Fires That Forge Us

by Erik Dolson

Thanksgiving. No reservations available, but there’s seating in the bar. The restaurant has run out of turkey, I decide duck will do. The dish is labeled “Canard Deux Façons,” so that’s what I order.

At first, there’s just the surprising way you toss “du rien” over your shoulder while walking away from the table after I say thank you; the speed with which you glide weightless from dining to bar and back, feet barely touching the floor; the way your laugh proves presence at every table you serve.

But standing there talking to me while holding an armful of heavy plates, you slip unimpeded into places I guard closely at heavy cost. You just returned from France, I lived and studied there decades ago. When your age, I waited tables in places just like this. You want to ask a question, maybe two. Will I be around?

Why are choices so hard? Why do you need to traverse the world? Why do you need to go, when you’ve finally created a life where you want to stay?

Because we seek. It’s who we are. Does it matter what set us on this path? Can we say, if our history had been different we would not now be searching? Had our history been different we would not be who we are. We do not choose the fires in which we are forged.

Your Louisiana mother, burdened with exquisite beauty, faced hurricanes of temptation: one false promise following another from men of eyes bleeding with desire, men driven by dreams of possession, men speaking words of whatever works. Her vulnerability became an acceptance of drink this, take this, smoke this, come lie with me we’ll figure it out later …

Your conception a deep infidelity, a moment of alcohol-hindered inhibition or night of overwhelming temptation, she ran with you from Southern heat to the cool mountains of Colorado, all of it damn near as cliché as can be, but then: her tragic early death and your loss. My own mother evaporated too young in a cloud of alcohol, what I can remember of her is tainted by the scent of gin.

Almost a woman but still a child, paternity test taken after she discovered she had not long to live proved you belonged to him. Taken in by your father and blessed by the goodness of a blue-collar Cajun, you were saved. Which of them gave you the dark luxurious mane of hair, eyes that flash gold in the sun?

After a year of college, a world too confining and too free, you launch yourself from Louisiana to the West Coast. I imagine a skyrocket leaving its tube with a short but intense metallic “Thnnkk!” up from dark twisted mangroves into a clear, clean, and starry sky, leaving a trail of glowing dust as you depart.

Big cities and small towns, deserts and mountains, to arrive finally in a tiny town of wet but beautiful old buildings and broken history where you’ve bought a house and so desperately want to put down roots before you’re 30. Will you heal if you make family, undo damage of your own ruptured childhood?

But last month you went to France to find your lost history. Then it was time to come home, but there was a long walk through the late night whispers of Paris. Each then and each now fade into the other like multiple dreams upon waking.  What’s real? Why are choices so hard?

Because they are. Because as soon as we settle on a path, its value goes gray in the deciding, and the path not chosen brightens in contrast. Because longing itself may define those of us forced to raise ourselves in a world impossible to trust, with need to fill spaces that should have overflowed before we could speak our own names.

Psychology attracts you as philosophy attracted me, looking for answers in obvious places. Then, I had Zen, you now have an herb’s ability to fight cancer, I wanted to pierce the veils, you want others not to die as your mother died, though you know you can’t save her. I have no confirmations, nor denials.

Sitting over coffee, you glow as if lit from within when you speak of Salt Spring Island, where you’d been invited by a woman who’d heard you speak in California, or maybe Oregon, of herbs and cancer. That woman was struck by you then, and over coffee now your light torches something inside me.

You can do anything! Yes! Your passion will change the world, be it children or herbs or psychology or just bumping into people who amplify what you bring into their lives. Destiny is reaching out to you, luring you into its embrace, you’ve gifts impossible to ignore, beauty and brains and even the disquiet you offer me.

“You don’t even know me!” you exclaim when I say I have always loved you. I’m tripping over my metaphors, I realize, recover to say I have always known you, your curiosity, and your story that is mine and that could have been tragic but for the fact that we sit here in a splash of sunshine, your eyes bright, hair full and dark falling down one shoulder. You are timeless, and showed up here about 40 years too late for me.

How have you not yet been convinced to give yourself to another?

“I have broken quite a few hearts,” is the rueful confession. As if I didn’t know, placing another on the altar, just because it’s safe and knowing that to love you is to love your mother, beautifully broken as she was with so many men she’d broken and left behind, and perhaps her mother as well, who, I realize with chagrin, is probably closer to my own age.

Too many of your reasons to stay have nothing to do with you; fear of another’s pain keeps you from facing the obvious: You have work to do. I failed many of those tests and with that experience I hear each question before you ask because I’ve asked them so often.

“There’s no wrong except the indulgence of dishonesty,” I share hard lessons learned while leaving indelible bruises, “especially dishonesty with ourselves, believing there are no consequences, that one can choose to both stay and to go, that if you should go and return, the world will be the same.”

But then, if you stay, there remain so many worlds unexplored, and we are born to wander, to seek, to search, knowing we may never find the answer, too often alone, as I am when I meet you. You say I’ve caused your heart to sink.

I offer you a ride to the next village down along the shore where one future waits, but you graciously decline, put off by the confession: you have struck a bell within me that will reverberate for quite some time. Eventually I turn and walk away, knowing there is no reason to look back.

We may meet again, in this world or the next. We may have known each other once or twice before. My mother’s father was French. We may be each other, offset in silos of time. Travellers often intersect while remaining distinct, whether tangle or weave. Whatever happens, I know you will find your way.

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About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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