Friday, November 14, 2014

Episode 23 | Last day

As we finished eating dinner, Gabriel came to us recommending we got back to the lounge for sunset.

"It is magnificent!" The handsome barman seemed truly enthusiastic in advertising the features of the restaurant he worked for. "And I'll bring you new drinks. What can I offer you, gentlemen?"

Though Carlo didn't seem to care about the sunset in Vice City as much as he had cared about the sunset on the Île du Blanchomme. He sat with his back turned to the sea and the sun, his eyes on me, but actually turned to the past.

I was disappointed. 

I felt Carlo was not being totally frank and honest with me, and rather dubious about his relationship with Armand. I could hardly believe such an intense love would have remained platonic. Two hunky men hanging around naked on a deserted island, with no one to hold them back from experimenting? Maybe for his generation it must have been harder to act physical? Shouldn't it have been the opposite, in an era prior to AIDS? And wasn't it free love in the seventies? 

Nevertheless, it was a simple question I was asking him: have you done it with your best friend or not. With the simplest of answers, yes or no. No need for maybes, I thought, but I could understand he was being reserved, and perhaps out of respect for Armand.

At least, I thought I had understood...

Nonetheless, I had learned more about my father in a few hours than I had in thirteen years of living together, and another twenty of questioning my mother. 

The question why he had left home remained unanswered, though. He had been a dutiful father all those years. Upon our moving to France, he had taken to himself buying food and cooking, since Catherine did not want to engage in any homely duties. His atelier had always been open to me, and I knew I was welcome even when he was busy, painting. I had learned to remain silent and just enjoy my father's presence -- which was a bit different from my mother, who'd spend most of her days typing away her novels and did not allow me to interrupt her. Even my presence in her proximity seemed to disturb her when she was writing.

I then had to think -- if Carlo had been so understanding to his best friend's coming out, why miss his own son's? I was now more confused, and hurt.

But since he had started, Carlo just wanted to continue with his own story. He didn't wait for our drinks to arrive, nor for the sun to set over Vice City. He was back on the Île du Blanchomme, about to live their last day together on the island.

"The next morning..." he went on, with all his heart in his narrative, "Armand's last entire day on the island, we woke up together while it was still dark, ready for our private celebration."

As we got down to the beach, we were just in time to watch the moon set. I asked Armand, who had been my first and only master so far in meditation -- and arts, and literature, and love --, to guide that session. From his trips, he knew powerful prayers and chants, made lovelier by his smooth, soothing voice. I guess that morning he chanted in Sanskrit, or it might have been Pali. And suddenly I heard him start praying...

Lord, be with us this day.
Within us to purify us;
Above us to draw us up;
Beneath us to sustain us;
Before us to lead us;
Behind us to restrain us;
around us to protect us.
Lord, be with us today.

I had to dry my cheeks and neck at the end of that session. Lord... as Armand spoke the word I had shivered. I didn't know my friend had become a believer. In the past, God had been just a concept to us, but I guess he had changed his mind and accepted Him... The question was... in which religion?

That day was so remarkable -- in its barren simplicity. We were finally able to cherish each other's presences, without barriers, without tension, without frustration. Like it should have been from the first day on the Île du Blanchomme -- but such a long, emotional path we had to pace to arrive at our peaceful hearts.

The ocean, so blue and welcoming, seemed to be holy water embracing us.

And we must have been baptized that morning -- Renato and Renato, two yet one in our brotherhood. Which was which, the French and the Italian, the rich and the poor, blonde or dark haired, with green or brown eyes? How could we still be separated entities  after all those years sharing Yeats and Rilke, Kurosawa and Fellini, blankets and sausages... and now, love. His voice was in my ears, my voice in his ears, even when we were silent. I spoke about the wind and the mountains through his mouth, he spoke through mine about... art, music, literature, cinema, architecture and so many other things I'd learned from him. His words contained my words, my sentences had before been in his mouth. How could we have been, existed, persisted, without one another?

The food -- the food in his company turned into a blessing. A proof of love and wisdom -- how, for thousands of years, mankind had learned and transmitted skills and knowledge, generation after generation, enabling our survival as a species. And eating was worshiping the Wisdom of Memory, that linked us to all mankind, day after day across the centuries -- recipes, ingredients, pots... Fire. There was so much work and knowledge in a single metal plate that it could be seen as a miracle... in my friend's company, and through his wise eyes, the world presented all its wonders to me.

We existed -- insisted, persisted -- because the sun existed. And until the day we'd perish -- who has said "without Love we perish"?... Love being the Sun, the water, the air, our parents, the teachers, physicians... --, there would always be a gentle breeze caressing our skins, healing our wounds. Turning his out-breath into my in-breath.

No coming, no going. 
The sun, and the moon, taking turns in the sky. 
Ships passing by, sailing away, returning.

The last sunset.

There had been a last sunset before for us, in Paris, on the last day at the École des Beaux-Arts. We had watched it from the rooftop of our apartment building, over the rooftop of so many other buildings,  seated above an ocean of homes where lives unfolded indistinguishably for us. And that one sunset at the Île du Blanchomme was teaching us that, unless one of us failed to be there for another sunset, there would not be such a thing as a last sunset for us. 

Not yet.

And the reassuring spectacle of the moon... All over the world, even if from different perspectives, it would be the same moon for him and for me, everyday, as a mindful symbol of our interexistence.

"You have changed my existence, Armand de Montbelle, do you know that?" I had been rehearsing a sort of love declaration, and I tried it under the stars, that last evening. "Entirely!" How could I have guessed, when I stepped out of the train in Paris, that I would befriend one of France's richest heirs, and that despite our tremendous differences we would become like brothers? "With your generosity, your kindness, your wisdom, you have changed what should have been five years of struggle into five years of steady growth, a continuous wonder!" I was feeling emotional, and holding back the tears. "And finally, you have saved my life. And you have given me a new life in this very life, a rebirth, with your invitation for this island, this paradise you've shared with me. And through your courage, you have aroused..." And though I felt that too, it was too bodily, "given birth... to my heart."

"Tarso, my grandfather, taught me a song he learned during the war, when he was made a prisoner. I'm not going to sing it because it would be such a disaster... The sky and the stars could tumble and fall at the shriek of my singing, but I want to part with these words of blessing."

May the road rise up to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rain fall soft upon your fields,
and until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

But who had said we wanted to part, to put an end to that evening?

I had always been a loner. I had envisioned my future alone, painting day and night in an atelier of my own, all on my own. No wife, no family, no pets.

But Armand's invitation to that deserted island, followed by his love declaration, had changed perspectives. For the first time I was considering how lovely and fulfilling it could be to share a life with someone, the same someone I had already been sharing it for the past five years. And I felt immensely sad thinking about my imminent friend's absence, more than content to be left alone. 

Something had changed within me.

Not willing to close the day, we lingered by the fire pit at the beach. I was wide awake and busy with my thoughts, and all those feelings that were completely new to me, but Armand was really tired -- or just tired, for the first time, because the other nights he had been exhausted, and fatigued from fear and tension.

We finally went to bed, when the fire grew into red embers and then died.

If there possibly is extinction to such an eternal fire as love, and friendship, so quiet, calm and constant.

next episode

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