Then

She was the first woman ever to call me “honey.”  She held my hand and said she loved me.  That was then.

Once there was a boy who dreamed of the sea.  He dreamed of a day that was as gray as a corpse.  He saw an endless shore, the horizon receding out beyond the curvature of the earth.  There was only gray water against gray sky.  There were no waves breaking on the gray sand.  There was no inland, only the endless divide between the sea, the sky and the sand.

From somewhere people walked to the water’s edge.  Hundreds of people, monochromatic people.  No color anywhere.  More and more people assembled along the shore.  They all looked up into the sky, beyond the water.  The people were silent.  They stretched out along the water as far as the boy’s eyes could see.  He knew they extended even further, beyond the limits of his sight. He was far away from the people and, wondering why they were there and what they were doing, he walked along the gray cold sand to meet them. He walked a long time and as he watched the horizon he saw more and more people looking to the sky.  He thought they were waiting for a word, a sign, something that would descend from the sky and give them hope.  Something from their god, a god the boy didn’t know.

Slowly the boy approached this vast mass of silent, gray, searching people.  Still no one spoke.  The boy was overwhelmed by the silence, the calm silence of the gray day.  He, too, began watching the sky, listening to the deep silence–a kind of not listening because there was no sound at all.

Without any warning rumble or changing brightness or darkness, a voice that was not a voice but more a limitless sound that filled the entire sky descended on the people.  One word that was not a word, spoken without speech, was heard across this entire world.

That word was the boy’s name.

The boy didn’t know why.  His name falling from heaven had no meaning for him.  He knew no god.

All of the people along the shore slowly turned and looked at the boy.  They knew.

The boy woke up and didn’t know if he had been dreaming.  For more than fifty years the boy remembered this great dividing gray, the people on the shore, the water and his name filling the sky and earth and the peoples’ souls.

She asked me that early day when we were new together what I most wanted in my life.  I answered to have a woman love me as much as I loved her.

There was a night, a long time ago, when that boy became a man.  It wasn’t magical, or filled with joy, or significant beyond the act itself.  The new man said to himself, “I have crossed a line and life will be different now.”  How different he couldn’t begin to comprehend. How could he have known, then, that crossing that line was the beginning of a journey that led down a road of sadness and heartbreak?  That came later.  In between the markers along the way the man did see sunshine, and had blessings, and knew there was something that might assuage the sadness.  It had to be there, somewhere.

What happens when a man at last finds the one thing he has always wanted, and searched for, waiting a long, long time to find this one thing, and then the man loses it?

What dies in that man, as his dream dies?

I see her running towards me, so happy, embracing me, kissing me in the grass, lying next to me on the blanket as we let the music rise up to the stars. 

There are places that retain memories of their past.  The memories lie deep within the landscape. They reveal themselves to those who seek them.  There was once a man who sought such a place, such a memory.

He lived in Barcelona.  From someplace long buried in his consciousness he knew he wanted to see Roncesvalles. It had to have come from reading La Chanson de Roland in 11th grade French class.  He wanted to see that battlefield from so long ago to touch something he couldn’t exactly define.  It wasn’t a literary pilgrimage. It wasn’t a religious journey.  He hadn’t even thought of going there before living in Spain.  The idea came to him one day and he knew he had to go, that there might be something in this place that had an answer to a question he didn’t know.

It was in May when the man set off one morning with only a map to lead him down highways and roads that grew smaller and less traveled along the way.  He stopped in Zaragoza for the night and ate alone in a restaurant well recommended in his Michelin guide.  He wasn’t in a hurry, though only detoured off his route on his way home.

In the morning he continued deep into Navarre, passing small towns and villages with their Romanesque church towers, their old women sitting in the sun.  In late afternoon he approached Roncevalles.  The light was beginning to glow in the early dusk.  He rounded a bend in the road and there was the battlefield, unmarked but unmistakably there.  He stopped his car and walked up the slope, so green with its new grass and flowers.  Dark wooded hills filled the horizon.  Here was the site of the defeat of Charlemagne in 778.

The man started to cry.  It wasn’t the first time he had cried in Spain.  Once, in the great cathedral in Toledo, he sat on a bench listening to an invisible organist play, the sun streaming through the opening in the cathedral’s roof, and cried unable to stop.  That time it was tears of sadness that had begun when he had crossed that line years before.

At Roncevalles his tears also came from his heart, but were tears that flowed into the future, a future he didn’t know beyond knowing it was hopeless.  Like the fallen knight, he fell, too.

Slowly he stood up and walked back to his car.  He drove a short way down the road to a small inn covered in roses and checked into a room.  He was the only guest.  The proprietress eyed him with suspicion as she led him upstairs to a cold and dark room.  That evening he was the only diner in the inn’s dining room.  He ate the most delicious jamon de serrano he had ever had, cut in thick slices from the bone.

He left the village in the morning, stopping to look a last time at the field where Roland had died.  In the morning sun the landscape withheld its secrets.  The man didn’t cry and drove off in his red car, taking a different route home to Barcelona, stopping to see the ancient Monastery of Leyre on the way.

The man knew, though, that Roncevalles had changed him.  Again, he had crossed another kind of line. What came after was already imprinted in his soul.

I remember a time when we sat on the weathered wooden bench above the flowing water, alone with each other, my arm around her, her head on my shoulders. The quiet of this place where monks prayed, where gardens of flowers filled the air with the scent of lilies and roses, surrounded us like a sanctuary.  I had never been happier. Somewhere deep inside, I knew, though, that this place was outside any reality we could hold on to, could keep within us after we left the quiet valley.  No amount of prayers could fill that space between that day and the days that came later.

There came a time when the man the boy had become couldn’t face the hopelessness of his life.  He only saw his life as a long dark tunnel that had no end.  He couldn’t see that there were trees and flowers and children and sunshine outside his tunnel.  Everyday he walked further and further down into the darkness. He had his reasons for this despair.  He mistakenly thought they were real.  He didn’t see his own blindness.

The man had a plan that would end the misery.  He thought about it for a long time.  He worked out all the details, planned for the consequences in all the wrong ways.  Then he tested his plan over and over again and one night he decided it would be the night.

The road twisted though the woods and fields of an endless property.  It was always quiet there.  There were no other cars, as was the plan.  How the man mustered the nerve to do what he did has remained for him a mystery.  His plan didn’t work.  He buried his plan inside as far as he could push it down and never talked about it for a very long time.  It lived there inside like a cancer, spreading upwards and outwards to its inevitable end.

These were not good times for the man.

The night I kissed her for the first time, in the warmth of a spring night, outside the restaurant where the men cheered, I knew I had crossed another line, the line I had always wanted to cross.  That line was love.

There are substitutes for living outside oneself.  Travel.  Wine.  Music. Poetry.  Being alone in a forest.  Swimming in waves.  There was a man who knew all of these substitutes. He sought them out.  There were many others, too.  After a while they became ends unto themselves.  All were addictions the man couldn’t beat.  The man knew that if he only lived life’s substitutes, real life itself would fade away.  The addictions worked until they didn’t work anymore.  There was another night that changed the man’s life, that he hadn’t planned though perhaps he had sought.  Loneliness led to unconsciousness which led to misery which led to tragedy.  The compulsion that led the man from one to the next was beyond his control.  Later he knew, as awful as it was, it had to have happened.  There could have been no other way.  This end was his beginning.

One sunny afternoon we walked through an old part of Tokyo, a section of small shops and makers of rice crackers, and old wooden buildings.  There were shops that made only color pigments and one that made paint brushes once bought by Matisse.  Cats warmed themselves on the stone walls of a cemetery.  We took pictures of each other and shared a dessert in a small ice cream parlor.  We held hands and were in love.  We grew tired by the end of the day and again, I felt the old sadness seep in.  Again, another time and place out of the reality of our lives.  An escape from the realities at home.  A place where our love could be alone.

There was another time when a man suffered a fatal blow to his heart.  Doctors tried to mend it.  They thought it was a disease inside the man’s body, something eating his heart away.  They gave him pills to cure this malady.  Somehow they missed the arrow piercing the man’s chest.  They didn’t see the blood, the open wound.  They weren’t the kind of doctors who looked for guns or knives or arrows.

One night this wounded man was walking home with tears in his eyes and walked directly into a tree, knocking himself unconscious.  Insult to injury. He was lost in so many ways.  And every day he had to see the marksman who had shot the arrow.  He had to face his destiny.  He couldn’t, so he went away.

He went to a place far away from all that he had known before.  It was an old place, a city from the earliest times of the man’s country.  In the city there was the second oldest church in the country of a particular denomination.  It was a beautiful church.  Every day at noon the man went in and sat in the back, on a chair behind the last row of pews.   The stone arches soared above him; the satined glass windows glowed in the sunshine, were dark when it rained.  The man was often the only person there. He had the church all to himself and to his thoughts.  As a non-believer, the man didn’t exactly pray, though this place had been a place of prayer for more than two hundred years.  He wasn’t sad there.  The cool silence was a balm.

In this old stone church the man understood that the wound he had experienced was healing, but the scars would never go away.  A piece of the arrow would remain embedded in his heart forever.  A piece of his true cross. He knew if his wound opened again it would kill him.  He also knew he didn’t want it to ever open.

At the end she told me she had to pursue her personal legend and that pursuit could not include me by her side. What happened after is another story that can’t be told now because it isn’t over. I might be able to tell it someday.  It might never be necessary to tell it.  I may not want to tell it.  It may become irrelevant, a part of the past best left locked inside, like a very small tumor.  Inoperable but not fatal.

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