After eighteen months spent working in a call centre among people who were sometimes exuberant, but looking at a different version of ambition to my own, I went off to university or my life’s idea of sanctuary. About two terms into my journey some student said, “It’s so boring here” and I looked at him with amazement and said “Come with me.”
I took him to the library and, pointing in the direction of the books, whispered, “Here, on every shelf, you can connect with the finest minds published throughout the history of man. You can discuss any subject you choose and those most nuanced and aware in their field will share their insights with you, and you have all the time you want to enjoy that conversation: is that not a wonder and a privilege?”
My voice, no doubt, was earnest and engaged, but my friend looked at me as if I was an undiscovered fanatic, clearly deranged, who should be avoided as politely as possible and with a nod he left the building. My purpose then was to “Understand life,” and eating, clothing and careers came a poor second to that obsession. No lecture or seminar was missed, and I became a favourite with my tutor; the one student in my year who confirmed the purpose of his calling: I had discovered my home and this was my element.
In that first year I was a person of note, but by the second and then third years, when other students attached themselves to ambitions, or became more vocal in expressing goals already understood, I drifted from being a noted celebrator of knowledge to a curio: a man whose euphoria was removed from his circumstance.
Half way through my second year, still celebrated by those among the staff, and through a series of misunderstandings, I ended up alone but for my tutor’s wife: a lady about twelve years older than myself. She was a sculptor with dreams that did not match her reputation but she had expressed the desire to make a carving of my head “If I would sit with her.” I looked towards her husband who nodded his assent but even at that moment there was a cadence to his agreement too subtle for me to understand: possibly, in hindsight, “resignation” is the word I seek.
Sure enough, I sat for her and she, dressed in some flowing gown of sorts, marked with stains and tears giving testament to its age, started chopping, chiselling and then sanding at a block of wood with frenetic energy. At last she said, “I must get something to drink” and when she returned she was holding a large glass of wine and had cast aside her gown to reveal a figure free of garments, “Too hot” was all she said, taking a second slurp from the glass and then returning to her sculpturing as if it were a normal interview.
Finally, when the session was over, and she had “refreshed her glass” on a number of occasions, I said goodbye somewhat awkwardly, managing, as I later realised, to insult her by rejecting her advances, and thus not allowing her to demean the husband she despised. Still, I became too embroiled in the undertones of my tutor’s marriage to remain his friend.
I was still celibate at the time, more by lack of strategy than intent, and without the clarity to either accept or reject her offer and preserve her dignity. Needless to say, she soon disliked me, and rumours came to my ears that I had attempted to behave inappropriately in her company.
Finally, released from my studies, and with a sadness I still cannot contemplate, I took those jobs which paid the rent but, as my life progressed, became increasingly at variance with my interests, reputed intelligence and some aspects of awareness.
At one point I became a married man: bound to a woman who spoke with wonder of my kindness but, over time, became impatient with my lack of urgency. She returned home one day to find me deliberating on the concept of “Obsolescence.” Interrupting my thoughts with minimal preamble, she told me she had met someone else and would I leave? The men I admire always act without self-interest and so I determined to do the same.
Walking out of her life, free of possessions, because how could I claim with any honesty, what she had earned, I saw a sadness in her eyes, but then I lived with a manner of un-strategic curiosity she could no longer accommodate. Somehow she wished herself to be more gentle than she was, I like to think, as she left me to enjoy her certainties with a man better grounded than myself: we are not all travellers, someone told me, or willing to suffer in the attempt to be so.
I became that polite oddity: a seeker of obscure profundities, obsessed with illuminating observations which had no practical usage until I am arrived at my current destination: still filled with wonder and that desire to understand which has dogged me throughout my life but now asking, “Did I miss the point?”