A Peregrine in the Island of Tenderness

December 28, 2003 at 5:04 pm | Posted in Ennui | Leave a comment

(written back in 2002)

Tonight I find myself walking the rugged length of the Academic Oval, alone with my thoughts; alone with the world and the forlorn streets lit up by almost-dying lamps. It is still a few hours before the blanket of this dark night gives way to the saffron kiss of dawn. Before the city is filled again with the sight and banter of millions of other lonely souls finding their way through her avenues and alleys. So I walk, consuming a pack of poison whose fumes travel the length of my lips to my lungs in silent but deadly fashion.

And as my feet conquers every inch of this road, I gather myself around the traces of our first meeting — that brief moment of awkward introductions, then the comforting assurance of exchanged smiles and the free-flowing of words that followed between us. Before the night was over, I found myself vulnerable, yet willingly so, to your charms. And nobody knew it but me.

I took home what I could of you — a hodgepodge of images: the sordid beauty of a dying sun in your eyes, the fine length of your arms, the gentle, heavy way you walked, your enchanting smile that hides a secret pain, and the inebriating wine of your laughter. I remember the way our minds seemed to meet at every turn, from the way we looked at the world around us, to religion, to the places we’ve both seen, to the more mundane details of favorite TV shows, books and music. I knew at that moment that when I wake up, you would linger in the air, and the scent of your presence would be in my coffee mug.

Every image, every memory I have of you is a hand peeling away the layers of this eggshell-crusted heart.

Even though I would later find out that breaking open the carapace that shields your elusive heart would prove to be a prayer for rain in the middle of May. As Sisyphian as deciding which of your messages should stay in my inbox and which ones should not. I miss the sound of your messages coming in while I’m busy at work.

Tonight however, we are both silent; apart under the same clouds concealing the same sun. I wonder: are you out there painting the town in shades of your private joys and pains? Are you deep in slumber dreaming of the one who has kept you just beyond my reach? I finish half the pack of my cigarettes, filling my lungs with even more poison, and an inexplicable anger takes over me. For as I am consumed by thoughts of you, I long to remember the feeling of being young, unfettered and unscathed by the jaded speed of this world.

But that feeling is long gone, replaced by a longing to find ways to coax you out of your reticence; by a deep wanting to feast on your lips and the salt of your skin. Wondering if I could cup your cheeks and breathe the warmth of your own breath.

The sublime tranquility of this night offers no comfort. Only more questions. And a road that I find is getting shorter. Giving up, my mind instead recounts fables I have heard before.

The story is told of a peregrine, a man wandering the world waiting for that moment when lightning would strike and kill him so that his misery can be put to an end. And another story is told about a man named Roberto, shipwrecked on a deserted ship called the Daphne. Isolated and with no means to leave the ship nor swim to a nearby shore, he reconstructs memories of Casale, a city in which he had fought as a soldier and fell in love.

“He laid out a Casale of his own passion, transforming alleys, fountains, squares into the River of Inclination, the Lake of Indifference, or the Sea of Hostility: he made the wounded city into the land of his personal unsated Tenderness; an Island of his solitude.”*(*from Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before)

But in my mind the distinction between the two stories are blurred. At once I am the peregrine, as well as the shipwrecked man. Lost in her bowels with nowhere in particular to go, this city has become the Casale of my own passion, the island of my tenderness. The streets of this university have become the Avenues of Silence; the stars above, a Banquet of Despair. The feelings I have for you is my Sea of Emotions and the words that I will never tell you is the lightning waiting for me at the end of this road.

I am a peregrine indeed, travelling from one heartache to another in a cycle of self-denial and self-deprecation. You don’t know it, but you are only the latest name in a list of those I’ve loved only in my mind. If I could heed Isak Dinesen’s words I would speak like rain. The words would come and you would know why I write about you here. My words would be a gentle storm and your compassion, acceptance and even reciprocation would be the ship that saves me from this island. But there are a million words that cannot find their way out of my lips. And there are rules I have always been afraid to break. So I choose the easy way out and keep shut.

It is a sad decision that dawns on me as day makes its way to this hemisphere. Exhausted, I consume the last of my cigarettes and head home. The streets are empty; a vacuum of dust and insensitive asphalt. The night sky stands still and mourns. And here I am; alone with my thoughts, alone on this island. With no ride in sight, sleep will have to wait.


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