deep loneliness returned. I looked at the young women, some walking with their man, and some wandering alone, and some hanging out with their friends. I needed a hand to hold, and yet I knew from past experience that once that hand was in my own I would feel the pain even more, not less, and I knew that were I to hold that hand I would inevitably let it go.
Was my father’s business partner’s daughter so unacceptable? We had known each other since kindergarten. We had played innocently in each other’s sandpits. At one time - perhaps I was only 7, or 8 - I had confided to my mother, “I think I will have to marry Muriel when I am big, because I don’t know any other little girls.” I recall my mother’s smile, it was one of the last smiles she gave me before,… before the car accident. My mother had smiled and whispered, “Son, the world is bigger than you can possibly imagine. Keep going.”
As we moved on from childhood, and led our lives, and moved into adolescence and eventually towards adulthood Muriel had become increasingly alien to me. Our social lives were interwoven, given the interconnections of our business families, so we often met, and often were alone together. But she seemed to move her mind in another orbit to my own. She insisted on moving conversations away from the freshness of new ideas and into well trodden automotions of who and what and where. She seemed never to have the time to listen to the end of my own sentences, breaking in suddenly with whatever had been triggered in her own mind. I tried to cater for her own mind stream direction, but that direction was always the same, and always limited, and always constrained and circular, and I wanted to explore deeper, into ever new territory. I conveyed this at times to her and inevitably she would smile and say something like, “Oh, you do take things so seriously. Lighten up”.
Our times together became tedious to me. My uncle had not been aware of how much time we had already spent together. And how much it had led nowhere. I think it was always me who prevented those alone times moving into anything resembling intimacy. She had certainly conveyed that she was available. And as my uncle had asserted, the value of her connections was indisputable. And yet, I just could not meet her, in the places where I needed to meet someone. At the same time, I felt myself as unreasonable, and again and again attempted to accept her as she presented to me. The conflict in me seemed to not be noticed by her. At least, she never mentioned it.
Why was her kiss, in the pavilion, at 17, so unappealing to me anyhow? She certainly had intended the kiss to move onto more intimate contact. Her hand moving with slow certainty down my chest, and over my belly, and beginning to pull playfully at the belt of my jeans made that clear. As her hand moved insistently a primal response had certainly arisen in me, only to be pushed down immediately by something confused and wary in my own mind.
It was not only the risk that at any moment someone would walk into the pavilion, it was the conflict in me between letting go, and protecting my inner state of mind from being felt by another.
I knew that conflict then, in the pavilion with Muriel, and each of the few subsequent encounters with other women since then had started out the same. Movement below, stultification above. I always needed time to integrate, and I could not move on until I felt the surrender in me and the surrender in the other. And that did not seem to happen in unison.
Muriel was inclined to take command, to move her own energy into places where the invitation had not yet been made for entering. Perhaps it was only that, that dominant intent, that had made me cringe. Or was it really, actually, only the banality of her conversation?
I walked on, wanting to stop thinking about Muriel.
I considered a night club. But instead I spontaneously jumped onto the late night tram that was weaving its way through the high-rise apartments towards the harbour district. Some of the revellers pushed their way past me to claim the best seats.
I sat alone and tried to look like I was going home contented. The tram wobbled towards its destination. By the time I could see the ocean most of the revellers had disgorged. A young couple were kissing in the booth in front of me. I wanted to ask them to stop, but instead I took a cough lozenge from my pocket and pushed my indignance down.
At the end of the tram line the harbour road stretches along the ancient wharves. Towards midnight the lights are always low. The sea breaks incorrigibly against the pillars of the jetty. Seagulls still hunt relentlessly for discarded tourist snacks. Lonely men, and sometimes lonely women, are common here. On the docks they can imagine being carried away across the ocean to a brand new situation.
I came to the end of the jetty. I had come here often before. I allowed some tears to flow in the privacy of the night. I asked a God I no longer believed in, "Am I throwing away a comfortable future of career, of marriage, of security that you are gifting me?"
As always no answer.
But as I dried my tears I remembered the words of my mother, "The world is big. Keep going son."
I picked myself up. The trams had stopped running so I walked through the night the 2 hours to my apartment. I slept well. My mother woke me in my mind just after dawn and whispered, "Get up Stu, your life is just beginning”.
In the days that followed the meeting with my uncle, I swung back and forth from giving Muriel a call to arrange a date. I could never quite convince myself it would be good. I was lonely though, without even a workplace to distract me from my own inner gloom. I visited a house where young ladies provide themselves for a price, by the hour. Afterwards I felt the gloom even more. I considered seeking help from a psychologist. Again I swung back and forth. I just lacked the clarity to know what would lead me to a better place. Or perhaps I knew and was unwilling to take the necessary steps.
One time I was walking down High St, when I suddenly got it in me to break into a run. I had nowhere to run to but I knew I just had to run. Somehow the running was helping me leave a dark cloud behind. A dark cloud that had hovered over me for what seemed an eternity.
Families were strolling and shoppers were looking at the window displays. As I ran past, they turned and gave me a look like "What is wrong with him!". I was asking the same question of myself as I ran on, my legs seeming to have their own momentum. I came to the city square and finally could stop, heaving breathlessly as I had not really exercised for some time. I recall leaning down to catch my breath and the next thing I knew I was coming back from a dark place, and was lying on my back with a group of concerned matrons peering down at me.
"Are you OK, young fellow", they asked. I nodded but could not manage any words. One muttered to the other, "Too much to drink I suppose", and they walked on. I pulled myself up and managed to sit on the ledge surrounding a fountain, trying to look as normal as I could. It was hard though to look normal for in my mind I could hear voices like ravens calling out, "Run!, run for your life”.
Sometimes in the evenings I would go alone to a bar. I would get myself a drink and sit in a corner, waiting for someone to say hello. Nobody ever said hello. I would read the evening paper from cover to cover. Then I would summon up some courage to walk across the room and sort of hover around a group of young women and say something banal like, "Do you know who is playing later tonight?" They would look at me and giggle and not reply so I would slither away as if I had suddenly seen the band programme for the night, on the wall.
Other times I would stay in my rented room for days at a time. I would draw pictures of new settlements on the moon. Or ancient families eating bison in a cave. Or a young woman about to be married, and smiling at her man. I would sometimes weep as I felt that life was passing me by.
A snippet from the next delivery:
After the Mindfulness session I sat on a bench in the foyer drinking some jasmine tea that had been offered to me silently as I left the meditation hall. A few other participants were sitting around on various chairs and small tables. A man was intently perusing the leaflet stand as if searching for the lost chord or the holy grail. A few people just walked straight through the foyer and down the steps out of the building into the night. I wondered what value this evening had had for me. I did feel a lovely sense of calm but somehow the feeling that my life was pretty purposeless wrapped its arms around me as well. I tried not to frown, rather to smile slightly as I looked at the miniature waterfall next to the bench, in what I hoped was an appearance of rapt attention. I did not immediately notice that someone had very quietly sat on the other end of the bench perhaps only a metre away from me. A quiet cough drew my attention to her. She was looking at me, and when I turned my head towards her she commented, “You like water, I see”.