Free Association

by Kleitia Vaso

Sometimes, it is best not to give in. Not even to me. Or you. Giving in to spoken or silent requests reminds me of a weaker Odysseus succumbing to the sirens’ songs. In our seemingly less heroic time, sirens are aplenty but there are barely any heroes who can resist them. Beautiful monsters galore tempting you to divulge all your secrets, endless shortcuts to getting what you want without the endless work, instagrammable lives that might convince you that even your own life, the one you know so painfully well, is exactly like the ones depicted in the pages of the magazine. The virtual pages that is. So convincing, in fact, that you might even treat yourself as a one-dimensional paper image or an intangible one made of pixels. Yet, the actual life supposedly birthing the image, the work in the background, is the point and their semblance, appreciated and valued by others, a short fix. A short fix leading to another and another in an empty, fruitless cycle which will never suffice to grant life meaning.

Yet, despite dazzling technological innovations and streamlined virtual lives, the mother siren from which all these younger ones proliferate is as old as the world and fairly plain. As all mothers, it is difficult to pinpoint but let’s name her the desire to please others. Not necessarily out of a profoundly altruistic urge but mainly so as to gain a brief moment of happiness, sufficient affirmation to sustain our belief that we are all right. This need does not only apply to those who obviously and desperately cater to other’s wishes and ideas. It also includes those apparently rebel souls who sigh, protest, oppose the status quo. Proclaimed atheists, who by their professed disbelief, are as tied to God as religious fanatics.  And, the others are not a distant faceless crowd. Some, yes, but not all of those who request things from us. Sometimes, the bitterest enemies are those closest to us, the ones who perhaps love us the most, those who, maybe, we love the most.

The right amount to give and take cannot be determined by anybody but oneself. There are no safe limits, no recipes and measured advice. The only tell-tale sign might be the effect produced. The aftermath of granting a favor, accepting a change needed or wanted by another, acting with other faces in your mind determining your steps, can assume many shapes: euphoria, pleasure, sadness or the sneaking suspicion of having been robbed.

I was robbed once. Nothing big. Just my bag and a wallet both of which probably cost much more than their contents. This petty theft happened during a trip with someone with whom I was pretending to be friends. We both were, so, at least, it was reciprocal. As forced friendships go, we could not just sit and have a conversation. We had to plan and “be engaged” in a time-and-energy-consuming activity.  The fun, in this case, consisted of pedal-boating on a lake. Eager to start – and finish - we ran towards the lake and left our belongings in the car. We were laughing and talking – about what I will never remember as we were only pretending and our conversations were as fake as our friendship. Or, is it the other way around? All of a sudden, I felt a pang in my heart, an anxiety that came out of nowhere. The sensation of my stomach sinking might have been related to the calmness of the lake and the growing distance from the shore but also the certainty, at that moment, that I would not find my bag once we returned. Not only that but also the knowledge that the theft was taking place at the precise moment I felt it. And, that’s the way it was. I cannot confirm whether it happened at that fateful moment but I don’t really need to. In retrospect, I suppose my bag was the price I paid the gods for pretending, even to myself, that I could build a friendship with someone I did not particularly like. Since then, I have had several dreams in which I forgot or lost my bag. One such a dream I remember very vividly as it happened during a time in which I had the looming and sinking sensation that I was falling in love.

Another thing I will not soon forget is my puzzlement and the ambiguous bittersweet taste left by the scene in which Anna and Vronsky first make love. The scene in the novel, not the movie. Make love does not even begin to describe what happens, actually. It’s simply a polite turn of phrase. The sad and gloomy description better fits the scene of a dragged-out crime. Anna feels as though she has been murdered and this sad realization from which she tries to flee, assumes a definite shape in a later scene, the horse race. Here, Anna looks on as Vronsky, the sportsman, who actually adores and loves his horse, perhaps more so than Anna, in an effort to win, inadvertently kills it. But, alas, at this time, she is only worried about him and fails to read the signs and symbols. At times we are Vronsky, at others Anna, but the law of equilibrium does not shift depending on which position we choose on the scales.

I remember someone who I liked once continuously asked to know more about my past. Anything, even small, seemingly unimportant details from my childhood. He thought I was excessively guarded and somewhat mysterious, half-meaning it and half-hoping that I would inevitably prove him wrong. What relief disappointment brings! Initially, I was torn between the opposing desires of sharing something with another or keeping it safeguarded, forever mine. Yet, even as I considered erring on the cautious side, I felt expansive during that period and was certain I would do what was asked of me. I was afflicted by the temporary inability of refusing a favor then. So, voluntarily, I gathered a few pictures forming a partial personal timeline and awkwardly showed them to my friend. He looked at them carefully, appreciating the gesture but, once finished, said: “I feel like I know you better but actually looking at what I had imagined does not make me like you more.” Surprised by the unexpected and somewhat brutal response, I felt betrayed.

But, who had betrayed whom?

by Kleitia Vaso