To Lose and To Be Lost
I dream that I am flying. I’m flying so fast and so high! I feel the cold wind rush against my face and as we pass through clouds I feel the wetness on my face and body.
My arms are outstretched like wings and yet I am not flying under my own power. My dream has me so that I am gently captured by two impossibly strong arms clasped around my shoulders under my arm pits. Inertia from our speed and the strange pressure of the rushing air beneath me hold my legs out straight behind me so that I’m not dangling like a kitten. I feel like Superman!
Above my dream-self I see great white wings like those of an angel’s and I can just see the impression of a face that should be very familiar to me, but I can’t quite make it out.
Below me, my eyes in my dream seem to deceive me because it appears that we both are held aloft by another winged being. This one seems transparent and colorless except when we pass through clouds and then I can see the shadow of even greater wings than that of the one who carries me and they look like those of a giant falcon! I think that perhaps I only see the spectacular shadowed reflection of my angelic carrier upon the clouds but this being below us has its own form and movement. Sometimes those falcon wings flap of their own and when they do we are all shoved faster by the winds that carry us.
They say that our dreams of flying happen when we are in love or when something else in our lives lifts us up to new heights. I supposed such a thing may have happened to me or might yet happen. Perhaps it is the excitement of being in Crete again with my family and with my great-grandfather. Perhaps I’ve fallen in love with someone back at the village. Perhaps I am merely delirious from some drug I took at a rave party.
The fact is . . . I don’t remember any reason why I should be dreaming of flying. Nothing has happened that I can remember at all!
The dream must have passed away because I’m merely remembering it now as I slowly awaken from a deep sleep. The cold and the salty taste of sea water are the things that have awakened me. I feel the grit of sand on my cheek where it has been laying as I slept. I open my eyes carefully and see the beautiful Mediterranean sunset slip into the wine dark sea as night begins to cover all in it’s restful darkness. It is so beautiful to see the last remains of the day sparkle and shimmer like gold on the dark purple water.
Everything is so beautiful and the air is still warm even as night falls. Just the touch of a light cool breeze blows on my bare skin causing the tiny hairs to stand up all over my nakedness and raise goosebumps.
Everything is so beautiful and yet I begin to cry. I begin to cry for no reason at all! I cry and I cry not out of joy for the beautiful things here on this mysterious beach that I’ve found myself.
I cry with wrenching sobs of loss and despair! The pain is so great that it is physical inside my chest! I fear that I might be dying! I can’t stop crying as I look out over the darkening sea.
Something is gone! Some. . .one is gone! I have lost something! Something terribly important! Something precious! Something like a life or . . . a love?
This is heartbreak I am feeling!
But, in the name of God, why? Why can’t I remember what or who it is I have lost? Oh, but that is the worse torment of all! I long for something that I don’t even know what it is! All I know is that as I look out over the sea I know I will never again be able to do so without suffering this pain.
I wish I knew why?
* “ALEXIS!! For the love of God, boy! Where in Hades have you been? We’ve been looking for you for two DAYS! Everyone has been worried sick! Oh my Alexis!!” This voice I do recognize and remember. Thankfully, at least, I know that I can still remember my own father when I hear him, even when he is speaking Greek.
I feel his strong rough hands help me up and dust off the white sand from my body. He still treats me so much like his little boy. It would be endearing if he weren’t so . . . rough about it!
“T-thank you, Papa. I’m sorry. I must have lost track of . . . time.” I look at him and his expression changes from one of relief mixed with irritation to one of renewed concern. He looks into my eyes in silence and then takes hold of my face again roughly. I do not resist. He must see the haunted look in my eyes from these strange painful feelings I am having.
“Were you violated, my sweet son? Did those Hill Men have their way with you here on the sand? Did they hurt you? I shall kill them myself if they did!” Fear and ferocious anger rise in my Papa Aristedies’ fiery Greek heart.
“N-no, Papa. No one hurt me . . . not really. I –” But I find another wave of emotion washes over me and my eyes are pulled back to the sea which has turned dark velvet blue in the deepening night. A sob comes out of me involuntarily and my father turns my face back around to look at him.
“Truth? You speak true to your Papa, yes? No shame comes to those who are taken by a gang of strong goat-fuckers. They are known for their filthy little games! That is why so many of their stinking greasy hides are hung out as flags for vendetta’s sake!” Papa asks me if I tell him the truth when I say I was not violated. The truth is I cannot say. I don’t remember. I don’t feel violated. I only feel . . . lost!
“No Papa. I was not raped or anything. I don’t know why I am crying. I feel so . . . lost tonight. I don’t know why.” I say with the creak of a sob in my voice and then accept my father’s warm embrace. He can tell that I am hurting. It must frustrate him not knowing what could have caused me to feel this way. I am more frustrated than he is, actually. He gives my head a fatherly kiss and exhorts me to be of good cheer whatever the case and despite the feelings of unexplainable loss.
“It’s probably just too much sun and wine, Sir. You know how the Cretan sun can work its wiles on young men when they are not paying attention.” The familiar voice of my friend Eros speaks from the dark. He lights a lantern and reveals himself, blonde and beautiful as always. He wears a white floppy hat and white everything else including his inviting smile. I return his smile despite myself. Somehow seeing him makes things seem better and less strange. I feel less lost with him here. He seems like a familiar part of this something that I am longing for. What a strange feeling.
“Ah . . . yes indeed, confound this cursed island. I always forget to warn you and your cousins to be careful when we come here. These wild coasts have more secrets and more dangers than just horny goat-fucking herdsmen.” My father, relieved that I seem to be returning to myself upon seeing my best friend, feels free to return to his usual gruff nature.
“Wherever are your clothes, Alexis? It would be a wonder that those Hill Men didn’t take advantage of you with you walking around like that! Certainly falling asleep on the beach as nude as Adonis is worse! What possessed you, my son?” My father takes from Eros fresh white linen pants and shirt and hands them to me to put on.
“Oh, I remember leaving them over there behind that rock.” I point to where I remember taking them off. Interestingly, it is the last thing I remember doing on this beach. Sure enough, Eros finds and retrieves them. They are all sandy and in need of a good cleaning.
“Well, it is good that the Cretan sun hasn’t cooked all of your brains to yogurt, God be praised. Come! You may expect a good tongue lashing from your Mama. She’s near to snatched herself bald over worrying about you, my silly little one.” Papa says with coarse fatherly affection.
We climb out of the steep sandy bank away from the cove. I look back at the night and the sea. The stars now glitter over the waters and the waves now pick up the light of a rising moon. It is a picture postcard of an enchanted Cretan night. The heavy air breathes lighter in the night as it cools. The ocean smells also become stronger and fresher.
All of these beautiful things should make my youthful joy rise in my heart. But, instead, the beauty of the Mediterranean night wrings out of me a few more tears. It’s like the view mocks me. It hides something there beneath the waves that I should know is beyond this superficial beauty and is more than anything I have ever wanted in my young life. It is such a terrible longing! What have I lost? Where has it gone? Why can’t I find it? Who . . . has been taken from me?
I do not know. It torments me right on the tip of my brain, but the memory does not come. I will be driven mad if I look at the sea a moment longer!
“Come Alex. Let us go eat and forget all of this for now. I know the family was readying a roasted lamb before we left.” Eros takes me ever so gently by the arm and guides me back towards our villa following my Papa.
Food: the staple of all Greek joy. The thought of it does indeed bring a touch of distraction to my aching want of these other nameless things that I cannot seem to know. What I cannot fill with knowledge I can partially fill with good food and wine.
Of such, done with family, life is made. Perhaps if I live long enough, I can finally come to know what it is that I am now desperately missing and perhaps even find it again.
May the gods be so kind.
* All dialog is in the Greek hence the ‘stilted’ nature of the phrases.
Approximately a year later
I find myself staring out into the great ocean’s vastness yet again. I am looking out and getting lost in all the movement of the small waves as they peel away from the sea surface and roll under the ship. There are no white caps of foam and no spray this day. The sea is becalmed and we have entered a doldrum. We are anchored steady and the nets have all been cast, not that any of us expect to actually catch anything today.
Fishing has not been good of late even in this ancient and routinely plentiful fishing lane. It is as if the sea has lost its lust for life and all the fish have gone away. The sea is not the only thing to have lost its vitality. I seem to share in the sea’s grey melancholy. To me the sounds of seagulls sound like weeping from the skies. Here in the Atlantic, over the past year, the days have run grey and chill even through the summer.
This seems to be a new thing. My father, as captain of our vessel the ‘Nerities’, says that in all of his many years of fishing he has never seen the sea and sky so cold for so much of the year. He suspects that this is why fishing is down. For me, I wonder why that when he says the name of our vessel I feel a slight flutter in my heart and some strange aching expectation. I wonder sometimes if I am ageing before my time. I wonder if my heart really is broken to the point where I am slowly dying.
I do feel so very much older than I was before that day my father took me from that Cretan beach. I feel so tired and it is no wonder. Over the past year my broken heart turned from denial, to anger, to desperation, to despair and then, finally, to deathly resignation. These days, my shipmates call me glum and even grim at times. I do not talk much to anyone anymore and when I do I usually say something bitter. My general unhappiness makes me unpleasant to be around so I am left in isolation pretty much always. Those who have known me since my young boyhood are confounded by me now. They don’t understand how my once shy but happy way turned so dark so fast. They want to know what ‘her’ name was and ‘what she did’ to snuff my candle out.
I don’t know how to answer them.
There was no ‘her’ to speak of. There have been girls at ports of call who gave themselves to me. I made use of them and then went on my way. Some may have been in love with me perhaps, but I didn’t know and I don’t care really. There has even been a boy or two. They are easier to take. They usually just want the sex and no commitments. There are two I know who are both from Marseilles and their laissez faire attitude about sex suits me best. Sex is just a game to them and it is just a means for me to forget what I can’t remember. Sometimes a good whiskey or vodka in the mix also helps. I admit to liking my spirits a little too much these days. My father dislikes my drinking, but, such the worse for him, I suppose. It does not interfere with my work so why should he care.
Unfortunately, moments of pleasure can only delay the inevitable return of my secret anguish. My misery comes in the way the sea always calls to me and how I cannot resist it. I tried for a while, but the call could not be ignored. Its call is so careless and heedless to my feelings. It echoes forever and it won’t leave me alone. Something there is calling me back to somewhere or someone I simply can’t remember and yet I can’t escape this persistent ‘tug’ on my heart!
“Awaken to the colors of another life, my Love, and be not afraid.” I hear this piece of a song rattle around in my head. It is such a beautiful melody and verse, but it just drives me crazy. I should know what it means, but I just can’t make a connection.
I think I am a little crazy now because of this. Quite mad, really. It is a wonder I don’t stomp around raving like a lunatic to be quite honest.
I find myself calling to mind the myth of Odysseus and the Sirens that my great-grandfather told me about just before my leaving Crete, probably forever. He said to me that I would not be able to stay in one place for very long now. He said that I am cast adrift and that I have the look of a young man who has heard the Siren’s Call. He knew my inner struggle! Somehow, he read in my eyes the very thing that was tormenting me.
“We’ve gone so far beyond emotion . . . daylight ends the night for us, my precious Love, and morning is upon us.” yet another song and verse comes to my mind as I remember my last conversation with my great-grandfather. Sirens would explain this spell I am under. Could they be real? It would seem to fit my present agony. These songs rattle around and around in my head endlessly!
In my great-grandfather’s myth about the Sirens, those sorcerous bird-women would sing their spell and sailors would dash themselves upon the cliffs and rocks of Gibraltar trying to get to them. Those that survived their call would forever be haunted by their song. They would not be able to stay in one place for long. They would become as restless as the sea and over time they would lose any care for this life at all. Sooner or later they would founder either literally for figuratively.
According to my great-grandfather, this could be a stricken sailor’s fate or he could ride the sea and search for what the Siren sings about in her longing verse. Great-grandfather said that such a sailor should allow the song to guide him on the sea and let its echo bring the sailor to an Elysian paradise as opposed to a tormented Tartarus. What possibility happens depends on the Siren and the sailor.
He said that the Sirens of the sea are far more merciful than the ones on land. These Nereids of the sea could sing as well as the Sirens on land, but their songs were always meant to bring sailors home safely and not send them to their deaths.
Kissing my cheeks and holding my head so that he could look deep into my eyes my great-grandfather’s parting words to me were to: “Work your father’s boats. Serve as his hand and ride the sea, my beloved Alexis! Because, I know what no one else has known except for you, now. On that beach you heard the Siren’s Call and now you must follow it until it brings you home again. I heard it too when I was in my bloom, just as you are now, and it guided me to my Elysian Fields here. It brought me to my wife and my children, to my son, grandson, and then finally to you, son of my heart!” My great-grandfather hugged me as one who holds someone he will never see again in this life.
It was true. I received word that my great-grandfather had passed not a week after our final parting. His words are the only things that keep me from jumping into the maddening sea to my death. Interestingly, I have not dared enter the water since my time on that Cretan beach a year and a lifetime ago. I figure that if I do make the dive it will be for the last time. This I cannot chance because I am on a mission. I don’t know what I am to find or where, but the sea calls me and I am bound to answer. Perhaps the sea is not what calls me itself . . . but some Siren in the deep that cries out my name and will never stop until I am found again. This cry drives me mad . . . but it keeps me alive too. I want to answer it if I can ever know what it is or why I hear it in my heart. If I could only know the right sea lane to travel to find what it is that I am looking for I would be on my way to feeling complete again.
Both my mother and father seemed surprised and disappointed in my decision to quit school and go to work on my father’s boats. At first my father refused me, but then as he saw me less and less at home and more and more at the docks working as a hand for other captains who where cheats, he finally took me aboard. I have served faithfully ever since. I now think he is grooming me to captain his vessels after he retires in a few very short years. My father is already in his early sixties. I was a late child being the youngest of my siblings.
When I finally told my father of what my great-grandfather had said to me he was at first outraged, but then he came to understand after his way of thinking. He said the sea is in our family’s blood and that at some point in our lives we had to answer its call. That was his interpretation of things anyway. I left out the ‘Siren’ part. My father is not overly fond of the old Greek myths. He finds them fantastic fables of a more ‘pagan’ time. The Orthodox Church discourages delving too deeply into those mysteries thinking them paths back to idolatry. My father is devoutly Orthodox. I’m not Orthodox at all. I hardly ever go to church and when I do it is more for cultural reasons than for anything in which I might believe.
I don’t really know what I believe anymore. I wish I could believe in things as I once did before that fateful day at the cove, but it is hard to believe in things when nothing makes sense at all. Yet, I feel that belief seems to be a key here to finding the answer to this endless Siren’s Call.
In a particularly dark moment this past year before meeting with my great-grandfather, I was standing on a cliff looking down into the churning surf far below. It was not too far from that cove where I lost my mind, my memory, and my will to live. It was my intention to dive to my death and end the pain of this unexplainable heartbreak. I would have done it if it had not been for my friend and guardian angel Eros.
He prevented me from going by merely asking: “Hey, could you hold on a sec? Can we talk about something?” It was such an absurd question for that moment but its bland stupidness stopped me from jumping in. Eros had said it with such passing calm like what I was about to do was just another activity like drinking a glass of ouzo or running off to the 7/11. He didn’t seem to be distressed by the end result of my jumping into the sea at all!
“Whatcha doin’, hmm? That’s not such a great place to go diving. There are a lot of rocks down there. Not even you could survive that.” Eros said to me. There was no explanation as to what he meant by ‘not even you’.
“That’s the point.” I said to him darkly.
“The point being not to survive? Wow, that’s kind of dumb-ass if you ask me.” Eros had said this to me in a sarcastic tone which made me angry.
I suppose that was the desired effect because I turned on him angrily, almost snarling! Eros met my ferocious gaze with a goofy smile that further inflamed my hot tempered Greek blood! What a perfectly orchestrated distraction from my impending doom.
“Care to join me?” I had said to him with half-hearted viciousness. You see, the Alexis that came after that cove experience was capable of saying such things. The one that existed before the cove would have vomited up his own lungs before saying something so horrible . . . especially to his dearest friend in the world.
“Not particularly. It wouldn’t do me much good. Probably wouldn’t for you either.” Eros shrugged in a most irritatingly nonchalant way. Didn’t he know how serious this was? Didn’t he know that this agony was slowly killing me from the inside out anyway? It would be a mercy to end my suffering this way than to let me beat my head against a wall until I was dead.
Eros turned to look at the oncoming sunset. This was a view I could no longer appreciate because my eyes could no longer see beauty in any form. This was especially true for any view that included that hellish ocean.
“You know what your problem is, Alexis?” Eros asked me. I swear I was about to push him off the cliff.
“I have a broken heart and I don’t know why? I want to die and I don’t know why? I can’t even stand my FRIENDS anymore . . . and I don’t know why?” I would have continued the litany, but Eros was done with that.
“Naw. Those things aren’t your problem. Your problem is that you aren’t seeing things for what they are.” He said this with a straight face as he tucked his hands into the pockets of his very tight jeans.
“What the fuck are you talking about, Eros?” I sighed. I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be left alone to do what I felt I needed do so I just sank to the ground and sat there in the dirt.
“What the fuck I am talking about is the fact that you are allowing your brain to get in the way of what your heart is seeing. You are letting yourself get all messed up for something that is really clear.” Eros told me this in a sage’s manner. Somehow, his words wove themselves into something that I felt I needed to hear.
“What does that even mean? I don’t even know why I should be ‘seeing’ anything with my heart? What’s happening to me? What happened to me . . . out there.” I waved out over the rose tinged sea and I looked up at Eros with the beginnings of new tears in my eyes.
“Please! Tell me!” I began to weep.
The pain was so strong, how could anyone see past it! Somehow, even knowing Eros couldn’t possibly know anything about this, I was pleading with him to give me the answer. It was almost a prayer to him to release me at last from this torment as if he might have the power or the knowledge to free me from it.
“Your heart knows what it knows. Don’t let your eyes and brain deceive you. Your soul is speaking to you. You have to believe and listen to it.” Eros crouched in front of me and looked deep into my eyes with those bluer than blue ones of his own. Somehow, they seemed to glow in the oncoming darkness.
“WHAT?” I yelled at him in complete exasperation. The force of my question actually made him blink and fall back on his butt from his crouch.
“Your soul is talking to you, Alexis! See if you can’t shut your brain off for two seconds and listen to it! Clear your mind and . . . believe that it is telling you what you need to know.” Eros reached over and wanted me to take his hands. It was a weird gesture, but something in his eyes told me I had to do it, so I did. I took both his warm hands and they steadied me somehow and leant me a peculiar inner strength.
“Let go of your lying eyes, Alexis! BELIEVE again!” Eros’ words seemed to come into my mind directly like he didn’t even have to say them. I felt what he was saying to me almost as a vibration through my whole body! I felt like a rung bell.
“Believe? What do I believe in? What?” I started sobbing.
“That there is an answer! That you WILL find it! That what you are looking for . . . and what is looking for YOU . . . you WILL find!” Eros said with a firmness that was as solid as concrete. His face was unexpectedly stern and intense. Never had I seen an expression like that on his beautifully young and silly face before. This was important to him.
It was important that I not give up and that I keep going. That this was not the end of everything and that something was going to change.
“. . . ok. But what do I do next then? I can’t stand this anymore.” I had answered him weakly.
“Talk to your Grand-grandpapa. He knows. Listen to him.” Eros said squeezing my hands tenderly and smiling with a sweetness that again I had never seen in him before. It was filled with an unexpected kind of love.
So I did and so I listened and so I did as my great-grandfather told me to do. So here I am on this ship and here I serve and here I search hoping, ever hoping that . . .
. . . . I can find a reason to believe in an answer to a question I don’t even know how to ask.
Pan. Welcome to my Floating Island.”