For a forgetful guy I seem to remember quite vividly. I remember a bench, wooden with an iron base and iron handles. I remember sitting on one, and beside me cried the female I liked most. She cried and cried, and cried, and cried, and I, the idiot, did not know what to do. I remember looking at her, amazed that someone could cry so much, and horrified that I could cause so much pain. I remember that her eyes were even smaller than usual, her face a little more pale. She had never looked more disheveled and more vulnerable. She had never looked more beautiful.
Fast-forward to today, and I’m writing this while sitting on another bench, one not very different from that old bench on a rock. There’s no one crying now, but beside me is her ghost, with the ghosts of all the others. Through the years the benches have been different, stone instead of wood, the front seats of a car, the backseat too, the corner of a bed, a variety of couches, and a rooftop ledge. And while the places and faces have changed, and many things unsaid now lost and forgotten, still the memory of her pain remains.
On my last night in Europe, I look out from the roof terrace of the Barrio Alto Hotel in Lisboa, Portugal. In front of me are buildings more than a hundred year old sloping down to meet the coast of what was once the most important port in the world. The yellow glow of the lamps, which still hold their gas predecessor’s form, bounces across stone walls and floors of the narrow alleys. Sometimes shadows break the light, a man old enough to be hunched but strong enough to hike, the conjoined shadows of lovers returning from a date, or those of a family, walking side by side, that remind you of the paper-cut figures from preschool linked at the hands and feet. I wonder why they’re all still out. It’s late.
I look back at the sea, and I remember a conversation I had earlier with a man, full of experience and at least thrice my age, as we walked along the bay, he with his tie loose and his coat flung across his back, and I still in business mode. He said, “Many times, I have come to the sea to get my life back together.” I told him that was one of God’s gifts. He nodded towards a lady who smiled while passing us, “THAT is God’s gift! And you seem to be a gifted man. Stay away from them. They’re trouble.” I answered with a smirk. He then started to talk about his third wife, “We were beautiful once. We are no longer. I look at her in the morning, and I say, ‘Who is this fat cow with skin like marble???’ But I love her. I loved her then and I still do. Because she is the only woman I know who wakes up laughing. Can you imagine? A laughing cow with melting skin??? She is lucky to have a man like me! She seduced me, that temptress, she did!” I asked him how a cow sedduced him. He gave me a look that said, “Don’t be a wiseguy.” I decided to change the subject and asked if he regretted his other wives, he said, “I’ve had expensive losses, but I’ve also had expensive profits. I have no regrets.” Looking back it wasn’t the best subject to change to. Unlike him, I can’t say the same. I do have regrets.
The cold wind brings me back to the terrace, and somewhere I can hear singing, like the lady at the restaurant earlier that sang the saddest sounding amore’ I have ever heard in my life. That was the only word I understood, and that was enough. In a way, that describes very well what this trip has been for me. Come to think of it, it describes life very well. Despite not understanding, or misunderstanding, the little we do know is many times all we need.
In places where everything is foreign to you, and you’re foreign to everything, you learn to feel with your heart and you learn to comprehend with your soul. You find that the world is no longer just brown, black, or white, but also reds, and pinks, and ochre, with cerulean, and light. And in the complexities of what’s happening in today’s world, it’s nice to be able to step back and be reminded that somewhere the accordion still rocks, and the sea still speaks, that sons still dance with their gypsy mothers, and that people say I love you in a million different ways.