“Some nights in the midst of this loneliness I swung among the scattered stars at the end of the thin thread of faith alone.”
“Hey” a soothing voice was heard by a devastated man as a warm palm was gently placed on his shoulder. The man busy sulking in his grief didn’t bother to pay much of attention to the compassionate voice that was trying its best to comfort him. “I know how you feel… But…”
“-Why should there always be a ‘but’ dad?” The son said as he stared at something he held in his palm. “I hate this word. You are great ‘but’…” he was annoyed “You are my best friend ‘but’… I love you ‘but’… Everything just comes to an end after this word is used.”
The sorrow of the son was not shallow; he was drowning in his emotions, he was choking, he was suffocating and as the world around him was reducing to ashes, as his heart was shattering into million pieces, as he was desperately attempting to gasp for breath, all he could do was blame the word ‘but’.
He felt helpless and hopeless and clueless, and as the time came to a standstill he stood there frozen, attempting his best to not be suppressed by the burden, by the baggage of his sentiments. “-I know how you feel.” The father said considerately.
“-But?” The son, who was still glaring at the calm in the opposite direction, chuckled in sorrow. The dampened wood of the senile jetty creaked as the father took a step ahead and now was standing next to his beloved son, both of them staring at the maleficent tranquility as tempest was brewing in one, while empathy was stewing within another.
“-There always isn’t a ‘but’ son.” The father said with a curl that the son saw from the corner of his eye. “It could be just I know how you feel. Period.” The son unable to respond pressed his lips in agitation. He knew his father better than anyone else, the man who married the love of his life, how can he possibly understand what it’s like to see your soul mate, your best friend leave you, to see her move on, to stand there and watch her commit to someone else.
“-You have no idea dad… Just because you can sympathize with me doesn’t mean that you understand me... What I am…” Son sighed and said in a low tone “Look I didn’t mean it like that…” the son replied defensively as father raised his eyebrow “Just go!” He was loathing in self-pity “I need to be alone right now.”
“-In my career I know that those particular seven words are a call for help. Right now solitude is the last thing you need.” The father looked at his son whose eyes had lost their light; however, he was still ogling and remising the thing which he had held in his palm. The gentle winds glazing him accompanied by the soothing sound of burbling water were unfortunately not enough to pacify the commotion within the son that was visible in his lifeless eyes.
“-I don’t need one of your sessions, dad. I am fine. I’ll be back home in an hour.” The son’s words and his body language were contradicting one another, as he said all those things without making any eye-contact with his father. Making use of all his strength he made a pathetic grin appear on his face. The father chuckled and the annoyed son being offended rolled his eyes.
“-What’s with that look boy?” Father said as he tried to control his laughter.
“-You tell me...” The enraged son said with disappointment “What kind of father laughs at son’s misery?”
“-You are getting me wrong Jake.” The father said defensively as he controlled his urge of chortling placing a palm over his mouth “I’m not laughing on your despair, I am laughing at your face. Your smile… It seems like someone pointed a gun to your head, it’s that horrible.”
“-Well you know what,” Jake said pressing each word like he wanted every word to give a scar of its own “When the love of your life gets married to someone else, that time I’ll see what kind of elegant smile you bear. Oh, wait…” The next few words were said rather sarcastically “That’s not even possible!” In that moment of rage, Jake faced his father and said each of those words looking directly in his eyes. In those few seconds, anguish was taken over by temper. Jake sighed as he yet again faced in another direction.
“-I know how it feels, that pit in your stomach, that fury, that irritation, that dejection, that vulnerability…” Jake pouted his mouth and folded his hands as he tightly clutched the thing in his fist as his life depended on it. “I realize” The father placed his palm over Jake’s shoulder and turned him halfway so that his face was pointed at the edge of jetty “Because even I have dealt similar situation.” In that unexpected moment, when Jake’s eyes widen in confusion and comprehension the father applying all the force to his shoulder made him sit, and in an instant, squat next to him.
Few seconds passed in silence as the pair marveled at the alluring scene before their eyes, while both were tacitly battling their turmoil. In front of them laid an unappreciated paradise. As the pair put their feet in Tuscany-blue colored water they shivered for some time. The water was cold yet comforting. In that numbness all the sorrow and soreness was being washed away, was fading away, as every pleasant memory had turned gloomy, and every grief-struck memory was painful. They sat there inhaling the cold air, using the full capacity of their lungs. The lake was glimmering in callow light of the stars and the moon dominated the night.
The gentle breeze was tenderly touching the faces of the two men who sat there without uttering a word, as the hair on their heads danced on the euphonious sound of the wind. Everything seemed still except the phalanx of fireflies that were dutifully basking the minuscule portion of the lake in their mundane light, accompanied by burbling of concentric rings in water that was puffing out and disappearing in the blink of an eye, curtsey of the ignorant fish plopping their fins in the tender water. The chilly zephyr carried with it a whiff of mint and dried wood from the pine trees which surrounded the lake.
Somewhere at a distance occasionally hooting of owls, chirping of insects, and crawking of ravens was heard although no trace of their existence was found by the lake-side. A sigh was let out as the silence was broken “I know what you are referring to but it’s not the same. You got to spend your life with mom, until the end of her days; you don’t know how it feels to have an incomplete goodbye, to bear the burden, of a broken promise.”
“-You are getting me, wrong child,” Father said in a comforting tone.
“-What are you even talking about?” son interrupted “I’ve heard all the stories from mom. They were sort of replacement for my bed-time stories. You guys never even broke-up and you want me to believe that mom was about to marry someone else… Yeah right!” The son’s lack of faith in his father’s words was not concealed by him.
“-First of all, I said a similar situation, not the same, there is a difference. And second thing who said anything about your mom?” Father retorted quickly. For a moment son was taken aback by the sudden unprecedented information. Father sighed as he looked at the muffled young man before him.
The twenty-four-year-old resembled his mother much more than his father; he had her eyes, her beautiful hazelnut colored eyes. He was fair and had a sharp jawline; he also had a mole beneath his lips just like his mother. He possessed her notorious smile, her feisty tongue. The father adored his son in more ways than one. The father cherished his son because he was the reflection, a mirage of the woman he loved. It was only because of him that the father was able to move on, could find the strength to move on after the devastation of losing his wife.
“Your mother would have known what to say in these kinds of situations. She always had answers to your every question.” Father mumbled in an inaudible voice which was heard by the son he swallowed as he tried to unheard the statement.
“-Mase… He is just like you…” The words of the late wife were ringing in the father’s ears. “He has the same messy hair and he is stubborn and confused and at times idiot, just like you.” Father had a special affection for this place, it held so many memories.
As the father cocked his neck and looked at his son, the son tightened the grip on the object which he firmly held in his fist. “Shocked? Surprised? Judging me right now?” Father asked stressing on each word, although his tone was light.
“-I don’t get it. Mom had told me. You were her first love.”
“-And she was my last.” Father said with sincerity, the son looked at him being muddled “But she wasn’t my first love, and I’m so glad that she wasn’t!”
“-Is this one of those ‘everything happens for a reason’ story?” The son asked flaring his nostrils.
“-Probably,” Father said with a devious smirk. “Her name was Elizabeth.” The father said as he stared at his reflection in the water. “She was my first love and probably my soul-mate.” As soon as father uttered those words he got a critical glare from his son. “Hey before you get all prejudicial, let me tell me you, I was sixteen and so madly in love…”
“-But you still do believe that the woman, ‘Elizabeth’ is your soul mate and not mom, right?” The son’s heartbeat which had sky-rocketed in the previous minute was sedately coming back to normal as he said those words slowly and in a low voice.
“-Yes I do.” He said indifferently, the son opened his mouth to say something judgmental and then shut it again, as only air came out of it.
The father, seeing the contemplation on his son’s face said with a simper “Who according to you is a soul mate?”
Jake raised his eyebrows in suspicion but chose to answer his father’s non-required question “Someone who is your best friend, your companion, your interests are similar and you care for each other, be there for each other, etc., etc.” And then staring at his jumbled expression in water said in an almost inaudible voice, as it muffled with the swooshing of the freezing breeze, as all his agony and suffering was put in those words “Someone who is made for you and you want to spend your rest of life with them…”
“-Do you think Rose was your soul-mate?” Jake widened his eyes at his father as he didn’t expect him to ask such a blunt question.
“-Yes.” He murmured as he looked in another direction, despising his father for bringing up the ruthless truth.
“-Even now that she is married?” Father said with hooked eyebrows. Jake couldn’t help but think that his father was deliberately taunting him. He clenched the invaluable thing in his fist so tightly that it prickled, and ignoring his impolite father he started tapping his feet in the water which no longer seemed cold.
“-Ahh… First love” father said jokingly “So your answer is yes, I guess…” Father placed his finger over his chin. “You can’t reject your emotions, son. The more you try to refuse them, to decline them; the more they get piled on until the baggage you are carrying is so heavy that you can’t move forward. You are stuck. And that’s why you need to learn to accept your feelings, to appreciate them; you can even despise them, but never deny them.” Although the son was staring in opposite direction his neck was inclined towards his father, it was as if he reluctantly was absorbing the knowledge of life which the learned man was imparting to him.
“According to me, a soul-mate is a person who knows you better than yourself, who accepts you for better or worse and cherishes you. Soul mates are like the perfectly fitting two pieces of the puzzle. They complete your life.” Father said staring at the moon.
As life became more and more demanding the son had forgotten to cherish small moments in his busy lifestyle, in his race against time, in career, and in never-ending competitions and ambitions, the son had belittled these kinds of heart to heart conversations. He seemed to have let go of his freedom to have contended. He seemed to have lost his sense of satisfaction.
“-Dad. Dad. Look at me…” A naïve four-year-old said as he released his finger from his father’s grip and ran on the newly painted jetty as it creaked like a trampoline. The silver water was shimmering as the warm breeze was intensifying the heat. The little boy was jumping, and flying and dancing, he was laughing like there was no tomorrow. “That kid was having the time of his life.” The adult who had no time for life, murmured to himself “It was indeed a good day. Life was so much simpler back then…” and father unable to hear him halted for a moment.
“-With Lizzie…” The son stopped tapping his feet in reflex “I used to call her Lizzie…” Son started tapping his feet again as if signalizing him to continue with his monologue, although he didn’t have the mood to listen to his father’s past romances; he couldn’t deject the anticipation that was building inside him.
“I met Lizzie in sophomore year. She was so beautiful, her blue eyes, her delicate rosy red lips, her long golden hair which always were tied into a shabby bun, however, one flick always used to cascade gently over her right cheek. The moment I saw her, in that sky blue top with white strips, the moment I laid eyes on that gorgeous girl who was playing with her delicate blonde hair, I think she was reading some book… I just knew I wanted to know her better.”
Jake and his father were staring at their rumination, as the time seemed to have halted, paused to listen to the story of the father, of his enchantment, of his passion, of the mistakes he made, of the errors he committed “I still remember my first time talking to her, I was so nervous. I made an utter fool of myself. I don’t even know what that girl saw in a boy who took an entire minute to tell his name. I was pretty sure I had blown my chance. But the next day miracle happened as Lizzie approached me. We became acquainted, and something just clicked. It was effortless. She became my best friend, my partner in crime.” The father was indeed taking a stroll in the nostalgic lane as a contended smile formed on his lips.
“I still remember we used to converse hours together on unconventional topics, over stupid topics. We used to come and sit at this very place. So many memories I have here.” The father inhaled as if recalling, reacquainting with each bygone second of his buried past “I had my first kiss here…”
“-Ok. Stop. Stop. Stop.” Son who had unknowingly started visualizing everything, found this scene peculiarly uncomfortable, as he raised his hand and flinched at this disturbing thought “I get it. You were seamlessly in l-o-v-e. It was bliss. But then why did you break up?” Son sheepishly asked the question.
Father chuckled being embarrassed “Because of the same reason you and Rose broke-up. After a point of time, it stopped being easy. It started becoming taxing. We started drifting apart. We had fallen in love with our soul-mate, and so we were not ready to accept any other person, any alter-ego.”
“-So you called quits because it stopped being easy?” Son asked in disbelief.
“-It’s more like she called quits.” Father said as he looked at his past sitting next to him “Soul-mate accepts you for who you are, for better or for worse.” The father was repeating his statements “But unfortunately there is a difference between acceptance and adaptation, and we always forget that. People always think that one big fight leads to a break-up, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s never one thing that breaks a stable relationship, it’s always the little things we take for granted. The oversights we commit without even realizing it.”
Father’s words were like a wake-up call for Jake, as he reflected his past, somewhere regretting his present “I loved your gift, but if you could just have been here…” Roses silent pleas were echoing in his mind “I get it…” he revisited all those instances which he considered to be trivial “You are working late again. It's fine I can go to that party alone.” Rose’s plights were dominating his mind “Jake I needed you for Nana’s funeral. You know how much she meant to me.” Her tears in those discouraging words which he was too blind to see, were finally visible “You promised…” And now Jake’s soul ached.
“-All those moments were missed because I was desperately striving for that promotion, the promotion which would get the loan approved for our new house. I wanted us to have a house of our own.” The son muttered to himself, all of these memories were taking a toll on him, and the worst part he didn’t even have glazed the tip of the iceberg.
This time father heard the son’s yearning “-Did you ever tell her that? Did you ever ask her that?” he asked with a gentle smile.
“-It was supposed to be a surprise,” Son replied with watery eyes; however tears refused to flow down. The mammoth baggage was forbidding him from moving ahead. He stood in that dark deep pit without moving. He stood there clenching his fists.
“-Then answer one more question of mine. And reply honestly…” Father yet again placed his palm on his shoulder, but this time the young remorseful man wanted to be comforted “Was that going to be enough? Was it ever going to be enough?”
Son remembered the fateful night of the break-up “A house by the countryside by age twenty-five, a Tesla by twenty-seven, Rose’s dream destination wedding by age twenty-eight. That luxurious apartment by age thirty-two…” The list went on till age forty-five when he retired and lived a happy contended life with Rose and his kids. Son realized how insensitive he had been acting when he was narrating the plan for both of their lives.
“-Maybe she never wanted those things.” Father said tenderly “Maybe she just wanted a simple life, not a luxurious house, but a comfy home with you… Happiness and contentment are overrated sons, and many youngsters like you have fallen for this delusion. Instead of telling her, you could have urged her opinion?”
“I didn’t even consider that...” Son pitied his inconsideration “I was such an ass.” The son’s outrage was directed at himself “I thought I was fulfilling all her wishes, whereas the truth was…” Son moved his hand through his hair as he continued “It was her life… What the hell was I even thinking! Acting so selfishly!” Son said as he contemplated on his foolishness.
“-We should break-up.” Jake swallowed as he heard Rose’s depressed voice and those devastating words yet again.
“- It seemed like it came out of nowhere at that time. We were having our date, I was going to…” Son left that statement unspoken; the words seemed ponderous. They were preposterous “I thought that she was joking, pulling my leg. How could I have been so blind, so deaf…?” Jake was thinking as his vision blurred, as his tears were still betraying him, as his baggage was getting heavier as his mind was clouded with trillion blunders. He was now at the brink of breaking down.
“-Like father. Like son. I guess.” Father said as he figured out his son’s incapability to speak any further “Lizzie left this town after high school, she said it was too small for her dreams. I supported her, or so I thought.” The father was talking so earnestly, that his conviction was reaching straight to his son’s heart “I thought I stood behind her allowing pursuing her ambition, but the truth was that I was so wrapped up in myself that I simply wasn’t part of her life anymore.” The father said with a crest-fallen face. “We humans are so stupid, always piling up our mistakes as other’s faults.”
Jake looked at his father as he desperately tried to control his stubborn tears which were now trying their best to claim freedom “Life doesn’t get better than this, or any worse, and what we get is just what we are willing to find.” Father said as he cocked his neck and looked at his son who was trying to stay strong “These lines of Barbra Kingsolver which your mom said to me many years ago, I still remember them. I was pathetic at that time, a mess. She asked me was I willing to search, go above and beyond to save my relationship with Elizabeth.”
“-Mom knew?” Jake enquired with a shaky voice, as each word was testing his capacity.
“-Yes. Jane was the person who encouraged me the most to pursue Elizabeth in her eccentric way, but at that time, for me, she was just an annoying classmate, who had a bad habit of poking nose into others' business.” Father chuckled as the view in front of him became unclear.
“That’s why I was inspired by Jane so much. She was weird and clumsy and a pert, but she took pride in being just ‘herself’, although I never confessed this to her.” Father said shyly “At least not at first…” Father leaned towards his reflection “Jane was indeed a piece of work. She was feisty and irritating and blunt. She was never afraid of the truth, to make mistakes. Unlike Lizzie Jane wasn’t love at first sight I remember I used to make every attempt to avoid her, to stay away from her. I guess she wasn’t a fan of me either.”
“-Yes dad. I’ve heard that story a million times.” Jake chuckled at the unusual memory of his mother “She used to call you a damsel in distress.”
“-Yeah…” The father recalled with a grin “She used to think that she was the prince charming. And I needed to be rescued…” Father had smiled many times talking about Elizabeth, but no beam was so pure; no grin had created craters by the eyes of the father like they did while he spoke about Jake’s mother. No talks about Elizabeth created that sparkle in father’s eyes like that of time he uttered Jane’s name.
“-You loved her, didn’t you…!” Jake said with a sigh, as he believed in their relationship one for time, while he decided to embrace the despondency one more time.
“-Yes.” The father said as he let a single tear of sadness, let a single droplet of cheerfulness gently glide over the curves of his face, as he allowed his almost red nostrils to inflate, as he permitted his heart-beat to escalate and he submerged in the sorrow of joy. He once again revisited the baggage which held all his memories, in which his life was stored, where his existence was pampered and admired, where Jane’s existence was treasured.
“I’m so glad that Jane wasn’t my first love. I am so glad that Jane wasn’t my soul-mate. We both were impaired and so we had an imperfect life, a messy, tangled life which was greater than any perfect life I ever envisioned.” The father said being contended “We were best friends, companions, although we hated a few of each other's habits, truth to be told many unbearable habits. We used to drive each-other insane…” Son looked at his father as the nostalgic look was mirrored in his eyes “But that was the best part….”
Father continued his trip down the memory lane “I am so glad that we were not ideal for each other because I loved the life I had with Jane. It was chaotic and every day felt like a new adventure.” Father inhaled and continued “From the burnt toasts to blunt words to the painting of whites to juvenile high-fives to playing rock-paper-scissors for making insignificant decisions to telling stories to chronicle to starry nights to debating for the television remote to stupid fights to silly arguments to forgetting dates to water and food battles to me fainting while your birth… All of it was a nightmare, which was more ravishing than any delightful dream.” It seemed like the father was trying to summarize his entire life with Jane in that one sentence.
“And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.” Father sighed as he was finally out of breath “Jane was the best thing that happened to me, she was there to hold me at my worst times, to be part of my mayhem, to support me, to curse me when I made mistakes... I was mesmerized by every side of her. We knew that two of us were screwed up persons, and we didn’t want to have it any other way.”
“-Everything happens for a reason part…?” Jake who tried being casual, almost choked on his words when the first tear-drop was liberated from prison, and there was going to be a revolution.
Father nodded and continued “I would always have that impending ‘what if…’ with Lizzie but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Lizzie and I were perfect for each other and that’s the reason we could never adapt to each other’s variations. We couldn’t fight for ‘us’.”
“-So you are saying that I should wait for my Jane?” Jake asked with a runny nose, as with every tear a memory was fading away, as with every tear another reminiscence was embraced, as every teardrop brought with it the numbness that was making the pain a bit more subtle.
“-You decide.” Dad said as he looked at the stars “But I’d prefer my son not stocking a married woman.” Both Jake and his father chuckled at the horrible joke as they wiped their tears in sync.
Both of them sat there being engulfed by the melody of the silence for some seconds, as Jakes tears were flowing rapidly, flowing leisurely, as he was overwhelmed by disdain, when he triumphed over the grief, as he was making his baggage lighter and lighter as he looked at the ring in his hand, he looked at the small cut on his palm. “Give it time; it’ll heal eventually if you don’t keep on scratching it...” The father said as he looked at the son’s injury “Or else it will leave a scar.” Son understood what exactly his father wanted to say.
The ring was placed in the pocket as several moments passed in silence. When the pit in Jake’s stomach became somewhat bearable he asked gleefully out of curiosity “By the way what happened to Lizzie?”
“-Not that I am in her touch…” father said with a wink “But she is happily married. I think she has a daughter of your age…”
“Would it be weird if I asked her number? Just to check-out that she is single or not, you know…” Son said with a devious grin as his father smiled. The affliction still straggled, it was still hurting, the wound was still fresh, but the son was ready to apply for the medicine over it. He was ready to believe that one day eventually it would stop burning.
“-Like father, like son…” Father said to the young man, who reclaimed the freedom, which trapped in his past, as he laughed with tears like there was no tomorrow. He still held on tightly the baggage of his past, but it seemed airy now. The anguish was no longer making him miserable.
“We should do this more often…” Son said as the pair sat chatting on that old senile jetty by the lake-side until dawn.