“Cactopus” by Roos Fopma

Lying here, among faces that stare at me in despair, unable to move legs or arms, I begin to remember. The only open road is driving me backwards. The poet in me finally awakens, on the most inappropriate moment though, 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 would have found easily the point I am looking for, the start of all evil. It would certainly be the time 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, inherently dependent though 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. Therefore the comparison was inevitable, with the past gaining easily the winning position. The more I improved my technique to immerse myself in memories without carrying along the present as a heavy baggage, the less joyful I felt.

It all started with the big journey. The fatigue triggered the disease, as I suspect. 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 fantasizing about it since I was a kid, but never had neither enough time, nor money to realize it, thereby constantly postponing it into a future time when I would supposedly have enough of both of them. Unfortunately, I have never been that lucky, until I recently 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 the job, which I had never wanted in the first place, but had been obliged 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. Thus, 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 realize that my childhood dream would never be fully 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 and older seasons, making it clear that what has happened to my body, has always been happening to my mind and soul. Decay has already started since 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 for sure, which was overshadowed, though, 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. I could tell though 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 crash 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 at the hospital once more, while my mind is wandering through 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 all the weaker day by day. The smaller I get though and the weaker I become, the bigger and wilder my soul is growing, spreading its branches around 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, without much effort. The prospect of a job that would ensure my survival and much more later on was obviously a relief. I became a very good designer indeed, one of the best in the market. But the price was big and grew bigger with time. This job required my authenticity in exchange to all it had to offer. While I used to spit my pessimism on the canvas while drawing, in the most liberating way, all the negativity concentrated inside my body and soul, finding no other way out, since I had been obliged 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 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 some more. I should have been happy with what I had already accomplished, but when I achieved something, new wishes automatically were born, for more success and achievement. Then, 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 finish off with all of my commitments. As a result, the  journey became the absolute target, the symbol of my liberation from the shackles of thought that imprisoned me in unhappiness, banner of the day that my life would properly begin. Strangely, it is now ending, just when I was ready to live it.

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 it evolved, regardless of my worry about it. 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 any time soon, happiness can fall apart as 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 finite of your own 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 near me is looking towards my direction in agony and then to the crowd I can barely see with 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 to 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 now 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.