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Amber Paulen

The 1st of November

Snow at Sint-Katelijneplein by John Ryan Brubaker.

A memory.

A portrait of my life six years ago, a most transitory and upheaved time, was caught on that First of November. I was the pupae in chrysalis, I was undefined. I put myself on a journey whose length was to be without end, I was just starting. I had taken my one-way ticket to Brussels, Belgium and landed and then crashed onto the black leather couch which sat in the living room of my friend (and her very tolerant flatmate.) She was also in big transition. It was as if everything I knew in those Belgium days, was what I knew of liquid flux.

Every morning I awoke in my public living room quarters, I looked to the tall glass and I thought that the grey of the sky was going to finally come down over me. Every morning was as grey as the afternoon, as grey as the hour before the sun set. That heavy grey of daytime sky swallowed the rooftops and was the tone of my months there. The grey of uncertainty and of changing tides; the clouds had gathered among the rooftops in my mind. I drank a lot of the monk’s strongest and best beer ; I smoked a lot of the neighboring country’s green bounty.

Brussels, Belgium was but a stage in my continual becoming. It was the time of convalescence.

The illness that I had to recover from was what came about by the discovery in my eye’s most clearest moments, which may or may not be summed up by writing: I had found out that I was being lied to. These lies came from what I thought to be sturdiest within me and the anger of betrayal was enough fuel to charge my individual’s will forever.

But this is not about my beginners disgust with the unfair, illogical, imbalanced workings of the “popular” world; this is about Brussels, Belgium and the First of November. The night before, being Halloween, we went out in commemoration of the hallowed pagan spirit, we drank a lot and we smoked a lot and tried to make the best of what turned out to be a lame party. But that night is not important, though that November 1 is a holiday in Catholic leaning countries, is important. Not that a day off work was much to me or my friends, not that we had any work, we were a-sail among the flux.

It was important because the rue du Page was silent. To the four winds, silence. The city slept under its cloud heavy grey and cold. I looked out the tall window, my mind like frozen jelly, and I thought that that silent stillness out there was holding us to the most confusion in here. The warmth and the warm colors, our voices and laughter were not in contrast but were the compliment.

Once awake, we were all eager to carry on the party. The first beer was opened right after coffee. We drank Bloody Marys or were they mimosas, as early as we could, we played cards until our fingers calloused, we smoked pot until our tongues went limp. A breakfast was pulled off somewhere between Irish, British and American; we feasted.

Potatoes were shredded than fried, the black sausage was put in the oven. Scramble the eggs! Pour more drinks! We ate heartily around the oval table and memory puts us in the abundant sunshine that cut through the glass at sharp angles. Roll the cigarettes! Roll a joint! The plates were cleared by the most responsible ones, more drinks were mixed than poured. The girl with the long wavy hair suggested a card game and volunteered teach us. She was wearing half a Halloween costume, a hat, some pink hair. She was the one who came early and opened the first beer, she was the head of this improvised party. The first hand was dealt and there we sat for hours. The sun blew over with grey clouds and evening went quick to night. We were drunk and stoned, exhausted, we laughed at the smallest trip of a word or off-look.

That day strikes me as an eternal day. One called up within its memory a sensory collage which could describe all of my time in Brussels, Belgium: the smell of a deck of cards worn by a hundred fingerprints, smoldering Belgian tobacco in the ashtray, the chalky taste of too much marijuana, the oil of fried eggs and potatoes left in the pan, the perfume of cool light as it hit the tall window, the smoke in the evening clouds, the silence among the web of streets, damp old stone, intermittent French voices, Europe in its finest, tallest and most elegant pose.

With this day comes the impression of so many others and I wonder, have I lived more than once? I have been more than one person in this life of a thousand lives. My greatest sense knows that she was me and that my fumbling about with the pieces like a child gone awry was the same as living my life the best I could with what I had. I’m only me. Over and over.

I used to envision the past as slide in a projector which was aimed at the back of my mind. In this way, the separateness I felt could be understood and then related, the slides were in the same projector, me. I don’t envision slides and a projector anymore. I envision my past as a multiple forked path whose paths do not necessarily begin or end with me but were trudged on as I intersected with all lives that walked the paths before. Many are paths I have created, but never singularly, never alone.

Hurray! For the First of November! For every First of November of our dogged history!


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