by Kleitia Vaso

While looking at a photo in Humans of New York of four (two present, two physically absent) elderly ladies from Eastern Europe – each form a different country – who, based on the caption, regularly meet on a park bench in the city, I thought: “How nice that you have each other, that you still have people who you look forward to meeting, with whom you have things to discuss, things that perhaps awaken desire and nostalgia and maybe the thought of a more fulfilling version of the same kind of meeting on a park bench in your own respective countries.”

A sense of longing, dreaming, the simultaneous distance and closeness of being from the same region but not the same country, transform what would have been a slightly banal meeting in their birthplace into a seemingly artificial but entirely more thrilling one in a neutral land.

The completion of things, the fulfillment of nebulous, shapeless desires, dulls previously undefined and, henceforth, powerful emotions. Fulfillment inherently solidifies fog and the very act of desire hardening into a concrete shape lowers intensity. As one of relatively few people who have completed the full circuitous journey of birth city – “exile” – birth city, I must admit that the intense longing for a distant place, thing, or person does not at all match the actual confrontation with the object of desire, the truth that is found only when one dares to push things to their very outermost/innermost limit.

Existing in a neutral place, these friends can freely meet each other and speak without the many filters that may exist in the more tightly-knit circle of their homeland, in which every whisper or word may unwittingly touch someone; where every “confession,” concession, restraint would belong to a grander strategy serving to keep simultaneously close and far the people one sees nearly every day, whom one cannot physically or figuratively leave because many visible and invisible threads tie one to them. In this case – that of the four friends – distance (in terms of origin) breeds closeness. I can imagine what these four women talk about and I am certain that it is not simply petty gossip about unimportant people or factual anecdotes meant to conceal and keep dormant profound and crucial conversational topics and emotions directly related to the truth connecting or dividing two people. I cannot be certain but I suppose that they also mention feelings, longing and desire, people who have remained frozen in their memory at the precise moment of their separation, untouched by the often-uglifying closeness.

I understand and even empathize with people’s tendency to leave stories suspended at exactly this point. Their conscious or subconscious aim, I suppose, is to continue to dream, to converge on this neutral point which allows very little space for reality and a lot for feeling, imagination, embellishment, and a great and equally painful and pleasurable sense of longing; the same longing or sorrow conveyed in Baudelaire’s Swan which both kills and feeds his “ridiculous” exiles who hungrily devour sorrow. Yet, they should know that the persistently desired, longed for object is worlds away from its often imagined version.

Intuitively, rather than forcefully or correctly, I am reminded of Fiona Apple’s lines – a singer I used to love but to whose songs I haven’t listened in the past few years – directed, contemptuously, at her “head-in-the-clouds” lover: “I got my feet on the ground and I don’t go to sleep to dream.” I am reminded of these words because, despite e propensity to dream and to supply additional emotion for an often routine and lackluster reality, I believe that desires left unfulfilled too often indicate a lack of power and strength and an inability to truly live. Then, once fulfilled, if one can find the positive despite the definite form – no or little ambiguities allowed – that desire has now taken, I can consider somebody truly tough, an adjective which seems increasingly difficult to define. I am unsure whether I will always be able to recover from the often disappointing nature of fulfillment or the dream-killing closeness but I will try to reach something or someone if I truly desire them, to accept things for what they are. All of this in order to avoid an unreal life and live like some kind of Blanche DuBois, unable to face reality, forever encaged in the figurative room alone with her dreams, memories, and illusions.

Yet, I prefer these four women as they are. They are much wiser and more experienced than I and, ultimately, are at the point in their lives in which a fulfilled or unfulfilled desire is neither a whim nor an action which changes the flow of things but oxygen, necessary in order to live.

by Kleitia Vaso