I will not be so arrogant as to infer that this story is any more or less important than yours or any others. We all struggle to reconcile our own paths through life, and to understand the importance of those great cataclysms and subtle persuasions which have become sign posts to the paths we find ourselves upon. This, though, is my tale, or at least the story of how I came to find myself standing on this ground, at this moment in time. It is, I suppose, the one thing that truly connects us all, and which so completely separates us from one another. It is, in the end, the essence of that question and the ambiguities of why we exist at all that confounds us and compels us in differing directions as we search in vain to argue that we are as purposeful in the world as accidental.
I know, I know, but before I go too far I understand perfectly well all the perils of making such arguments. The fear is in answering those questions. The key is in the balance. Too much and it all becomes my obsession, which you may already believe has happened. Too little and it becomes only the passing dalliance of a tired mind. In other words, and in the balance, I suppose that I am seeking truth. Not just playing with the unformed hours of the day, which drift from our memory and into the ochre haze of oblivion to leave us with only the impressions of our own life. And if you think me mad for such thoughts, try to recall the moments of your life, every lost afternoon, the days lost to the fogginess and fever of a childhood illness, or the seemingly insurmountable impasse of boredom.
The fact remains, that much of our life fades like the Cheshire cat in Alice’s wonderland. Are those memories lost forever, or are they buried under the debris of our lives? And if they are lost, are we us, or are we mere shadows of ourselves? Despite the pain, these are things that I must know. Failing that, it is all that came before me, whether accidental or not, that I disgorge one fact, one impression, one hazy memory at a time in hopes of answering these questions.
It is a short ride into town, the French countryside peaceful and eternal. The colors of Autumn paint the rolling hills in warm tones of reds and gold and brown. Banks of trees cluster in the folds, gathering around rustic farms and running deep and inviting exploration along the winding course of the Lot river. I feel suspended here, and in brief moments I might imagine it is just as likely that I will meet a medieval traveler, a twentieth century tourist or a more contemporary soul. As it is, though, on such a blustery Autumn day as this, there is no one, except me, my thoughts and the barely noticeable hum of the car’s motor as it glides smoothly above the road.
Such days are a commodity now. As Winter draws near there will be fewer and fewer of them before the first snow falls, before the end of our lives. The days grow shorter. They are always shorter. A hint of snow rides the wind, and the body seems to prepare, to tense somehow in anticipation of what is to come. The thought makes me melancholic, makes me wish that I could be with them, the friends. It makes me wish I could have known them before, before everything…
Well, it’s important not to get ahead of myself here, because there is a process, an evolution involved which defines this story. Indeed, you might think me quite mad for the detail included here, and to some extent that may be true. I have long been obsessed with knowing anything of possible pertinence, no matter how miniscule, collecting and arranging them with precision, so that no detail, no aspect of this story escapes my scrutiny.
Is it an honest telling, you may ask? How does one answer such a question? How does one adequately portray the indiscretions and perversions of another’s heart. How does one find the truths and beauty in those same hearts in order to find the balance; the reality of what it means to be human?
In answer, I can only say that I have sought some greater, more universal truth in understanding these events. As for balance, I will defer to your sensibilities, I will let you be the final judge of those hazy days so long ago, the Summer that defined and shaped my life, and which are responsible for the air filling my lungs at this very instant.
The town comes into view, a pale thumb of humanity, of steeples and jumbled rooftops in the sharp bend of the river. It is a scenic drive down to the valley and across the river. There are people about, moving quickly in coats and scarves, and bundles of things, keeping a wary eye on the darkening sky, and keeping umbrellas close at hand.
How many times I have made this journey through the town, to that place, to keep a date important only to a few who have passed on, and to myself. The trees along the Rue Emile Zola are fully enflamed in Autumn glory, the late season and chill winds already tearing great holes in them, exposing their spindly, brown branches. The fallen leaves gather in great drifts among the gutters, and cover sidewalks and yards. New ones fall like snow upon the cobblestones, and as I pull to the curb and climb from the car I cannot help but imagine this is what they saw that last day together. It brings me closer to them, makes them feel near, as though they are standing here beside me, as though I might draw each of them into my arms. But I am alone, standing before this great iron gate, with only the wind and the cawing blackbirds in the trees for company.
You might ask who I am, and how I have come to know this story so well. For the moment I will forego answering that question. For if I tell you now it will only detract from the real power of this story. So for now I will only tell you that I am the only one who still can tell this tale, and for the moment my credibility will rely on the wisdom of your own heart. But if you must know, this is the story as it was told to me by my, well, we will get to that soon enough…