by Kleitia Vaso

Some songs seem so familiar and straightforward that you never bother about the meaning. For instance, I had always assumed that Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were here,” simply expresses the desire to see a loved person who, for whatever reason is not where you are. Simple enough. Consequently, whenever I heard it, I naturally thought of a person I loved and missed. Sometimes, I even forced myself to think of a person that I wasn’t particularly missing so as to be more attuned to the song. But, alas, feelings wasted as I understood one day that the beautiful lines evoke a much more painful absence, the death of a person who is still alive. Or, rather, the text evokes the painful awareness of knowing that a fully alive person has decided to deform and murder himself/herself. The kind of suicide that does not happen in one fatal moment but over a prolonged period of time. Life as a slow death which it is, for everybody, but one must rebel a little. Pivotal moments that mark this ugly process can be pinpointed while they’re taking place rather than in retrospect. Some, not all of them. The more visible ones rather than the more imperceptible and ephemeral ones. Regardless of the magnitude and intensity, these telling moments include the kinds of occasions when one’s actions are done for the sake of others, betraying oneself. The ghostly awareness that you have committed something unnatural, an act against your own nature. The sensation may be momentarily pushed out of one’s mind and conscience but it will return and emerge…in your face.

I distinctly remember the moment in which I had the first indefinite inklings of this sad, face-losing process. Fortunately, it has little to do with age so this, at least, should be comforting.  The uneasy realization started to happen when, after a period of nearly twenty years, I re-met a boy whom I used to love as a little girl. The meeting did not come as a surprise. Thus, I had time to anticipate and get nervous over it, not because I cared all that much but because, again, like with the song, the scene about to unfold would cause great emotion and nervousness to the protagonist in a movie or novel. All kinds of clichéd thoughts ran through my head – I imagine. Surely, I wondered whether the boy would still be as cute, whether we would have any special connection as a remnant of our idyllic childhood, whether, of course, he would have some of the old feelings for me.

And, then, the unimaginable happened. We met and I did not recognize him. He could have been the grown version of any little boy. He was an ordinary youngish man at the very delicate and crucial moment of crossing over into a fully gown, nearly middle-aged man. I am sure and I have it confirmed that, by others, he is considered a relatively handsome man. But, we met and I kept looking at him, seeing nothing or, rather, a mask which to me was more disturbing than the Joker or whatever other horrific character. He kept saying nice and reasonable things but to me, it seemed that he talked without opening his mouth. He smiled but his eyes did not change. I had the unnerving certainty that if I looked through his eyes, through his mouth, I would see the other end of the street. As would happen with a cardboard cutout. No sign of the former person remained. They had been erased, one by one, without a trace.

And, then, I detected similar subtle changes in others, especially people in their 30s, the most beautiful period but also the bridge from youth to full adulthood. I am not referring to big protruding bellies, balding heads, or wrinkles which are fine, may even be attractive on the right person. Actually, on certain people, these defects often constitute the key to their appeal. I am alluding to nearly imperceptible changes that make an enormous difference in the effect of the whole. Limp hair, extinguished eyes, downturned mouths, details which could go unnoticed if they didn’t belie something more profound than physical change. The eyes’ luster, for instance. The desire to hide the real person behind them for the sake of convenience and a smoother path, perhaps, for whatever reason that urges one to want to show less or deceive, in the worst case scenario. I imagine the light growing dimmer and dimmer with each deception and retreat as the person recedes after each mask until turning into an invisible point that disappears. The light is out. No makeup, no plastic surgery can hide what has died inside. Or what was always missing. On the contrary, they only vividly and unpleasantly uncover the superficiality of one’s efforts or the quiet renunciation of one’s power, the subtle or loud submission to others’ and life’s coercions. An order obeyed that betrays your own beliefs, a job disliked but continued for the sake of money alone, friends kept close for material benefits rather than real affinity, a partner selected for an illusory and still inexistent sense of safety and comfort rather than genuine love or respect, a façade chosen for the sake of others slowly pushing down and suffocating the real person within.

An objectively attractive but lifeless body, flaccid, an artificially pumped-up one lacking vitality or content, a made-up face with no light emanating from it, perfect hair, straightened into submission or curled into “playfulness,” without a trace of naturalness, all betray the simple truth that there are no shortcuts to beauty as there are none to life. What produces beauty, which cannot be summed up by symmetry or something equally technical but only by the feeling received, is life, an energy that cannot be reached or fully explained by words. Something truly healthy underneath, whatever that is. Just as trees or flowers need a rich and fertile soil to grow and bloom not just the external trimming and cutting of their branches or leaves. What feeds one depends on an individual’s needs but exposure to beauty, its cultivation in whatever form, a sense of freedom, fairness with oneself and consequently with others cannot hurt.

Another childhood friend comes to mind, a girl this time. Though she has not treated herself carefully, at times recklessly I would say, she looks the same as the day we first met, twentysomething years ago. Anyone who knew her as a little girl, would undoubtedly recognize her now. She has done whatever she wanted, both nourishing and destructive. Yet, intact, she looks unmistakably herself, exotic and strange, vaguely reminiscent of some Latin American or North African country, filled with ripe and rich fruits.

“Truth is beauty, beauty is truth,” John Keats wrote and I never understood that such a profound statement can also be fairly skin-deep.

by Kleitia Vaso