Autumn arrives quickly in White Sands, while the colours sojourn for maybe a few weeks in preparation for the yellowing descent into starkness. The sky was a pale blue with cool wisps of cloud that day I made my way down the sidewalk of Main Street noting the first emergence of colouration in the green–oranges and yellows and reds–smoking a cigarette and gathering myself and walking around hoping on hope for a poignant distraction, one that could turn my focus outward.
I was tired of reflecting upon myself and I longed for the days before November had latched itself to my vision. Could it be that I yearned for ignorance? Truly, I was alone and the letter I carried had not convinced me otherwise. Nonetheless, the letter had stayed with me every moment of every day since I had received it, reminding me of the companionship I once treasured and yet was ultimately unfulfilling.
Semi-consciously, I suppose, I deviated from the direction of the cafe where I was supposed to join Euripides in a couple hours for coffee (it became assumed that we met for coffee every Tuesday at 2:00). I was concerned that he might not be there, for one of our group discussions turned ugly when, ironically, Jason singled Euripides out as an unproductive member and pushed for the motion to have him permanently dismissed. Euripides’ face dropped at the suggestion, and even though I rose to his defense, nobody else did, so the scene ended tragically with the departure of the pathetic, shabbily dressed linguist.
All he had to say for himself was, “Banah naqaph ro’sh tla’ah.” Then he left.
Absorbed with all these thoughts and their concomitant emotional responsibility, the next thing I knew my journey had unconsciously taken me up the hill to my origins, the womb-like subdivision where I experienced the genesis of my education and made some of the most profound contributions to the character of the man I have presented to the world.
Grammar schools were provided with substitutes throughout the duration of the teachers strike, so I went and sat cross-legged in the shade of large tree outside the fenced playground that used to contain my joy in anticipation of the children being freed for recess.
Lighting another smoke, I looked from the outside on security and wondered if security was really what I wanted. I was raised religious, so one aspect of me found security in religion, yet I was simultaneously disgusted and unconvinced. In freeing my mind from religion, I initially found some security in myself, that is, my uniqueness, but in approaching my uniqueness I couldn’t help but uncover my neuroses, meaning that I wasn’t so unique and there wasn’t exactly a reservoir of security I could divine from the wellspring of my soul.
A person like me has no place to turn outside of “clarity,” and, when I think about it, clarity’s what I continue to have to desire . . . what I need to keep my eye on if I’m to make any type of contribution to myself, let alone society. But the temptation to turn back to dream and go about my life as though nothing is wrong always beckons.
The day before, you know, in the cafe with Jason, Fancy and Darren, I actually had an urge to share an aspect of my life with the other confidants, but was too shy in the crunch. What I’m referring to is the subtle connection between the story and the story-within-the-story, or perhaps better put, the confession within the confession.
So that day outside the schoolyard I was thinking about childhood in light of a salient intertextuality.
So far, I have revealed nothing about my family-life. My father, Michael Soren Page, was a man of exceedingly good character, but consumed by the indelible fires of guilt. I can admit it, members of my family are particularly sensitive to guilt and it’s as though the condition is hereditary.
For our household, it all goes back to father’s family of seven living in Toronto on a single income, basically starving and barely scratching by. My dad attended high school and still maintained a job forty hours a week, continuing to do so from his freshman year to graduation. Never did he have time to devote to himself, but he struggled on and apparently maintained good spirits, taking it upon himself to be the “encourager” figure for his younger siblings.
Then my grandfather got laid off from his job as some type of laborer at the airport, and the responsibility landed squarely on my father’s shoulders. Instead of going to university, which was always my father’s plan, and my father was certainly intelligent and capable enough, he had to continue his job to support the family. But the money could not be stretched enough to cover their expenses, so starvation gave way to starvation and coldness in the cruel Toronto winter.
It was at this time that my father’s frustration and discontent demonstrated themselves on the top of a building he was janitoring one January evening. He went outside and screamed in the spacelessness of Toronto’s frigid air, invoking a curse on the God who had allowed his family such undeserved misery.
Never did my father overcome the guilt from this curse.
My father’s soul perished that day, but did his spiritual death imply that his family-to-be’s souls had to be forfeited upon conception as well? What I’m talking about is the guilt that so consumed my family-life that my first recollections of childhood are streaked with somber and melancholic tones. My parents would leave crucifixes with my toys and attach religious significance to the most childish of antics. Every facet of my young life was tainted by this somber religiosity.
You could say my mother was just as responsible for this. I remember how she used to wear these slippers, and since she dragged her feet you could always hear her location in the house, the poor defeated woman.
She would slide around and do dishes, dust or vacuum, being the consummate housewife. And I could tell she tried so hard to make my Dad happy. She epitomized the idea of nurture, being a fabulous mother, wonderful cook and dutiful spouse. Her sad religiousness was borne from totally different circumstances, however. She was the victim of spiritual abuse. My grandmother was so uptight about sex that religion became the great repression. For most of her life, the symbol of the cross was all the fulfillment she needed. That’s why she constantly reminded me about how propriety is a combination of piety, purity, and observance. She suffocated me with this idea of propriety, to the point where I felt I had no choice but to get the hell out of there.
So, I moved out of the house by my sixteenth year to escape the price of being scorned by the family who God had scorned twenty or so years earlier–it was either that or hang myself.
I recognized my isolation at a very young age, that it not only entailed a separation from the rest of humanity, but my family as well. I was first suspicious of this fact when I was eight, when a highly precious presence was removed from my life, but it was only confirmed when my father didn’t realize that my decision to move out at a young age had as much to do with my love for him as my need for escape. I made it my mission to be his example of hope, just as he tried to be that model for his own siblings.
It was recess at the school, and the children began filing out under the cold sky and I ceased my reflection. It was time to observe and be energized by those I hold hope for. Children ran to various sections of the schoolyard, and I witnessed many activities: girls skipping rope; two boys throwing a football; bigger football game under the shade of trees serving as endzone markers; kids who simply ran for the sake of exhilaration; girls hanging onto the seemingly out-of-place teacher, large and monstrous within the carefree fencing.
Or was it so carefree? Down the fence to my right I could see a little fellow by himself, drawing in the dirt with a stick, and I couldn’t help but project myself into the young geriatric.
He stirred my heart . . .
The boy was not so unlike me at his age. Perhaps he was eight, but it didn’t matter, he wrote meaning into my life in his young discernment. Did he know that he caught my attention, that I was infinitely more captivated by his situation than all of the other activity in the schoolyard combined?
I pulled a notepad out of my pocket and began to jot a poem down. I felt inspired.
Child in the corner by the fence, alone
in the schoolyard
Scratching with a stick
On the ground, pawing
Of epitomizing your feelings in a picture
not knowing how or why
you stand alone, so prone
to the rejection you feel at their play
Under the shadow of tree you stand, blank page
Clouds condensing on your face
as you kick your picture into dust
I know it lad, I know you must
destroy your story
I love you boy as I love the sky
for you are me as I am you
just remember the picture in your rage
of us together, inscribed
And though we cry, friend of mine,
little sullen friend
We cannot let this harm us
though my soul bleeds
for your voiceless pleas
in the form of a story
that just can’t express what you feel . . .
while the angels sip
from God’s sweet chalice of wine
in the form of children surrounded with joy
And moan you not
Young child, young me
young wolf so alone
look past the imminent dusk
and see past the haze
past the loneliness of our days
to our story
that fades from the ground
yet not from our minds
So always we’ll see
the transience of this day and life
Long after the kids had returned to the classroom, I was still sitting up against the tree working on this poem, and I was satisfied that I had accomplished something that autumn afternoon. When I was about to leave a car pulled up with these screaming girls inside, causing a commotion and obviously full of sarcasm; I hate when girls pretend they’re carrying on about an attractive guy when it’s obviously untrue. One of the girls, however, hopped out and joined me cross-legged in my shade from the sunshine: it was Infiny Schmidt.
“You haven’t phoned lately,” says Infiny.
“I know . . .”
“So you found other models?”
I shook my head.
“You’ve been busy?”
“With that play you’re writing?”
“How do you know about Project Grey-Eyed?” I asked.
“You told me about it when you were painting me last time, remember?” she laughs. “You said it was to be your best adaptation yet.”
“Why are you bothering me?” I stated flatly.
My irritability doesn’t seem to phase her.
“It’s just that, well . . . well I saw Karis in the grocery store yesterday, then I saw you here, and I thought, maybe–”
I told her I didn’t even know Karis was in town and that I didn’t care. I failed to mention, though, that I still was in possession of the letter. In truth I was flabbergasted that Karis was in town and, after writing me the letter and all, didn’t phone or try to get in touch with me.
“The reason I haven’t been using you as a model,” I explained, “is that I have an art exhibit I’m doing in conjunction with a former professor in Toronto. I don’t need any more pieces.”
“That’s great,” says green-eyed Infiny in a quiet voice, suggesting disappointment in her girlish way.
“Yeah, he had me write a poem, too, and we’re going to film my mouth saying the poem and project it over that painting of you with the butterfly wings hovering over the Tolkienesque mountains, with the ominous clouds and the dirty yellow sky.”
“I wish I could be there to see it.”
I told her that maybe it could be arranged for her to join us, and even take the trip down with me.
She becomes quiet, and appears quite thoughtful, inhabiting the shadow of an impending wave of sadness.
A few lazy seconds of silence pass before she can put her thoughts into words.
“You know what I like about your work?” she asks.
“I like that you take normal girls like me and Alyssa, you know, a cashier and a clerk in a lady’s fashion store, and capture something beyond us, you what I mean–you capture the beauty beyond the beauty of the ordinary woman, and I appreciate it.”
In response, I said nothing. I closed my eyes and starting rubbing my temples.
“But, Shannon, when I consider you and how you relate yourself to the world . . . thinking and stewing . . . about things . . . and how you fixate . . . the problems you have . . . your desire for esoteric insight into womankind . . . there’s just something . . . well . . . unnatural at play . . .”
“What are you trying to say?”
Under her breath: “God, it scares me to consider how you’re going to make that poor woman devastatingly unhappy some day . . .”
The penetrating stare I gave her would have melted steel.
“Look, I’m trying to be honest here: How are you so supposed to succeed in love if don’t know how to succeed when it comes to you? With all the problems you have, I don’t see why you bother even with your art, to tell you the truth.”
“You don’t understand,” I said flatly, feeling the churning of anxiety that had been in remission. I don’t why, for what did little Infiny Schmidt know about my situation?
“I’m just saying . . . Why would you reveal yourself to others, when it’s not clear to yourself what it is you’re offering to the collective consciousness? Pandora syndrome. It’s pathetic, when you think about it.”
“What is?” I whispered, drawing myself close to her, my curiosity piqued. The desire to kiss her was intense.
“That when I see you, I don’t consider the fact that you’re a good painter, that you’ve had your poetry published, that you are bored to be an English teacher at a small high school. I just see how wretched you are . . .”
For whatever reason, I chose that moment to kiss her. Infiny pushes me away in revulsion–her green blazing angry–and leaps to her feet.
“That’s your problem,” she says chidingly. “Self-expression, for you, will only describe the epidermis of human experience . . .”
I stood up to apologize, but she pushes me hard against the fence and gives me a defiant, scalding glare. As she walks away, I collapse into a heap, letting my blood cool and cool.