I came for conversation

An old man fell in my dream. He had been walking with his daughter and several others, friends and family, when he lost his footing and tripped on a gutter. Down he tumbled like a stack of cards, so unsteady his legs and joints, and to my horror half of his face fell off.

He had endured surgery I knew now for like Sigmund Freud and Lucy Grealy the old man’s face, which had earlier been eaten away by cancer, had been reconstructed.

A dream like this begins my day. Faceless and deformed the old man grabbed back at the bits that had fallen into the gutter and stuck them on haphazardly – rather like a jigsaw puzzle piece that does not fit in – and urged his daughter to take him home, home and out of sight.

I do not want to be interrupted by the detritus of my days or nights, but I cannot seize on more lofty thoughts until I have cleared my head of my most pressing ones. It is rare that I am without pressing thoughts.

For the next two weeks I will have more time to concentrate on my thesis but soon enough I will be back into the thrall of daily work and it will once more become difficult to get those chapters into shape. So many words to write.

‘Do I have a first draft?’ my friend asked me yesterday at lunch?
No, I do not. I have so much written, though, so much that could be cobbled together to form a draft, but it is not yet in place.

I will get there in time. I am determined. I must. And so to work…

But a little voice tells me to stay with this writing. Stay. It might yet lead somewhere. I am too riddled with conscious thoughts. Too much driven by the need to complete my thesis. Too unwilling to write about yesterday’s lunch. Yesterday’s lunch in an Indian restaurant on Burwood Road.

I arrived and realised I had brought next to no cash with me. I would need to use my card. My friend was late. He ordered immediately. He knew what he was about. He ordered two curries and some naan and then he sat back down. I stood and fumbled. This rich food in the middle of the day was too much for me, but to order anything else seemed difficult. I came for the company, anyhow. I did not come for the food.
I tried to speak softly to the girl at the counter.
‘I’ll have what he’s having.’ I selected curries that had some vague appeal, the eggplant and the mixed vegetable. Instead of naan, I chose rice, but I seemed to speak in a vacuum, as if I did not know what I was about.

I dragged out my card thinking this order must come to at least ten dollars but I was wrong. My friend stood up to offer to pay but I had five dollars left in my purse and the whole dreadful exchange with the young and pleasant Indian woman was over in an instant.

Conversation was what I came for,
‘You have been ill?’ I said to my friend, more as a question than as a statement. ‘Yes,’ he said, though he was not forthcoming. It seemed he did not want to talk about it.
‘I’m working two days a week,’ he said.
‘Do you prefer that?’
‘No. The writing is too slow.’
Momentarily, I thought about this from my own perspective, that in such circumstances I might enjoy more space for writing. He looked well enough.
‘No,’ he said again. ‘I write for a living, and it is very slow, too slow.’
It was clear then my friend did not want to discuss it further. And I dared not probe, but I joked instead about my own, now recovered, broken leg.

Although my friend, the one whom I mistakenly thought had abandoned our friendship, will talk to me about himself and his life in small doses, it seems he prefers to hear about my life, my goings on.

We had a whole year on which to catch up and I could tell him about my family reunion, my interminable thesis, my daughter’s marriage, but beyond that the conversation flagged. I had hoped it might fly. It might prove exhilarating. After an hour my friend needed to get back to his work and I felt a wash of relief.

Who would say it first during our goodbyes? I wondered.
‘We must not leave it a whole year next time,’ my friend said. And then I knew, most likely we would leave it a whole year. Most likely we would leave it for more than a year, unless I made contact again. But will I?
I do not want to foist myself on someone who finds time with me a chore, whose only pleasure derives from the odd witty thing I might say and from his curiosity about this odd woman.

I do not want a relationship that feels so one-sided as to leave me the needy and desperate one. I have made up my mind in this regard. I will not become a stalker, a desperado. I will not subject myself to the humiliation of unrequited love ever, ever again.

I shall not attempt to analyse my dream and the different voices that battle inside here, except in my head.

Some of the dream, to some of you here, may be self-evident: this old man who tumbles down, whose face is broken, whose life has changed becomes a metaphor for…

Stop now, I say.
It is time once more to do battle with my thesis.

54 thoughts on “I came for conversation”

  1. When we are at our most vulnerable or most honest, I suspect that a sense of fragmentation prevails. Not to compare the workings of my mind with what Lucy Grealy experienced, I do know that accepting one's self as whole when the facts seem contradictory is, in part, the challenge of creating inner peace. But each portion of ourself that we reclaim, no longer being in one-sided or empty relationships, not voluntarily wasting so much energy on self-criticism, brings us closer to the state we seek. There is no thesis awaiting my attention, yet if other writing calls to you more strongly, that is the path I would follow. Who knows where it may lead.

  2. You were brave, and pursued the friendship. Sometimes, people who don't reach back, do not feel worthy of such attention. Perhaps this was the case.

    "You can be pleased with nothing, if you are not pleased with yourself" Lady Mary Worthly Montagu

    Shake it off, and remember you were courageous.

  3. Elisabeth, this post really reaches me. I have had a few friendships over the years, some that began as deep and pleasurable connections, and other as casual acquaintance based on some temporary shared situation, dwindle down to lunches very much like the one you describe. I would find myself asking myself, as things flagged rather than flew – why are we doing this? what is either of us getting out of this when clearly with such busy lives and limited energy and time, we'd both rather be, and do better being, elsewhere? And yet there is no good way to back out of it without the worry of unnecessary and unfortunate ill feeling. I've had to cut some people off in what might seem a cruel but decisive gesture, just to spare us both the charade of continuing a connection neither of us needed or wanted. And I've had others simply drift away in silence until I had to figure out for myself that they had decided to end the charade themselves but neglected to let me know. No one with a healthy ego finds it easy to admit that anyone could have better things to do and company to keep, but we have to accept taking that role in other people's lives, and assigning it to some people in our own lives with as much grace and tact as possible, without too much guilt. Good for you to take such an honest look at such a ticklish situation.

  4. I think your friend is depressed, but I think you're wise for not taking it personally. You write about it so beautifully here, I hope you can be in love with that.

  5. weight, such weight. eat the naan, it is light.

    have i told you the story of visiting with an old friend of mine? she looked at our disparate lives and said, um, i don't think we need to do this again. i almost laughed out loud. that was the last time i saw her. ha! such freedom, for us both.


  6. A metaphor for . . .

    Only you can say as you puzzle it out, but I'll offer this: sounds like an editing job, cut and paste, though it could be additional things.

    I just read a marvelous bit by Barthes about friends. Don't have the book handy but will send quote when I do.

    What pleasures do you, did you share with your friend? Do you want to see him again?

    So long for now from South Beach

  7. Dream? Nightmare more like.
    Writing like yours is such a pleasure to read. I've read many good offerings in blogland, some almost as good – but better? Never.

  8. That sounds awkward, but at least you made the effort. It seems to me that most friendships are contextual, they only work in certain, limited, circumstances and when things change they fizzle out.

    Glad to hear your leg has recovered.

  9. It was sad to read this. Friendships do wear out, sometimes because of personal changes, circumstances or opportunities. There are people who are old friends, in my mind, but for practical purposes contact is minimal, and often it is up to me to maintain the contact. After some years one wonders whether it is worth the effort. I found that as my children became adult and had their own children that I focussed more on family than on friends, and they withered away. Sad, but often inevitable. Your reaction sounds sane and sensible to me.

  10. Thank you. I enjoyed this conversation with you. I have had similar dreams. I’ve tried to draw them, and as for the lunch set up after long silence from both sides, yours brings back memories. I wonder, do most just move on?

  11. It must be a sadder post than I had originally thought, Laoch.

    I go up and down with these thoughts and feelings. No sooner do I express them on the page than they shift, or generally that's the way it goes. Thanks, Laoch.

  12. Inner peace, Marylinn. Now there's something for which to strive.

    I suspect most of us arrive at something like inner peace from time to time, but we must work at it.

    For me, for most of the time I stumble along doing the best I can.

    Thanks, Marylinn.

  13. As you suggest, Jane, it takes courage to reach out, especially when we most fear rejection.

    I enjoy your quote here from Lady Mary Worthly Montagu:

    "You can be pleased with nothing, if you are not pleased with yourself"

    I shall continue to try to take it to heart.

    Thanks, Just Jane.

  14. I put it down to ambivalence and mixed feelings, Gabriella. In the end there needs to be more of the positive than the negative to sustain us, otherwise a relationship borders on the masochistic as far as I can see.

    But of course emotional states tend to be volatile and are therefore subject to change.

    One minute we're in love the next minute, we become filled with hateful feelings and all directed to the one person, and yet in its essence, however painful, it's best of all for us to care.

    To feel nothing in my view is the worst.

    Thanks Gabriella of Two Tigers

  15. I agree, Kass. I think my friend may well be feeling depressed but he does not say as much.

    Maybe he doesn't know, or doesn't want to share it with me if he does.

    This is fine, but it leaves me on the outer.

    I cannot help but respond to what I see, but if what I pick up on and leave a space for is not acknowledged, it can get too hard to go on.

    Thanks, Kass.

  16. Thanks, Mim from South Beach. In answer to your question: shared pleasures with my friend include the exploration of ideas about history and writing, about the strange ways of groups and organisations, but something's happened and my friend seems to have changed. Or perhaps I'm the one who's changed.

    I know change in relationships is inevitable but I had hoped not into greater distance.

    Thanks again, Mim

  17. Thanks for the kind words, Philip H.

    The old man's fall and loss of face might seem like more of a nightmare from here, but in the middle of my dream it seemed perfectly normal, as dreams – my dreams at least, so often do.

    Thanks again Philip.

  18. You are so right, Eryl. Context is everything.

    I was in a group today, a writing workshop with twelve people I'd never met before. As we went around the room to introduce ourselves I could take in the names and match them to faces. But by morning tea time and our first trips to the toilet and tea room, when these people whose names and faces I had mastered so well, moved around on two legs, I lost the associations altogether.

    This is a simplistic example of what I suspect happens at a deeper level with people we meet along the way. Without the initial context the connection fades and it becomes hard to sustain the relationship outside of that context.

    Thanks, Eryl.

  19. As time passes, Persiflage, I too find that my family members, both close and far, become more meaningful to me in many ways and friendships take more of an effort.

    Not all friendships, though. There are some friends who might as well be part of my family, but I could count them on one hand.

    Thanks Persiflage.

  20. We have to move on, Anthony, as you suggest, but along the way we might sop up some of the pain of these disappointments through our artistic endeavours.

    Thanks, Anthony.

  21. Thanks again, Marylinn. I agree our aims and our goals can be very different from reality but still we struggle on. As T S Eliot said 'humankind cannot tolerate too much reality' and so we try to recreate it in ways that make it more tolerable.

  22. Dear Elisabeth,
    loved this post as I can recognize the sentiments.
    Particularly this paragraph spoke volumes to me:
    "I do not want a relationship that feels so one-sided as to leave me the needy and desperate one. I have made up my mind in this regard. I will not become a stalker, a desperado. I will not subject myself to the humiliation of unrequited love ever, ever again."
    I am with you on that one…

  23. An old man falling in the gutter is a much too reality for my wife and me. Her father, wanting to remain independent in his home, tries to take a daily walk. He has fallen twice now, the most recent incident a passer-by has taken him to the emergency room.

    Just yesterday he opted to walk to the grocery store a few blocks away in the driving rain. After disclosing this to my wife, she hurriedly called me on the cell while I was out running errands and dispatched me to the store to interdict and bring her father safely home. Mission accomplished, but it is a fleeting victory as it will happen again. The inevitability of another similar incident makes us both uncomfortable.

  24. I didn't have time to read all the comments, so if someone else made this point, I apologize, but could your friend also perhaps be afraid of an unrequited relationship. You don't really seem like the type that would do that, Elisabeth, but maybe someone else once did that to him, and thus he's wary of all relationships. I think all our various hangups keeps up from really connecting to each other much of the time.

  25. Hi Elisabeth Thanks for this interesting piece of writing. Your friend seem to have some unresolved issues or suffers from depression I guess. Anyway it depends on how strong your relationship is if it will survive and probably it won't but our whole lives most friends come and go which is usually a natural proces for me at least.
    I wish you lots of luck with your thesis. Very brave to take that all on.

  26. We are simpatico,Zuzana, when it comes to our shared refusal to endure the humiliation of unrequited love. Good for us.

    Though of course sch experiences are not always under our control however much we might try.

    Thanks, Zuzana.

  27. There is a world of difference between the reality of an old man – your father in law – and my dream old man, who falls on the footpath.

    Dreams you can play around with however nightmarish, but real people are something else again.

    I hope your father in law manages better in the future. Though I suppose, by and large these hings only get worse. Looking after elderly parents is such a strain.

    Thanks, Robert.

  28. That's quite an observation, Rachel. I hadn't seen the connection between the old man dream face and my profile image but now that you mention it, it's clear – my fractured identity – a shattered mirror.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  29. Fascinating where dreams can lead us. If the urge is there to explore it then you should do it at the time. You can't go back to it later

  30. How glad I am to arrive here in this eloquent space.

    I can't help but notice the similarities between the image of the old man's jigsaw face and the pieces of your writing waiting to be cobbled together in a first draft.

    One-sided relationships are uncomfortable — from either side. I attended a weekend workshop on the second half of life a few years ago. I learned that it is not uncommon for us to shed layers of our friendships in the second half of life. We edit our relationships more critically as we get older.

    You are a wonderful writer and I thank you for sharing your words.

  31. Hey Loz, I agree, it's best to figure out your dreams as they occur. On the other hand, you can always play around with them from a literary perspective for ever after.

    Thanks, Loz.

  32. It's great to see you here, Dutchbaby.

    It's interesting that you too observe the fractured face of the man in my dream alongside my profile picture.

    I had not thought about it till now.

    The fractured profile had been an attempt to alert readers to the multiple identities we inhabit as writers and people.

    Thanks for the kind words, Dutchbaby.

  33. "the old man grabbed back at the bits that had fallen into the gutter and stuck them on"

    I liked that. I liked that he saw value in reconstructing himself.

  34. Thanks, Perovskia. I've just been over to your blog and posted a comment that concurs with your identification. It's mutual.

    I'm glad to have it spelled out. You understand where I'm coming from here.
    That's the best we can hope for.


  35. The ability to reconstruct oneself is essential for survival in my view, Bix.

    Most of us do it several times every day with varying degrees of success.

    Thanks, Bix.

  36. You look different Sex, Drugs and Bacon sandwiches but I recognized you almost instantly, even without your final clue.

    It doesn't surprise me that the lure of the blogosphere has drawn you back but this time your blog has an even 'raunchier' quality, unless I'm much mistaken.

    Welcome back.

  37. I think it's incredible that your dream life is so rich and that you are able to pull from it and articulate such abstraction and mystery so clearly. It's strange for me, a stranger to you, to understand, a bit, of what you write. But your words are like crystal, I think, transparent in feeling —

  38. I wonder if part of the difficulty, Elizabeth lies in my use of the Australian idiom.

    I've just commented on Snowbrush's blog about this. I use words like 'lollies' for sweets. It's a commonplace word here in Australia but not so in America I gather.

    Subtle differences like this can lead to misunderstandings. But still we try to communicate with one another.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

  39. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the tutors checking your thesis turned out to have had a bad fall the day before and showed up at your dissertation with bandage across his face.

    Great post as usual. I love your insight into heavy subjects.

    Greetings from London.

  40. Elisabeth, I like the changes you've made to your blog, almost didn't recognize your avatar/picture, it's edgy, clever, perfect.

    Loved your writing in this piece, so many things you share resonate with me, the dream, the pressing thoughts, the determination not to become a desperado (as I am determined time and again in so many aspects of my life).

    A new door opens every time I come here and read your words.

  41. Again I'd reiterate that it's more about his journey than yours (though I'm glad you were able to meet with him to, in fact, verify that.) I have been in a place where I was unable to communicate what I needed and so company left me feeling more lonely than being alone. Give your friend some time, test the waters a bit. He may come back a different person in a year.

    But I do not believe people should be given up on lightly (one of my greatest faults) and so I at least opine that here.

    Much love to you – I know what a bad taste bad dreams can leave in the morning, and for that I am deeply sorry.

  42. Elisabeth, your post is so beautifully written. I've been in that situation as well, and it becomes almost painful to catch up with people you once thought were friends, but you now realise have nothing in common with you at all.

    "And then I knew, most likely we would leave it a whole year. Most likely we would leave it for more than a year, unless I made contact again. But will I?" That's the question to ask, isn't it. It's awful when we have to make that decision, but a relief as well, I think.

    Best of luck with your thesis.


  43. My daughter arranged my new profile, Terresa, she and her graphic designer husband.

    I am pleased with the image of a fractured identity. It helps convey something of the sense I'm after in my writing, something of the struggle to find a voice amid the many voices I represent internally.

    Thanks, Terresa.

  44. You are so very kind, Tracey – Phoenix, and I'm grateful for your thoughts about giving up on old friendships lightly.

    As you say, time might change the way we, my friend and I both feel, but for the moment, I shall try a little distance.

    Thanks, Tracey.

  45. Thanks for your good wishes, Rachael. It's lovely to see you hre. I shall check out your 4 February post to see how things proceed.

    In the meantime I think how wonderful that you're also Australian. There's quite a few of us out here in the blogosphere.

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