The Evil Eye
The happiness following the initial physical contact with my first published book is not the kind I prefer. This unsteady state is not contentment, a general sense of well-being that pleasantly accompanies and intensifies the enjoyment of other things. Rather, it is an onslaught of emotion, aggressive and electrifying, momentarily all-consuming, a state of inebriation which you cannot entirely enjoy as you are aware of your own drunkenness. Seen in this light, I can perhaps understand people who avoid falling in love at all costs. I don’t mean the avoidance of a relationship, mind you, but the actual giving in to something that is both desired and feared. The final version of a book in one’s hand resembles the moment of a great love’s consummation and, whatever form that assumes, is both too much and not enough. And, that’s what happened. I kept looking at the book, simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed at something with so final a form. I silently encouraged myself to feel more when what I was experiencing was more than enough. Perhaps, the guise the emotion took was not the one I had anticipated. I was assailed by an anxious exuberance which I needed to scatter, spread, exhaust. Yet, oblivious, all I could do was walk back and forth from one room to the next, carrying my book with me as a little girl might do with her favorite new toy.
This dubious happiness assumed a variety of shapes in the coming days and weeks. After the first few days of the publication, I silently nodded while remembering the introduction to “Invisible Cities”, in which Calvino elegantly delineates the descent inevitably following a fulfillment, an achievement of some sort. Of course, he refers to emperors as he traces the emptiness felt after the peak but an ordinary mortal can understand that the same emotional trajectory, though perhaps less intense, is followed in the case of lesser accomplishments.
I distinctly remember a slight emptiness and anxiety in the following weeks caused, perhaps, by the not quite fulfilling sensation of having gotten what I had wished for. Against reason and my wishes, I sensed a weight, a dark heavy cloud, a nameless and thus terrifying presence. I am sure I berated myself for the inability to experience pure enjoyment, whatever that is. Yet, my unspoken vanities and fears assumed a more concrete shape when someone close, entirely unable to judge me objectively, overestimated my achievement and superstitiously wished me protection from the evil eye. The specific wish was that the eye would fail to see me. Initially, I thought the worry greatly magnified by love and laughed at the dramatic nature of the wish yet, I knew, even preceding it, that something ominous had started to take place within me.
That very night, I felt an approaching fever. I couldn’t fall asleep, an unusual occurrence which indicates a great unease, in my case, but which might have been due to the unbearable heat of those weeks. Perhaps summer is not the appropriate season for important events and emotional upheavals. The heat suffices to bring us closer to what we truly are, animals wearing clothes. Yet, summer it was. With or without the heat, I knew that I would feel unsteady in the following days and I did. I coughed, felt alternately hot and cold, excited and sluggish. First, as with all truths, I tried to deny it but there was no mistaking my yellowish and lackluster eyes, the first and surefire sign of fast-approaching sickness. Of course, I knew that this was no evil eye at play. The fever, the physical weakness, sprung from within me, a center, a target, the eye of the storm, and spread slowly in concentric ripples to the other parts of my body. I had no need of an outside eye. I was my own evil eye, physically punishing myself so as to avoid external punishment. I wondered about the fears of people who reach truly high levels of success. Yet, a moment longer and I didn’t know what I meant by success. Not what is generally meant, money, titles and all, that is certain. Getting what one wants, I suppose, is the closest definition I can muster. Nothing suffices to make us feel at ease, I know. We will always feel a certain fear accompanying anything good, punishing ourselves like sinners, even when we are not religious. No external God or church necessary, all the mechanisms are already in place, put in motion by the internal eye.
Months later, exhausted and slightly dirty from a couple of consecutive trips, I was sitting in a classroom where I could not concentrate on one single word uttered. I kept wondering if I could make it through the rest of the day which promised to be long and duty-filled. My body certainly did not feel up to it. My eyes refused to obey my insufficiently forceful command to look at the person speaking. Instead, free and irresponsible, they ventured outside which didn’t help either as everything was covered in the most dense and monotonous gray. Hopeless, I thought. Impenetrable gray, deserving of this day. Yet, so as to spite me or revive me, small rays of light began to brighten the room. Slightly more awake, I stared at the sky, sensing a rainbow emerging from the two contrasting lights. Like Sarah in Graham Greene’s “The End of the Affair” or the Young Pope of the show, I kept silently asking the sky for a rainbow, wanting, capriciously but desperately, an answer to my reply, the presence of something, its confirmation. My stubbornness yielded no fruit. Despite the implied promise, what I wanted, failed to materialize at the moment of my request.
I forgot my strange demand with a speed that matched the intensity of my previous desire. Thankful of the day’s end, I was sitting in a train compartment, looking contentedly but absentmindedly outside. Perhaps, this state most closely approaches pure happiness. The short-lived but complete freedom of an afternoon that solely belongs to you. It was while savoring this illusive and elusive freedom that the bright rainbow decided to make its appearance. No announcement and no fanfare. I don’t know whether it was the same one. Its unexpected but welcome apparition reminded me of a magical night when freed from the duties of a taxing year, I was sitting on the beach, anticipating a free and relaxing summer. Happy and inclined to see all that is right with the world, I looked up to see a cloud in an unmistakable fish shape with the full moon as its eye. It was no small ambiguous cloud but an enormous fish, scales, tail and all. It remained that way for minutes, giving me plenty of time to doubt and reconfirm its apparition. Hypnotized, I kept staring at it, not knowing whether it had anything to say, not understanding its message. After a few moments of intently looking at it, I grew tired and lowered my gaze. As I looked up again, I noticed that the fish was beginning to lose its clear contours. I could not return to the previous state and I didn’t try. The moment had passed. Despite my disinclination to subscribe to any one particular religion, I remember thinking of the signs and symbols which we never quite understand but freely interpret to give meaning to our lives. Anyway, regardless of these retrospective trimmings, the interpretation was beside the point. Its appearance sufficed and words could never do justice to the rare experience of the mute mystery and wonder.by Kleitia Vaso