The fine line between Extraordinary and Insanity
We laid on our backs on the roof of my apartment, Gilot and I, contemplating the skies under the spell of a White Zinfandel and leftover plates of a chicken alfredo. A common night with a warm feeling to the heart. It had been six months since I first asked her to be my girlfriend in the apartment below the 501B. She had been all one hears when people speak on the promise of love.
“My first memory is not one of images but rather one of words spoken by my mother. My Pablo, she said, the mere fact you have been granted the opportunity to live this life is a testament that you have been born with a purpose. You have made it out of the web of smoke between life and purgatory because you have a call to greatness. You will be light in this world. If you become a soldier, you will become general. If you become a priest, you will become the pope. But I am yet to fulfill a life of promise…”, I tell Gilot holding a glass of wine.
“To whom much is given, much will be required.” -She responds.
“In youth, I had an unwavering confidence in myself and my skills. I thought the world would kneel to my iron resolutions. I have found in the passing of years; I was full of stupidity rather than courage. I was not able to perceive the world in it’s true shape and ways. I still hold on to a thin string of hope that survives the person I am today. Sometimes, I look myself in the mirror and ask myself, if my mother lived, what would she think of me? An aspiring artist living incongruently check to check from the crumbs of my everyday office job. I am repulsed to speak my truth when sober; I have lost myself to the ways of the world.”
“Have you thought about quitting? Let the parachute loose and freefall back to the beginning. Back to where you first started.”
“But once something has changed, can it really ever return? And can something in this world truly avoid change? I can’t oppose change, otherwise, I’ll die. One can change but it does not mean it has gone a thorough transformation. That is my problem. I changed to adapt but not to evolve. Just speaking on it, tenses my veins, I have grown scared of myself. The world now dictates my fate. If I let go of everything now, what would become of me? Of us? Could you really love me when I’m left without a penny to love?”
“I would like to think so, but I don’t know. Nothing in this world is certain and nothing in this world can give you the certainty you are looking for. You act, as if, in doubt of my loyalty, like we were strangers meeting for the first time, estranged to my feelings towards you. Have I not given you everything that I am and been your innkeeper of secrets? I could take this as an offense of the highest degree, yet, I won’t. It’s doubt doing the talking in your behalf. Who do you want doing the talking for you?”
“Guess you are right.”- I exhale from my mouth, my hands on my face, and from the pit of my stomach I let out a howl.
“All of you men are but paper soldiers, you fold and pierce with ease, carried along by the will of the wind.”
“Are we now?” I spun and got on top of her, “when you think of yourself as an animal, which are you?’
“I’ve always known I am a Greek horse. An Ilia. Smart, brave but undemanding.”
“A bull. I knew it the moment I first laid eyes on you. A handsome animal, not the tallest, neither the biggest, but you understand the force behind your figure. Your violent movements full of life, strike with force the earth, but that same fury carried within your bloodstream can lead you to confusion. In your cloven hoof lies the chaos of existence, wanting to run amok, to destroy and change, to stomp all obstacles. The scary part about your strength is that in it lies your weakness, if run berserk, you can harm those around you, and be trapped by your anger into an unreversible madness.” She said caressing in between her finger’s strands of my hair. Her touch calmed me and made me feel safe from everything in this world, including myself. In my gratitude, I kissed her hand.
“You need to go back to painting. It’s only in the canvas where you can be free and violent. Not in this world. This world leaves much to be desired.”
“This world is one made of desires. And my only desire right now, is you.” I brusquely lowered myself to her neck, kissing it, and cuffing both her wrists to the ground. Her legs swung viciously in struggle, her breath fastened, I could feel her chest tense up, her lips are now biting at my ears, I was now taming a wild horse. Once must assert dominance, fight it’s instincts to fight back, hold tight with authority, stroke it and transmit jurisdiction until it is subordinated to your will.
A combustion of kisses followed, her hands on my face, my hands sliding through her legs, our balances shifted from one’s center of gravity to another, until I lost balance for a moment, and she fended me off with a push to my chest.
“If this is going to happen, I am going to need more wine.” She stretched out an empty wine bottle in her hand.
“There should be another bottle downstairs. I left one in the fridge waiting for us. Not sure where I left the corkscrew though.”
“I’ll look for it. Be right back.”
With Gilot leaving me by myself for a moment, I pulled out the letter from my back pocket. I opened it up and started reading again the first line “We appreciate your interest and time taken on wanting to join our company…blah blah….at this time we have decided to pursue other candidates. We wish you the best in your search.” I was the 56th rejection letter I had received in the past year. One would think I would be immune to feigned interest and cold stone indifference behind the verbiage of these sort of things, but I wasn’t. It wasn’t the fact of being rejected that hurt, but how sudden the candle of my aspirations could be blown out. No, maybe what hurt even deeper, was the fact I have invested so much of myself on trying to become the person this world wanted me to be. The foundation of a person’s persona that is built from the moment one opens eyes in this world to the early 20s as it enters adulthood, all those pillars that I thought had built a structure of who I am, I had offered this world as the meat of a sacrificial lamb, kneeling to it, aligning my internal believes to those of the external word, to obtain the good favor of a God. And that God had spit out only the bones, nonchalantly rejecting my offer, leaving a barely recognizable skeleton.
As of lately, I had the feeling to be seeing shadows. Black silhouettes in the shape of a person standing in the corner of my eyes. I had read once, that seeing this type of things meant that death was nearby and approaching. Was this the world letting me know I was too weak, giving me the harshest rebuttal to my existence? And that my only way out was to die? No, that couldn’t be true! I know I still have much more to do. I refuse to die! But if it was, would I be proud of the live I’ve lived? My heart sank.
I tore the letter into pieces in thorough disgust and sent the scattered pieces of paper flying looking like white wings of nocturnal butterflies. I placed my arms behind my head cushioning its weight and went on to look at the night sky. It was a fair Sunday night in the month of May. It is rare to see the stars in this city, as it sits in a valley, clouds stale, the mayhem created by the common occurrence of this society, like smog, does not help either, or most of us are too busy to see beyond ourselves and the everyday news. Tonight, a glowing blue moon was suspended in the skies and accompanied by a militia of scintillating stars. It had been a long time since the last time I had seen them, probably, at some point during my childhood. I didn’t remember them quite as big. I did recall there being more of them, or it was probably nothing other than a dissimilation of my memories and reality.
A gliding plane wrapped in the shadows of the night moved steady across the circumference of the illuminating moon. I kept on looking at it laid back waiting it to cross over into the sea of black. The silhouette seemed odd, unnatural, I pondered what kind of plane it was. I couldn’t see the wingtip navigation lights blinking, so, I squinted my eyes to get a better look. Paying closer attention, I could see an almost hairline thin line below the bigger silhouette, that under more focus it’s shaped was not of a plane. The upper part of the figurine was round and bigger in shape than the rest of the parts. What first appeared as the bottom right wing was like a golf club and the main cabin, of my thought so plane, resembled a torso. From the bottom another golf club came forward and the silhouette traveled a little further along the thin line. It was a human shape with a bubble head!
“Gilot! Come see this!” I yelled out but got no response.
I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. Was it another shadow that I was seeing? Was it maybe the wine? I didn’t feel dizzy or lightheaded at all. I decided to opt for a second look after opening my eyes. It was still there traveling across the moon, like a drawn black stick figure on a circular piece of paper, it was no invention of mine. Now standing at the border of the moon’s aureole, the bubble head silhouette extended out towards one of the nearby stars. In a jerk, the light of the star was snatched like a band aid ripped clean.
Incredulous, I sat mouth wide open unable to send signals to the rest of my body. My brain froze and all terminals of my nervous system were having technical difficulties to respond. The black silhouette began to make it’s decent the way around, and not until it was halfway in the middle of the blue moon, could I gather myself and get up. I rushed for the stairs, lurching down the stairs to my apartment like a decapitated chicken, calling out to Gilot the moment I was able to get the entrance door open. She was opening and closing all the kitchen counters trying to find the corkscrew.
“You…have to come…with me upstairs, this… very instant” I said panting.
“Are you okay?”
“Just hurry and follow me!”
I told her what I had seen when we were back in the terrace, but as we looked on to the moon and skies, nothing was there anymore. It was just another casual summer night. The clouds fogged the moon’s surroundings hiding for themselves its brilliance. Gilot sighed and padded me on the back.
“I think you should get some sleep tonight. Let’s keep that wine bottle closed for another night.”
“I promise you. It was right there!” I said while pointing to the clouds that have hidden any evidence capable of validating my testimony.
Back in the apartment I laid out on my sofa with my head on the pleated arm revising the events with Gilot. I felt as if I was at the therapist trying to put together the pieces of my memory as to make sense of the situation.
“Ok, let´s go over it again. You are telling me you saw a silhouette that resembled a man with something on his head, on what you think was maybe a tight rope, grab a star and take it?”
“YES”, I said after the fourteenth time of explaining to her.
Looking me straight in the face, and her pupils taking the shapes of question marks, she asked me in a most sincere tone, “Pablo, did you lite a joint while I came down? You can tell me. I won´t get mad.”
“I swear I didn’t! Perhaps I thought maybe the wine…but I know what I saw up there I tell you. I swear on my life.”
She looked at me then down at her wristwatch.
“It’s that time again. Our session has ended but I’ll call you tomorrow to check back on you.” She said giggling.
“Very funny of you. Why don’t you spend the night? Call him and tell him you are spending the night at a friend’s house.”
“He suspects of me. Last time he made too many questions on my whereabouts and if he finds out I am dating an older guy then he will lock me up and throw away the key. You know how he is about other men and distractions from my studies.”
“Sure, go home then.”
She stood up from the dinner table and got up to kiss me goodbye on the forehead.
“Don’t forget to take your medication!” she said running out the door in laughter.
I got up rumbling to close the door to my apartment. “I know what I saw whether you believe me or not…I think.”
Trying to take my mind away from things, I grabbed a pillow and a blanket, turned off the lights and laid back on the sofa turning on the TV. A scary movie by the name of “IT” was playing. Based off a Stephen King book, the trauma revolves around a clown looking monster by name of Pennywise that predates on the young children of a town in the 1960’s. Hunting them from the town sewers. I must admit the clown in the movie was scary looking. I flipped through the channels to see if I could find anything else on, but local TV was mediocre at this time of the night.
My alarm clock under the TV read in neon green 11:30 pm. I would have to be up in less than 6 hours to go to work. Tomorrow was a Friday, and I would have the weekend to catch up on my sleep. Gilot and I used Thursday nights as date nights, under the innocent excuse of having to go to friend’s houses to work on school projects others had procrastinated to work on until the last day of the week. Her father had grown suspicious as of late, but he was interested in her attending a famous law school, so he had to set aside his speculation and concede to academics made up by the fabrication of the imagination.
My eyelids became heavy and before I knew it, I had passed out on the sofa. The sound of running water terrorized my dreams; caught in a nightmare where Pennywise hunted me from the sewers of this city. I knew he wasn’t too far off as the clang of the sink faucet announced his entrance and the sound of running water got closer and closer. To my misfortune, it was not a nightmare, but the sound of my neighbor´s shower, which meant I was late for work.
I have learned to measure my time by the sounds of the ordinary. For example, I knew traffic and car horns sounds meant it was quarter to six in the morning (apparently, I had slept soundly through those on this morning), and the sound of my neighbor´s shower meant it was six thirty in the morning. Adding the two, I concluded that I was running late for work. I had forgotten to set my alarm that on most mornings wasn´t a necessity, but my eyes had been profoundly shot by the wine from last night. I had 10 minutes to get ready, before morning traffic began to collapse with severity the roads to work. I stripped naked and jump in the shower.
I got in my 95´Volkswagen Jetta, the small digital clock on the radio reading it was fifteen minutes to seven, I cranked up the radio to help me wake up and silence the rumblings from my empty stomach. The commentators on the radio babbled about this year´s World Cup only a few days away from taking place in France. Thoughts that had come back to me in the shower slowly soaked my memory back to the events from last night. Just what was or who was the being from last night? Maybe, someone else had seen him. I shuffled through all the radio stations in case news had broken on the matter. NOTHING. Could this mean it was really a hallucination of mine? How does one know if he has gone mad? Rather than keep sinking into a sea of questions and riddles, I thought, it would be better for me to relax while driving down the congested road. I opted to turn the station back to 91.3 where “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by some recent British band sensation played.
“Cause it´s a bittersweet symphony this life,
Trying to make ends meet, trying to find some money then you die,
I´ll take you down the only road I´ve ever been down,
You know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet, yeah.”
I got to my parking space buried deep below the office building at floor -7. A place where no sunshine entered, and the light stench of humidity always inhabited the spaces. No living being, other than bacteria, could blossom down here. I took an uninspiring breath, as it was my morning routine, and walked towards the elevators. I climbed aboard and up to the first floor. I punched my time in and headed to my workspace. High office windows rounded the walls of the office space meaning to relax the company workers and give them a feeling of liberation, but if one looked outside the windows, it only encountered other gray concrete office buildings where people wearing homogenous uniforms labored similar work shifts. It was like looking at an old clock with figurines that follow the same rhythm and patterns at the strike of the hour. This, of course, defeated any feeling of freedom that was originally intended to motivate the work force. These types of innovating ideas were accompanied by many of the of the international companies that had arrive to this country quite recently after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in ninety-four.
My work colleagues are just returning to their seats with the morning coffee in hand. “You got here late, so we had to go on ahead without you before everyone piled up in the line” said Laura while holding a folded newspaper underneath her arm.
“No worries, but do you mind if I take a look at that?” I was already snatching the newspaper from underneath her.
“Go ahead but don’t you solve the puzzle on the back. I am saving it for lunch.”
I flipped through the pages scanning the words in black ink for mention of any paranormal event. The thin groundwood pages were covered by tragedies, as the walls of East Berlin by communist propaganda, the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia continue to trade fire with the number of deaths piling up as both try to seize control of Kosovo, Pakistan continues to mourn the loss of East Pakistan and a few weeks after Operation Shakti it detonates five nuclear devices in the Ras Koh Hills in the Balochistan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declaring Pakistan a “nuclear power”, the latest scandal from our neighbor up north, Paula Jones is not willing to bury the hatchet and wants Clinton´s head on a silver platter, and now to unfolding the dirty laundry from home, a congresswoman calls for an investigation in Ciudad Juarez as 121 women have gone missing in the past 4 years. All these bizarre stories, but nothing on what transpired the night before.
My boss comes in and lays a bunch of files and paperwork on my desk. “I suggest you put that paper down and get to reading these documents. Same goes for all of you, you have wasted enough time this morning. EPS checks will be distributed by lunch time”. As he was retreating to his cubicle in the corner of the room, he turned around and asked, “Where is Guillaume? I swear, one of these days will be his last day to be late to this office. I will have all of his things packed in a box for him to take on the bus back home.”
As if by called on cue, appeared Guillaume from the corner with his loose kakis and half of his shirt tucked out from the back. His pants filled with wrinkles seemed like a dry autumn leaf full of cracks. Guillaume’s hair was messy as always with strands of hair sticking to his sweaty forehead, and his patchy beard did not help his aspect from differentiating him from a vagabond. To this day, no one could convince me, he had worn professional attire when interviewing for the job.
“I’m here sir! Pardon my tardiness but the bus I got on got stuck in one of the intersections and a lady with baby in arms…”
“Quiet. I don’t want any of your excuses. It’s too early for me to start having to deal with you right now. Get to work with Pablo on those papers I left on his desk.”
“You mean that Kilimanjaro?!” said Guillaume pointing to the stack of paperwork on my desk.
With one scowling look, the boss stopped Guillaume from uttering any word in reproach.
“Right this instant sir!”
I had already begun opening the first file and reading through the paperwork when Guillaume approached me and asked if it was okay by me if he I got started on the work while he went out to get some coffee the moment the boss took his seat. I told him I didn’t mind. By this point I had found out that although the job was tedious and repetitive, it was always better to have something to do to not suffer the passing of time in this office. Midway through the first contract, Guillaume was crouching sneaking back to his seat with his coffee.
“So, are you going to tell me what held you up this morning? You know you are not far off from getting kicked out of here.” I said to him. Guillaume and I had become friends through the office work. He had mentored me when back when I entered the job. He was 6 years older than I and about halfway between my age and that off the boss.
“Oh Pablo, sweet old boy, your age makes you naïve, but it is through my friendship that you will learn to taste the nectar of life. You see, I was not late in arriving this morning to the office, I was late in getting to my seat. The mere reason for your question lets me know how imperceptive you are to the situations around us. It is for weeks now that something has been brewing between Carmen and me. Yes, that Carmen, at the reception. From the moment I laid eyes on her, and I gave her my entry card to stamp, at the first brush of our hands, I could recognize it was destiny trying to tie us together. From that moment on, I have been spending every morning at her reception desk, as Romeo speaking to Juliet on her balcony, it is in the moment the clock strikes 7 am and everyone runs to their desks, that I get to keep her all to myself. It is at those moments a fire inside me forges poems for my lover. But as fate will have it, because of the tyranny of this office and of that man, facade of a king, sitting in a throne inside a cubicle, that we are star crossed lovers. The only time I am to have with her is the time I am meant to spend reading these frivolous words (he had taken the contracts and held them high in the air).”
“And why don’t you just invite her on a date after work or on the weekend?”
“This, my boy, is where the plot thickens. You would think the forces at work here are the true evil driving a wedge between us, but the main antagonist awaits still behind a curtain. She is married to a scourge of a man! Holding her captive in his tower once she has returned from the ball. And I am left with only our short memories to last me until the moment we meet again.”
“And why doesn’t she just get a divorce?”
“Ah, you are clever! In fact, that is what I am helping her to do. She has come for the assistance of her knight in shining armor. Carmen requested I help her save enough money for her to pay a lawyer to defend her cause. As of the last few paychecks, I have been separating some of my earnings, nothing big, otherwise my mother would reproach me for bringing less money home and might just throw me out. But today, the trumpets of heaven can be heard, because with my EPS check I will hand it over to her and liberate it from her shackles. My mother only counts the money from my paycheck, so, this money I can hand freely to Carmen. It won’t be long from then until we get our happy forever after.”
“But why doesn’t she just begin by separating herself from this man? She can go live at a friend’s house in the meantime… I would suggest your house, but I am not sure your mother would agree to such indiscretion” I responded in a fiendish manner.
“Ha! There it is my boy! The foolishness of your age speaking again…”
“Quiet Guillaume! I can hear you all the way to my office”, yelled out the boss.
“As I said, you are not quite capable of understanding these sorts of things at your age” said Guillaume now speaking in a quitter voice, “Matters of the heart get more complicated as you get older.”
“Maybe, but I’m not sure if they will get more complicated than this contract. I need you to read for me the first five pages again and make sure we agree on what is being stated” I placed the folder in front of him which triggered Guillaume into one of his common soliloquys.
“Once I enter this office, I leave all my liberties at the door as one would take off his shoes in entering another´s house in Japanese culture, it would be rude of me to bring in the dirt from the streets, or in this case, the clutter from one´s mind and personality to place where I am to be nothing, but a soldier born to carry the company logo as my flag. I shall not think for myself but only follow procedures and orders. To break from the rest is such a dirty sin in this cemetery of aspirations. The empathic wheel of the money chasing dictates our miserable fates, and it does not discriminate among men. It allows for us all to be part of it´s superb system only in the exchange of a little freedom. Give me your freedom and I will give you your chains! Time, oh time, the only currency we have enough of to invest and exchange, and yet, time will be all we ask of in the end. Time, that which we cannot buy but we can always spare to waste. I fear the day I ask where you’ve gone, my lost time…”
Guillaume carried on with his soliloquy, but I had tune him out. Although he had added new verses to his discourse, the original idea I knew too well and have heard many times. And I agreed but agreeing would not change reality. The fact I knew this speech so well was a testament of how long things had remained the same. I dove deep in the contract language. After a while, I noticed Guillaume had gone silent and was also making annotations to the contractual verbiage. We kept at it until lunch time.
Before we could depart for our break, our boss got out in front of our row and started handing out the EPS checks. It was a decent amount, enough for anyone to buy a plane ticket for a nice vacation spot, payout any pending credit card debt, or in some cases, as a down payment for the services of a lawyer. I handed Laura back the newspaper I had borrowed from her in the morning. Anxious and in high spirits of receiving her check, she asked me what I planned to do with mine.
“Not sure yet…there were some painting materials I would like to buy and restock on, but outside of that, I haven’t given it too much thought. And you?”
“I was thinking heading down to the Radioshack at the downstairs mall. It just opened and I’ve seen they have discounts to attract customers. Perhaps, I could buy me a Walkman at the right price. Would you like to come with me? We could grab a bite afterwards.”
“It’s not a bad idea. I was planning on maybe eating with Guillaume, but I see he has already run off somewhere” I had a pretty clear idea on his whereabouts.
On entering the store, Laura headed straight for the music and stereo section of the shop. I took a walk around the store looking at the discount tags on the item. It was true, some of the items had great deals with tags underlining up to 20% discounts. I found myself at the back of the store where cameras were on display. An idea jumped at me just when a man dressed in a brown shirt with rough lines on his face came to assist me.
“Are you looking for something in particular?”
“Hmm, something I can use to shoot the rabbit on the moon.”
“I got just the one.”