Ten Thousand Days

Old Friend Bookends

July 12, 2018

Photo: Kinga Cichewicz

Day 1402 – Day 1415

In the summer of 2015, I played.  I was recovering from an illness and taking a break from a life of 90 hour work weeks and intense responsibility.  The summer of 2015 was all about fun. No responsibility, no real direction.  I was carefree, living in the moment,  and I danced all night.  And, riding the wave of an upsurge in my health brought on by play and gratitude, I fell in love for the third time in my life.

On the way, I found myself in a sort of gang of friends.  We all met on a warm night in Shoreditch, at a bar that long ago closed its doors to gentrification.  We were a rag tag band of outsiders.  In some way or another we were all involved in the outsider activity of street art.  Some were painters, some were photographers and some were representatives of those artists.  That night, they became my ‘crew.’

We spent the summer together being silly – some of us spent more time in the group and some spent time together painting.  Some of us grew quite close.  When the summer ended, one of the crew returned to his home,afar, and we had a send off party for him where we took a photograph.  We didn’t all fit into the frame.  As I recall, only my hair was in the shot.  Being a bleach blonde, it was pretty distinctive.  It was a ridiculous photo,  indicative of the laughter and the fun and the carefree nature of that summer.   We were One.  We were friends.  We loved one another.  And we meant it, in that moment.

Later that night, one of the crew got arrested for creating street art somewhere illegal, where he shouldn’t have been, and over time it became clear that the night finished his career as a street artist.  As one of us left for afar,  I left to visit Canada.  While I was gone, two other members had an explosive argument and stopped talking to one another.  When I returned, just two weeks after we took that photograph, my crew – as a group – was damaged forever.

Over time, two of the crew made a life together and had a baby.  The two who had argued never spoke again.

I waited in London for the one from afar to return to live in the UK, as he had said he would.  When he finally admitted that his life in the UK was over, I moved to North America and I was closer to the one from afar.  It was hard to leave the rest of the crew, but once I reached North America, the one from afar and I entered into an intense relationship like none I had been in.  We shared a set of values and he dreamed of the same way of life that I had dreamed of having when I was 30, but I had never been able to find a way of turning to reality. Now, with technological advances, it was possible, and after several months, we declared we were exclusive to one another, and talked about making a life together.

With long distance relationships, living in integrity and with an intention to live up to the romanticizing and fantasizing you’ve perpetrated, participated in, or, at the very least, allowed to happen,  is important.  Otherwise, when the time comes to step up, you show yourself to be a player without respect for the person you’ve played.

Just as we were about to start making that life a reality,  he threw a bomb in the relationship and ran.  Not being tied to a need for a job, he used to say that he could live anywhere in the world that he chose.  After throwing that bomb, he chose to leave his home, over 1,000 miles away from me, and move to a town in Northwest Washington, just 45 minutes from my door.  We socialize in the same small town of musicians and artists. Rather than leave my life cleanly, and give me peace by fading out at some distance, he now lingers like a ghost, intersecting the social circles that I inhabit, here in North America.   I’ve run into him on more than one occasion, and I’ve treated him as he is: the ghost of a man who never was.

Conscious reclamation of space, identity and story has had to be an important part of my healing.

 

This past week, I returned to London for the first time since leaving the UK.  I walked the streets of Shoreditch and I was sad to see no signs of the playful times and the artwork from the summer of 2015.  I met up with two of the crew from the old days but there was little to say.  They were doing much the same things but with different people, that I didn’t know.   I never managed to see the couple with the baby, though I feel our friendship will endure, albeit changed by our changed circumstances.  And though his name was never mentioned, the man from afar was a ghost that was present in every alley, every bar, every restaurant and every street we used to frequent and his presence became more potent in the absence of any of his artwork of that summer.   Just as he had wiped out our relationship, and denied its existence, so too, my happiest adult times, and that playful girl who lived them, were wiped out and denied, by the absence of any evidence of the summer of 2015.

I miss that playful girl.   She was sacrificed to the burden of his insatiable need and his self-proclaimed emotional “crisis”.  She was left for dead when he exploded their life, his life, and her life at once. He laid down a scorched earth, burning all bridges, and started life over somewhere new, with a new sort of identity. Those who have lived life long enough will know that we cannot run; the ghosts of the selves that we wish to escape will inevitably find us all.  But that is his story to write.

A war wounded woman returned to Shoreditch, in search of the ghost of the girl who played.  She has become saddled with sadness, and has returned, shell-shocked, to the world of responsibility, alone.  Still trying to pursue a life of purpose, that goal doesn’t feel aligned with life as it is.

I both miss that girl and have been angry with her for her naïveté, for her openheartedness and for her compassion that led her at times to be manipulated to temporarily put his welfare above her own, so that she got used up and spit out.

Walking those streets, in search of the girl I left behind, I felt her presence and my anger turned to empathy for her loss of innocence at such a late stage in life, along with a sense of hope that left her open, trusting, and vulnerable.   I could see how she was taken in by charm, and how she had mistaken intensity for intimacy.  I could see why, that girl, fresh from her sickbed, wanted so much to have faith, that she chose to ignore the red flags, whenever cognitive dissonance arose.  In place of my anger, perhaps I can simply admire how she dared to hope and dared to dream and how she gave her kind heart to the world, to the crew and even, to him.

I think about the fun times we had in the joyous summer of 2015, and I’m able to be grateful for that moment, independent of what was to come.  I think about the individual relationships I made with the others of the crew and I’m grateful for the closeness we once shared.  Sometimes we drift apart and that is sad, but it makes the poignancy of the moment that much more precious.  Where things have exploded, as with the man from afar, gratitude is not so easy.

When you have been deeply involved with someone who has not been sincere, truthful and respectful, there is a lot of cognitive dissonance that arises as you try to reconcile a personality seemingly oscillating between two extremes. The human reaction is to resolve that confusion by believing only one side of their Jekyll and Hyde personality. At first, I met a man I could love, and I fell in love. As red flags appeared, I continued to look for the good in him. By the autumn of 2017, when the lies and  disdain were blatant, I could see only the bad.

To truly heal, we must reconcile ourselves to the idea that both the gentile public persona and the man-behind-the-mask have always co-existed. Otherwise we cannot make sense of the through-line of our own story.  And, we cannot reclaim any part of ourselves that we lost along the way.

Despite feeling betrayed by him, I was sad not to see any signs of him in London.  I had loved the man I thought he was, when I met him, in London, and he was a part of a playful girl’s brief story.

When he left, I used to walk the streets and touch his artwork to feel a connection to him.  I don’t want to be connected to the man he turned out to be and the man he was in London – if he ever truly existed – is gone, along with his artwork.  And, with him, went the innocence of that playful girl.

I may be kind but I will never be naive again. I may trust again, but never with such blind faith.  He played me and I was a fool.  But, I will never be anybody’s fool again.

On my last walk through Shoreditch, I spotted a piece that he’d done.  It was faded and worn.  That seemed appropriate.  I thought of the song ‘Bookends’ by Simon and Garfunkel, and I took a picture of the piece to put alongside the one where only my hair appeared.

In the summer of 2015, I played with my crew and particularly with the man from afar.  In the summer of 2016, I waited for the man from afar to return to London to live there as he’d said he would, and when he didn’t return, I left for North America.   In the summer of 2017, after he had exploded our relationship, I tried in vain to repair with him what he had shredded beyond mending, and I learned how deeply wounded you can be when you try to pick up the pieces of shrapnel.

In the summer of 2018, I laid down his bones, in North America. I had carried them on my back for far too long.  It was time to do myself the service of going back to the start of this story, of not only the man he probably never was, but of that particular playful and innocent girl.  In the summer of 2018, I returned to the place I met my crew, played, and fell in love.  I returned to the spots where, through his artwork, I had once connected to him, and I reclaimed those places as my own.

I forgave the naïveté of that playful girl, and with her ghost at my side, I pasted up and painted my own artwork in those places.  I played, for a moment, again.

People who have posted my artwork use one word consistently: “fun.”  Leaving my mark on those walls, I complete the telling of this chapter of my story, and I place a bookend on the summer of 2015.

A time it was, and what a time it was.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

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