Years ago, I found myself in a weird place, in the midst of mourning my father and reading the works of James Joyce, Enrique Vila-Matas and James Baldwin, among others. As a way to cope with the ongoing conflicts in my life, I decided to write about important images and moments in my life. These days, as I feel older but not any more mature, I think returning to those times or at least reflecting on them is a pressing necessity. Here is a sample chapter, on my relationship with one of the dearest people in my life.
It was Spring but the air said Autumn. A chill shook me from slumber that morning, and though I’d love to poetically address it a momentous foreshadowing, I was well aware a draft had snuck in from one of the missing windowpanes which I’d covered with old discarded boards and broken furniture. The walls and ceiling on my water prison seemed to grow thinner as the semester near its end, and for a time I came to believe that fanciful falsehood that things were arranging themselves to my favour. However, as we know all too well, life is a see-saw. What glad tidings we see, tomorrow they’ll turn ill – but I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. All in all, it was a fertile season for enthusiasm. I was utterly fascinated with my dissertation draft, and every day I got to delve deeper into, expose, and challenge my ideas. Day in and day out there was something new to behold; an angle, a manner of phrasing, a light which cast immanence of the words. I never did fully develop that idea into a full-fledged thesis. There was just too much noise in my train of thought. But I still think it a stroke of inspiration and creativity, and I’ve still to feel embarrassment about proposing it.
Shared themes of moral and historical decay between T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats’ 1916 poetry and Progressive Metal Operas. The idea didn’t catch on too well among my peers and mentors, but I stuck to it for a good while. There was something of a high to the association of ideas and imagery, and those sessions at the library became more fun that I would have permitted myself to think years back. I could go on and on and on, but well – that’s what a dissertation is for, no? Back to topic, I was inebriated with the awareness that whatever knowledge I possessed was but the tip of something greater than life. It was like finding yourself lost in an endless haven of wonders. And yet, it was still such a sobering experience. Oxymoron, gotta love it. This dynamic also applies to my other obsession of the time: working on what would be my first novel. But that tale is already told, thus we move on.
Among the various factors that lent to this particular worldview and overall state of being was my rediscovery of Depeche Mode via their 2013 album Delta Machine. My love for the band never actually went away, but my attention dwindled sometime after Exciter. Perhaps the chaos and violence of my adolescence dulled my ears to certain beauties – one of the reasons I look back on those days with such disdain. The crispness of the sound in Delta Machine was welcome in my ear like spicy chicken soup and electrolytes to break the fast of a hangover. Furthermore, the dominant sensibility in the lyrics department maintained the fierce sweetness that first endeared me to the band back in the Songs of Faith and Devotion days, to which I returned to with renewed vigour; and Ultra’s melancholic themes. Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I liked Violator nowhere nearly as much as when Dave and Martin do more than make hard love to your ears.
So when you have a brain addled/seduced/enhanced by excellent music and a ravenous craving of understanding in your field of work, you therefore have a brain ripe to take in little obsessions. Enter a wee bit of comparative literature supplied by one of my dearest professors at Uni, Professor Rocio Saucedo. In her boundless creativity in method, she saw fit to take a peculiar approach when speaking on sensuality as a theme and motif in 19th Century English poetry. She showed us works by William Ely Hill and Edgar Degas to open our perspective on the visual side of sensuality – a dimension we so often take for granted as what can be solely perceived by the eye, but not always contemplate in its immanence, which can translate into literary form and content. This may sound pretentious, but you’d need to hear me actually talk about this to see how jovially wide-eyed I feel about this kind of stuff; I’m virtually a kid in a candy store here.
Next thing you know, I’m utterly obsessed about the image of a woman looking away, about the subtle hints of beauty hidden in an angle that conceals the better part of her factions. Expectations, allure, approach – they all come together in as simple an unmeaning gesture. This fascination will come in handy a bit later. First, I have to address the third ingredient in the formula. Someone who is like air to me.
I probably need not even say it again, but I owe what I am to Neil Gaiman. His work filled me in ways I could have never imagined as I devoured the likes of Neverwhere, American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and, of course, The Sandman. As my hunger to read, write and experience reached a wild zenith, the gratitude that once belonged solely to Mr. Gaiman was now a shared affair to another creator, a man who makes films as if they were paintings: David Lynch. Although Blue Velvet and Lost Highway were both already mainstays in my list of favourites, watching Twin Peaks a second time – with a tighter grasp on life and a greater extrapolating capability – utterly changed the world around me.
Some things take a while to grow on us. Not necessarily because of a change in one’s taste, but maturity can truly open your eyes to things you were blind to as an adolescent or a child. You could argue this applies to just about all things that we don’t get as kids, such as Seinfeld’s humour, good coffee or a medium rare steak, but the particular note on Twin Peaks derives from more than an inability to find entertainment value in something an immature-self deemed weak and dull. I knew the series had heavily seeped into countless aspects of popular culture. The watered-down Lynchean atmosphere on its own always intrigued me, but I simply had little patience to work my way into the thick of it. My teenage brain simply couldn’t grasp that this kind of thing you had to ease into, lest the magic would be lost on you, as it was for me when I vicariously got bits and pieces while my parents watched every other night (whenever X-Files wasn’t on, rather). At 25 years old, I couldn’t permit myself the same impatient, pedestrian perspective. And indeed, on second watching, the magic was not lost on me. A third time submerged me deeper into atmosphere, which I now could conjure in my thoughts at basically every moment. And so forth as I kept exploring the rest of David Lynch’s work.
It wasn’t really just the otherworldly aspect what enthralled me either. Be it Agent Cooper’s inspiring wholesomeness, the soap opera-ish palette, or falling enamoured with Sheryl Lee’s performance of Maddy Ferguson, the whole of it was part of my life now, even the sketchy bits from the second season (the cliffhanger of an ending made it all worth it). The series was particularly fringe, and I found few people in Mexico City to have also partaken of this carnival of souls (props to Professor Saucedo, a fellow Lynch fan), so all I could do to express my fascination was to simply imagine red curtains everywhere. It’s easier than you’d imagine, and hilarious when you do it in the unlikeliest of places, such as the men’s restroom in campus, which is one of the filthiest places I’ve ever seen – you’ll feel in pressing need of a shower on coming out. Anyway…
The compound of these factors and obsessions ended up making me a sunnier individual than two years ago, when all I did was sulk about heartbreak, and one year ago, when I mourned my father and contemplated a few tough decisions concerning my studies. Therefore, I was more keen to the idea of accepting a friend’s invitation to a party one Friday. I was fairly certain it wouldn’t end up like an embarrassing affair the year before in which, addled by grief, I drank the whiskey I brought as a classmate’s birthday present, thus passing out from topping off a disagreeable mixture of several kinds of beer and wine. Tommy Wiseau may or may not be aware of those harrowing odds – not nearly as harrowing as the hangover I had the following day. So, my only hesitation being how relatively far the party’s location was, I said yes. At the moment, I was wholly unaware of the chain of events that would become unleashed that night.
Just another leisurely Friday night. A table stacked with alcohol and soda, bowls filled with the cheap snacks you’ll find in every party regardless of the high wallet size average. Insightful conversations that would be forgotten the day after with people to be dubbed strangers accordingly. Awkward mingling, mindless questions on my novel, dissertation, and so forth. Upon first impression, the two-storey house check-marked all boxes. Nice and minimalistic, trendy rather, featuring a Karaoke machine thing, one restroom on each floor, soft coloured lighting, and a convenience store nearby to stock back up on alcohol should the inevitable happen. My friend introduced me to several of his schoolmates; nice folk all in all, if a bit lacking in imagination and conversation topics as far as I could tell, though I can’t quite speak so flatteringly about myself on the latter either. Despite my relative enthusiasm, I ended up doing what I do on most parties and social events: lose myself in the crowd with a drink in hand, and mingle like a crow dining on chatting scraps. A crude analogy, but it will serve as a contrast to the one gracing this chapter’s title.
Hopping among the jolly islands in the party archipelago, I eventually found myself stranded in a hollow, fresh out of ‘be right backs’, and only slightly tipsy. Part of me would like to claim I was entirely aware of the random, unforeseen nature of circumstance that saw me turning around at the right moment and the right direction. But a younger me rather likes to believe it not solely fortuitous, thought it was. Who could have anticipated that the atmospheric light would dye the room mauve while a Birdy song played in the background? And top it off, that the first thing to catch my eye was a girl who seemed somewhat unbelonging in the scene, as foreign as myself, I’d dare say. Shallow and pretentious as this sounds, had I seen her face directly, I may have disregarded her as just another very pretty young woman whom I would never see ever again.
At that moment, it was not solely her I saw. My eyes perceived a slender, vaguely goth-like girl, engaged in lively conversation with two girlfriends, each as different to her as my friend to me. But rather than seeing her as an otherworldly creature amidst a crowd of mundaneness, I saw “My Wife and My Mother-In-Law”. No, I don’t mean an eerie Freudian Slip, but the image of a famous optical illusion by the aforementioned William Ely Hill, construed entirely from an angle. What is not always said about this image is the implying of a coy sensuality when distinguishing the young woman in the illusion. Indeed, I did not quite see her at that precise moment when time slowed to a halt. But what I saw on that peculiar angle, how the light reflected on her pale skin and her shoulder-length dark hair brushed her collarbones, and then… a hint of laughter in her cheeks. I knew I wanted to see more – I wanted to know her, and I don’t necessarily mean ‘know’ in the Biblical sense. That would come later.
With no hesitation in mind or body, I firmly took one step and then another, and yet another. But not in her direction. I suppose you could call me shy or downright insecure, but I never did like the idea of approaching somebody I wanted to introduce myself to while engaging in as singular an interaction as a girl chatting with her girls. I’m enough of an intruder, I don’t want to feel like such. Instead, I headed to a corner where a drinking game was taking place and indulged fully as I tried to ignore Jasmine Van Den Bogaerde’s beautiful voice; her second album was considerably livelier than her debut, which is kind of fitting for this sort of party, and more so for somebody on the verge of enamourment contemplating simply walking in and saying ‘Hi, I think you’re pretty and I’d like to get to know you better’. I think the mental self-lashing I was subjecting myself to was the most excited I had been up to that point in the evening. So I drank, oh my God, I drank. Everybody in sight was drinking as well, generously and unabashedly. We were all on the road of getting properly hammered, and loving it.
Somewhere, in a small, narrow recess in the alleyways of the mind, a peculiar thought cast a weak echo. I wondered if this dark-haired beauty was also drinking, and enjoying herself like we were. Only then it dawned on me, a ghastly thought traditionally visiting me earlier than this: She was too pretty to not have a boyfriend or girlfriend, too lovely to look on my rugged, brutish brand of good looks as something other than a curiosity. Methinks my dating experiences of the past three years did me no favours in regards to how I view myself. Even if our eyes met at one particular moment, when everyone knocked one back at the wild, incomprehensible, festive urging of some charisma bomb in the bunch, I thought nothing of it. Yes, I thought nothing, but my mind wasn’t hollow at all. Attraction, curiosity; those things cynicism cannot weather away. Quietly, I revelled in the sublime of this unbridgeable distance between us. There were words in the gaze I threw her way. I looked away before it went one second longer. Convinced she would be oblivious to it, my eyes basically said “you are the loveliest woman I’ve ever seen, and I will never see you again.”
I’m not sure if being an English major made me a corny guy or if I got into it because I was already a corny guy. All the same, I ‘said’ my peace. Whatever the next gulp brings, I’d be there. The night went on and I found myself liberated from my melancholy. Not seeing this pale beauty anywhere probably helped. Thinking she may have gone home allowed me to drink undisturbed, but what comes in must also eventually come out. And here is where my train of thought so far became utterly and brutally derailed. I wasn’t aware it at the time. Two minutes to midnight and not once had I considered the inevitable, let alone done anything about it, so the need was dire enough. I only needed to know the bathroom downstairs was occupied and locked before I hurried upstairs. This one was unlocked, and I didn’t think much of the light being on as I entered. All I saw was a white open space a few meters ahead, pretty vacant-looking. I don’t ordinarily do this. Even when exceedingly drunk, I’m fairly aware of my surroundings. This should serve a disclaimer to imply just how drunk I was that night. To be frank, I haven’t been nowhere nearly so since then. I zipped down, and let go. Half way through, my first realisation was that I wasn’t alone. My second realisation was that I did something nasty by urinating in the shower, however unwittingly. Indeed, this chain of enlightenment followed that precise order, leaving the best (or worst) for last.
Third realisation was: that very girl was in the bowl, also relieving her bladder. To this day, I wonder how is it I survived the embarrassment – and more importantly, how is it she deigned me worthy of even talking to afterwards. That moment deconstructed basically everything that had been on my mind that evening, and I’m still not sure which bit of me was all the more foolish. The only constant to that bathroom break was her expression. She was amused, barely holding her laughter in at that. With my stupid, leaking cock in hand, I turned to look at her, meaning to apologise, but the words were stuck in my throat. Our eyes locked and then, I didn’t quite feel like I was just an alien curiosity to her. This is how I met her, a girl who two months later would become my girlfriend and the dearest significant other in my life. We’ll call her Lorelei, my Blackbird Belle.
At the moment of writing, we are no longer together. We parted on good terms, considerably more peaceful than most of my past relationships. Addressing this clean cut may put a damper on the narrative, but I would rather not brook saccharine delusions about this episode in particular. It is what it is. Perhaps there may have been a future for us – there wasn’t, and it ached to acknowledge it, and I accept it. Now back to the good part.
We came out of the restroom together, no doubt noted by one of her girls but she hardly seemed to mind. Neither of us remember our conversation at great detail, but we both shared a dread of the hangover that awaited come dawn, and there was much to fear since we were still in the mood for a drink or two. I probably talked shit about anime, which would explain her peculiar intent to get me into it at greater depth than personal favourites such as Cowboy Bebop and Cromartie High. Nobody likes hearing people talk badly about things you like, so I’ll acknowledge the failing in my manners. Either too patient, or too drunk, or both, she somehow found our differences appealing early on. But even then, you always risk becoming the memory of a nice conversation in the middle of the drunken after hours. The whimsical nature of the urban casual socialising dictates that nobody is truly guaranteed to stick with you when you’re sober, and all those fascinating conversations become mindless nods, a sheer formality. To think that night’s chat would suffer the fate of many others before and ahead is an unforgivable notion. But I digress. We left the party together at around two. Things were still pretty lively, but we were sure we wouldn’t miss out of anything.
Before anyone gets to sniff the murk of a mind dwelling in the gutter, nothing happened that night. I did accompany her home, or rather halfway through. After about twenty minutes, we found our cause out into Insurgentes, an avenue Steven Wilson named an album after. Insurgentes transverses a big part of Mexico City, no different than a cored apple, which lends to the local belief that no matter where you are in the city, you’ll always easily find your way out into Insurgentes. The truth of it is debatable, though accurate in this case. The bus riding along the avenue was closed at that time of the night, so we have time aplenty to walk, to talk, and get some air in our skulls. Here we actually learned each other’s names. The matter of my name has always been a problem to me, and the only thing about the matter that felt right that moment was to tell her my birth name. Dmitry – she repeated with a strange flavour in the tongue, like she was savouring an unfamiliar word. Lorelei’s actual name I’ll keep to myself, but the word still summons life and music into my thoughts, now as back then. We bid each other goodnight at a stop called Francia. She assured me she’d be fine walking the rest of the way on her own. Somewhat unconvinced, I urged her to text message me when she made it home. I gave her my number and made for home. I took me quite a bit, but somewhere in the middle of that long walk home, Lorelei made good on her promise. I replied at nine in the morning. One message led to another, and next thing you know, we’re meeting for lunch next Saturday. And the rest is history.
Things progressed more or less as how you’d expect. There was plenty of mutual affinity and a definite attraction between us two. Our differences encouraged giving a couple of things a first try. She got me into Neon Genesis Evangelion; I got her into The Maxx. She got me into The Birthday Massacre; I got her into Ayreon. She kicked my ass at Mario Kart, I did hers at Tekken. We each enjoyed things like Kill La Kill and The Room in our own peculiar ways. All in all, I had in my hands something entirely new to me: somebody eager to know me, to touch my world with their fingertips, an impulse I reciprocated at full heart. Quoting my much beloved favourite film, The Crow, nothing was trivial between us; every moment was a chance to discover something new. I suppose, if we had stayed together for a month or two more, I would have inevitably gone down on one knee and asked her to marry me. And even then, the familiarity of marriage would mean nothing next to the infinite possibilities. At the very time of writing this, many song lyrics come into my head like a beautiful, unabashed mess of wonder and wide-eyed affection. Safe to say, I didn’t afford to indulge the same way in any relationship since. But that’s a chapter yet to be written.
In spite of the lovely common ground we found in mutual affinities, one of our bonding axis was the compound of our respective ways to deal with damage. I’ll probably never be able to fully cope with the fact that nearly all of the women in my life have suffered one kind of abuse or another throughout their lives. Lorelei was no exception. Perhaps there were still things she wouldn’t tell me, but from what did let me see, it seemed like she had reached a sort of acceptance about what her two past relations did to her. Thusly, the trust she risked by opening herself to me must have been a perilous wager to brave at the beginning. The fact that we’re still close friends to this day hints me that we did right by each other for as long as we lasted, but that only came at the cost of daring to trust one another. Truly, the first steps into that world of each other, having crossed the easy hurdles, spelled a darker image than either of us would have imagined. But she was on board, and so was I. And those were the first steps we took together as we strolled into the Emerald Labyrinth.
“Emerald Labyrinth,” that’s really just a fancy way of calling her neighbourhood, a place filled with parks and gardens. It came to me around the fourth or fifth time I visited on a Friday. Every preceding time had this peculiar, old-fashioned way to it. I knew I hadn’t picked up my significant other to go on a date together on most of my past relationships; they had mostly been a matter of meeting somewhere, enjoying ourselves and seeing each other home at the end, whether it was dark or light. Dropping my girlfriend at her doorstep was something I could never not do, but I had the vague sensation knocking at someone’s door, greeting the parents and siblings, and promising to be back before midnight was something nobody had done in decades – which is asinine, I know. Nonetheless, getting off the bus at the right station, walking to her place while revelling on what the day has in store felt just right. I never did meet her parents, though; they were never around. She was also an only child. Their jolly fifty-year old maid did know me on several of those occasions. She liked me in a way I felt her parents wouldn’t. I’m kind of a mutt and I don’t precisely give off the sunniest vibe. I probably wouldn’t like one such specimen to breach the formaldehyde veil I’d built with a business management-amassed wealth if I was them either. I never did know if this cool old lady ever let them know I was dating their daughter. Sometimes I would call Lorelei at her phone at around nine in the evening, and the maid would answer instead to tell me ‘the girl had gone to sleep’. It took me a little while, but it dawned on me soon enough. Lorelei was also a student like me, thus as busy and prone to exhaustion as me. More often than not, it fell to this diligent lady to see that Lorelei was well and healthy. Often times I got the impression she had been with the family for a long time. God knows what this lady did for Lorelei during those bleak days. An unsung hero that woman, if there ever was one.
The name Blackbird Belle, though. That’s something I kept to myself. Of course, she’ll know if she reads this – in which case, I acknowledge this was merely an image that came into my mind, a curiosity, a conceit not too private, a mere fancy that stuck with me since the night she talked me into sleeping over at my place, my horrendous, ruinous place. The embarrassment at letting her peer into the private Waste Land I inhabited was a kind of experience I was simply not prepared to endure before I met her. But I digress. We slept on a mattress on the floor, with only our jackets and a thick blanket to warm us during that chilly night. It rained when we fucked earlier, and it lasted through the cuddling afterwards. Though my problems sleeping persisted, I did manage to doze off into dream for a few hours. I woke up to what I thought was the crash of hail against the patched-up window. And all I saw in that room was a tangle of black hair highlighted by the lights outside. Looking at Lorelei’s sleepy bedhead like that, it rather seemed to me like a flock of ravens nested in her head. I confess that messy hair became a feature of that nimble stranger than sometimes showed up in my dreaming ever since. Truly, so much about Lorelei added to that imaginarium I constantly seek to convey through writing. I feel it’s rather vulgar to call my ex-girlfriend a muse. She’s so much more than that to me. Even now.
Well, all good things do come to an end, I suppose. Things between us never went sour, and we rarely argued at all – a blessing of not living together, methinks. But ultimately, the happiness I experienced from the days and the nights together, the music, the museum visits, the drinks and the karaoke outings, the sex and the impromptu toying with each other in unlikely places and scenarios, and the overall feeling of plenitude – it was all a compound extracted too far off my comfort zone, which is the most pathetic and loathsome thing to say. I was not used to happiness and eventually, after two months shy of a year, I became frightened, convinced I was somehow going to fuck it up… which I did, on a moment that replays itself over and over in my head every time I think of who we were. I broke up with her, out of cowardice. Now, this didn’t quite end things between us. We actually continued to see each other, and do the things we did before. But something had changed, or at least so I thought. A flavour of melancholy had started to seep into us, a distance I could best describe through Depeche Mode’s “Ice Machine” (I highly recommend the Röyksopp and Susanne Sundfør’s cover. Way better than the original, I think.) Now, I was all too aware that I had betrayed us, and betrayed her, which is worse. However, she refused to let go – not out of clinginess or need, but will.
Yet again, we were on borrowed time one way or another. Lorelei had to leave with her mother for Cancun, a short stay because of some family drama, which featured money, and Lorelei as something of a bargaining chip, from what I could piece together. That short stay turned out to be a month and a half, a time I spent quite listless for a variety of reasons. When she returned, something in her had changed. Some of her shine had gone opaque, and I instantly regretted ever letting her go. She never told me what went down in Cancun; she said that didn’t matter. Something else did. She was moving away for good. To this day, I don’t know what happened, but we still keep in touch. I think her shine is back, and she was pretty happy about her new boyfriend. She moved on. And so did I.
It’s just as well. I had a considerable deal of hurt waiting ahead anyway. I would have truly hated myself if she ever partook in the least of it. It’s just like I said. I’ve been a loner for much of my life, and I don’t think that’s going to change much. The way I see it, solitude is a double-edged blade, risky to wield, but really sharp and efficient if you know how to swing it. I don’t feel lonely, probably. Every once in a while, I visit that neighbourhood to have a coffee somewhere. But truth be told, if there is some storm in the wind and I’ve some hours to kill, I do walk deeper till I reach those gardens. Yet without her, I inevitably become lost in the Emerald Labyrinth.