Roads To Leave By

“I still don’t understand, Carrie – why do you want to travel … there?”

Nadine looks at me like she has just discovered that I am really an impostor – not the study mate she has known since high school.

“It’s not the Dark Side of the Moon or something, Di.”

I keep walking, clutching my bag tightly. I want to walk just a little faster than her, and then I can’t – because some damn bus stops right before we reach the crossing and a million people pour out in front of us.

” – You asked what I thought about it,” she retaliates.

Bus away. Nadine walks more briskly, getting a little bit ahead of me.

She is irritated. Big surprise. Since I started this conversation it has become more and more an argument – me against her.

“I just thought you should know,” I try. “After all, you have to find a new study mate in good time before the exam. And …  ”

“Right. Thanks,” she replies warily. “Look, I can understand that this must be incredibly, terrible and … ” she casts me a glance I can’t quite interpret – ” … but is it really the right thing to burn all bridges and hitch-hike 3000 miles because of her?”

“It’s not about her!” Continue reading

Ashes Are Burning The Way

I go home to our empty apartment after the funeral, because I have something to deal with, and it isn’t grief. 

Well, not only grief. My heart is a pit, but while we were there in the church an idea struck me: What if I went away? Far, far away … 

I would ditch law school, right now – and never go to the summer examinations 

I would go … elsewhere. Mexico or somewhere like that and just walk the roads and see what happened. 

For a control freak like me, this idea felt like a snapping alien monster in my mind at first, and I tried to push it away. But it kept coming back all afternoon at the reception after the funeral. I didn’t even notice the last guests I said goodbye to.  

I take off my shoes and throw them into a corner in our hallway. Only one person keeps me from dreaming of all the places I could go and disappear even if it will definitely fuck up my chances of getting my law degree and a decent job. 

Someone who is still in my head and heart, right there with my jumbled vision of distant roads in the Andes. 

* 

I knew your depressions were hell, Lin 

But I didn’t know you also did coke. I guess you were too ashamed to tell me. But I should be ashamed. How can I have the right to call myself the friend of anyone if I miss that they snort cocaine?  

Or did I see small clues but were too big a coward to recognize them? 

Like that day on campus last spring. You had just gotten another A+ . The professors raved about your essay on ‘Narrative Voice in the Novels of Virginia Woolf’. And you were like: “What does it matter?” You looked like somebody had been shot. 

We went home and you locked yourself in your room. But you came out sparkling half an hour later and we went out all night, and you told me you hadn’t taken any of your meds, because ‘they weren’t necessary’. 

* 

The only one at the funeral I felt sorry for was Lin’s mother. She had lost a husband and now her only daughter, all in less than five years. 

How do you feel about something like that? Is it even possible to feel anything but complete and utter numbness? 

And still Lin’s mother came up to me and talked a lot. She said she was worried – about me. I had always figured her for a cold bitch, because that’s how Lin described her in every second sentence. But now it felt like she really cared. 

“You should go home with your mother, Carrie,” Lin’s mother had said. 

“I … will,” I had replied, my voice an empty husk. I could not look into her eyes. 

Julia Christakis was pale as the cold spring sky above Franklin Church. We had been in there for an hour, in the glow of hundreds of candles, with reassuring icons looking down on us from pedestals and deep Catholic chants in Latin humming from the choir in the background. But Julia Christakis looked as if she had been standing out here all the time, in the chill wind 

Yet still she came over and talked for long and with a tone more serious than ever. It was her frail hand on my shoulder that shook me out of it, when she said: 

“Don’t do anything to yourself, Carrie. Go home – with your mother. To Cleveland.” 

I glanced over at the table where I could see the fainted blonde tresses of my mother over the back of her black dress. She was explaining something to Lin’s uncle, whom I had never met either but who had flown in all the way from Thessaloniki. 

Yeah, my mother had come, too. I wasn’t very keen on it to begin with, but in the end it worked out. And I guess my mother was right, with what she had said when helping me with my black jacket. She had to, like I was a child, because I had frozen in the small hallway of her apartment right before we were going out to the car: 

“Lin was here so often,” she had said, “especially when you both were in high school together. I always thought she’d move in.” 

I didn’t answer and we got in the old Chevy and 229 miles later we were in Columbus for the funeral. 

* 

“I will go … home,” I promised Lin’s mother and suddenly found myself in an awkward embrace. It seemed like we couldn’t escape it, even if I would never normally have done it. 

Julia Christakis, née Stephen, Lin’s English professor-mother, was always the distant sharp, mincer of words and electrifying deconstructionist of opinions she didn’t like. And of other opinions, too, just for the hell of it. She wasn’t the hugging type. 

Neither was I. But funerals kill more than just the one who died. It kills old relations, too. At least for a while. The problem is I didn’t know to put instead. Or if I would ever see Lin’s mother again. 

Would she go back to England again or fly off to the Keys again with her on-off psychiatrist lover? 

Lin and I had loved to gossip about Julia and her shrink, because that made it less serious, I guess. For Lin. 

That was what Lin and I did. We turned pain into wonder, when it came close enough to disturb the wonder we were building for ourselves. 

* 

It was an intoxicating dream of the life that awaited us:  

You would write and I would illustrate all of your novels – when you finished them. You said I should keep on drawing and make a living from it, but that’s where reason stopped me. 

I think you actually enjoyed that I was a bit too ‘reasonable’ in regards to choice education. You enjoyed teasing me about it, certainly. And I enjoyed it, too. 

Then we would open another bottle of wine and talk more about your first book and my 10 sketches for its cover. And parties. And guys. And idiotic professors. And your mom. And my mom. And our fathers who weren’t there or couldn’t care less. And why the monster looked fake in Species II. 

And then we’d get back to all the visions of the future, and I could imagine how I had it all then and there. In the day I was like a superheroine, sending bad guys in the slammer because I was so damn brainy in court and my photographic mind knew all the obscure paragraphs the defense hadn’t expected I’d use.  

Then I’d draw the cover for your latest script-in-the-making and we would have long conversations on the phone before we met every weekend.  

And somewhere in the background there would be a husband and kids who just fit in. 

We had it all, Lin.  

But most of all we had the right dreams.  

Why couldn’t you see it? 

* 

I close the door to our apartment and lock it. 

My mother said she would stay at a hotel, even though I know she can’t afford it. 

‘In case I changed my mind.’ 

And wanted to go home with her – to Cleveland. That’s what she meant. 

Well, I won’t and I won’t. 

We almost got into a row there, in front of all the other funeral guests. 

I shouldn’t have yelled at her. She only wanted to help me. If only she could get it in her head that I I am not taking comfort in the fact that Lin will be reincarnated in time. 

Possibly. Maybe. 

I don’t know what I believe. Certainly not Lin’s mom’s Catholicism which she had embraced with her marriage to with a fervor which stood in total contrast to her intellectual professor-life style. Like a secret identity Lin’s mother had forgotten she had. 

My mom has always been into the New Age stuff. When she wasn’t dashing from school to school looking for substitute hours to teach, she was buried in some book about yoga or meditation or chakras or stones. Or watching crime shows. 

I drop the keys in the bowl on the small drawer in the hallway and for a moment I freeze again, seeing my haggard and drawn face in the mirror above it. But Lin’s coats are still on the hanger and I put mine beside hers, but not so that I cover any of them. That feels … wrong. It takes precision but now I have something to do. A small but vital goal that gets me away from the mirror. 

I feel bad for arguing with mom. Julia stepped in and offered that she could stay at her hotel, showing all kinds of exaggerated understanding from a woman too afraid or too shocked to deal with her own emotions. Like she had always been there for me, or like she had to be there for me, now that I was kind of what she had left of her daughter. 

But it was a fiasco. I was Lin’s best friend. We lived together for over 2 years, studied together, hung out together. 

I wasn’t the daughter of Julia Christakis, not her emotional anchor. 

I drift into the living room, drop down on the couch where we sat so often and watched videos and talked and just goofed off. It feels cold now. 

I get a little warmth by congratulating myself again on how much more in control of my emotions I am, than Lin’s mother. 

I felt for her at the funeral, but it is hard to forget all the times we talked about how awful she was, and how much more of a friend I felt each time I affirmed it. 

And Lin affirmed that Deborah Sawyer’s New Age-fluff was just that, and that I should seriously begin to read Sartre and Kierkegaard so I could have those two distinguished dead white males at my side, when next my mom flew into a fit because I wouldn’t say that her new Yoga-course was the best thing since sliced bread. 

I curl up.  

* 

I don’t know for how long I lie there on the couch, crying. But when I come to myself and look out the window I can see that it’s dark. 

And the couch still feels cold. 

I get up, walk through the silent living room on bare feet and open the door to Lin’s room. 

I have nothing left to do in my own, so I go into hers and just sit on her bed for a long time, taking it all in. How does a room feel when the one living there is no longer … living? 

It feels strange. I blink and look at all her books – first editions, wrapped and bound, smelling of leather and ink and a different age. 

If I get up and pull out one of those books, I will be back in the 1920s or 1930s with the Bloomsbury group and over there to my right will be John Keynes and Lytton Strachey and all the other guys I’ve only heard of because of Lin. Distinguished and serious. Deep in discussion. Solving the world again and again before they return to its imperfection. 

And then Keynes lights a cigar and begs them all to come to his table, for he has a point to make that is so important that it won’t live if only Strachey remembers it: 

“In the long run, we are all dead.” 

Yes, that line. I remember it from a short stint class in economics which I hated. I only remember that line because it was such a funny way of killing arguments about how this or that development would play out ‘in the long run’. 

Now I don’t smile about it anymore. 

I put the book back onto the shelf and sit down on Lin’s bed again, suddenly overawed by the austerity of her room. In fact, the mega-bookshelf is the only real decoration. But it doubles as wallpaper – it fills the entire wall beside her bed – and paintings or posters. 

In fact, there is only one other such decorative thing on her walls, right opposite the bookshelf. 

I turn around  in the bed and lie down so I can see both of them, the huge shelf and the picture. 

It is an old photo, but the lake in it is still so blue that it hurts. You bought it on a flea market we went to just for fun, last summer. I thought it would absolutely not fit into your room and it would absolutely not fit you. 

A lake in the Andes. Why would someone afraid of flying have a picture of that. You would never get to see it, Lin. 

I lie there on the bed, hands folded on my stomach and suddenly I feel the tears streaming down my cheeks again. I let them. 

My whole body feels stiff and cold, like it is slowly becoming a machine, losing whatever energy that fueled it. Now it is breaking down and I am the spectator to it. To my own body losing its life. 

I feel it is hard to breathe so I try to sit up a little and then I notice that the bed actually feels warm. 

Like you just slept in it. 

Like it wasn’t a week ago when I found you here. And you were colder than … 

It is odd and it gives me something to hold on to for a moment. Some peculiarity to turn over in my mind. 

Did my body heat just seep into the bed. But why not the couch? 

I find the thought both slightly revolting and funny at the same time. A gallows-kind of funny. 

Maybe the bed is an alien designed to suck out my life. 

Yeah, little things like that. Like our ‘sentient refrigerator’.  

You and I were two of the only girls we knew who liked stuff like Blade Runner and Alien and even worser incarnations, like Species. 

You liked little silly jokes like that – about how things in our otherwise crushingly normal apartment were really items from other times and eras. 

We never joked about the shelf, being a time machine, though. Wonder why. It sure enough worked for me before, when I suddenly felt there – in that setting of late Edwardian elitist world-changing discussion that you said you never could agree with because of its snobbishness and racism, but which you loved beyond all else anyway – to read about, to study. 

I look at the shelf and the back to the flea-market picture of Lake Titicaca in the Andes and I feel something that must be a ghost of a smile try to come to my lips. 

You always were a bundle, Lin. You loved old strange odd things, like that picture. Things that never fit in.  

You loved science fiction and times you could never live in.  

You loved Vita and Virginia’s time of literary highbrow socializing, which were also a place and a time you were never meant to have, because you were born 50 years too late. 

You never fit in, Lin.  

And I felt I never fit in, although I was crushingly normal compared to you, wasn’t I? 

The girl from the country who just wanted friends and a good education and a good job and to make something of her life. 

You wanted wild and crazy things and times and places and people who never existed or who had ceased to exist. 

I only dared to want that when you pushed me to draw. 

I loved you for it. 

I close my eyes and when I open them again, all I can see is the blue in the picture to the right of Lin’s bed. And the white of the snow capped, jagged Andes above them. Blue and white. 

Azure dreams and snowy drops of heaven, sprinkled on the rough edges of our life. 

God, I was never much of a poet. 

But now I can feel something in my body again. 

I still feel like I am standing in the middle of a hurricane but there is a part of me which is not frozen to death anymore. 

I can feel something that is … life. A spark, but it’s there. It is what I desperately grab for, like I could hold a random spark from an extinguished match, safely here in my heart while the hurricane dies. 

I have to. I have to. 

And I have to go South. Now I know. I have to leave it all behind and go there – to the lake and the mountains, if I ever want to feel peace again. 

It will take all the courage I have left, though, to act on it. 

Because I have a life here. I have friends. I have a scholarship that will be lost. I have the promise of getting a job that is so much more important and better paid than what my mother could ever get. 

I have it all. Except what is at that lake and in those mountains. 

So sometimes that is what you have to go choose. 

  

…. 

So now you’re seeing how far 

Ashes are burning the way