I remember the day I bought them. Striding along the hot wide pavement in the midst of high summer. And I was striding, because I was so stupid. No, not "stupid" exactly, that's not being fair. Smug. And arrogant. Blissfully ignorant and pseudo-street-wise. What an embarrassing combination: one that can only be experienced in your 20's - like, when you're 19 and you think you know it all, then eventually, a couple of years on, realise that you actually know shit. Then, a couple of years later, decide again that you've learned all about the harsh realities of life. So, I strode, because I had no worries. No real ones: though, I now admit that I can no longer remember what a "real" worry is.
These shoes. Boots, to be accurate: Doc Martin-y, but sexier. When I bought them, in this super-trendy shoe store in the funky district, they were pretty expensive - imported from England. Can you believe it? Oh, the irony. Think I'll laugh till I die. Look at them now. I actually have an elastic band across the right foot, to keep the sole attached. My toenails have thickened grotesquely, because I haven't had a change of shoe in over a year. I don't think the boots would have given out this soon, really, if I was still back home. I'd only have worn them in mild weather. Then they would have lasted much longer. But over here, I guess I really put them through it. My shoes are The Picture Of Dorian Gray, hahaha.
Well, that was then and this is now. And now it is starting to rain. If I don't get a ride soon….well, I'm not that desperate. Not enough to give a "massage" to the last loser that offered a lift. I don't need 50 pounds quite that bad, thanks. Believe it or not, I still have my dignity. What I don't have is an umbrella. I didn't come over with one - I always thought I'd I buy one here. In retrospect, which I just love, I can see the whole plan went awry from the start. (who says the past is a prison? My past is where I live. And very nice it is, too.) But I am presently getting soaked. Here comes a car. Maybe the driver will be normal. If they stop….
The driver said to call him JR, rather rednecky initials for one so frail and tender looking, I thought. With a name like that, he should be out shooting small animals with a large rifle and hanging with his beer buddies in a totally hetero way. He seemed vaguely distracted, but sweet: I felt right away he wasn't the pouncing type. Thank God he's - the thought stopped itself. "Normal" was definitely not an accurate word to describe this guy. Outwardly, he appeared calm, even meek, yet there seemed to be something leashed about him, a perfectly controlled rage. This anger, I noticed with some relief, was not directed at myself or the world at large, but rather was projected inward. I can't fully qualify this particular observation, except to say there was a sense of pain and melancholy surrounding him, belied by the frustrated way he'd stub out his cigarette, or the despair in the timbre of his voice. He didn't speak in a flat or cold tone - he was just dangerously calm, like one who’s so pissed-off, they have to speak quietly, or else they'd totally lose it. Leashed or not, I decided against asking about the thick, white keloid scars along his forearms. Looks like he's been angry for some time.
The other thing, and this was instantly obvious, was our resemblance to one another. We genuinely could have been of the same brood. He got the eyelashes in the family. I got the freckles. Still, if we had been seen together at any point, there's no doubt in my mind we'd have been assumed to be siblings. Rather than disturbing or unsettling, I found our likeness comforting; somehow, he didn't seem so much a stranger. It wasn't apparent if he felt any bond because of it, or indeed, if he was even aware of it. So preoccupied with the symbiotic relationship he had going with his demons, the only thing he actively responded to was the sound of our voices, trapped within the vacuum of the small car.
It was really coming down now. The windshield wipers flapped rhythmically back and forth, allowing blurry glimpses of grey sky and highway. With JR's chain-smoking, the air seemed grey as well. I liked this colourlessness, so neutral. I asked JR if I could roll down the window a notch.
"By all means, feel free. You want one?", he said, gesturing towards a pack of Silk Cuts on the dashboard.
"Now why would I want to cut short my life like that?" Shit! Way to ignore those scars on his arms. Better make a joke. "I mean, my life is so lovely, I just wish it would last forever." That was a joke?
"If you don't like it, you could always start again", replied JR.
"Huh?" I was distracted by the rain blowing in the car through the inch of open window above my head.
"Just start your life over again.", he calmly repeated. "That's what I'm doing right now, behind this wheel. You can do it. It's dead easy. I could tell you how, if you like."
Oh God, I knew he was a fruitcake. If I have to go, please don't let it be at the hands of a fruitcake.
"I'm sorry?" I'm sorry, I just thought you were a total, freakin' fruitcake.
"You can do what I'm doing. What I've done. You become born again."
All right: this is not too bad. If he's a Born Again, I can handle it. I'll just stare out the window while he regales me with tales about his BA. Make the occasional affirmative noise, and he'll be fine. Just don't start a conversation with the fanatic. "Really."
"Really. Depends on your circumstances, though. What I did - just cut all ties, and left. Take the money and run, as they say. I'll have to get a different car, though. Some people know this one."
Holy Moly, he's on the lam! He's a criminal! Never hitchhike alone, kids! This is what happens to you. How can someone so beautiful, so innocent-looking, be a…
"But if you have family, then just upping and leaving would be, probably, a selfish and thoughtless thing to do. But, in my case, I have no one. No one that would care very much, I mean. So, I've done it. And I'm not looking back. And let me add," he said, shifting his weight, "so far, I have no regrets."
I stared at him. Lost for words. Needles of rain drove into my numb cheek.
"So, what's your story?", he asked, slightly playfully. "Going anywhere special?"
The question made me forget my previous panic. How do I answer this? Honestly?
"No worries, I didn't mean to pry. Just let me know when and where you want off. "
"Cool." As exhaustion took hold, things began to feel dream-like. My anxieties dissipated, and I regained the sense of comfort and safety that originally engulfed me when I bundled my sorry soggy self into this car. I rolled the window back up, stopping the weather from tap-dancing on my face, and watched the distant lightening storm from my window. Am I going anywhere special? I'd let the rumble of thunder be my reply to that. Very melodramatic.
We drove on in silence, and I was grateful for JR's unobtrusive manner. He seemed very wrapped up in his thoughts (but not in himself). As the afternoon sky grew steadily more bruised, I discovered my thoughts darkening along with it. Just when you thought it was safe…..BOOM, you're back again. Descending that spiral staircase. I needed to talk. "Tell about your born again thing. Cutting all ties. What have you done? If you don't mind….just curious".
"Not at all", said JR. "It's simple. I didn't like my life anymore, I wasn't happy. So - I got in my car, and left. I've no wife or kids or anything. I'm not an asshole."
"I see". Why was this nonsense making sense? Maybe I hadn't had enough to eat.
"After all," he continued, "Life is for the living. And I wasn't really living anymore."
I suppose now would've been a good time to ask what his life had been, what he was, what he did for a living. And to be honest, that had me kind of stumped. He just looked like this male Edie Sedgewick character - short black hair, huge dark liquid eyes, pale skin. And very, very frail. Definitely not a stockbroker. But I was too tired to ask about his life story. He's an exquisitely tortured artist, and leave it at that.
"Life is for the living…. And that doesn't apply to me. It shouldn't be wasted on the wretched, the living dead." Jesus H. Christ: that was my voice.
JR didn't respond right away. Can't say's I blame him. "How do you mean?" he asked quietly.
"Well, I can't speak for you, but just…I'm in this constant state of… piecemeal capitulation. Suits me fine. Very slow, though." Now who was the fruitcake?
JR lit a fresh cigarette. This guy was great. If he was any more remote, he'd need batteries. "To be honest, I am finding this whole thing very strange….I feel like I don't exist, or have never existed. No one around here knows me, no one knows anything about me. I could be an escaped lunatic, or an axe-murderer, or a serial killer…"
"So could I!"
"Cute. It's just that, when you cut yourself off so abruptly, so harshly, as I have done, you feel kind of dead - in the sense that, nothing you've ever done up until now, with your life, matters anymore. All significance fades. Nothing counts. Your entire life just loses all relevance. I feel dead 'cos all I have now are memories. I'm alone now - utterly, completely alone. And I'm not lonely. It's liberating, feeling like I don't exist in the proper world anymore. I feel almost free to do anything I want. I almost believe I have the RIGHT to do anything I want…
He paused. "It's like there's still an invisible thread connecting me to the 'real' world - the land of the living - and it's around my NECK - and could yank me back into that reality at any moment. But only if I let it…"
"I just don't see the point of starting over."
JR was unfazed. "Okay - what would make you happy?"
Okay - I don't like this game anymore. I want to go home. God, how I wish I could go home. "I guess I don't have that inner thing, that feeling of strength that….keeps you from spinning down. I mean, I know what I'm talking about, 'cause I used to have it, you know. That belief, that no-matter how bad things got, and how many people were mean to you, you knew enough not to allow…their judgements or opinions define who…you know you are…..I used to have that, and be strong like that."
"Now…..I've just lost the thread. Who I am. That happens eventually, I think. I don't know where it all went wrong. I used to be a totally different person, you know….must have been a past life. A dream. And now, the nightmare's come true."
"You shouldn't bare your scars so openly."
"What do I care? What have I got to hide anymore? Besides, that's rich, coming from you!"
"These heal. This is just skin. My soul is fine…not violated like yours. My spirit is whole, not ripped apart. I'm escaping, fair enough, but not from mistakes, bullies or failures. I'm going towards something."
"And what might that be, o wise one?"
JR's lips curled up. "That would be telling."
"So…what made you... I mean, if you want to destroy yourself, there's certainly more fun ways. Go on a meths binge. Take up heroin. Or a nice handful of 'ludes. But blood? Gross."
"Ah. There's a difference between self-destruction, and self-mutilation. And this didn't hurt, not really. What people don't realise is…sometimes….cutting yourself is the only way to let the pain out."
That was enough food for thought. I felt glutted. I didn't want to hear anymore, to talk anymore. I saw my drop-off destination approaching, and JR duly pulled over. Thanking him, I opened my door, leaving behind the safe, cosy snugness of his tiny silver car, and pushed my way through the rain.
There was no traffic on the bridge. Not a visible headlight. Had I wished there might be? Who knows. The freezing rain was driving through my thin windbreaker. So hard to believe I used to wear expensive leather. I had friends who loved me. A wonderful home in a wonderful country. It's strange: I couldn't make a success of myself no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many obstacles I tried to vanquish and all shitty events I tried so repeatedly to triumph over, to not be beaten, and judged…I so wanted to believe in the angels, and have faith in my spirit…and to never say die. Yet, the only thing I had successfully managed was the thorough decimation of my life. I always thought I was going to be so special.
How funny that I'm already so completely drenched, I mused as I climbed over the slippery rail. The water below was slate-coloured, and swirly. I realised that, without a life jacket, and from such a height, I would sink down a long, long way - maybe even a mile. This was probably how those poor souls felt who jumped off the Titanic, I thought, as the icy wet air rushed past my ears. I wonder if my mom will ever find out.
JR said good-bye to his young passenger as she left the car, and prepared to get back on to the road. His eye fell on her red nylon knapsack, on the floor where her feet had been. Peering through the windshield, he tried to catch sight of her, but she was nowhere in view. Switching off his signal, he drove forward, wondering where she could have gone. The only thing ahead was a bridge. As he reached down for her damp bag, suddenly, he understood. Quietly, he unzipped her University backpack and looked inside. A Cannon EOS camera. Some rolls of 35 millimetre film. And a passport. Her name was Chris. A boy's name. Or a man's name. He looked at the picture. And then he looked in the mirror.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
established herself as an underground experimental film artist in Toronto, before moving to London in the early 90's to pursue music photography. She spent 3 years ligging on a major level, then met her other half Thomas and began running a film club together in Soho. For 3 years, Peeping Tom's was London's best (and only) networking club for independent filmmakers, writers and crew, and hosted such guest speakers as Mike Figgis, Steve Woolley, Bob Godfrey and Ken Loach. In 1996, Tracy and Tom turned their attentions to screenplay-writing and filmmaking. In October of last year, Tracy shot a 35 min. version of Lost and Found
: the last 5 minutes were screened at the 2001 Raindance Film Festival. Although she is currently seeking financing for her feature-length script The Spirit Bead
, this is her first stab at writing short fiction. Any coincidences with persons living or dead are purely intentional.