Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Break from It All, Aaron Collier

A Break from It All
The interruption of a long awaited trip home to the U.S. results in a new perspective on belonging.
I can fly,” he said.
No you can’t,” I said.
You’re just saying that because you’re still bound by social conventions,” he said. “You haven’t freed yourself from what’s tying you to the ground.”
Look, I understand you feel freer this way,” I said. “We can talk about this more in my room. It’s quieter there and we won’t disturb the others.”
Maybe I want to disturb them,” he said. “Maybe I want to break them out of their sad little boxes.”
I don’t think they’re so sad,” I said. “And they don’t all speak English anyway. They teach different things than me at Masaryk.”
I don’t need them to speak English to make myself understood,” he said. “I’m free of such restrictions.”
Look, can’t we just go back to my room and sleep?” I asked. “I have to teach tomorrow and the Faculty of Education’s on the other side of the city.”
That distance is just a figment of your imagination,” he said. “I don’t need sleep anyway. It only prevents me from flying.”
I understand you want to feel free,” I said. “But I don’t think we can even get to the roof from here. Maybe if we go back to my room?”
That might help me fly,” he acknowledged. “That will get me closer to the sun.”
I know how important light can be,” I said. “That was one of the things Dad warned me about coming here – how little light there is in the winter. And we saw how hard the winter was for him.”
I fear not your winters,” he said. “I am impervious to cold.”
OK,” I said. “It seems we can’t get to the roof even from my room. Maybe if we sleep we can figure it out in the morning?”
Sleep is for the weak,” he said. “I am strong.”
Yes, yes, you are strong,” I said. “How about some clothes? Are you strong enough to put some on?”
Clothes are a social illusion,” he said. “I have figured out how to get beyond such myths.”
OK,” I said. “I am just going to lie here for a minute. You can keep figuring out more myths.”
Lying down is no cure for what ails you,” he said. “You can stay bound to the ground. I will keep my mind flying high above it all. I can look down and see you, in your little room #15, in your little house for foreign lecturers, in your little city known as Brno. But I am up here above you, untouched by such petty names. Can you see me up here? Brian? Can you see me? … Well, I will keep flying. Flying high above you.”
After leaving the classroom and locking the door behind me, I checked my phone. An SMS from Kelly read:
Ran into your brother on Česka. Apparently he is everything that is wrong with Jesus because all the disciples were all wrong with Jesus. His words.
I wrote back:
Just finished. Where should I meet you?
The reply came as I reached the Poříčí tram stop:
U Rakola.
I took the 6 and joined them at one of the wooden tables out front. The fresh warm air and alcohol seem to have combined to soothe some of his combativeness. We took in this moment of calm as long as we could and talked of plans to celebrate the 4th.
It’s not so much fun here,” she said. “The party’s always so much smaller than the ones back home.”
Maybe I’ll see next year,” I said. “This year, I just need to get out of here. Just a break from it all.”
I’ve seen how the world breaks,” he said. “And it doesn’t end well.”
I know it’s been hard for you, Brian,” she said. “But getting back home will be good for you.”
Just have to keep things under control until the flight on Saturday,” I said. “I’m sure I can get through the rest of the week.”
The waitress came to tell us it was time to go inside so as not to disturb the neighbors. We walked past the mostly empty tables and squeezed into our regular place in the back room.
Is this your house?” he asked. “It is invisible. Is it invisible? It is not your house in the meadows. You must accept that it is not your house.”
No, it’s not my house,” I said. “We’re staying near Stara Osada, remember? Although the place seems pretty new for a quarter named Old Settlement.”
And my house is around the corner,” she added. “We saw it just a little while ago, so you know it’s not invisible.”
If it were, it might help with the mess Pavel’s always leaving when you’re not there,” I said. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
No, I’m truly in my mind for the first time,” he said. “Do you see it now? Do you see it on my level?”
The hockey game in the other room was interrupted briefly by the clear sound of Australia.
Is that Steve?” I asked. “Haven’t met him in here before. Should we say hi?”
He is the Crocodile Hunter,” he said. “He will hunt our dinner for us and we will cook it.”
I think it’d be best to leave Steve be,” she said. “We’ll see him when you get back from your trip home.”
We paused to sip our beers. A chair was heard being dragged into place in the next room.
You won’t miss the excitement of Independence Day?” I asked.
I have already gained my independence,” he said. “I will once again release myself from the bonds of social oppression.” I grabbed his arm to keep him from pulling it out of his sleeves.
“The competition at the reservoir was more than enough fireworks for me,” she said. “I don’t need to travel so far to get my excitement.”
The bathroom door opened and out came a man whose belly showed he was accustomed to doing his part to keep the Czech Republic at the top of the beer consumption rankings. As he went through to the front room, a small commotion broke out.
What’s going on?” I asked. “Can you see from where you are?”
Steve’s trying to watch the hockey,” she said. “He moved his chair for a better view so it’s blocking the way and he won’t budge.”
We heard the waitress trying to calm things down. Voices got louder instead. Now we could hear the words themselves. Hear how they didn’t want cizince coming into the place and moving things around.
Cizince?” I asked. “Does she mean foreigners? Are they xenophobic here?”
I never thought so before,” she said. “But now I wonder.”
I wonder as I wander,” he said. “I wonder where I wander.”
Steve gave one last shout about never coming back and disappeared into the night. The matter resolved, the waitress came over to see if we wanted more drinks. I looked at Kelly, since this question was beyond my ability to ask in Czech.
Do you have a problem with cizince? Kelly asked. Because we’re cizince too.
The waitress look at Kelly as if she really were an alien. But we know you. That guy’s never been in here before and just decides to move things around without asking? If you want to treat this place like your home, you have to get to know it. Like we know you. Anyway, you still got another hour before you leave, so I’ll just bring another round.
After she left, I met Kelly’s eye as we both let out “strangers” at the same time. Another Czech mystery solved.
I am a stranger in my own strange land,” he said. “And my strangeness reflects back in on me.”
I’m exhausted,” I said. “I didn’t get more than 3 hours of sleep last night.”
He can stay with me tonight,” she said. “Pavel and me outnumber him and Grace could sleep through a hurricane. You get some rest.”
Once you have the rest,” he said, “there is nothing left for anyone else.”
For the second time in a month, I awoke in darkness to my phone ringing. I almost didn’t answer it, fearing a repeat of terrible news at a distance, a part of me being ripped out by a tinny voice in a small, metal device. This time the call came from much closer by. It was Kelly.
Pavel’s taking him to the doctor,” she said. “It wasn’t a good night.”
What happened?” I asked. “Is everyone alright?”
Physically, we’re fine,” she said. “He was just up the whole time. Pissed in my ficus. Drew all over the Lord of the Rings books I had been reading with Grace to ‘fix’ them.”
The ones you got from your uncle?” I asked. “I’m so sorry. I know how much they meant to you.”
We’ll survive,” she said. “But this isn’t something we can just wait out. He’s not even forming complete sentences anymore.”
I know, I know,” I said. “I just thought if we could make it to Saturday and get him home ...”
Pavel already called the doctor,” she said. “She needs to talk to him in person.”
I’ll be over as soon as the trams start running again,” I said.
What do you mean?” she asked.
Isn’t it night?” I asked as I went to the window to draw the curtains. After blinking back the initial blast of light, my eyes adjusted to take in the view of our neighbors’ garden with its crisscrossing tracks of red, purple, and yellow flowers.
I’m glad you got some sleep,” she said. “You’re probably going to need it.”
I’ll be right over,” I said.
As I turned onto the street where Kelly lived, I saw her on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette.
They took him to Černovice,” she said by way of greeting. “He wouldn’t go into the doctor’s. Kept trying to run away. And eating grass.”
I took one of the cigarettes she offered me and lit it.
How long can they hold him there?” I asked. “Will he be out by Saturday?”
She looked at me.
I know,” I said. “I’d just wanted this to be over. Resolution. Catharsis.”
We can visit him in the hospital tomorrow,” she said. “You’re not examining today, are you?”
No,” I said. “Done for the year.”
Alright,” she said. “Let’s go get drunk.”
Stepping through the hospital gate felt like entering another world. A secluded park, away from the bustle of the city, where you could walk in peace and seek enlightenment from Emperor Josef II.
I could see how this place could help,” I said.
Sign says he’s over that way,” she said, pointing away from the park.
We turned and turned and finally found the stairs down to where he was. We once again entered another world, also secluded, but this one sterile and lifeless.
We met him in the visiting room, sitting at a small table. A family with a small girl of three or four occupied the other table. There wasn’t much said. There wasn’t much to say. The fire that had been burning behind his eyes the past week had dimmed.
He showed us his room, his bed. We looked out the small, barred window. From here, we could look up and almost make out some greenery. Here we could see the plants reaching down to strengthen their connection to the soil.
He showed us the notes he’d been taking during his stay. They had similar themes to what he’d been spouting before he’d been put in. Though they had more coherence than his previous ramblings, they gave no indication of being more grounded in reality.
We spoke briefly with the medical staff. They said they were doing their best. That he was communicative at times, but since no one else on the inside could really communicate back, it might not be the best environment for him. They wanted everything to be stable, though. No excitement on the way to the next place.
We walked back through the park and out into the city.
After 10 days, they released him to us with enough drugs to get him through the plane ride. Kelly came with us to Prague, to the airport. The trip was smooth and easy. The others in the train car didn’t bother the strangers supporting one of their own.
You remember when the waiter in Greece sat down at our table to talk with us?” I asked. “Did you ever think before that you’d be so happy to not even be acknowledged?”
I’m used to it by now,” she said. “Only thing I miss is California hugs.”
You remember the floats we found on the beach?” I asked. “How the U.S. warning was 4 times as long as the European ones because they had to make sure we wouldn’t try to eat it or anything.”
“Like the playground at the top of the Brno Zoo,” she said. “There’s no way you could have that in the States – they’d say it’s way too risky.”
Here they just assume the parents will be responsible,” I said. “Like with the beer garden playgrounds. You’d never get those past the lawyers back home.”
That’s true,” she said. “You know, you’ll be missing the best of beer garden season.”
It’s a shame,” I said. “Don’t think I’ll be staying away so long next summer.”
You’re not looking forward to the trip?” she asked. “I thought you couldn’t wait to get home.”
I couldn’t,” I said. “But now I know where it actually is.”

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