Chronicles of Fredrick D. Suama' Part 6: There was one person that I found it hard to approach and she was Parvin
February 23, 2007
It was Parvin that found me immersed in my blood in the bathroom. She managed to get me into hospital in time.
Five weeks before my suicide attempt something bewildering ( for want of a better term) took place in me that changed me forever.
Monica was staying with me. We had dinner and smoked and as usual she started exploring my record collection, playing a track here and there. I started feeling dizzy and nauseated. In my left side, around the heart area, a strong prickling sensation moved across my upper ribs. Muscles, veins, arteries seemed like they were contracting and expanding at the same time. At first I thought it was something in the food that I ate but Monica wasn't complaining. I went to the bathroom and while splashing my face with cold water I saw a few reflections of me in the mirror. I thought it was the steam from our recent bath that still lingered on and had distorted and multiplied my image. So I wiped the mirror but instead I saw three distinct reflections of me. Then my heart felt heavy, heavier than the rest of my body as if it was going to tilt me to its side. I can never describe the feelings that my heart was experiencing. It was a mixture of guilt, shame and a pain that until then I knew nothing of; it was vast, as if all the pain and suffering in the world was resonating in and around that small area. I didn't know how to stop the torrents of pain. Tears poured from my eyes and I began to sob uncontrollably. I sat down on the bathroom floor. I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't know anything about this sickness. The memories of the last sixteen months slowly began to appear before my eyes like the reel of a dirty film, as if there was a direct link between those events and what was happening to me. Who was controlling my memory? The events were segueing from one filthy scene to another. I still wasn't quite sure what was taking place in me. A feeling of emptiness overcame me and I got scared. It was an existential emptiness, like the hollowness of the universe where there is no life or purpose, but darkness and stray meteorites drifting aimlessly till they crash and burn. Emptiness followed by guilt. I felt responsible for this pain that I was experiencing deep inside. It was like a whirlpool it was sucking me in. My heart was thumping rapidly. I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. I put my hand over it and tried to contain it, calm it.
The euphonious music playing in the background suddenly made me more ashamed of myself, its melody passing harsh judgment on me. All those sexual encounters that I had with various women over the last sixteen months began to stare me in the eyes as defeats rather than conquests, failures to have a permanent relationship. I saw myself as dirty and cheap. Someone who was totally lost in the midst of his pleasures and fantasies and had become a sexual pervert as the result. I had a definite vision about my life, which I had abandoned as soon as the first storm of life began to swirl around me. I also had betrayed my family name and the tradition that I was trying to uphold. Although circumstances had forced me to quit my job and my career was obliterated, they were not to blame for the person I had become. I was trying to fill the emptiness of my existence by going from one relationship to another, as if it was the only remedy for it. I was only depleting myself from any genuine love that I was able to give to the right person.
I got up to see my reflection but this time each reflection was slightly different from the next. I looked uglier, more creepy and sinister, similar to the representation of the devil in some alchemical paintings. I went into a state of panic. I asked Monica to leave the flat. I had my face covered with the towel as if she could see how demonic I looked.
I realized the change in my image was analogous to the degradation of my actions and behaviour in the last sixteen months. I had become like a beast, more depraved than my enemies that I renounced as evil. I had betrayed other people's trust. I just could not blame any one but myself for it. My conduct in this wretched last sixteen months had resulted in the revolt of my conscious against my unscrupulous conduct.
Then, all those verses from the Bible and the Koran that I had memorised began to scream in my ears to deafening effect. I began to see the superficiality of my search for God, how I had used the scriptures in order to justify my terrible actions. I had deceived myself in thinking that I was drawing nearer to the divine; but had in fact become promiscuous and profane. The screams were piercing my eardrums and I could do nothing to stop it. I pressed hard against my ears with my shaking hands and crashed on the floor in great despair, hoping slowly to metamorphose into a lizard and crawl into the tiniest cracks and disappear, or better still, melt away and die.
I stayed home for several days. My heartbeat had returned to normal but I had become scared of it, as if I had no power over it and thought that it could erupt again at will. Just as I was beginning to feel somewhat better, I suddenly saw my reflection in the mirror. Now there was only one reflection of me but a reflection that I could not recognize anymore. I kept looking into my eyes but it seemed I was staring into someone else's eyes. I was so frightened thinking it was my confused state of mind that prevented me from seeing myself. The next day I looked into the mirror and the same thing happened. Gradually I realized that I could see everything around me but myself, my face in particular. There was also a distance between me and my body like it was detached and belonged to another person. I could see and recognize myself only in parts and not as a whole. My intelligence was intact, for I could come to these disturbing conclusions about myself, but my mind no longer registered me as a whole, therefore my image was not projected any more.
* * *
I believed my problem was moral and the solution to it had to be a moral one. The standard of correcting the wrongs in our household was always clear. My siblings and I were taught that when we asked for somebody's forgiveness, because of some harm we had caused them, we should also ask if there was anything we could do for them. Asking for forgiveness, my mother used to say, was for your own peace of mind but you also had to show that you really cared for that person in some practical way. In this way not only you would get your peace of mind back but also gain their trust and you'd bring true healing to your soul as well. It was clear to me that I had to track down all those people that I had caused any grief and ask for their forgiveness and make myself available to assist them in any way. I thought perhaps in this way my face would return to me. I couldn't think of any thing else to do. It was my immorality that had created such a state of pandemonium in me and I had to do my penance for my terrible actions in order to restore order and harmony in my life again.
The people who could have held any grievances were mainly women I slept with. A few exceptions being some embassy workers against whom I played dirty office politics to get the last position I was in. I managed to find most of them. Some listened to me in puzzlement. Some quietly nodded their heads perhaps merely to appease me, and some even laughed at me thinking I'd become a moral crusader or a convert to some religious order. I didn't blame them. They couldn't possibly fathom what I had gone through. However, almost all of them didn't refuse my offer of help, which pleased me greatly. One person was in the process of moving and asked me to assist with shifting furniture. Another asked me to lend a hand with gardening, another with painting a house, child minding, shopping, washing and other manual labour. One person asked me for a small loan of money. I fully gave myself to all these activities with great contrition, thinking that after performing my penance everything would fall into place.
There was one person that I found it hard to approach and she was Parvin. Finally I found enough courage in me to talk to her. I told her about all those lewd thoughts that I had about her, despite the fact that she looked at me and treated me like her son. She stared at me in a terrifying silence. I thought she would never forgive me or would be angry and disappointed with me, which she had every right to be. I broke the nebulous silence by saying that I had betrayed Rocky and let her down.
'I never thought of you like that Fred', she told me.
'I don't think the person you're describing is you', she added.
'Who was it then?' I asked.
'I don't know but not you. You don't strike me as a Peeping Tom. I think something got hold of you. I know you smoke. And you have a lot of free time on your hands. When your guard is down lot of unpleasant things can creep into the imagination, in your case it was Eros perhaps. It can happen to anybody. Have you had these problems before?'
'I didn't think so. Do you still smoke?
'I've stopped smoking and drinking.'
'Good. Do you still have those thoughts.'
'No. Not at all. I don't know where they came from. I hate myself for it. They weren't just thoughts. I slept with a lot of women too. I didn't care if they were married or not. I never was a womaniser. I didn't come to this country for these things.' I told her.
'Don't blame yourself too much. Most of us feel homeless and confused. And some of us react differently to our uprootedness. We try to compensate for our sense of loss in all the wrong places. I'd say you're lucky to examine your actions sooner than later.'
I was quite taken by Parvin's kind and sensitive response to me. She suddenly stepped forward and grabbed my head and kissed it. It was the most beautiful kiss that I ever had. 'You're still like Rocky to me,' she said. In one fleeting moment my perception changed and I began noticing something in her that I couldn't see before; and that was her real self, her soul perhaps, it was pure, ethereal, beyond anything I'd seen or felt before and it radiated all around her. I wanted to hold on to that moment forever and could see everybody like that. It was a glimpse into a reality that I knew nothing of. I did ask Parvin if there was anything I could help her with, she said yes, if I remained Rocky's friend? Rocky now lived in Köln with Anna. I told her that it was a privilege to be Rocky's friend. However, I was still so ashamed of this literal loss of my face that I couldn't tell her or any one about. I didn't know how people would have reacted to me. I didn't know what I expected them to say to me either. Whenever I put myself in their shoes I became speechless, specially when I sounded sane and nothing seemed to missing of me from the outside
There were two people still left on my list that I hadn't spoken to, they were Jo and Maria. I wrote a letter to Maria and expressed my regret about our relationship, how it could have been better for both of us if we were committed to each other. I never heard back from her. Jo replied to my letter. She said that Meher Baba had gone through a horrendous shake-up in his consciousness which led to the discovery of his purpose on earth.
I asked Jo to forgive me for seducing her to sleep with me when she clearly told me that she wanted to follow her guru's moral precepts on sex. Jo wrote the most sympathetic and beautiful letter. She was most understanding and illuminating.
Jo wanted me to welcome the changes that my consciousness had brought forth. She strongly had a belief that human consciousness renews itself at every possible opportunity whether we liked it not. She said that everything was working out for the better and that the universe is primarily a moral universe. Those people whose consciousness were inclined toward this cosmic morality but err, are given at least another chance to come back to their real self and purpose. She said that she liked me and wanted us to keep in touch and to write to her about the changes I was experiencing in this new me. She felt deeply about our short friendship, during which she felt respected and loved. She emphasised that I should not look at myself with shame or guilt any more. She said the mind can play all sorts of tricks on us and my consciousness has triumphed over the treachery and illusions of my mind. She said not to allow the experiences of the last sixteen months burden my conscious any more for they neither could tarnish whatever had gone before or what will come after. She said that I had found the real me and to celebrate and be thankful.
Jo was working with a group of Meher Baba's devotees and they were walking from village to village, feeding the hungry, teaching the kids, and telling people about the message of love and unity that Meher Baba always preached. Jo said that she had made up her mind to stay celibate and devote herself to promote the legacy of her guru which was to serve humanity selflessly.
I knew Meher Baba abstained from talking for the rest of his life after that sudden, agonising spiritual experience, and only communicated through an alphabet board. I thought maybe that experience resulted in him losing his voice, otherwise why wouldn't he speak. As a spiritual guru his voice would have been a great asset by which to guide and instruct his followers. I also knew that he never told the reason for not speaking, not even to his close disciples. He said on occasions that he was going to break his vow of silence but he never did. He probably hoped that his voice was going to come back to him but it never did.
I still didn't tell Jo about my loss of face.
Every so often I looked at myself in my small pocket mirror but there was no sign that the memory of my face was returning to me. Gradually in fact I began to feel strangely different. My facial expressions were getting out of synch with the words that I spoke. My voice was also beginning to lose its tonal characteristic. It was becoming more devoid of emotional expressions. Yet the sensations in my heart were increasing and I was becoming more aware of it than any other organ in my body. Yet, I was feeling more and more vulnerable at the same time as if the heart's boundaries were in a foreign land, a holy land, unknown to me and I had to discover it and connect with it in order to feel protected and free. I was beginning to understand heartily now, what it was like to be truly in exile. Not so much me exiled in my own heart but the heart exiled in me. We were like two opposing forces that needed reconciliation, understanding and respect, but now it was the heart's turn to lead my life and I had no choice but to follow, for I didn't know what I looked like any more or where I should be leading to!
I waited for some weeks to see if my face was returning to me but it wasn't. This is when I realised that I couldn't go on any further. I believed I was a changed person. I had admitted my wrongs and made conscious efforts to correct them, perhaps more than any body that I'd ever known. I believed this recent moral upheaval in me had changed me inside out, which was necessary. I thanked whatever force brought that about. There was no way that I was going back to my previously depraved lifestyle. I was beginning to see the good opportunities that were all around me, to which I was so oblivious. I could engage in learning languages something I always enjoyed, volunteer my services to human rights organizations, help refugees find their footing in their new country, even do some further study at university. The opportunities were endless. I was more than happy to give myself up to any of them, only if I could get my face back. Instead I was drifting little by little away from my own identity into a rough sea of uncertainty about who I was. When those people that I knew acknowledged me on the street it sometime surprised me and sometimes it frightened me. I was experiencing people differently too. When they spoke to me I saw a person other than the person who was talking to me sometimes. Even if they just wanted to talk to me about the weather. Words no longer were a fortified castle that people could hide behind. For this reason my contact with people was declining, for no longer could I give them the clichéd responses they expected of me. As with those people that I knew, my knowledge of them enabled me to relate to them, but I was not able to retain the same level of relationship as before for my memory did not record me in the moment any more.
Yet, to my astonishment I was becoming super aware of my natural surroundings: the shape of trees, the colour of their leaves, the texture of their bark and the unique scent that they gave out, the birds either in flight or hopping around chirping, cooing, carolling or foraging, the smell of the breeze at different times of the day, all were making deep impressions on me as if for the first time I was noticing the effects they were emitting into the world. These impressions that I felt so strongly in my heart, also added a level of angst and inadequacy to me for I didn't know how to respond to all these feelings that were entering me. I was becoming more in harmony with nature but discordant with people.
I started perceiving those people that I thought I knew intimately differently: Christine, Dietrich, Rose, Rocky, all appeared to me as people that I had to get to know all over again. Although Zia was dead but I had spent a long time thinking about him and I came to very different conclusions about his lonely fate, his addiction to alcohol, and divorce from Dietrich. Now that I didn't see myself, neither my insecurity nor prejudices blocked my insight into another human being.
The whole dimension of my social life had been turned upside down. On the one hand it was declining but on the other it was becoming more meaningful.
I used to believe that the heart was the centre between me and the world. Now the heart (and me in it) faced the world with nothing in the middle.
Not only did I accept the changes in me but welcomed them, no matter how painful, for they made me see the side of me that was choked by worldly pursuits and ambitions. My loss of face was making something new out of me, forcing me to experience things very differently. I wasn't ready to go along with it. I felt I was no longer in control of my life. After all who was this me any more? What was the point in seeing the world in this unique way when I couldn't see myself as a whole but only in parts.
I was in an impasse. I wished I had turned totally blind for it would have been a much more familiar world. I would have happily continued living without my sight like any other blind person, but when I had my total vision and couldn't see myself as me, it was perplexing and mortifying.
It was the spirit of Rabban that I had to consult as the last resort. After all he inspired me to leave my homeland. I always had this presentiment that he was with me. I knew that I couldn't take any further step, and that I had reached a deadlock, a dark abyss. Even if the political situation changed back home and I was offered my job back at the embassy I couldn't continue to work as a diplomat, something that I was good at now seemed so beyond my capacity. I needed my face back if I wanted to continue as normal.
I asked Rabban to show me the way. I told him that I wasn't going away until I had an answer. I knelt in silence. Hours passed. I was getting hungry and tired but I waited. I knew the monastic practices of monks, how they went on fasting and praying for days. So I wasn't going to give up easily. It was after the tenth hour of my silent contemplation that I heard a voice uttering the word "leave".
I spent a lot of time thinking about this utterance and its meaning, looking at it from all possible angles. I couldn't interpret it any other way than leaving this world altogether. I agreed with it. I believed that it was the only cure for me. Since my face had left me for reasons unknown to me and as the result I was becoming this other person and the whole meaning of my world was changing, leaving seemed like the best option. I thanked him for pointing to the best possible solution for me. There was nothing that any body could have done for me. This was my own disease that had no cure.
It was two weeks before my twenty eighth birthday that I wrote my suicide note. Out of shame I didn't tell the real reason behind ending my life. I only wrote down that I was depressed (which was also true) and that I couldn't see any future for me in exile. In detail I wrote down my funeral arrangement and asked Rose and Parvin to organise it. I withdrew whatever money I had left in my bank account (which was a dismal amount) and left it beside my suicide note. I wasn't sure if it was going to cover all the expenses of the funeral. So I left my parents' contact details for reimbursement of any extra cost that might be incurred. I had nothing to leave for any one except my large record collection. So I bequeathed it to Rocky, who liked many of my records and was overly generous during our friendship. I wished to be cremated, some of my ashes scattered over the Rhine, my favourite river, and the rest sent home to my family.
I filled my bathtub with hot water, and put on a record that I had listened to from time to time whenever I was on my own. Out of all the music that I had collected and listened to, this one seemed to express me the best. Despite the vicissitudes of my circumstances it connected me with something deep inside that was pure, untouched and undisturbed by anything. I knew that I didn't have access to this part of me but yet I knew that it was there because music was one of its languages and I saw myself as rooted in both its soothing melody and endless mystery.
With a razor blade I slit both my wrists and lay in the bathtub bleeding. I was happy in an absurd way. I gave out a big, harsh, grating laugh that made my hair stand on end. I wished things had worked out differently for me. I believed I had done all that I could and that I had chosen the best way out. Nothing in life had prepared me for this shocking experience, a destiny that I had no way of measuring its distance nor the ability to see myself along its path. This was a strange form of blindness except that I could see everything else but myself. After bleeding awhile I grew weaker and my mind scanned over some old, forgotten, memories of its own accord as if it wanted to recap with its real self before departing. These memories were different. They were mainly episodes from my childhood. They were the memories that had faded from my immediate awareness and if they once held any meaning or significance they had gradually been lost to those other things in life that I deemed more important. They were very much there, intact, but buried somewhere deep in my psyche, now feeling safe enough to surface, as I no longer could oppose a threat.
I saw myself vividly again as a five-year-old child. My parents were arguing. I was discreetly watching through the window. I was worried, my heart beating fast, thinking they were going to come out of that room and leave the house and never come back home. I loved them both very much. I ran and grabbed a padlock and locked the door behind them. When they tried unsuccessfully to get out, I shouted that unless they were friends again I wasn't going to let them out. Mum began to cry and assured me that they were friends and weren't going to fight any more. We began to stare into each others' eyes through that small, square window for several minutes. I felt I could trust them again. Dad looked at me with some guilt. They both looked like they had forgotten what they were arguing about, their faces were next to each other, almost touching as they peered at me, and seeing them as close to each other as that gave me a feeling of joy. I opened the door for them and mum came out and sat me on her lap and smothered me with kisses. Dad made us all cherry juice with ice. He wore his funny, long, baggy pyjamas and one minute there was an expression of regret on his face and another minute love and concern. I knew I had succeeded in reconciling them.
The memories of our picnics by the Karaj river, as serenely as its waters cascaded into my mind. Granny used to play her daf and tonbak all those happy, folk songs. She held the daf in her hands like a pro, and I remembered how much I loved her. Later I learned the accordion so I could play with her. The first song I learned on it was her favourite one, a happy Azari tune that she always played and sang. She used to say that it reminded her of the first time she and grandpa met at her sister's wedding. We practiced and played together and created a good repertoire of songs for different occasions. Mum sang along sometimes. She had a beautiful voice. The adjacent onlookers gathered around us and joined in the clapping and dancing. They called us the dynamic duo.
I remembered the day I tried to swim across the river, ignoring the warning signs and how the strong current loosened my grip and I began floating down the river. It was a total stranger that spotted me and plunged into the river to rescue me as I was tossing and turning and shouting for help, my body hitting against the jagged rocks of the river. He caught me and dragged me out of the river. My body was battered, bruised and I had cuts in various places. They took me to the local hospital where the nurse attended my wounds. She was so kind and beautiful. She made me promise not to swim in the river without supervision. She said the river had drowned many children.
My nickname, the keeper of secrets echoed in my ears. I don't know whether that was actually me or I was told to believe that I kept people's secrets. Nevertheless that became a strong attribute of mine. People told me their secrets and I guarded them as my own. They trusted me. Kids in the neighbourhood, students in the classroom and relatives no longer whispered any family secrets when I was around.
I remembered the excitement of going to the seaside one summer. Dad always invited a relative to come along, some one who was lonely and couldn't afford a holiday and there were quite a few of those less fortunate people among our relatives. That year it was Cadry's turn. She was one of dad's distance relative. A divorcee, who lived on her own in the south of the capital. She came to the house with a big, black, bruise over her right eye. She told us that her ex husband had beaten her up. He still paid her money as she couldn't financially support herself and he made demands on her. Mum asked her if she wanted to work in our home and be paid for it. She gladly agreed. Cadry became a member of our household. She helped with cooking and washing and other domestic duties and stayed overnight whenever she wished and told her ex husband to bugger off.
I was back in Kakh street again. I was in my early teens walking home when the lady in black chador asked me where the doctor's clinic was. She was in great pain. She excused herself and sat on the ground. The pain was too much for her. I began feeling her pain, the pain of despair and helplessness. I wished I had some kind of magical power that made her pain go away instantly. I was powerless and weak and her pain was stronger than both of us. I cursed the universe and God. The only thing I could do for her was to hailed a cab.
In all those memories I saw a reconnection of me with something that was authentically me. The self that I had lost touch with, returned to me once more. I was more in tune with myself then, than any other time in my life. Was my spirit paying the final eulogy to myself?
I drifted into another world. This time it was not another memory of the past.
I found myself gliding all of a sudden over a vast landscape that sprawled endlessly. The faster I drifted over it the more it seemed to be of it. I hadn't seen a place like this before. The land looked arid but there were trees with dark green colours. The soil was reddish brown. I noticed a large flock of huge black birds flying next to me. They had big round heads and powerful, long curved bills. We glided along together and they made large grating noises but I didn't feel threatened by them, but rather a sense of kinship. They suddenly changed their course of flight and we separated. The landscape began to change. I was now flying over a dense forest with high rock formations and long waterfalls. This time a small flock of white birds joined me in this flight and we flew together buoyantly for a while. They had bulky head and after some rasping screeches, in a spiralling glide, descended and disappeared into the thick foliage of the forest.
I flew into a hue of chrome red, like plunging into a majestic sunset, and it provoked a series of new sensation in me that were ethereal. I came out and found myself hovering over a suburb with auburn roof tiles. I could feel the place as I stood suspended over it. It was noon and the sun shone intensely over everything. There was not a soul on the streets, as if every one was having a siesta. Despite the stifling heat, there was a feeling of tranquillity and peacefulness.
It was at this stage that I passed out.
As I opened my eyes I saw Parvin, Rose and Rocky around me. Parvin came to return the spare key I had given her. Thinking I was out she entered the flat only to find me lying unconscious in the bathroom.
* * *
While recovering in hospital I had time to think about my failed suicide attempt and whether I should plan another one or not. I also had time to reflect on those memories and dreams that visited me prior to fainting. Once again I felt a sense of shame, realizing even more that my thoughts and actions in the last sixteen months had betrayed me, my family and friends. The fact that the real me was still there I couldn't deny. I thought if the real me was still there, it also means that one day it could come out and I could see myself not only as I looked liked on the outside but what I really looked like on the inside as well.
The last dream seemed more like a vision than a dream, like a solemn religious ceremony it exuded equanimity and awe in me. It oozed out a sense of wonder and adventure, similar to how I felt before my departure to take up my diplomatic post in Germany. I didn't know quite what its significance was but I strongly believed that it contained a message for me. What if, I thought, the word "leave" didn't mean that I must end my life and leave this world? What if it meant that I should leave Germany? Perhaps the unusual landscape was a clue to the land that awaited me, and that I should seek to find it. Did something in me know of a place that I didn't know? As all of bizarre things had happened to me in the last several weeks that I couldn't dismiss this new freaky idea. What if such a place did exist? Should I leave then? How could I when I still didn't hold a travelling document? Why should I go there? Would I get my face back there? Why not here? All sorts of questions were going through my mind and all depended on whether such a place that emerged in my dream existed at all.
As soon as I was discharged from the hospital I went over atlases and travel books of all those countries that I didn't know much about. Finally I narrowed the landscape to a few places. The flora and fauna in the dream had uncanny similarities with the flora and fauna of certain places in the Oceania, Australia to be exact. Comment