talonkarrde: (Default)
This is an unfinished story, about a man who will never read these words.

It is a man who didn't have a home, a car, a job, or any one of the comforts that we enjoy and discard carelessly on a day to day basis, a man who walked and slept with the clothes on his back and a guitar in his hands. 

His name was John — or at least, that's what he claimed it was — and he had been busking — or panhandling, or flat out begging — for a few years now. He was dirty, and unkempt, and looked just like you'd expect him to look, just as you'd expect someone who had been out on the streets for months and not have easy access to a shower to look. His clothes were tattered, though at least they covered everything they should, and his beard was disgusting and matted and tangled.

And, of course, the smell, the same smell that hangs around your trash can and you can never get rid of, the same smell that you learn to associate with spoiled milk and rancid meat and decay. That was his smell.

It wasn't much of a first impression.

But then he'd open his mouth and sing a tune, and you'd forget about all of that, because he was good. Not that good, mind you, not good enough to make a living from it and sit in a fancy nightclub, crooning out the blues or covers of the hits, but good enough that you noticed, good enough that you'd take out the one earphone you had in to listen to him instead.

I must have walked past him ten, fifteen times in the station over the course of a few months without making eye contact, or smiling, or doing anything that acknowledged his existence. It's generally better that way, because then you don't have to say no to them directly when they ask you for change — though he never did, even when he was taking a break between songs and could've asked those who were just listening to spare some money.

But this night in particular, he was singing Hotel California, and doing a good job, too. I had nowhere to be in a hurry, so I stopped, leaned up against a wall, and simply stared at nothing in particular while he sang and strummed along. He was pretty good at the guitar, too, and I hummed along in my head, listening as the notes of the closing refrain drifted towards the ceiling.

He was smiling, and I felt obligated, after that, to give him something for his time. After all, he had just performed, and it felt like he was due something, so I stepped forward to give him a five. Not that much to me, but something that made that song worthwhile for him — might even mean his meal tonight, I figured, or at least a beer.

He thanked me and then asked me if I had anywhere to be. I honestly didn't, and I said so, and he asked if I'd mind listening to one of his original songs. Shrugging — and mentally preparing myself for the class of people who are better at copying than they are at creating — I said it'd be fine, and he launched into it.

This isn't a fairy tale: the song wasn't the most glorious thing I had ever heard, nor was it a sad, thoughtful reflection on the state of the world, or a rant about being left behind by society.  It was simply a small ditty about who he was, with a few good turns of phrase about his hometown (Portland) and a few jokes about current events in there. It couldn't have won a Grammy, even in a world where Taylor Swift does, but at the same time, it wasn't bad, and I enjoyed it.

That's where it started, I guess; I ended up asking him how he had gotten to San Francisco, and the entire story came out. He had lived in Portland for most of his life, and then had gone to college on his parents' money, going to a Univeristy of California school. He had stayed with it for four years, despite not being too interested in what he was doing, and ended up graduating, albeit with a somewhat low GPA.

His major? Computer science.


I'm pretty sure he saw the surprise in my eyes when he said it. He half-smiled, and shrugged, and said that coding was something that he was good at, just... not quite good enough, he finished, with the pause in the middle. He had held a few temp jobs, but they all ended up falling through, and finally decided to strike out instead of leeching off his parents, and after a few more temp positions, ended up where he was, wandering the city and playing for the money to get his next meal.

And for the life of me, all I could think about is how, if things had been slightly different, I could be in his spot — albeit, I suppose, with less talent in the vocal performance department. And the guitar-playing department. And probably the 'actually being able to live off the streets' skills department. In fact, I don't think I could make it half as well as he was.

I asked him — as I'm sure anyone who had ever heard his story before asked — whether he was still looking for jobs now, but he smiled that self-deprecating smile again and indicated his current state. "Not exactly what they look for," he said, and I could only agree. 

"Still..." I tried, and he pre-empted me, and assured me that he was still trying. In fact, he said, he was heading back to Portland soon, to follow up on a few leads his high school friends had there. He said that I had caught him at the perfect time, since he was due to leave next week, and that if he didn't show up there again, it meant that he had found a place to work. I gave him everything I had that night — only about $25 — and wished him the best — if he did come back, I said, I'd buy him a meal, at the least, while he caught me up on his travels.


It's been a month since then, and I haven't seen him back yet. I hope I don't, but if I do, I'll absolutely honor my word. Beyond that — well, this isn't a morality tale, and there are no easily taught lessons, I don't think. All I know is that I still think about how dumb luck can be the difference between a career and (at least) a few years on the streets. What if the job market was better? What if he tried a bit harder? What if his parents knew different people?

We always do the best we can with the cards that we're dealt, I suppose, and can only hope the cards aren't too bad.
talonkarrde: (Default)
We will always be different, you and I; I know this now.

But let me explain something.

Before you, I was different from everyone else, in every way I could imagine, in new ways that I learned about, every day. My time spent with others was not easy, not enjoyable, and did not happen without me fighting myself, every step of the way.

But even as I despised it, I knew that it had to be done, that I had to - what is the word? Assimilate. Such an ugly word. But it was necessary, or eventually, I would be too much of an outcast, and I would never be able to truly live.

That was the choice.

Even so, how it hurt. My every action and every moment spent with them only convinced me how hopeless it was. I was foreign. I was alien. I was not of their kind. I was different in appearance, in dress, in behavior; more importantly, I was different in the views that I held, the thoughts that I had.

In all the time that I spent trying to fit in, I was never accepted.

And then — of course, and then — I met you.

And it was the light of day after a long, dark night and it was peace after a thousand years of war and it was getting to the promised land, and so many more allusions that you’ve taught me, if only I could remember them from our talks late at night. It was being safe and known, something I had almost given up on.

I came to view the night as the only time when I was truly awake, even though I was sleepy and incoherent; I came to think of our conversations as the only ones where I was truly talking, even though I was always of few words; I came to think that what we had was what life should be, even if it was for only a few hours, and only sometimes in person. I loved you, then, which I’m sure you knew; I hoped, dreamed, dared to believe that you loved me too.

Every day, we grew closer and found out more about each other, learning things that we already knew but had never said. You were more than just a gift, though; you saved my life.

You see, each day, you explained a bit more about where you came from, how you were raised, what you thought, and it let me understand them a little more. What I had seen as cruelties you showed me were simply habit, a different upbringing, a different culture. And you revealed in me the cruelties that my own culture had, and it broke down the walls, so that I for the first time, I realized that I could, eventually, fit in, that I would not be an outsider for all my life.

There is nothing greater you could have given me.

And then it all unraveled, the careful tapestry that we wove together. It was a disagreement over something we both thought carefully about, and that made it all the more jarring, that we had examined the same facts and came to different conclusions. It was a moment’s worth of shock that turned into a night’s worth of anger.

But looking back on it now, I wonder if it was anger or just pain; I wonder if it was realizing that we were different for the first time, that we would not always agree on everything. And I was at fault: instead of trying to find a middle ground, I did what I had always done in the face of a challenge, and I insisted that I was right. I tried to bring out facts and figures and instead of thinking that it would be okay that we disagreed, I took the position that it was only okay if you ended up agreeing with me.

I was wrong, and I drove you away, and I’m sorry.

We will always be different, you and I. But what you taught me, what I never truly learned until now, is that differences between people are not insurmountable, that with time and effort, what divides us can be bridged, if not eliminated, and that cultures and upbringing should never doom us to be trapped by them. And what I learned about you and I is that even though we will not always agree, we share more in common than anyone I’ve ever met.

And I write this hoping that maybe, just maybe, it gets a bit slow at work sometimes and you sit, staring at your screen, wondering if I’ll IM you; maybe the phone rings sometimes at night and your heart speeds up for a second as you answer before you realize that it isn’t me, maybe when you hear a car stop outside, you take a look out the window, hoping that things have changed.

So, this is my apology, and this is me, knocking at the door.
talonkarrde: (Default)
This is what he does, night after night, his face pale against the illuminated screen.

He browses his feeds, his forums, his games, and he searches. For criminals, he would say; for prey, you would think, if you watched the way his eyes devour the words hungrily.

He looks for the poster that needs to put in his or her place, for the person who is overstepping his bounds and thinks he’s immune to retaliation because it’s the internet. He looks for the editor of a magazine that thinks that the internet is public domain, for the thirteen year old that thinks it’s okay to harass her worst enemy by pretending to be a guy she likes.

He styles himself a as vigilante, but instead of being just Oracle, he dispenses justice as Batman. Ruthless, he figures himself to be. But fair, of course. He swears he's fair. After all, he only targets those who have done something wrong to someone else.

And once he does find that a target, that special person that's made a post that catches his eye, he starts to gather information on them. He starts to hang out in the places that they do, and creates a couple dummy accounts to interact with them in different ways. He makes friends with them, and enemies with them, and insinuates himself in their lives, and it takes weeks, months, occasionally years.

But he has time, and he weaves many webs for many victims at once.

People have five major types of relationships in their lives, five major categories which affect their happiness and how they function as human beings. The happiest people are those that have succeeded in all five; the most miserable lack fulfillment in all of these areas. What he does is attack them from all but one of those angles — he saves their self-worth for last, and he finds it's most effective to work from the outside in.  Generally, he finds, the dissolution of the first four crushes the last anyway.

Which four, then? He has a small text file for each person, headings for each area in that file, information listed under each heading that he can use against them. Society, the first one reads, under which is listed information about their careers, their past jobs, and what they aspire to be and what their weaknesses and failings are. Friendships, the next heading says, and has their confessed dislikes of their friends, their irritations that could be taken so terribly and the information they would never say to a friend's face. Family is the third one, with everything he can find about the cruelties and torments suffered, with information about what led to estrangement, with arguments that have never been resolved.

And then there is Love, to be filled with everything to destroy the relationship with the one they trust the most. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's remarkably difficult, but in his time, he knows this: that two people can never become one, that there are differences that can split even two who love each other endlessly. It may be attitude, habit, religion, or past infidelity, but he knows it exists, and simply must be found.

He starts with this basic principle: all people have secrets, pieces of knowledge that would be remarkably damaging to how others view them, whether they only know them professionally or whether they have built a family together. Some people have desires that the world does not accept, others have made mistakes but buried them instead of confessing, and still others have active secrets they hope no one ever learns. Regardless of what the specific secret is, though, there aren’t too many people whose closets have no grinning skulls in them, whose floorboards do not occasionally beat.

And even those, the few, the strong, the angels — there are ways.

There are ways.

He follows his prey to their online watering holes and stalks them carefully, reading through the paper trail that every person leaves in their day to day lives, and finds out a little here and a little there. He chats them up and makes them mad, pushing their buttons and pulling their strings. And sooner or later, once he feels that he knows his target enough, he sets the trap, baits it, and when the time is right, springs it shut.

An email here, remarking on infidelities; a text there, exploiting insecurities. A few voicemails expressing opinions they would never have told their friends, a few text messages sent from anonymous numbers with the knowledge only their old enemies could have, a present from an ex- at the most inopportune of times; these are his starting salvos, his efforts to weaken the foundations.

Then, when the stress builds small incidents into big problems, when the target is feeling alone and vulnerable and wondering what suddenly went wrong in their lives, that’s when he steps it up, until jobs are lost and dishes are thrown and the cops are called, until they start retreating from everything they've held to, until they start looking desperately for a way out. 

And that's when he steps in and offers a helping hand from a friendly account; that’s when he’s there to save them — from himself.

They take it, of course, knowing no better, and when they’ve confessed everything to him, well, of course, he betrays them one last time, giving their darkest secrets to the world, turning their true friends away from them, sending them crashing to despair.

Suicide, he says, is not unknown to those that he targets.

And then he walks away, to find another target, to look for someone else to destroy, all in the name of justice.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Three friends — a CIA officer, a Green Beret, and a army psychiatrist — are sitting by a campfire (or maybe they walk into a bar). They've been drinking a bit, and have reached the stage where they compare feats of bravado, and someone asks which of them is the best.

The CIA spook says, "I gather vital intelligence and do covert operations in some of the most oppressive nations on this planet. We have overturned governments, changed viewpoints, and given vital analysis on foreign abilities."

The Green Beret scoffs and says, "Yeah, well, we search for and eliminate terrorist leaders in hostile territory, behind enemy lines. We routinely get dropped into the most dangerous places on Earth, fight our way out, and make those sons-of-bitches quake in their boots."

The two look to the shrink, who looks perfectly placid. "Come now, doc, you have to have something to say."

He pauses for a moment, puts his fingertips together, and then looks at the others over the top of his glasses.

"I repair broken souls and find lost minds."


When I was younger, I was enrolled in a psychology fieldwork class; they gave us a choice of either working with abused/neglected children or hospice patients. We were undergraduates, and so there was no 'real' work to be done; both experiences were there to give us a taste of what the field would be like.

Working with the children would be an experience where we could really make a difference, I thought. We would be placed as Big Brothers/Big Sisters and take our charges a few times a week away from their home (often, a halfway home or a local youth shelter) to, say, a McDonalds or the park or a library, and simply spend some time with them and talk about anything they wanted to talk about. I had dreams — delusions, perhaps — of leading someone out of a nest of substance abuse issues or helping them climb from a pit of neglect by showing them that someone loved them, and hopefully help them grow into happy, amazing adults.

There was a boy in the program who originally wasn't going to go to college; he ended up studying clinical psychology, what his Big Brother did, because he wanted to pass on, to pay forward the gift that he had gotten. There was a girl who, six or so years after being in the program, named her first daughter after her Big Sister. Those were the changes we could accomplish.

Working with hospice patients and their families, on the other hand, was the other end of the spectrum; instead of the young, it was the old; instead of teaching and leading, we would be learning and following. We would meet with those who had lived three, four, five times as long as we had, once a week, and spend a few hours with them. It gave us a unique opportunity to ask them what mattered and what they regretted after half a century; it gave them a chance to reminisce about their younger years and pass on what they learned to those who would face similar issues, even if they weren't the exact same ones.

I saw a chance to ask questions about life and death, love and regrets; I believed we would be told grand stories of history as it happened instead of as it was written, and smaller, quieter stories of their own lives and choices. I thought that we would share, and in sharing, make both our lives better.

I, in my naivety, asked to do both.


In terms of complexity, there are few things that can even be compared to the human mind. The sheer number of independent parts, the interconnected nature of disparate processes, the precise chemical balances that are held to ensure everything goes right; it is a machine where the whole is tremendously greater than the sum of its parts, a machine that our best technologists have yet to approach the ability to create. Even with nanometer manufacturing processes and the exponential advance of science and technology, our only imitations are to create robots that look alive, without being alive. Perhaps we understand the problem better than our predecessors, but we are no closer to a solution, to being able to instill consciousness where God chose not to.

I will always regret leaving him there. I stood up after our first meeting, in the office the size of a bathroom, shook his hand, and told him it was nice to meet him.

When the coordinator came in and asked when I'd be back next week, I said that Wednesday afternoons at 1pm would be just fine, thanks, even as I knew I would never be back. And I wasn't; I pushed the date off the first week claiming work, called out sick the second, and then stopped answering the calls.

I didn't have the courage to tell them I couldn't do it; I was young, you see, and full of cocksure arrogance, certain that I could change anything.

And when I saw that it was not so easy, I ran.

I'm sorry.


The mind is a marvel that the best of our neuroscientists and biologists and psychologists have yet to to understand. We comprehend cells, we predict the effect neurotransmitters, and we can elicit happiness or combat mood swings with application of electricity and pharmaceuticals. The most capable of us do amazing things with the same limited knowledge we all have, taking cases others think hopeless and coaxing the person back out of the shell; the clumsy fumble around making bad conditions worse, pushing those that could be saved over the edge. But for all that we have learned, the mind is as much of a black box to us today as it was to Freud or Skinner; our tools to decipher its secrets are shouts and explosives when we need whispers and scalpels. We grope around provoking 'stimuli' and measure 'responses', and all we know is that there is so much about ourselves we don't know.


Today John and I talk about our fears, everything from the small, irrational one that are implanted through small childhood experiences to the larger ones that guide how we act in life. He tells me that he's afraid of spiders, and we talk a bit about stingers and poison and movies and how many people die each year from spiders. We talk about adrenaline junkies and how they search out those things that are dangerous, and how that behavior can be good, in some forms, but it can also be dangerous if they live only for the rush of possibly dying.

It's been three months since I started working on him, and we're making progress, I think. He's opened up some, especially in these last two weeks, talking about events in his past that he's never raised before, and more than anything else, the way that he's been talking makes me wonder if there will be a breakthrough. He stops less often, bringing up topics himself; he trusts me now, perhaps — I haven't been pushing him at all this last month.

Even if there is a breakthrough, though, it's not like the movies, where all the problems are magically solved. The breakthrough is simply recognizing where deep seated issues, or habits, or destructive ideas rise from; it is only the first step on the long road to actually addressing them.

He's talking about the fear of being alone on holidays and then says about his childhood holidays, where his father wanted everything to be just right. It's an opening, a chance, and I take it — I ask him if it was all of the holidays or just some, in a sideways attempt at eliciting information without asking him bluntly and scaring him away.

He stops talking, though, and looks down. And this is what kills me — I know he's on the edge, teetering, wondering whether he should tell me, instinctively wanting not do, and I have no idea what to do. There's no book, no manual, no operating guide that says, in case of A, do B. There's no overall proclamation that all people will respond in a certain way to a certain gesture, and we are all, goddamnit, fumbling in the dark here.

He shakes his head, finally, after ten seconds, and I have known him long enough to read the expression on his face; I start in my experiences of being along on holidays, about being stuck at airports. I talk so there is no emptiness, so there's no pressure, but with enough of a lead that that if he wants, he can pick up on the topic.

He doesn't; today is not the day that he will talk about it, and in the coming weeks I will never be able to coax him to this using this topic again. It is the story of our relationship; with each bit of information I learn, I get a bit closer to understanding, but often at the cost of burning the bridge that gave me that insight on him.

I can only hope that I reach him before there are no bridges left.


Humans are capable of the most incredibly altruistic actions — and, of course, the absolutely depraved. In every generation, there are those  that, if given the opportunity, wouldn't hesitate to give everything to save the world, and those that wouldn't think twice before destroying it.

But what of the fact that there is no real predictor for events or occurrences that will cause people to be good — or go bad? There are certain 'orchid genes' which may cause certain children to be more fragile to certain stimuli that may negatively affect them, and there are many studies which state that children who grow up in broken families or in low income populations may effect destructive behavior when they grow up. But neither of these is a certainty; sadists have come from perfectly 'respectable', 'normal' childhoods, while some of the greatest humanists and saints were inspired by the incredibly cruel conditions of their youth.

And then there is this: not only can we as individuals be singularly inspiring or destructive, but we can be both, sometimes in the span of minutes. When a philanthropist kicks aside a beggar, even after he donates millions to starving children in Africa, when a war criminal goes out of his way to ensure that a certain horse farm is not bombed even as he calls for the destruction of cities; these are the complexities of humans that we do not understand, that we may never understand.

I met Geraldine's husband first, a spry-looking not-yet-bald old man with all his teeth, wheeling himself away from the hospital room with his walker collapsed between his knees, acting for all the world like a five year old. I met her daughter second, chasing after her father with an exasperated smile, asking him where he thought he was going, exactly, and scolding him to slow down before he hurt himself.

Her daughter paused to tell me this was the room, that her mother was inside, and then smiled apologetically and went to chase down her eighty-year old dad, who was now doing spins in front of the nursing station.

"Hello, Geraldine, how are you feeling today?" I asked, taking a chair next to the hospital bed as I looked over at her. She turned in my direction but didn't smile back; that was my first hint.

"I'm going blind," she said, and the smile died from my face.

"I can't see anymore. I have kidney and stomach issues, and I can no longer walk. They've been wheeling me in and out, all day, doing tests, drawing blood. And all this, I wouldn't care about, if I weren't going blind."

"So how do you think my day was?"

I was silent for a moment, and then I said, honestly, "I've heard better."

But I couldn't stand the way the way she nodded, the silent, I thought so, and I added, "But I've also heard worse."

"Have you?" She asked, and it wasn't bitter, just a question. Was I lying?

"Yes, I have," I said, and that was the beginning of our talks.

She was seventy eight years old, born in February of 1932. Six months ago, her body started breaking down, and she had been admitted to the hospital multiple times since then.

Her hospital packet was thirty pages long, full of all the medications she took and ways that her body was shutting down on her. For me, it only had two pieces of useful information: first, that she been admitted with visual hallucinations,  and second, that she was getting cataract surgery.

"Do you think the cataract surgery will help?" I asked, starting somewhere I thought she would care.

For a second, I thought I had blew it; she was absolutely quiet, and I wondered if I had destroyed any chances of generating a rapport before it had even begun.

Then, quietly, she said, "They did a test on my eyes - there's a pigment or something they look for, and it's supposed to show up red. And it showed up red in one eye, but not the other. So, if I do the surgery, I should be able to get one eye back. That's worth it, wouldn't you say?"

"Yes," I replied quietly. "After all, even if it's only one eye, you'll be able to see."

"I thought so," she replied, and I wondered why she had asked in the first place. Only later did I understand.

"How long has it been?" I asked her.

"About six months. Six months ago, I could see, I could feed myself, I could do almost everything by myself. I could move around, make food, everything. And now..." She held up a hand, gnarled like the bark of an old tree, veins clear, skin sunken, and moved her fingers. She had good movement, I said, surprised.

"But the physical therapy is so hard to get into, you know?" she asked, and it was impossible not to hear the note of defeat in her voice. The physical therapy for what, she probably wondered, the ability to have better fine motor control for how many more months, before she couldn't lift her arm anymore?

"That's why I'm going back to the nursing home; I never could bring myself to do it at home. I just slept at home, every day. I slept more than I ever had," she said, and I understood.

The first time we talked, we didn't speak of her hallucinations, or of the disease that was eating away at her mind; we simply talked about her and what being able to see again would meant. We spoke a bit about her daughter and her husband, and when I stood to leave, she asked me when I'd be back.

"Next week, this time," I said, and this time, I meant it.
talonkarrde: (Default)
The soft 'hi' we exchange as we meet reminds me of something I can't quite place; only much later do I realize it's the greeting my parents give each other as they wake up in the morning.

There's a pause as we look at each other and smile, happy to have been able to make this work, and then she says, "Come on, let's go, let me show you the souk I talked about. It's in the Old City, in the Muslim quarter. Did you do your research?"

"Of course," I respond, smirking a bit. "Rabbi Silverstein says I'm a good student. Though as it happens, in our last conversation before I flew over, we were dicussing — or maybe it was arguing — the finer points of derech chiba. I think I won, actually."

She purses her lips, looking at me skeptically as she tries to figure out whether to take me at face value. I give her a few seconds before saying, with only the slightest bit of sarcasm, "So, are you just going to stare at me, or are we actually going to this market of markets?"

I get a snort from her — and perhaps a hint of a blush — before she sets off, confidently threading her way through the streets. I follow the best I can, trying not to look like a clueless foreigner, though even with as much international travel as there is today, a Chinese person in Jerusalem isn't quite a regular sight.

We pass through the Sha'ar Shechem and thread our way through alleys that can barely fit three people standing next to each other. On both sides, there are merchants plying their wares - silk scarves, jewelry, gilt vases, purses, rugs, even a few lutes hanging from a crossbar above our heads. Every few stores, though, the handmade wares are interrupted by tourist traps — a display of t-shirts, for example, that's simultaneously familiar and foreign, dispaying the Coca-Cola logo or the Chicago Bulls icon but with Hebrew text instead of English.

The souk is in full force all around us, and I don't think I've been anywhere more alive. The air is filled with the sounds of shopkeepers and bargain hunters, each forcefully trying to get the better of the other, treating every bargain as if it were a matter of life and death. The smells of various spices rise from large canvas bags where they sit, buyers taking pinches to judge the quality and then buying by the scoop; there is bread and honey rolls and fruit and everything anyone could ever want, fresh and ready. In the massive crush of bodies, it becomes impossible to get where we want to go without jostling someone; politeness as the West understands it would mean standing still for all eternity, here.

An hour later, she taps me on the shoulder as I'm 'negotiating' with one of the shopkeepers to lower his prices on a couple of the t-shirts for friends, a few postcards, and a particularly nice looking scarf. It's more akin to debate than any bargaining I'd ever done — I open by commenting how I'd like the things I picked out but they're just a bit too expensive, he counters by saying that he needs to feed his family, I respond with the idea of him offering a bulk discount because I'm buying multiple things from him. His rejoinder is that he's already offering cheaper prices than the others, which both of us already know is not true, but it's just an opening for the next round. And just then she comes back, which is a marvelous opportunity that I can't pass up. Sorry, I say to the shopkeeper, but these prices just won't do, and now I have to go. Checkmate, delivered perfectly, and it's no surprise when after I take a few steps away, he grumbles and then yells at me, "b'seder, b'seder, you can have them at that price."

"You," she says to me as we walk down the HaShalshelet towards the Western Wall, "didn't really want those, did you? You were just bargaining for the sake of bargaining."

"Weeeeell," I say, drawing the word out. "The sticker price was so absurd, and one of the others I was watching got the price down to, what, one-fifth of the original asking price? It was a challenge, and I do need to get some souvenirs for my friends and family, you know." It's undeniably truthful, even though both of us know that she was right, and her eyeroll confirms it.

And then we're at the Western Wall, and I hesitate for a second, looking at the penitent and wondering if I can really count myself as one of them. But faith is rarely black and white, I've come to learn, and I walk through the gate and take a few steps forward, careful to avoid those in prayer, and find a small empty section of the wall. I have a few prayers — some for others, just one for myself — and I press a hand against the wall, briefly, feeling a surge of empathy of being but a tiny particle in an amazing world, standing where millions of others have stood and will stand for as long as man exists in this world.

Later, we find our way to a cafe, each sipping at a limonana, and we make light conversation, cheerfully, by unspoken agreement, avoiding the topic that's been lurking since we first started talking to each other online, seven months ago. We talk about the Middle East, and the Far East, and science and technology and topics that flow and turn and we complete each others' sentences, or, more often, interrupt each other with the logical counter to what we're not done saying.

But there are topics that can't be avoided forever, no matter how hard we try. Eventually she asks, "How are your studies going?"

I know what she's asking, the real question hidden behind the one that she already knows the answer to, but I choose to answer only what she's asking. It's part of why we do this, I think, because it allows us to express intentions and feelings without saying them directly, without saying a truth that the devil might twist to his purposes, some might say. I don't know if I can take the final step, commit to a life that is nothing like I would have ever considered, and so I keep my response short, superficial.

"Good," I say, and then turn the tables. "But not ready to be quizzed by your dad, I think. How is your family?" In this too, there is another line of questioning, and I wonder at how we speak so freely otherwise, and yet when we return to this seemingly impenetrable wall that divides us, we fall upon half-truths and misdirections to communicate.

"They're good as well," she responds, but it's the look in her eyes that's the real answer. And then, like moths that realize their danger right before they go up in flames, we backpedal and drift away again to topics of no importance, enjoying each other's company and wiling the time away. It's so easy to drift from exhilaration to despair, and back.

"When will I see you again?" I ask, at the end of the day. I can see her hesitate, perhaps to give the not-quite-the-truth, not-a-lie answers that we're so good at. But this is something I'm unwilling to fish the truth out of, and so I stop her, shaking my head. "No, please. Not for this question."

She pauses again, and I crash from exhilaration to despair. But then she speaks, and the recovery is just as swift.



Mar. 17th, 2010 07:43 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
My lady,

It is with a weak will and unsteady hand that I write this letter, but even I understand why it must be done. I am not strong enough to meet you face to face, to see your tears and take your anger and pain, but I can provide, at least, the shadow of an answer. This, then, is my compromise: I will leave this publicly and hope that, out of all the others, you will see it.

It is possible that you will miss this because you do not read my writings, and that this will never reach the one person it must; knowing you, though, I find it more likely that you will simply never give any indication of having seen it, since you were always the more subtle one. Whichever it is, though, I will take the coward's way out, and leave a message for you after I can no longer be contacted.

I confess that I write this for both of us; I want to explain my actions in hope of bringing you some peace, but I also seek forgiveness. You've told me time and time again that you have forgiven me, but I am not sure I believe you, perhaps because I do not think you really know what happened. I hope that this will help, even if you take back your forgiveness. At least you will have done it with open eyes. 

While the younger, more naive me would have said that the circumstances were not under my control, I know now that I was simply deflecting, an attempt to weasel out of the responsibility of my actions. However, truthfully — and I know it will make you angry to read this— I would not be who I am if I had acted differently. It may be fatalistic, but I think that once we started on the path, it was inevitable for us to end where we did.

Our beginning was beautiful, as courtships are when those involved know where the road will take them. Looking back at our first words, the secret jokes, the longer conversations, it seems perfectly natural — we were listening to nature's song from the first date, as together as a pair of swans. It is a progression that has never ceased to surprise me; one day, we are but friends that seek each other's company often, the next day comes and we have become essential to each other's happiness.

I remember the hours that we spent on the phone, hours that told us what we already knew, but let us discover it for the first time. The questions that bordered on absurd, the secrets that we had shared with no one else, the common and the unique. "Ask," you said, and I would; "Ask," I said, and you did, about anything, about everything. I remember looking at the clock, and wondering how it had been four hours already, and not caring about school — and later, work — the next day.

I remember as we fell asleep on each other, your phone obediently transmitting the sound of your breathing as it grew soft and slow, as I would say your name softly to make sure you were asleep and not just quiet, as I would smile to myself and hang up after whispering good night, sweet dreams. And once, I love you, but only after you were asleep for sure.

A month in, and it was just the two of us alone in the bedroom, my fingers tracing over your palm as I asked you questions about your parents. My singular purpose to be able to see and remember every detail of your beauty, to be able to hear your radiant laugh in my head, to know you as well as you knew yourself. You were beautiful, and in that instant, my entire life's goal was to convince you of that indisputable truth.

I remember consoling you when you failed the math test. I remember glancing over as I drove home, squeezing your hand softly, telling you that it would be okay, that it didn't matter if your parents were disappointed in you. I said you were a beautiful, intelligent girl, and you smiled as the tears stopped, sniffled as you kissed my cheek.

In that moment, I knew I loved you.

But I also remember wondering if it was because you didn't get enough sleep, because we were talking so often, for so long. But I didn't want to stop, so I didn't mention it. And that night, as we got on the phone again, the day's events were forgotten, and everything gone but for the two of us.

Two months later, I defended you against two girls who said that you were cheating off of them; I told them, I think you remember, that you would never do anything like that, and that they were just jealous of your talents. And then I turned around to hug you, but you were in tears, and you only pushed me away. Away, as if you couldn't stand my touch.

But what happened wasn't just one-way — when I abruptly dropped my plans of medical school, you never once told me that I should have kept trying. You never told me that I should have worked harder in school, when I told you about the poor grades. You just said that I would still be fine, as long as I was happy with you.

Do you see it now?

In the end, our love was beginning to affect, negatively, our actual lives, and it should never do that. Perhaps our courtship was too perfect, and we fell too hard; perhaps we didn't love each other as much as project perfection on the other person and worship them. Together, we believed that we had no faults, that we were perfect and it was the world that had to change.

In a way, we were perfect — those were the happiness times of my life, and it is a darker, drearier world every morning without you. But that happiness cost us our dreams and ambitions; it was a happiness that put blinders on how we saw each other and how we saw our futures. And if nothing else, I have learned that sacrificing the future for the present only works if you intend to live for a very short amount of time.

And so, when you asked me to run away with you, I could only say no.

It broke my heart to see the tears in your eyes and watch you walk away, knowing that I couldn't catch you this time, hug you and tell you everything was going to be okay. I caught the look in your eyes, I think, when you realized that I was only human; it was a realization that I only came to a week before.


Many describe love as a fire, but few mention that it must be tended and kept, or it will burn out of control, consuming everything. What we shared burned more brightly than any I've seen, but it would have consumed us before long.

And although it had to end, I do not regret a second of it.

Open Topic

Jan. 16th, 2010 06:59 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
So, lately, I've been picking up girls from Craigslist.

Last Friday, I was scanning the site carefully, looking for my next, ah, friend. It's not a perfect method, of course, because even the most interesting postings have terribly boring, ditzy people behind them, and that's not even mentioning the fake pictures and photoshopped images. After we exchange hellos and a brief conversation to establish I'm not an axe-murderer, the next thing is usually, 'So, want to meet up sometime?', which makes for an almost non-existent screening process. Granted, it's only natural, as they're essentially very eager to sell something and I'm acting as someone pretty eager to buy it.

To be honest, I am indeed buying something; it just isn't quite what they're selling. I'm not really in it just to get my rocks off, but rather to figure out why so many people are gambling to meet someone that's probably not going to be that good in the sack anyway. I'm more in it to figure these people out than sleep with them... though sometimes, there is chemistry. Especially with the pretty ones.

After I sent the response to Sarah that night, I wondered how many other guys had sent her a response as well, and then I wondered how many times she had done this before. I always view the ones that say 'first time poster' a bit incredulously... especially after I see it multiple weeks in a row with only slight differences in content. More broadly, I wonder what they seek to gain by announcing their lack of understanding the rules. Does a girl ever walk into a bar and say, "I've never been picked up before, how does this work?"

Saturday, as I was buttoning on my best shirt and slipping on my slacks, my conscience lashed at me again, telling me I was wrong for inevitably dashing expectations with most women at the end of the night. I never really intend on sleeping with them and usually don't, for a variety of reasons. I mean, some times you just don't hit it off, and you don't want to get into a situation where you can't, well perform, right? When they figure it out, you can see it in their faces. A bit of regret, a touch of anger, as I expect you would be if a car salesman promised you a new BMW and it was actually a broken down Kia. But it's still a car that they're being given, it's just not quite what they expected.

They're all looking for something — not love, of course, but most of them want to feel desired for a night, want a chance to emulate what their taken friends have. The most interesting ones, though, need someone to talk to, someone to open their hearts and share their grief and doubt and shame with. At first, I ironically congratulated myself for putting my degree to good use by playing a psychologist — instead of treating patients on a couch, I was talking about their exes. Granted, it was in bed, sometimes, but the theory was the same — I was helping them get over their insecurities and traumas!

After thinking about it a bit, though, I figure it's a bit sad that these girls had no one to offer them a shoulder or an ear, and they were so lonely they post on Craigslist to find someone to talk to. For them, the W4M section isn't about getting physical needs taken care of or being looked at as attractive for once, it's about finding someone who would be their friend. Well, I could be that friend, and if they really wanted to sleep with me and were cute...well, why not, right?

Sarah sounded like one of those people - she was 'fun loving, interested in meeting new people, and just got out of a bad relationship'. She liked reading, nature, and Hugh Grant; honestly, it sounded like she was going to show up and cry all over my arm as we started talking about what was going on in her life. But a couple hours of that, and then maybe we would connect, and then brighten each others' days. I've found that it always helps to be optimistic.

Well, she showed up in a slinky red dress, backless, and I thought I had hit jackpot. We hit it off, and were really connecting, beautifully. We had both been skydiving, we loved to ski, and we shared an affection for the old movies — Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, I was amazed she had seen them all. In fact, we had pretty much everything in common, and I thought that, well, maybe I would stick around the next morning, see if we could see each other more regularly.

After dinner, she suggested we come back to my place, and of course I agreed. After all, we had connected so beautifully, and it was the first girl that made the date fun, instead of something that was more work than anything else. I'm not going to talk about the sex, really, except to say that it was simply and absolutely the best night of my life, and I remember patting myself on the back for making her moan like that. We went to sleep late, and I think I even whispered "I love you," to her as I drifted off.

And then I woke up in the morning, and she wasn't there.

Neither was my cell phone.

Or my laptop.


A/N: I'm not sure I have the voice down properly, but I wanted to try something different. A story about a guy who's not that nice, but tries to convince himself that he is - I'm sure you know a lot of people like this. Well, I thought, two could play at that game, right?

Loosely, loosely based on an experience a friend had, and an attempt at a bit of humor.
talonkarrde: (Default)

We had one of those wonderful marriages where every little thing was meaningful to us — the first time that I told her she was beautiful was in the hallway of our old high school. She didn’t believe me then; she thought that I was saying it just to be nice, or worse, to tease her, but I meant it honestly. It was my fumbling way of telling her that I wanted to us be together — not that she took it that way at the time — but when we actually started dating, she told me it was the first time anyone had said that to her. I think that’s why she married me.

But it wasn’t just about the first time that I said it — when I woke up on a lazy Saturday morning and whispered it into her ear, when we finished dressing to go out, that day that we got married…I saw that small smile, just for me. And in response, she would say she loved me; the little exchange always brought a light to my eyes. I soon learned that using those words could defuse many of the arguments that we got in. Not all of them, of course, but I know that there were more than a few times where we almost started yelling at each other — about the bills, about the unplanned pregnancy, about a lot of things — and I stopped, took a deep breath, and said "I think you’re beautiful," and we both calmed down enough to work it out.

I remember the endless nights when we used to cuddle in bed, or raid together, or browse the internet and share links about stupid news stories, laughing at them. The little smiles and gestures we shared persisted much longer than our friends' had, I learned, who said they ‘grew out’ of that stage of their relationship. One of them said that it was just a slow change where the gestures don’t mean that much after they kept getting reused. I never understood how that was — every time I told her she was beautiful, it was positive reinforcement for both of us.

Maybe that’s why I never saw it coming.

I don’t know if it’s because I was oblivious or because, according to her, it never happened, but I never felt her drifting away. She tells me that she never stopped loving me, and as much as I wanted to yell bullshit at that, at the idea that you could love and be married to someone and then lie to him about another lover you had, a part of me wanted desperately to believe it. All I know is that during her affair, our schedule never changed. We kept on alternating getting food from Subway and McDonald’s when we didn’t feel like cooking after work, kept on putting the baby to sleep and then staying up all night to game or snuggle, she kept on saying she loved me and I kept doing the little things that made her smile.

Then the phone bill came in, saying that we owed another $70 on top of the usual rate, because we were hundreds of minutes over what the plan covered. I thought it was a mistake until I called them, bitching about how we were being overcharged and that there was no way this was a legitimate charge. I remember the customer service rep’s voice — polite at first, then defensive, and finally, after he told me what the minutes were from and we both realized what it meant, soft and apologetic. I remember him saying, "I’m sorry,” as if it had any meaning, and then asking if he could do anything else for me, as if he could fix anything by lessening the charges.

I was angry… but much more than that, I just wanted to know why. I wanted to know what it was about me that made her seek someone else, what I, her husband, could change to be as important to her as someone she had never met, someone she had met online. I wanted to know what the fuck I did wrong, and why she never told me so I could make it better. I confronted her about it that night, after we put our child to sleep, and all she could say was that she was sorry.

So I asked him, the person who my wife had been cheating on me with, I swallowed my pride and asked him what I did wrong, and all he could say was that she always said she still loved me — as if that made what they did okay, as if that meant our marriage was going to go back to what it was before.

I am staying with her for the sake of our child, because he deserves to be raised with two parents. It took time for me to even talk to her anymore, but we’ve restored some semblance of what we had. We still game together, even snuggle sometimes, and go out to dinner together.

I still tell her, from time to time, that she’s beautiful, and she still responds that she loves me. That little smile isn’t there any more, and those words don’t mean anything to me anymore. Perhaps it had never meant anything in the first place. But I’m afraid to stop, because even though they are empty gestures, they keep our marriage together.


Edit: Author's Note:
I'm sorry, I forgot to add this in before I submitted it. The speaker is not me, though neither is it fiction, and I would like to leave it at that.


talonkarrde: (Default)

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