I never made a very good child. I was missing something; or maybe the opposite was true, and I possessed something I shouldn't have. At any rate, I was always an uncomfortable youth. My mother used to joke that I had not been born, rather that they had gone to the hospital and taken away one of the old men there. I was a morose child, quiet and proper, and my parents respected me as an equal member of our household. Those early days were something wonderful; there was an entire new world for me to explore, to examine, to understand. I was always an observer; I took in the world and the things around me the way other children studied the tigers at the zoo, and my scholastic mannerisms eventually led my mother to refer to me as her little philosopher, her natural scientist. A mother's perspectives are never quite accurate, and I had learnt even at that age that I was truly unfortunate; I had been cursed with rationality, and it had even by that young age rooted itself firmly in my mind.
God was an issue I tackled early on, and one that I resolved fairly quickly. My conclusions, in hindsight, were well conceived. Firstly, if there was a God, then he had equipped us with the powers of logic, and if that is the case, we must assume that he did so knowing as he must know that we would take full advantage of those powers. If we can then use logic, and apply Occam's Razor, we can figure out some fairly momentous problems. If we were given two possible solutions to the question of how did the world come to be, one which was congruent with the rules of logic and one which was not, we may only reasonably believe the most supported, and it was as a result of this conclusion that I arrived for my first day of school, the only staunchly-atheist five-year-old in my class.
As school came to be a part of my life, I became suddenly aware that I was not like the other children. At lunch we would all go outside and play road hockey, but our connections were always distant, and rooted in activity, rather than belief or shared interest. I stood out, somehow; they knew that I was different, and they were wary. I, for my part, was never terribly concerned, and went about my business as I always had. School was wonderful to me; I didn't have peer relationships to distract me from my education; and so education developed past merely being a youth's responsibility, and became my hobby and pastime, as well. When winter came, and we could no longer play outdoors, the other kids would gather inside, playing games like House and Fire-Fighters, while I sat in the corner and watched attentively.
During these early years I came to my first love. Other children too, were finding love; sticky-palmed and rosy-cheeked, kept secret behind the portables, or by the fence behind the baseball diamond. My love, however, was much more practical, and much less likely to lead to hasty meetings of lips, and the awkward entanglement of hidden hands. Heart in my throat, I came to initiate what was to be a long relationship with words, and with how they fit together. The sounds, one after another, spewing forth meaning and intent, capable of such softness and such hate; rhymes and meter and verse and flow, things so wonderful and new my excitement was palpable. Everything about them was fascinating; these forms, inconceivable but necessary, surely they were the most powerful things in the world.
At recess sometimes, I would find somewhere to sit, and just listen to the words vibrate through the air. I heard so much; secrets and confessions, promises and threats, proclamations of love, of hate; everything words could do, I experienced. Once, in my wanderings, I came across a pair of older girls playing a clapping game. The words and the rhythm flowed together so perfectly. I watched them for several minutes before slipping away. I realized then something interesting; I had been so entranced by the coordination between their song and their movement that I had completely forgotten what they'd said. As I made my way home that day, I came up with a little song of my own. I went over each line tentatively, in my head:
One by one and two by two
I shall fall and so shall you
They might try to help us up
But maybe we don't want them to.
Satisfied, I sang the next verse quietly to myself.
One by one and two by two
All the things you heard are true
All the rest may go away
But you'll have me and I'll have you.
This was the point in the song where the girls doubled their pace.
Thomas Mitchell has a friend,
Mae Douglas has one too;
But I have you and you have me,
And I guess that'll have to do.
Some kids like to play at house,
Some kids play kickball,
Some kids don't have anyone,
And don't play anything, at all.
I never really thought of myself as lonely; I was very happy to be who I was, and I considered my outsider status to be almost my penance. I was a great stoic, living in my barrel, immune to the plagues of men.
* * *
As childhood faded into adolescence, my atheism faded too; what had once seemed like such a strong, noble position had become tired, trite, and equally illogical as the blind faith I had detested as a child. Surely god and reason could coexist; indeed, reason itself, so beautiful and infinite...wasn't that almost in itself proof of intelligent design? I came then to the conclusion that when it came to matters of faith, logic became impotent; faith, by its very nature, usurped simple rationality. This notion was an incredible revelation to me; how could something be inherently illogical? It was a concept that I mulled over for many a night, before realizing at last it's absolute truth. I became then perhaps one of the world's very first fundamentalist agnostics; convinced to the very essence of my being that it could not be known by man whether or not a god existed; logic could disprove faith, but faith, for its part, could also overrule logic. Once again theologically satisfied, I turned myself to more timely matters.
I was growing up, and maturing, and I was becoming at last aware of my loneliness. My peers, so much more awkward in the pursuits of the mind, were infinitely more successful in life's social arenas. It was not that I was an awkward, gangly teen, floundering through thinly veiled expressions of lust; rather, I was simply incompatible with the people that filled my life. I was not better than they were, and I was not worse; simply put, I was parallel, but of an entirely different existence. I had always believed when I was younger that as I aged, the people around me would mature, and that eventually I would fit in; in reality, however, their progression seemed not only to stop but almost to reverse as they aged, and where once I had had great hope I now had numbing realization. This was the curse of my rationality, of my gift; I was to be lonely. It was now that I wished truly for companionship; I wasn't whining, or pleading; it was just that if everybody else got somebody, why couldn't I have somebody, too? I wasn't being specific; I didn't ask for a lover, or a lifemate, I didn't ask for a dark stranger with lips like burning moons and eyes that probed the soul. A friend! This was all; boy or girl, this or that, such things were irrelevant. All I wanted was somebody who understood what I meant when I talked about life, someone who shared my thrill at simply knowing…surely, surely, this was not too much to ask.
It became apparent, as time progressed, that indeed it might be. As I matured, I came to accept my position. As when I was young, loneliness was the price, dear yet fair, I must pay for being who I was. Clear on my station, I returned to the things I loved with a renewed vigor; why search cyclically for meaning in one place when you have already found meaning in another? I read well, and I wrote poorly, and I smiled when nobody was looking. I was a very busy young man, and as I reached what was the middle of the end of my schooling, I felt finally comfortable with what I was, and accepting if what I was not.
* * *
Two fundamental changes occurred that summer, and although I am now convinced that they must have been related, I cannot be sure as to which set off which. The first change, which I had long since stopped dreaming about, occurred when I found myself talking to a young man in a relic of a bookstore I had come to frequent on main street. The second change occurred when I reexamined, for the final time, my philosophy of god. I had long been dissatisfied by logical explanations for the universe; theories and rules seemed to contradict themselves at will, existing only to muddle the minds of nosy young men. Surely something could not exist from nothing; how could this be? and yet, again and again, science told us that this must be so. To be fair; faith too holds such fallacies, but faith is faith, and faith and logic had already been determined to be incapable of coexistence. In light of this, I determined that there must be a greater power, a creator, at work. Things were too beautiful, too perfect; this was not the work of pure chance. My god was not a vengeful, antagonistic god; he did not mind himself with the affairs of mere mortals. Rather, he watched, and he studied, and secretly, in the back of my mind, I imagined that he sometimes wished he had a friend.
The young man's name was Auguste, and the God's name was immaterial. I came to enjoy my talks with Auguste, and I came to look forward to my trips to the small bookstore, trips which in turn came to become more and more frequent. We became friends; a word that sounded somehow dirty, and seemed to creak as I spoke it, like a rusty hinge. Slowly, over the course of several months he came to become more and more a part of my life. We would meet after school, and go to the bar, sitting on the patio pints in hand, philosophizing under the awning like the stoics of old. This was companionship? What I might give to never have known what I was missing. The sheer joy of having another mind to examine, another mouth to deliver jokes, another pair of hands flailing at the sky, plotting out ideas and dreams, drawing lines between constellations on the canvas. Auguste wanted to be a writer, and in hindsight, it was surely he that pushed me finally into that most dichotomous of professions. When he was working, we would both sit in the shop, selecting books at random; tomes from an era well and truly past, volumes of such magnitude and scope as to be unheard of today. A man's life's work, compressed to some 400 pages; and here, one of only ten copies in the world, or of only three, or even the only, itself. How we would move through these texts; poetry, philosophy, the natural sciences; the shop was a haven. When the owner would go out to run errands, Auguste and I would unlock the front display case, and pour over in awe the original manuscript of Thus Spake Zarathustra, and a first print edition the The Interpretation of Dreams. These were sheets of paper worth far more than what they might fetch for auction; these were ideas, original, incredible ideas, spread out against time itself.
When Auguste wasn't working or otherwise occupied, he would sit at his typewriter and create. He had an ability I could have only dreamed of; he could sit down, and he could make the words appear on the paper out of thin air. When holidays came that year, Auguste and I boarded a train Washington, D.C, in order to catch an exhibit on Nietzsche at the Smithsonian. What a trip it was, bouncing across the country, keeping ourselves entertained; weaving elaborate back stories for our fellow passengers, and keeping the wine steward on his toes. The city was fantastic; we spent four days living like cultured bums, racing from museum to gallery and back, stopping only when the city shut itself down for the night, and we had to look for somewhere quiet to sleep. So this, truly, was friendship; such a thing as I had written off so many times in the past. Eventually we grew tired, and found ourselves once again on a train, bouncing across, or even through, the green hills and forests of the American continent.
We spent the trip home much like we had spent the original journey; seated, side by side, so engaged in conversation so as to forget even meals. We'd managed to subdue ourselves enough to ingest dinner (shrimp and rosé, as this was in the days that the railroad still oozed class) and as darkness fell on the dining car, Auguste leaned over to whisper in my ear. I leaned closer to him, but at the last moment he darted around my face, and I felt the warmth of his breath and the moisture on his lips as our faces met awkwardly, images of the children hiding under the tables in grade school. I drew away, suddenly; both confused and entirely understanding simultaneously. Auguste, shaking now, turned a ghostly white and stood quickly, looking at me with pain in his eyes. He opened his mouth as if to speak, before turning and darting out of the car. The train slowed to a stop, and as people milled around, I was unable to discern where he had gone. I returned to my seat, disoriented and confused, before racing towards the washroom to empty my dinner into the toilet bowl.
They never really teach you about love; and when they do, they tend to do a fairly poor job of it. Boys meet girls, take them for walks in the park, and then they grow old together. They never mention lust; such an essential part of the whole arrangement, a trigger that elevates simple friendship. I loved him, I am sure, as much as I could ever love anyone; for how could I have ever felt more strongly, more connected? But then, one loves a brother, certainly, but it would bring about certain social exile to consider all loves equal. I cared for him with all my heart, but I did not lust. Is that all it is, all that it takes for camaraderie to become romance? Is love any less for lacking the sweaty bodies and fumbled intimacy that lurk under the surface of our fairy tales? I loved, I must have; but perhaps, like intent without action, love without lust is just the ghost of true possibility. As I sank into my chair, defeated and sick, a song drifted into my head:
Two by two and four by four
slightly more traditional fiction.
Alone again, we are once more
Not everything was meant to be
Loneliness will set us free.