Learning To Love Again

My name is Fabulous Celebrity. Pay close attention to what I have to say because I choose my words carefully and never repeat myself.

Love wounded my heart, turning my blood the colour of charcoal. The ashes of my memories leaked from my brain into my lungs and I inhaled anxiety and exhaled depression. I was lost and afraid, even though I knew the cause. As the scales dropped from my eyes, my insignificance became so visible. Now I know who I am and I know who you are too; we are but specks, nobodies, filled with nothingness. Our destinies are the same as all of those who have lived before us. From birth I was condemned, even before birth. Love, faith, and hope have forsaken me. They no longer answer when I call.

The parasitic demons had once lived only in my gut, but they have now invaded my entire being. I am in hell, cut off from heaven. I can see a glimmer though, or at least that’s what I tell myself. Perhaps hope will return. Wandering alone, I grope through darkness, hoping to find a light switch or a doorway, something or someone leading me to Him. I can’t remember the way to heaven anymore. I call out only to hear the echoes of my own voice. The wilderness is closing in on me. The sweet fragrance I once recognised as milk and honey has vanished. I am truly alone. Yet I cry out foolishly, praying for pity, but receive damnation instead. I am a wanderer now, forlorn and displaced in a world filled with ambiguity.

A year ago, my life changed completely. I was then an emotionally fragile man, after making the mistake of basing my self-worth on something as flimsy as a woman’s affection. When I lost it, I lost myself as well. That’s how I came to be homeless. I was slumped against the wall in a dark alley when the vagrant with the knife threatened me.

I was surprised to see him, but also indifferent. I had really ceased to live long before the night of my death. I sat with my head between my knees, trying to sleep, but tortured with thoughts of my abandoned feelings. I was shivering in the cold night, in spite of my woolen coat and knitted hat. The coat was responsible for attracting the wild-eyed old man with the knife.

When the vagrant kicked me in the leg to attract my attention I looked up, annoyed at having my thoughts of her interrupted. My attacker flashed the steak knife at me, holding it so that its blade reflected the street lights in my eyes. Reeking of sour alcohol and exhaling huge breaths of cold air into my face, he knelt down and placed the knife against my throat.

I saw that he had a stubby excuse for a white beard and looked insane. Also that he wasn’t wearing a coat; only a filthy and tattered long-sleeved shirt.

“Give me the coat, boy!” he said menacingly. “Or I’ll slit your throat!”

I would have given him the coat. I even wanted to, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It would have taken too much effort. I just sat with my back against the wall looking at the man with apathetic eyes.

“Did you hear me, son?” he asked loudly. “Take off your stupid coat and give it to me or I’ll spray your blood all over this alley. Don’t think I haven’t done it before.”

I looked into the old man’s eyes and saw that he was quite serious. He was a predator, nothing but a wild animal in human form. I am scrawny, yet I thought that I could have fought him and won. Even though he had a knife, I could see that alcohol had seriously compromised his health. But I didn’t. I just didn’t have the energy.

“Kill me. Why don’t you just do it?” I said. “Are you carrying a baby on your back?” I pressed my neck against the knife so tightly that it drew a thread of blood that trickled like molasses down the blade until it reached the man’s fingers.

The old man hesitated, unnerved by my indifference.

“I’ll kill you, son. I’m not joking,” he said. His tone was almost apologetic.

But even as he said the words, he tried to remove the knife from my throat. It was then that I realised he was not a killer after all, but only a sad, drunken man trying to stay warm. But I refused to let the opportunity pass me by. I would have never summoned the energy to commit suicide on my own, but knew to take a gift when it was offered.

“If you’re too much of a coward,” I said. “I’ll do the deed myself.” I grabbed the man’s wrist and pulled the knife forward as I thrust my throat against the glittering blade. I felt the briefest moment of pain and watched my blood shoot from the wound onto the old man’s dilapidated boots. The man leapt back in horror, dropping the knife, and emitting a childish squeal of terror.

I would have laughed at him if I had not been dying. With each fading heartbeat, I watched my blood spurt from the slashed artery onto the cobblestones of the alley. The old man fled, forgetting the coat he’d come to steal. I pictured her face in my mind one last time, wishing I could touch it, but knowing I never would. In the moment before my death, I thought I saw her leaning over me with tears in her eyes.

“I love you, Fab,” she said as she kissed me on the cheek. I shivered from the pleasure of her imagined touch. Then I collapsed.

For a time I knew only blackness. I was wandering in a void, looking for the light that was supposed to appear at the end of the tunnel, wondering if it would open to Heaven or Hell. But no light appeared. Time lost its meaning as I meandered in the darkness. Sadness and loneliness, long time companions of mine, followed my steps. At last, I slumped down in the void, too tired to move, no longer caring where I went or what fate awaited my soul.

Mbali was happy somewhere on earth and I was laden with despair somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Still, I had no desire to be where she was not.

As the thought left my mind, I experienced a falling sensation. The next moment I found myself within the world again, standing outside a bedroom window. Around me, a blizzard roared, but did not touch me. The wind howled, sending great fluffy flakes of snow careening in every direction. The house I was in was large, a mansion full of windows and doors. Long, pointed icicles hung from the eves of the roof, and banks of snow reached window height. Yet I did not feel the cold or the wind; I was a ghost with no more substance than a shadow in a dream. I looked down at my hand and was surprised to see that I still held the knife with which I had slain myself. My blood had congealed upon the blade, fixed in place by the coldness of the night.

Through the window, I saw a woman sleeping, with only her face emerging from the covers. It was Mbali Gamede. She slept on her side with her face toward the window, her long dark hair hanging over her eyes, unmindful of the blizzard or of the spectre who watched her.

Filled with love and longing, I yearned to be next to her, and, as if dreaming, floated through the window to her side. I stroked her face with unfeeling fingers, worshipping her essence. This was the only woman I had ever loved. But she had never returned my love.

I had been a selfless man with a fragile heart and she had broken it. But I didn’t blame her for it. She could only be who she was.

I knew that I had only been a means to an end to her; water when she was thirsty, wine when she wanted to be drunk. I had never been more than that to her. She had never led me on; never pretended that she needed me to make her whole, never spoke of a future with me at her side. I was not authoritative enough for her, she had said. She wanted a man with more common sense; a man who acted with greater conviction. She needed a man to be a man and not what she thought I was.

Besides, she said she had no use for marriage and all children were brats who compromised your freedom. She had called me when she’d wanted me and cast me aside when she was done. That was the nature of our relationship.

In spite of her words, however, Mbali could not deny that she enjoyed my company. We talked for hours about nothing, and about things that mattered, often drank excessively and laughed at our foibles, shared private jokes and had a secret handshake. She brought Technicolour brightness to my life I had never known before.

But she had never loved me. She merely appreciated my presence; glad that I was there for her in this strange world she had come to without knowing a soul.

I thought she was magical; she thought I was convenient. She was career-minded, and when she was offered a scholarship, wanted to study miles away from me, leaving me without a twinge of remorse. I wanted to go with her, but she would not consider it. I would be a fish out of water there, she told me.

METRIC: Here, people ambled slowly around, drank sweet tea on the verandah, and took three days to say a sentence. There, life was lived in the fast lane. People were on the move and if you got in the way, ran you over without a second thought. I told her that I could adjust – but she knew better. The last night she saw me, I cried bitterly while she hugged me reluctantly. I had lost both of my parents during my life, but losing her was the bitterest pill of all.

After she shut me out of her life, I withered away like a delicate orchid in a desert. I had always been too sensitive to function in the world effectively.

Everything seemed to affect me more than it should have. Lights were too bright; sounds too loud; smells too strong. I felt my emotions too intensely, in all directions. Each day, when I went beyond the boundaries of my home, the world poured into me with all of its urgency. There were days when I enjoyed this tendency and times when I felt superior to the rest of the world who could not experience life so fully. But the constant stimuli also wore me down, then I needed silence and isolation to recharge my batteries.

But without Mbali, they could no longer recharge, and I became detached. I went through the motions, but nothing seemed to matter any longer. The world became very stale to me.

I tried to pretend that no blow had been dealt to me. I told myself that people broke up every day; that I could, would, find other women.

I was not unattractive. In fact, I was generally described as well built and handsome, with a thoughtful, easy-going personality. Women had always found me easy to talk to, and for a time I decided to forget about her by becoming a true ladies’ man. This strategy worked for a while, but soon so many women called me that I started switching off my cell phone at night. Some of them were bright and attractive, but not one could replace Mbali. After a month, I cut them off entirely.

I worked as a graphic designer, sitting all day in a cubicle. I never worked for any other motivation than receiving a paycheck. Before long, I began to find excuses to call in sick. Then I took a week’s vacation and when the week was up, I still did not return to work. My manager called me the first day I missed work without calling in. I listened to the phone listlessly, making no move to answer it.

“Hey Fab,” I heard my manager’s message on the answering machine. “We missed you at work today. It’s not like you to not even call. Tell me what’s going on. We’re worried about you.”

But I didn’t call. Then he called again the next two days with the same message, sounding more concerned each time. Two days after that, my manager called one final time to tell me he was sorry but that he would have to let me go.

I had once exercised regularly, but now I did nothing. I had once been an avid reader and a passionate follower of sports. Now the games were meaningless to me and my feeble attempts at reading resulted in my eyes passing across words on a page without taking in anything. I became numb and inert.

Two months passed without my rent being paid. I tried not to think, to quiet my mind to nothing. Zen, I would think. I just want to be in a state of Zen. No desires, just Zen. But I could never achieve that state of emptiness. Instead my mind was filled with longing.

If she only knew what I could give to her, I thought. If only she would give me another chance. Then she would see. She would finally see everything that I could offer her. Then we would do magical things together. Together, we would cause mountains to fall and gravity to rise. But she wouldn’t see, couldn’t see.

She would not return my phone calls or answer the e-mails in which I poured out my heart to her, except with curt single sentences that sent my heart to new depths.

“Sorry you feel that way,” she would reply. Or: “It’s nothing personal, only I’ve moved on. You should too.”

I was convinced that she simply just did not understand. If she would only understand the depth of my feelings, the trueness and purity of my love, she would not turn me away so callously.

Then the night came when she finally called. When her number appeared on my mobile I was rapturous with joy. She was finally going to give me a chance, finally coming around for me. I let the phone ring twice and picked it up, my heart skipping in my chest.

We made small talk for several minutes, but I could tell that she was working up the courage to tell me the real reason for her call. I crossed my fingers, hoping for the best. It seemed as if she would never get round to it, so I had finally asked her.

“Why did you call, Mbali?” I asked.

She was silent for nearly a full minute before finally answering.

“Fabulous, I think you should leave me alone,” she said. “I’ve told you that I’ve moved on. You’re sweet, but you’re not the guy for me. Please don’t call or e-mail me ever again, okay? I really don’t love you, I never really did. Is that clear enough for you? Can you understand that? I know this must be hurting your feelings but I’m only being honest with you. Can you understand what I’m telling you?”

Chills raced down my spine. I couldn’t answer. I switched off my mobile, my heart beating sickly, hot tears in my eyes.

I lay alone in the darkness of my room, feeling the last light of hope flee from my soul.

I mean nothing to her, I thought. But my life means nothing without her. I am hollow and empty. Even as I thought these things, I knew they were contemptible. A man should not be broken so easily. I knew this, but was broken nonetheless.

Happiness was for ‘the one’ on whom she could lavish all her withheld love without hesitation or apprehension. I was not ‘the one’. I could not be the one no matter how desperately I craved the title. I was just ‘another one’ she had chosen to go through along the way. My love was inconsequential, my devotion meaningless. I might as well have been a sixth grader in love with the homecoming queen. She thought I was cute in my way, but certainly not to be taken seriously.

I loved her irreverent and cynical personality and her clever way with words; the way she could make up puns and jokes right off the top of her head. I loved the way she used to focus on me so completely when I was with her. She had been so astute in finding so many small things about my appearance that needed fixing. I never considered it nit-picking. I thought that her focused attention was evidence that she truly cared for me.

She encouraged me to gel my hair so I didn’t look like ‘a Bible salesman’. She taught me that T-shirts and jeans did not have to make up the entire extent of my wardrobe. And she used to tell me that the foundation of true, eternal love was based on being honest and trusting your partner. I was always eager to improve myself for her sake.

I knew her cynicism was a put-on, a defense mechanism against the world. She was partial to heavy metal rock and graphic B-grade slasher movies, but was also deeply kind and compassionate. She loved nature and people, and could be moved to tears by old couples holding hands. Mbali was an enigma, which was one of the reasons why I loved her.

I finally abandoned my apartment before being formally evicted, and made my way to the city, to make my life on the park benches and alleys amongst my fellow vagrants. I was too proud to beg and contented myself with rummaging through trashcans. I lived in this state for two months before meeting my death.

I had always wanted to win Mbali’s unconditional love. I had poured out my soul to her only to be cast carelessly aside. I had no family to speak of – no mother, no father. Mbali had been my only lamp in the darkness, and I had thought that she would aid me in my endless but futile effort to exist in the harsh world that overwhelmed my senses every day.

I died with my faith but my heart was still beating. And for every beat it took, it never wanted to give up on her. So, I failed to go gentle into my good night. When I regained consciousness, I could not make out where I was, but the mist before my eyes slowly lifted. I was lying on white sheets of the hospital bed, propped up with pillows, my entire life hooked up to a heart monitor, IV drips, hideous plastic tubes up my nose, down my throat. Someone was sitting next my bed, holding my hand tightly.

What brought me to this? I asked myself. The answer was crystal clear. ‘Love’ brought me… From these experience I started to realise: It is better to break the man’s leg than his heart.

For her insistence on the truth, for her unblinking eye and determination to omit needless words, her unerring logic, optimism, inspiration… for everything she’ll always be. How could I escape, or heal, my wounded soul? If not Mbali, who will show me how to love again?

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