I would not will a life like mine upon my worst enemy, but a birthday wish fulfillment such as the one I was granted is something I’d wish for everyone to experience. It stands to reason that I can hardly shine the light on the latter outside the context of the former.
Throughout my entire thirty-three years of perpetuation, I have coexisted with the feeling that I did not belong; with a feeling that I did not quite connect, or fit in. Unanchored. It felt as if I walked beside myself - alongside my own body.
In my mind, I often referred to myself in plural form:
“Shall we clean?” I’d say when alone, or, “We are not feeling so well, are we?”
As if there was another ”I,” which should have been a part of me but floated somewhere nearby, not quite managing to connect with me. As if this other “I” was a size forty-two pair of feet trying to squeeze into baby-shoes. After a while of trying their best to make it work, the feet eventually grew tired and gave up, going bare instead, leaving the shoes to wither away, unaware of all the roads untraveled and pathways untrodden.
I would have perhaps had to endure a fate similar to that of the deserted shoes, my vacated body shriveling unaware of all the wonder and beauty that lay right under my soles, had my feet not come back to kick me awake.
Before that day, I was a spectator watching others glide through life with ease, which compared to my own turbulent existence appeared so profoundly effortless. I blamed God, I blamed my parents, I blamed my circumstances at birth. I sought atonement in deep concepts and thick books. I believed that to amend for such a long-lived hardship something big should happen. And that to bounce back from so many years of closed doors I would need a hundred open ones.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that my salvation, my answers, my solutions, my resolutions were all contained in one welcome crumb of truth, hidden inside my own self, waiting to be discovered underneath the debris that was piled up by my importunate life. And that small truth had the power to illuminate the darkness and breathe life into my bag of bones. I was only one dream away from being fully awake.
The sun was just rising when I awoke curled up at the foot of an oak that morning - the morning after which my life would change. The first thing I recall was a sharp clarity and an acute sense of wonder. I felt as if old bonds had been broken and old debts done away with. I felt new. Reborn. The grass I lay on was still green, the sky was still blue, the playground and everything around me were fundamentally unchanged. And yet my impressions, my sensations, my observations were all essentially different, guided by one defining emotion: rapture!
I twisted and frolicked, rolling around in the grass like a frisky cat gyrating in catnip, unconcerned about whether anyone might see me, unrestricted by the worry of what people may think. I felt whole, complete and rebelliously happy. Colors looked richer; the scents smelled more intensely; the air felt priceless. Like one of those bohemian tree-huggers, I wrapped my arms around the oak and hugged it. Then, I threw my jacket off and ran around the playground, overjoyed and more uninhibited than any of the children had ever done on it before. I felt like kissing every strand of grass, every leaf. I felt one with them all. I felt grateful to be alive.
Leaping around like a gleeful gazelle, at some stage, I saw a sweeper on the street walking up to the playground. The bags under his eyes were still heavy with sleep as he reluctantly trailed his broom behind him. I vividly remember the lack of reservation or doubt, when I ran over to him and gave him a hug.
“May I help you?” he said, then pushed me away agitated.
“Everything will be fine! You’ll see!” I announced exaltedly. “Better than fine! It will be amazing!” I was now holding him by his shoulders, staring into his gray eyes. “It all has a purpose! Even this broom! You are me, I am you, we are one, and we are love!”
The man was twice my size, but I could see from his jittering that he was alarmed, perhaps even scared of me. My exhilaration threatened him. He hurried on, obviously dismissing me as nuts. I didn’t mind. At that moment in time, I loved him even!
As I eventually started back home, feeling fuller than life, I burned with the desire to tell the world. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs for everyone I encountered to hear: “Be happy! Both life and death are a gift! There is only eternal bliss and love beyond and all around us! There is no vengeful God who pulls your puppet strings to make things happen. There is no punishment! No retribution!”
Oh, what a delicious feeling. I desperately wanted to preserve it, nurse and cherish it forever. Sadly, I knew that life would eventually ravish me of it, gradually, one paramount morsel of certainty at a time. I realized then that the only way to hold on to it was to give it away. That way, when my memory would stop serving me well, the truth would find its way back to me through the digested recollections of those I shared it with.
But even in my swing of rapture, even on that brink of blissful madness, I could remember my friend’s warning. The truth I meant to impart would seem like hogwash to those who had not experienced it. Like the street sweeper, they would find me deranged, or frightening.
So I decided not shout at the top of my lungs. But I will not confine my story either. As truth is often better seized and louder in the silence of the written word, I am about to write the history of my life, starting from the start, and continuing until I reach that fateful day when I turned thirty-three and made a wish from which I shall never become disentangled. A wish, which was as prosaic as my birthday celebration that year.
Perched on the protruding root of a mature oak that stood at the center of the neighborhood playground, I was gazing at the night sky. It was a dark, maddening vastness, endlessly speckled with breathtaking, lustrous patterns that effortlessly compelled the limelight of the chaotic equilibrium. I sat there wondering about the invisible forces that maintained that equilibrium, about the immense power that it must take to hold all that infinite vastness together, of all the promise that lay obscured under the glaring of the celestial lights.
Soon, I fell victim to a common human foible and allowed eminence to command my admiration, helplessly gaping at those stars that shone the brightest. Starting at Draco’s tail, I counted thirty-three heavenly bodies - one for each year of my life. And just like that, under the branches of that oak, in the most prosaic manner, I awaited the arrival of one of the most eulogized ages in history - thirty-three. Wishing upon the stars.
I could have wished for perfect happiness that some say climaxes after thirty. I could have asked for superpowers or thirty-three miracles, such as the ones that Christ had allegedly performed by the time he reached my age. I could have prayed for the fame and fortune that Alexander the Great had acquired before he left this world at thirty-three. Yet, all I asked for was ‘a dream.’ Like chanting a mantra, I asked it thirty-three times in a row. With only the slightest trace of hope that my wish would be instantly fulfilled.
I had nowhere to be and was in no particular rush to trade the splendor of the warm, July night for the confinements of my artificially lit, rented room in a shared apartment on Dacia Street in Botanica. This was an up-and-coming district in the capital of the meager and forgotten by all, Republic of Moldova. I fell asleep, there, under the oak, on the playground.
I was standing on a bank of a river when, on the other side, at the foot of a ridge, caped in the shadow of a snowy mountain, a tall, impressive figure made an unexpected appearance. A feathery white sheen extended peacefully in every direction around him. The snow, the mountain, the fog, were parts of the landscape that I had not up to that point discerned. I wondered how much more beauty still lay obscured in the vastness of that unknown.
Gracefully handsome, he didn’t look a day older than thirty. His eyes! A stark stellar green, bright enough to shine over the river that separated us. I had never seen such fire in a gaze before. Fascinated, I stared openly at him and could not help but notice that his pale, milky skin was unlike mine: flawless, unmarked by the traces of time or pain. His well-defined, full lips were smooth, whereas mine were covered by scales and bites. His gaze was uncorrupted and bright; my straight Eastern European face - somber and stern. His portrait was the airbrushed cover of a magazine; mine was black-and-white, poorly lit, but an honest shot.
I heard his name, although his lips had not parted. His voice did not come from over the river, but from between my own ears. I had never met the young man, neither in my slumber, nor in my waking life before, yet an introduction was redundant. Like everything else in this dream, Aniel felt essentially familiar.
My life may have started thirty-three years ago, but living commenced only after that night.