"The Dying Time Traveller"
Lying here, among faces that stare at me in despair, unable to move arms or legs, I begin to remember. The only open road is driving me backwards. The poet in me finally awakens on the most inappropriate moment, when I should concentrate all my strength to save myself from the disease that is trying to throw my body into the dustbin of time.
A dive into the past,
Where happiness seems to lie,
Nothing is made to last,
Yet the soul longs to fly.
It’s not only the disease. If it was, I could have easily found the point I am looking for, the start of all evil. It would certainly be sometime before I got sick, but this is obviously not the case. The first thing I wished for, when the diagnosis was announced, was a trip back in time to a few seconds ago, when I was not aware that my condition had such a serious name, or such a bad prognosis. After a while, my wish shifted a little bit further back, to the time the symptoms had not yet appeared. If I could manage to travel back to that period of time, when there was no trace of the disease yet, when my arms and legs did not hurt, when I could easily stand and walk, then I would be happy. And for a while, I was. The mind is capable of the longest journeys, defying the known barriers of place and time. Whenever I managed to reach my destination though, I felt less and less happy.
During my first trips to that old and familiar place, to that season when I could not even suspect that I would have to leave everything behind in a little while, I felt immense joy, though inherently dependent to my current situation. I could tell the difference between then and now, as I had not yet discovered a way to disengage from my current situation during the trip. The comparison was inevitable, with the past gaining easily the winning position. The more I improved my technique of immersing myself in memories without carrying along the present as a heavy baggage, the less joyful I felt.
It all started with the big journey. I suspect the fatigue triggered the disease. It may not have been the fatigue itself, but the despair I was hiding inside me for so many years, that in the sight of the slightest hole, the smallest crack on the surface, poured on me to destroy me, wrapping its tentacles around my increasingly weak body. The journey had always been my dream. I have been fantasising about it since I was a kid, but never had neither enough the time nor the money to realise it So I was constantly postponing it to a future time when I would supposedly have enough of both. Unfortunately, I have never been that lucky. That is, until recently, when I decided that my wish should be fulfilled. I ran out of obligations, as I got fired at a time that did not upset me at all. I was so tired of that job, which I had never wanted in the first place but had been forced to undertake in order to survive, that I could not care less. I was expecting it anyway. The salary had been satisfying, certainly above average, but in times of crisis advertising companies do not last long. So, I made the brave for my standards decision to begin the journey, the greatest adventure of my life, not with the luxuries I had once imagined, but on a bicycle and a tent. The trip lasted three weeks, and would have lasted longer if the symptoms had not appeared. That made me speed up my return, only to realise that my childhood dream would never be entirely fulfilled.
That is how the other journey started – the big dive into the past that transformed me into a time traveller in search of that magical moment, or season, that I, for once, felt happy in my life. The journey is leading me to older seasons, making it clear that what has happened to my body has always been happening to my mind and soul. Decay had already started the day I was born, affecting not only my body, which is expected, but my soul as well, which was supposed to flourish instead.
Logically, I was happy when my son was born. I remember my joy, which was overshadowed by the stress of future obligations. I surely must have felt happy on the day I got married. I chose my wife wisely, as a capable companion for the rest of my life. That is how most people get married anyway. To be honest, we were never joined by that kind of romantic love that is described in books and films. But I could tell that she was a good woman on whom I could depend through thick and thin. I was never a true realist, but always acted like one. I remember falling in love again and again when I was still very young, but even then it was nothing but an infatuation, a crush on a face that meant something important to me. I never really fell in love with another human being’s soul. Only with faces and their ability to fulfill my demands.
They are still standing above me – I can see their worrying faces. My body is in hospital once more, while my mind is wandering around the labyrinth of time. They think I am dying, but in reality my soul is reborn. It is not me dying, but my time in this body. My time on this planet is diminishing and I finally have the chance to travel through it, back and forth, flowing through my past in order to free my spirit and get ready for the greatest adventure. My body gets weaker by the day. The smaller I get, though, and the weaker I become, the bigger and wilder my soul is growing, spreading its branches like a tree, to embrace the universe. The universe will fit into my arms in just a little while.
I did my best to reach you,
I have finally arrived,
I have nothing left to give you,
But my soul revived.
Going further back, I searched for joy on the day I got my job. I became an advertising company executive rather easily. The prospect of a job that would ensure my survival and much more later on was obviously a relief. I actually became a very good designer, one of the best in the market. But it demanded an ever-increasing toll. This job required my authenticity in exchange for what had to offer. While I used to spit my pessimism on the canvas while drawing, in the most liberating way, all the negativity was still concentrated inside me, finding no other way out, since I had been forced to draw happy pictures for unimportant advertisements. The worst part is that I was rewarded for this, for the loss of my soul. How can you search for another soul, when you learn to let go of yours?
Going even further back in time, I wonder if the important moment I am looking for happened in my youth. Maybe the first good grades at school caused some enthusiasm, but soon they were followed by the fear of subsequent repeated performance. Then came the vicious circle in which I was immersed for the rest of my life. I was happy for my success for a single moment, until the expectations multiplied and I had to chase more. I should have been happy with what I had already accomplished, but when I achieved something, new wishes automatically were born. One obligation led to another, so that I had to postpone my happiness for a little later, to that moment in time when I would have managed to be done with all my commitments. As a result, the journey became the target, the symbol of my liberation from the shackles of thought that imprisoned me in unhappiness, a banner of the day that my life would properly begin. Strangely, it is ending now, just when I was ready to live it.
The last time I really felt joyful, without any weight bringing me down, is back when I was very young, before I even went to school. Afterwards, worries filled my mind, which has connected joy to carefreeness. There was always a shadow, a worry about the future that evolved the way these things do. The secret, as I now see it, is to empty your mind of shadows and weights. To deal with them when needed and then put them in a corner, to deal with them again later if necessary. This is a lesson that I never learned and even if I did, I will not be able to use my knowledge for long anyway. I never learned how to truly live. To be consciously happy. Not in the simple, childish way, but knowing that at any time happiness can fall apart like a castle in the sand. You seek and long for a safe place to lay your dream house, knowing that even the planet, along with everything on it, will one day disappear. Even the sun that lights it and makes life possible on it has its own expiration date. You only hope that the temporariness of your existence will not allow you to live through larger disasters than you own extinction, when your time comes.
Finally though, even the incomplete journey, the symbol of my freedom, did not make me happy. It was not as I had imagined it in my youth, untroubled and carefree. I was running to come first in a race without an opponent – or even worse, against myself. As I could not let go of the competitivity reflex I had developed, I was running out of habit. I was competitive against myself, until the disease came to put things back in order. My strong physical defense became a powerful attack against my own self. As a consequence, the body followed the soul and created the disease.
I feel the air getting thicker. An unfamiliar face is looking in my direction in agony and then to the crowd I can barely see from the corner of my eye. If my life is really passing in front of my eyes, then what is happening to me means I am close to the end. And then it comes to me. This is the moment I was looking for. The lost piece of my life’s completed puzzle. This face looking my way in agony is the most beautiful face I have ever seen. It is not only the face, though. The longer I look at her, the clearer I see beyond the face. I travel inside the eyes, directly to the heart and then the soul. I see her soul. I am in love. I smile to her and she smiles back at me, full of expectation. All is now complete and I can free myself from the weight of the body and become so small that the whole universe fits into my arms.
I beg you, my bride,
To keep my soul within you in pride,
Of my body I am bereft.
She said “I will,” and left.
About the author
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, living and working in Athens, Greece. She has published two books. Her work can be found in Ofi press magazine, Infective Ink, the Molotov Cocktail, Foliate Oak, HFC journal, Down in the Dirt magazine, and soon in Menacing Hedge, Massacre magazine, and the Fear of Monkeys.