Wednesday, May 15, 2013

EDUCATING Z - Chapters 16 - 20


            Z had settled in, and found life sorrowfully incomplete without music and looked for a music school in the area hoping to learn something new. All her life she’d been drawn toward blues and jazz but her staunchly classicist music teacher forbade even listening to “pariah” forms of music so she had resisted the urge to partake of such art forms hitherto. College had brought with it a sense of freedom so she felt daring and ready to break out of the schoolgirl mold she had lived in all her life. She found a place right outside the campus grounds that taught music but as luck would have it they only taught piano and harp in a paint-by-numbers format. However, they had a new dance teacher with a fledgling class of three who taught Irish step dancing. Out of sheer desperation to be near music again she signed up for dance lessons for she was mesmerized by the Celtic music they danced to.
 The first day of dancing was a life altering experience. She felt she had wings. The little class of four was an anomaly, a miracle, a flock of Jonathan Livingston seagulls, a diamond in the rough. And their teacher, barely out of college herself, was a master craftsman and a Chiron of a guru. She felt she had been to a little corner of heaven and back. ♫ “If you walk the footsteps of a stranger you'll learn things you never knew you never knew”♫, she sang to herself walking back to her dorm.
            It didn’t seem right to have to get through eight hours of lessons to get to the one hour when she felt truly alive. She had hoped “a fine education” would do as much, but here was the truth of her present day life. She went to college full time to wait to dance an hour at a shabby little studio every day. And why not, for that hour put her in a frame of mind that helped her through academics, she reasoned with herself. Because suddenly she began to understand concepts before they were fully taught. She wondered for a moment or two what exactly was happening here but lost that train of thought very quickly as laundry, term papers, money management and sleep deprivation took precedence over such unusual questions.
            On Wednesdays, she was told, the local pub hosted musicians and raconteurs and comics and other talents. It was the place to be between seven and ten. The patrons and performers were mainly from the university. She made up her mind to be there. It would take her fifteen minutes to walk from the studio to the pub so she’d be late. She told her friends to save her a seat and left for the studio.
            At dance they wore a school dress, and the hard shoe, and for the sake of uniformity, their hair in two braids in ribbons. So here was Z, going to the pub, feeling like she’d like she’d love to wear a raincoat and galoshes over the prep school talent show look. And her long hair in ribbons was so middle school it was hilarious at nineteen. “First impressions are everything in college” she’d sadly learned by being burned a few times. “But I’ll be very, very late, so I’ll take the chance on going unnoticed by every cute guy in the pub, because as we all know you don’t matter when you look fifteen while the other girls are looking age appropriate. I’ll sit in a corner in the dark. That is if I don’t get turned away by the doorman for being underage while carrying a fake ID.”
            She walked in with no questions asked and started to sprint toward the stairway as she heard applause and then an announcer hoping to be seated before the next performer came on. She was so intent on not tripping on the carpet in her tap shoes she forgot to look where she was going and stopped about a foot short of stepping on a pair of black shoes and moved left hoping to let the pair of shoes pass. She forgot she was supposed to stay to the right in such situations. Confusion ensued, mainly because she could no longer tell between left and right.
“Faculty spawn. Whose I wonder”, she thought she heard him think as he finally walked past her.
“The stupid school dress made me do it”, she tried to kid herself as she finally made her way up the staircase. She felt an inner calm she had never experienced before. ♫Strangers in the night♫, like those proverbial ships in the night, don’t have that effect on you, she knew that much. “Most unusual,” she thought to herself but was quickly distracted by the hubbub of the crowd and she looked for her roommate.  

            Z sat by her roommate through the evening sipping a root beer float. Her friend was completely besotted by her new cellular phone and kept talking to her boyfriend two time zones away and paid no attention to any one or anything around her. Z looked down at her relatively new dress and noticed a string of fake pearls dangling from the hem and proceeded to slide down her chair to look for escaped pearlized plastic in as dignified a manner as she possibly could. Hiding under a table in two braids in ribbons and a stupid frock would just about kill her social future at college so she swore to herself she’d wear high heels and lipstick and Ma’s pearls to next Wednesday’s event to erase the damage she was causing her reputation on this given day.
            She found a couple of escapees and saw another three feet away as she felt a tap on her shoulder and a clear and authoritative masculine voice in her head, ”Stop that. That is not important. Look up. Do you recognize him?”
            She slid back onto her seat. She had been listening to this joke about a drunk and a cop all wrapped around a traditionally sad song while she was fake pearl scavenging but she had been under the table all the while. She looked up and did not understand the question because there was a band setting up to play in the middle ground of the stage while the raconteur was to one side using the announcer’s microphone and dais and ‘him’ could mean any one of the six people on stage. Having received the gifts of obedience and task-oriented-ness from the good fairies at birth she did not stop to ask this Voice who he might be and why he was being so bossy. A figure of authority was not to be questioned in her immature mind. And give the girl a job to do and she’d get it done.
            She took a few moments to run each face through her face recognition software and came up with no results. “Which one? ” she asked confounded.
            “The one on the microphone.”
            “I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure.”
            “Well then remember his face, for you will fall in love with him but you are not getting married.”
“Whoa, thanks for telling me. You’ve saved me a lot of trouble. I’ll make sure I do not fall in love with him or any one else until I walk to the altar. I’ve seen people make fools of themselves falling in love and I so don’t have the time to be a fool.” And in that moment she had a memory from the deepest quietest coldest waters of her subconscious surface and gasp for air. She knew she recognized him alright. She then felt an invisible blade of steel go clean through her heart. A shroud of tulle descended over her. She had seen this happen to other people and never believed it would happen to her but here it was, her story unfolding, she knew what was happening but she couldn’t do a thing about it.
As the raconteur finished and accepted his applause and started to leave the stage the announcer called him back to give him a token of appreciation that was given to each performer, candy, and so now she knew his name.
She observed him as he took each step going down from the stage into the darkness below, and that was him, in profile, the one she had seen suddenly in a cloud of light when she was very, very young, perhaps six years old. Now she saw him in a gegenschein, a gentle glow in the darkness made more pronounced by the floodlights up on stage. 
Z was ‘confuzled’ Pooh bear might have said, but not for long. She had the facts of the story straightened out in her head in a few short minutes. “If signs and premonitions are to be taken seriously, he is The One but we’re going no where, so let the matter rest.”
Z walked with her friends back to the dorm and went about her rituals of getting ready for the morning, filing away notes from the day, checking the schedule for the following day, putting her earrings away, brushing her hair, and as the place quieted down and the lights went out one by one a voice filled her head. She could hear every word of the drunk and cop joke as it had been told in a bemused rich baritone, and was baffled by the experience.
“I so need to remember to forget,” she reminded herself and fell asleep.


            Not a science fiction buff, nor an irrational being, Z took a series of experiences  in her stride that would most certainly beg the question ”WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?????”
            She never thought of sharing these experiences with any body. It simply was something she thought was normal for her even though she had never before had any such thing happen to her. She had heard of perfectly reasonable people having premonitions so she thought it was just one of those things that simply happen to some unsuspecting beings and she just happened to be one of them.
            She thought nothing of The Voice with the message that had found her sitting under a table. She thought nothing again of being at the pub on a Wednesday night as usual, examining her customary root beer float, a habit acquired from spending too much time with Dennis the Menace who had left her with a lifelong love of root beer and a particular philosophy of life, and looking up from it to look for the first time into a pair of eyes she knew she had never looked in before but paradoxically had cherished forever. She thought nothing of the fact that one day at noon she was sitting outside her classroom and she thought she heard a thought ♫“You’re beautiful”♫, and looking up from her reading she saw the receding silhouette of He Who Must Be Forgotten. “Nah, he does not even know my name,” she said and promptly went back to her bookmark.
 This was becoming an increasingly confusing time in her young life, being besieged by conflicting messages from her head and her heart. One hot humid night in June she sat on the parquet floor in her dorm lulled by the hum of the fan. Out of the blue she heard her soul scream – a piercing, chilling, plaintive, involuntary scream – “I’ll die without you”. For the first time in months something as unusual and as life endangering as that actually grabbed her full attention. She could no longer ignore the toll this unacknowledged feeling of panic was taking on her. And from that moment on the panic grew to a crescendo until the week before finals were to begin.
To celebrate the end of school year various club had organized events. She went to a bunch of them and amused herself with soulvaki, dolma, tejano music, and even tried to dance the conga and meregue but this straitlaced girl had her arms glued to her sides and her sides stiff as cardboard, so she gave up after a feeble attempt or two. The last of the lot was a cultural show, featuring south asian bands playing sufi pop, techno lavani, disco dandia and such. Multilingual, fluent in Hinglish and ‘indi and a smattering of bangla, ever the cultural ambassador Z wore her long hair loose and Ma’s rich silk laal paar, something that she had simply had to bring with her to college like a security blanket, she found herself a place on the floor in front of the stage because that had now become the front row and being fifteen minutes late as usual that was the best seat in the house that she could find as usual. Into the second set she felt eyes at the back of her neck she couldn’t ignore. Turning around she spotted HeWhoMustBeForgotten(HWMBF) sitting with some one not from his usual group of buddies but this boy she had seen about campus that reminded her of a pet chameleon named Iago her fifth grade science teacher kept at school for lessons on reptiles, adaptation, camouflage, coldblooded-ness and such. She turned back feeling a fear she had never before felt at the fleeting glimpse she had had of cruelty in his eyes she did not think he was capable of. “That was perhaps a misjudgment on my part,“ she thought as she saw him again at the end of the evening walking up to the stage to offer a vote of thanks looking disturbingly handsome in ethnic threads. “You’ll play roles in life I will never have the privilege of seeing you in and the loss is mine. I’m happy I have this to remember you by. I know, I already know that this wish has a snowball’s chance in hell, but please do miss me and come back to find me.”
She thought nothing of the fact that later that day she’d clearly heard Ma’s disembodied voice, ”Z, go to the window, will you, and look outside.”  She did and she saw, of the fifteen thousand people on campus, HWMBF walking by the window in her room, strolling along with an older gentleman, also uncommonly tall, a relative perhaps, or a teacher, she didn’t know. She shook her head and thought it was mighty strange she should see him here. He had noticed her face in the window and smiled. Ten minutes elapsed. It was Ma again, her voice again, ”Go to the window again Z and see him for the last time.” Z who had never disobeyed Ma except for the childish things like not putting away her toys when she was very young obeyed without thinking to question her seemingly nonsensical commands. There, walking past the window again was HWMBF all over again. And he noticed her again. He did not seem happy about being stalked thus and his eyes held an expression of “Leave me alone” that would bore through her soul and never leave her consciousness.
 Panic had no place in her life from then on. It had been replaced by a feeling for which there was no name in the English lexicon that she knew of. Unable to define this feeling, she experienced it as sadness to which she could not ascribe a single logical reason, yet could not ignore because it had found its insidious way into every single cell in her being. The lack of logic complicated matters to a point where it made no sense to share any of it with another human being. She’d heard this word in Hindi that she knew translated to “unmeaning” the original being “anarth”, and that little word was the closest match she could find to describe what she thought of the strange events of the day.
She kept her smile, her commitments, her friends and her enrollment in the quest of learning but all else had disappeared under the cloak of sorrow.  
 Over the days that followed she blurred every little detail of her freshman year beyond recognition but she could not let go, not even for a fleeting moment, the sadness. She used every rational argument known to humankind and every shred of her willpower to let go of it but it colored every detail of her life and grew a little each day. She looked at faces every where she went and asked each face silently, ”Does each of you walk about the earth carrying sadness around like I do?”, “Do you know what wrong I have done to deserve this pain?”, “Do you know what I could’ve done differently?”, “Do you know, do you know, do you know…..?” until one day she couldn’t ask any more questions.
And when she stopped asking those questions she stopped recognizing pain in herself and in other people, and the questions that brought it on. There was a world to explore and it was best explored with no extra baggage.
Just when she succeeded at rationalizing her emotions someone else would start asking her unnecessary and uncomfortable questions. There was a turntable in her life populated with these question askers whom she could not possibly shut out for they were people she saw everyday or almost. They each asked as often as circumstances permitted if she knew some one by “that” name, or if she knew what “he” did for a living in such and such town, or if she knew so and so who met HWMBF last weekend. Her answer, truthful more times than not, was always no. He had told her to leave him alone and if that was what was going to make him happy, by all means she’d leave him alone, even if it meant voluntary and selective amnesia.


            Out for a breath of fresh air and dying for some sign of normalcy in this world Z found herself standing in front of a children’s play area at the edge of campus where faculty rented apartments. She had to drop off some books at a teacher’s and then get back to dinner and then she would have to read for the last of her finals. Freshman year had been an amazing year in many ways but right now she had tunnel vision so all she could see was darkness and the first year of college almost completed. She knew that that would have to be everything that mattered for now.
            She felt a little tap on her shoulder and a soft, ”Boo.”  It was the teaching assistant’s wife whom she knew from back home. Delighted to see a friendly face she spent some time chatting with her, and the lady invited Z to dinner the day of the last of her exams.
            Freedom! Almost a sophomore! Z wore the most traditional of her Punjabi suits and said goodbye to her friends and went to an enviable dinner in the best of moods in a long time. Another young family who had just moved into the area had also been invited, so the TA, his wife, their three year old son, and the guests made a party of seven. Conversation flowed and small talk flowered as hors d’oeuvres were served. Z almost dropped her plate of onion pakoras when she heard the TA telling his friend who was new in town that HWMBF now lived in New York. The gist of it was he had graduated, or defended his dissertation successfully, been offered two jobs, one in New York, the other in Los Angeles. He’d picked NY. The three year old who had been walking in circles around the coffee table sampling munchies and ignoring his mother’s reproaches about ruining his dinner seemed to have been taking in every word that was being spoken. He paused at Z’s knee, oily little fingers staining her purple and turquoise salwar, and with the most earnest little face she had ever seen, said to her, ”He congratulated college. He’s gone to New York. He’s never coming back. He told me to never forget Confucius said genius is the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts in one head at the same time.”{The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. ~ Scott Fitzgerald - paraphrased and misattributed to Confucius.}
            “How sweet,” she thought, ”to take the time to get a little three year old to memorize that mouthful. And such a pity that I can never live in NY.”


            The reality of her new life started to make its presence felt early next morning. Nature abhors a vacuum they say, and they are right. It takes the container holding that vacuum some time to understand that. The mind is slower than the body after all these years of evolution. Every cell in her body knew that there was a vacuum where sadness and hope used to be. They had both slipped away while she slept through the night. What came flooding into that vacuum were equal parts the urge to live life to its fullest and the knowledge that it would never really matter. It did not help to know why not. It wouldn’t matter no matter what. This was a body at war with itself. The soul set itself apart from this drama and watched silently too lost to know what to do.
By the following day she felt lazy, too lazy to finish packing to go home, but her ticket was paid for and she had to go. A neighbor in her wing at the dorm helped her pack, get dinner, and call a cab. She took the redeye and then a cab because she had not wanted to disturb her already vexed and flippant Daddy.
            She let herself into the house quietly. Once she made it to her room she crashed in a heap on the bed and try as she might she couldn’t cry nor sleep nor read. Oceans of will power and its negation raged inside her, wave against wave, tide against tide, with nowhere to go. Memories of happier times came charging at her. The loss of childlike faith hurt with a brutality she had not expected from a loss not quite corporeal or quantifiable. Despite of all the dysfunction in her life when Ma was alive, it had been what one might call a life. What would one call this existence in a twilight zone? Living life in two time zones, trying to collate the images of Ma and Daddy as “her parents” with the images of her step mother and Daddy as “her parents”, attempting to superimpose the concept of “Daddy that was” over the concept of “who Daddy is now”, and much else in the same vein, was very difficult.
            By five she was asleep. At nine Daddy came barging into her room demanding why she hadn’t told him she was coming home. If he had known he would’ve sent a limo to the airport. Her eyelashes had unfortunately gotten glued together over the last few hours and she struggled to look at him, and ended up plucking out a few hairs in her frustration and was in a lot of pain. Her face felt swollen like she had the hives.
“Something wrong with you?” he asked. And as he touched her brow he said, ”You need to take something for that fever.” 
She got better by and by and swore to make her health a priority. Being sick is NO fun at all.
A liberating sense of numbness slowly replaced the raging war within. It empowered her like nothing else had ever before. In her bravado and loss of direction she said, ”Bring it on Life. Let’s see what you have in mind for me.”

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