Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Episode 01-II | La vie en rose

Second Transmission | The Body

Sweden, 2010
Laurent & Armand

That I was heading to yet another island was not by chance, not in my life.

'No man is an island', goes John Donne's line.

But I might be -- to some extent. I was conceived on the tiny Île du Blanchomme in the Indian Ocean, and born on the fanciful resort island of Punaouilo in the Pacific Ocean, where I spent the only happy years of my childhood.

I was finally on my way. To visit he who had brought his best friend and the man he had loved -- to become my father -- and the half-sister he had despised -- who would be my mother -- together on that first of all islands in my life. My lost uncle, Armand, who now lived on an island himself, off the Swedish coast.

 The ferry would take me only to a nearby dock in Smögen. From there I would have to take a smaller boat to reach the tiny, more secluded island where he had his house. That journey reminded  me of my father's, thirty six years ago, headed to the Indian Ocean.

Standing on the deck with my eyes closed tight, I saluted the rising sun. I watched my inner darkness become increasingly pink, as the golden light broke across the horizon and through my eyelids.

It was a game I had been playing since I was a teenager, that of seeing colors inside myself. It helped me think that my personal darkness wasn't so impenetrable.

But that was as close as I ever got to seeing la vie en rose. At thirty five years old, I  thought I still hadn't found the man who would take me in his arms and make my life pink. Though, at that stage, I already fantasized that Fabrizio Caprice could be the one. Even after our first disastrous date at his apartment in Vice City. With the condition that he would leave his fiancé, of course. And those e-mails he had recently sent about his "crossing" gave me some hope.

If a family is like a building -- and sometimes, it's the only place where you can or might want to live, even if it is in ruins --, I had just started digging for the foundations of mine.

There had always been something missing in my life, from as far as I remember. 

As a child, it was just a feeling that I couldn't quite express. Until Catherine returned to France, leaving me behind in Punaouilo. Then, I could name it: I missed my mother. Later, when my father and I joined her, I started missing Punaouilo, the tropical island of my birthplace -- and the sea! And when Carlo left home, for years I missed him. Next, when together with Angelo I moved abroad, I should have missed France -- but I didn't. And when Angelo left me -- I almost died.

On that boat that took me along the picturesque coast of Sweden, I got a bit closer to understanding what I had missed longest wasn't any of the things I had lost along my life -- but the things that I had never had. 

I felt nostalgia for people I had never met, for the places I had never been -- but that, unconsciously, I knew should have belonged in my life. Like my grandfather Gaston and my uncle Armand -- the De Montbelle family branch that had been hidden from me.

Two years had gone by since that conversation with Carlo at the Nirvana Lounge. I had been trying to contact Armand, through his professional e-mail, on the phone in his office, by letter, but he always dismissed me. Until, all of a sudden, I got my appointment to meet him. Not at one of his offices around the world, not at the Chatêau de Montbelle that had been l'objet du désir of my grandmother Celeste, and that I wanted so much to visit -- but at my uncle's personal retreat on the idyllic Swedish coast.

That morning, at sunrise, quiet and relaxed on the deck, embraced by the salty breeze, I recalled the one thing I missed from France. I smiled an welcomed the memory that was sweet, colorful, perfumed and painful at once.


Behind our rural house in the French countryside, there had been a secluded lake. It was small enough that a blood-red bug flying among the reeds on the other margin could be spotted -- if I had my glasses on.

It was not until my father left home that I started exploring the neighborhood. It had looked dull and deserted to me. Woods and fields and hills and mountains stretching in monotonous beauty, as far as the eye could reach. But without Carlo, our empty house seemed even more boring and desolate than the landscape around, and at thirteen years old I became an explorer of the countryside.

My mother was often absent, teaching in Belgium at the time. Or locked into the painting studio that she had converted into her own writing corner. And once in there, she had nothing to remind herself of her son's existence, so that I had long hours to wander around the fields in solitude, without being missed. 

Once I found the lake behind the hills, it became my hideaway. I would go there everyday -- and sometimes, even in the evenings too. I'd bring food and drinks and books and the notebooks where I wrote down stories and illustrated them. I lived the happiest hours of a couple of my teenage years there, reading, writing and drawing in seclusion.

I had been a loner since I arrived in France, but after the bullying at school, and my personal tragedy I became a boy full of fears, and never swam in that lake. Until one day I took Angelo with me, and before I could catch my breath, he had already undressed and jumped into the waters that, dark and deep, never revealed the bottom of the lake.

Catherine had bought the property where the lake was from its previous owner. Not because she loved the land, but because she thought it was good business. It was so cheap then, and its value had increased vertiginously with the years. She made good profit when she finally sold it.

But still, it was not my hideaway at the lake that I missed most. Though the house in ruins on its shores was so poetical and matched perfectly my mood, back then.  Ruins seemed very appropriate to depict that stage of my own life. Being as psychological as I may, I was probably trying to compensate my father's absence when I had fallen in love with my coach, who was twenty years older than me. He had simply ignored my ludicrous passes, and after him, there had come yet another older guy from the country club -- an affair that had led me into disaster. 

Neither was it the hidden lake itself that I missed. Everything that I had shared with Angelo, after he dumped me, became doomed, and so had the lake. Or perhaps it had been doomed even before that, for it was said that the reason why the land was sold so cheap, and the house left to crumble, was that the owner's wife had drowned in those waters. 

I wasn't so sure about that local legend of a foreign ghost, but I tended to believe that at least the part of the story that said the woman was Japanese must have been consistent. It was said that when her family fell in disgrace in Japan, and her brother committed harakiri, she had killed herself, too.

And the reason why I knew she was Japanese was the tree that would turn my life pink and peaceful every Spring from 1989 until 1994, when Angelo and I moved abroad.

One afternoon, I was at the lake when, my eyes wandering up a hill as I was looking for inspiration to finish a sentence, I saw a riveting blotch of pink in a scenery that was plainly green and gray from the trees and rocks. Being bored and yet full of energy, I closed my notebook, hid it in a trunk in the ruined house and decided to run uphill towards the intriguing pink. And that's the day when I met the sakura cherry tree.

I know, I should have written 'the day I found the tree', instead of 'met' -- but that cherry tree was a being with a soul. 

Not just an ordinary tree like all the others around her.

Obedient and respectful, I had dutifully submitted to my parents and teachers -- but before that cherry tree I felt something new, that I was not quite able to name at the time -- and that I wouldn't feel again until one decade later, when I met my first Buddhist master. 


I was breathless, and not because I had ran up the hill, as I stood still in front of the cherry tree. I had never seen anything more vivacious or beautiful. As I stood there, recomposing my breath, I realized the profusion of flowers gradually blossoming at once. It was like a prolonged explosion in slow motion, that I couldn't so much distinguish with my eyes -- but with my awareness. 

A shiver went up my spine, and I felt tears welling up as I slowly approached the tree, entering its soft cloud of heavenly perfume and delicate colors.

How could there be such a tranquil display of beauty, when my own life was a baffling torture, where I had lost track of myself? My father had left, and without his surveillance I felt defenseless. I suffered bullying and I fought it in silence. I hid it simply because revealing my struggles would only lead into further damnation. I fancied boys, and that what condemned me and legitimated the hate and despise falling upon me, I knew was actually my deepest, unchangeable truth. I managed fighting the boys that bullied me better than I did battling my own desire for those same boys. I judged myself sincerely guilty. My shame was complete and genuine. It took deep roots in my despair. 

"Is everything alright with you, Laurent?" Catherine had inquired, shortly after I quit the swim team. I was trying my best to hide the physical marks and the emotional scar that the encounter at the showers had left, and I was terrified when she had asked. I had not thought of an excuse to quit, and revealing the truth was opening up my shame and guilt. I decided to lie because I did not want to die at my mother's eyes. Having just turned fourteen, and living in a small rural community, coming out was not an option for me.

"A bien sur, maman." I avoided her stare. "Sometimes school is too hard for me. Too much homework, you know?" Trying daily to hide my sexuality had given me a scary ease to lie. "I need more time to study, instead of swimming." That's how I had justified my abrupt decision.

"You're old enough to know for yourself what's best for you, Laurent. If school is hard means you are being challenged, and then your education should be appropriate, I guess!" Nodding approvingly, she had ended our conversation and returned to her novel, the one she was either writing or reading.

I  had been carrying a question in my heart, when I first arrived at the top of the hill. 

WHY? I had silently yelled at the sakura tree. 

WHY do I have to be like this? My sexuality that painstakingly placed me off the curve was an ever present affliction.

WHY can't I change, for Heaven's sake? 

WHY does life has to feel like being my opponent, my enemy?

 WHY am I being punished? 

And WHY do I have to endure it all on my own? WHY?

I was not Saint Francis of Assissi and there was no almond tree to perform a miracle for me -- my Japanese cherry tree was the miracle itself.

Because there must have been a bird quietly sitting on the tree, that first day. I didn't notice it, but I'm convinced it must have been there. Having found refuge like myself, it probably was nested among the flowers. And it must have gotten scared when I did not scream, instead burying my cry for help deeper inside my soul. Could a bird have listened to my aggrieved heart? And it must have flown away, agitating the branches of the tree -- otherwise, how to explain that a rain of pink, perfumed petals, like a rain of blessings and balm, fell on me that memorable afternoon?

And the miracle, bear with me, was not that I was covered in perfumed pink. But that I was suddenly so happy! So joyful, exultant in the grimmest times of my adolescence. That first healing rain of smooth petals signaled towards the happiest days of my teenage years in France, that would soon start with Angelo.

And that's how a private ritual I would repeat every year began. 

By the end of winter I would already run up the hill to check whether the blossoms were coming, in anticipation, until it became fully alive again and the pink miracle would once more be staged. I would then daily visit the tree in adoration, seeking constant consolation, until the petals were all gone, and the cherries started growing. I preferred strawberries to cherries, and I knew I did not need to return to the tree until next Spring -- with another question in my heart.

I kept the cherry tree my secret. I tried to share it once with Angelo. I told him about the secret lake, and he had loved it. For all the years we spent together in France, we had never seen another person there. But the tree didn't move him.

"Why would I want to see a bloody tree? Don't we see many already? What is it so special about it?"

"I don't know..." I immediately retreated. "Nothing, actually."

"You're funny sometimes, Laurent. Or not the least funny, actually! Come on!" Angelo had jumped again into the cold waters of the lake we both loved.

Did I lend that tree a soul? 

I had no friends at the time. My heart was broken and still cracking open after Carlo had left. The affairs with older men I had tried to have at the country club had only opened more and deeper wounds. 

Or did the tree have the soul of the suicidal Japanese woman? In a period when I was myself daily contemplating suicide, had I somehow connected to her ghost?

Because I was sure she had planted the sakura tree. Or maybe, her husband had planted it in tribute to his deceased wife. Anyways, it must have been the sole Japanese cherry tree in that part of France at the time. Maybe it still is -- that is, if it still exists.

How did I know that the cherry tree had a soul?

Because from that first encounter, it answered my questions. Though sometimes it did not really answer them -- it just talked to me, in that delicate and subtle language of the cherry trees in blossom, of branches swaying and waving at me. I aspired the delicious perfume and I felt I was in the known.

And even when it wouldn't answer my questions, nor talk to me, it helped me to stay silent and concentrated, expectantly waiting for an answer. It was, perhaps, my first experience of meditation.

And it listened to me, too -- patiently listened to my pained heart. I used to cry in the bedroom, or even in my bathroom if Catherine was in the house and I was afraid that she'd listen to me -- but while alone my crying had easily turned into sobbing, under the protection of the cherry tree my tears had an unexpected cleansing quality, and I'd feel comforted.

It sheltered me, and saved me from my own will to end my life, as the blossoms murmured of promises and new hopes. It was the sakura cherry tree to carry me through another year, since I wanted to meet her yet another Spring -- just enough time for Angelo to enter my life and give it a new meaning and direction.


My reverie ended with a click and slam of the door behind me, and I was back on the deck of the ferry boat. No longer a lonely teen cultivating suicidal thoughts in rural France, this was Sweden, and it was 2010. I had endured, and I had survived. I was on my way to meet my uncle Armand.

Inspired by my father, just that year I had been on two meditation retreats already. Yet, I still realized how easily abducted from the present I could be. My memories would drag me into the swamp of my past, where I'd drown in old sorrows and wounds -- but it was already a victory that the noise of a door could awaken me and bring me back to the present moment! 

Just in time to watch the tip of the sun break over the horizon.

With the corner of my eyes, I checked who had arrived on the deck.

And when I realized he was a tall, red-haired and good looking guy, I immediately became self-conscious. I turned and stared at him openly, just like he was staring in my direction.

Since the night I left Fabrizio's apartment in Vice City, when I had picked that Jason or Justin boy who had cried as I dumped him after we had fucked -- since then, I hadn't been with another guy. I hadn't paid attention to his name, like I had  instead delighted in his pretty bubble butt. He had been as young as myself when Angelo had dumped me, and his heartfelt tears had mirrored mine back then. I hadn't been heartbroken when I turned my back on him and walked out of the motel room, but later I did regret how I had treated Jason, or Justin -- and now, despite not knowing his name, I could not forget him.

So much time without sex was a world record to me! Since Angelo had broken up with me, and my recovery period having involved as many torrid encounters as I could have as a means to leave him behind and put some distance between us -- measured in beds, it seemed -- I had never sexually fastened for so many months. In fact, I had never fastened before.

I knew I wasn't going to do anything with that red-haired guy, but I still wanted something from him, as much as he seemed to be seeking something, too. A demonstration of our mutual attraction? The confirmation that I was attractive, and so was he? A recognition of the fact that we could make it, even if we wouldn't make it? The identification of ourselves as brothers in arms, who would love and not beat the other? 

In other times, I would have needed to take those forms of approval to a physical level to placate my own insecurity, and we should have sought the closest restroom, for I needed to profit from every chance to feel accepted when so often I had been rejected.

I no longer had the excuse that I was going to paint him afterwards, and turn him into memories and money. I knew I wasn't going to do anything with the guy, but I still wanted him to try -- just to reject him?

But what he did next was not some cheesy move like grabbing his crotch to indicate his intentions towards me. From guys who lifted their shirts to show off their chiseled abs, to others who would start opening their flies to indicate the urgent nature of their lust and the need to satisfy it, I had seen almost it all before. But not that one -- he just did this subtle movement with his chin, not indicating where the toilets we should be heading to were, but pointing towards the spectacle that hadn't stopped behind me.

And when I turned towards the horizon, I saw I had lost it.

The sun hadn't waited while I checked the hot guy and played with my expectations of what should and could happen between us.

The sun was already above the horizon, and though technically it could still be considered the sunrise, I knew I had lost its most magical moment -- and this realization delivered a powerful blow on me.

I wouldn't often think of myself as 'The Sunrise Son', but since Carlo had again shared the anecdote of my announced birth inspiring the famous song, it had become increasingly important as a symbol of renewal in my own life. 

But now, I had lost it. And like all the other times before that, I had lost it to another man. 

And I had lost that man, too -- when I turned to glance at the guy on the deck, he was nowhere to be seen anymore. He might have gone back inside without any noise this time... or he might have been a dream. An apparition, maybe -- as 'The Sunrise Son', I should have been an expert in ghostly manifestations at the sun up, shouldn't I?

And I was left alone on the deck, having missed the sunrise, having lost the guy.

But hadn't that been the tragedy of my whole life since I had met Angelo? I had given him the right and power to seduce and convince and talk me into satisfying his needs -- that's how we had both gone abroad, leaving France to study Journalism at Vice City. I had never dreamed about America, I had never cared about Journalism -- those were Angelo's dreams, but his life circumstances would never have allowed him to achieve any of that, not without me.

Once he hadn't needed me any longer, he had dumped me. And I found myself in a foreign country with no good friends -- and yet, I did not consider going back to France, where nothing awaited me but boredom and again submitting to my mother.

Why I had gone to Vice City in the first place? Because I had nothing better to do, nothing else to try. Having no dream or goal of my own, I had willingly embraced Angelo's. But at the end of our relationship I was left with nothing, back to the hollowness that had always been the core of my existence.

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