The Lysosome REWORKED (thanks to you all)
Posted: Saturday, September 6, 2003
Word Count: 3516
Summary: It's a silly little love story that I wrote in a flash, but I want it to become something better . . .I wonder what other writer's think?
An infomercial for very sharp knives was interrupted by a sudden harassment from my younger brother. He grabbed the half-eaten bag of chips out of my hands.
“All you do is laze about on the couch, aren’t you supposed to be writing, isn’t that why you came here in the first place?” my brother asked, “you flip channels so much I’m afraid I’ll have expensive battery bills for the remote control.” Mistaking his comment for comedy, he smiled and nodded, waiting for laughter from me.
“I’m thinking,” I replied, my eyes still on the screen. I really was. But he had a point, I could have sat thinking in front of the computer instead, it would have been better for the master’s thesis I was working on – the reason why I had arrived in Montreal, where my brother now lived, three weeks before. I needed a tightly knit argument for and against the extent to which Othello was or was not a play depicting racial undertones. Not having decided what I was going to argue yet, I instead chose to listen to a screaming salesman’s plea to purchase a knife set, and if I acted now, one free for my brother too.
“Why don’t you go out to the courtyard? I want to play X-Box.” He said between a mouthful of chips and now greasy lips.
“Good idea,” I said immediately, brushing away a rainfall of oily crumbs falling on me from around his mouth, as he stood over me, smug. I excused the fact that my brother was twenty-five and still playing video games because I was five years older and felt like a couch potato. I loved to go outside and sit in his courtyard. It was quiet and smelled fresh – just the type of environment that could relax me into a state of introspection.
I watched black drapes sway back and forth through gaping windows of the picturesque buildings that surrounded me. Raising my head, I realized that I was not rooted in a spot between soaring buildings. There was the sky. I was not alone. I don’t know if it was the tiny life rummaging, providing and sustaining inside the tangle of leaves, trees, and bushes or the tiny diamond stars embedded in black gas above me, but I was being influenced. My heart was being twisted and turned and prodded.
Beyond the courtyard I had met Gaston, someone I knew from before and hardly gave a second thought to. But now, as I sat in the quaint courtyard, with it’s opposing forces plain for me to see, I thought about him. I thought about when we first met, he and I both in the same class at university. We had a common friend, Khan. We were introduced. Then, he and I shared short, trivial talk about things that didn’t seem to matter in the long run. How was I to know that when I bumped into him six years later, he would begin to matter?
Impatiently swatting a buzzing insect away from my ear, I thought about how we had met again, after our unintentional lull. I still only saw him as a friend, but the more I looked into his eyes, the more I realized that things had changed. I hardly noticed him when studying together in the library, amidst a mess of backpacks and borrowed notes, but he hadn’t towered over me then, and now I felt as grown up as he appeared. He had become more than just a friend now. We had made love. I dared to act in the moment, despite my unease, allowing the energy between us to dictate our limitations rather the fears inside my head. I blocked everything out except for us. We were all alone.
Only in the courtyard could I sit alone and think about that. About how his eyes steadily seared into mine like a steak that had been branded by a hot grill over burning coals. The once strict, angular nature of our relationship had been reduced and cushioned to lay over a mattress of citrus, oranges and lemons. Now, it was sweet and sour.
“I used to have a real crush on you, Sairah,” he told me with hungry eyes, but then he caught himself and looked away. I raised an eyebrow.
“Really.” I stated, rather than asking. I felt a grin creeping up, but I fought to control it. My purpose for my coolness was dualistic – I wanted to maintain his impression of me and I wanted to hear more.
“Really. You do know how to tease a man and leave him hanging you know. When we were in school I never thought that you’d let me kiss you let alone let me kiss your bellybutton on an open balcony.”
“We are adults now,” I said mischievously. “We were young when we were in school. I was . . .?” I leaned down to kiss his chest, it smelled like chocolate, probably from the soft and sexy food fight we had had earlier inside after dinner.
“I was 22 and you were 24,” he said, delicately placing his hands on my bare brown shoulders. A cool breeze provided relief from the sticky heat outside. My heart may as well have been the palm of a seasoned tabla player, because it beat nonstop, a beat strong and steady enough to carry the tempo for at least three more instruments. Like the red in my cheeks, his effect on me, even on a physiological level, was as unexpected as it was invigorating. I had no idea that he would ever become anything more to me beyond an acquaintance.
“You used to call me, we spoke on the phone a couple times?” I asked him, wincing inside in case I was confusing him with someone else.
“I told you that I liked you. I thought you were the prettiest girl in school.”
“You did not, there were others” I said taking a sip of the Alsacian white wine that he brought. I knew that he would argue that I was the one, better than the others –what else was he to say? He wasn’t going to insult me, especially not in front of my face. There were others, but a warm breeze had just passed, and he was smart enough to identify my statement as a frivolous comment, not meant for further analysis, like a rhetorical question. Ignoring my plea to call attention to insecurity, he boosted my confidence in the fashion of a minimalist. And at that I heralded him not only gorgeous, brilliant, kind and fun, but also as a man who understood me. Perhaps I was giving him too much credit, but I didn’t care.
I could feel it in my knees when he held my hand, my face felt hot and flushed when he called my cell phone to tell me that he was outside and that he was parked illegally and would I please bring my lipstick into the car to apply it there because he was dying to see me. I forgot about the bachelors I had promised to date. I had found Gaston. I thought, ‘so this is love!’. A laugh escaped from my insides, standing in the middle of the courtyard.
Gaston was a heart surgeon. He always wanted to be a surgeon; I remember that from our school days. But when I met him again, I found that he chose the heart as his specialty. On our dates he apologized when loud beeps escaped from his pager. After receiving a page, he would have to call the hospital immediately.
“Hello? This is Gaston Briganza.”
“Excuse me? Who?”
“Oh! I’m sorry doctor. Just calling to let you know that we did receive conformation that your med student, Dr. Rally is indeed on call this evening to prepare for the transplants tomorrow.”
And then the conversation would go on for a minute or two. He would tell the nurses how much more medication a particular patient needed, and then we would go back to eating mangoes on my balcony, across the street from my brother’s courtyard.
“I like you,” he would sigh, letting me caress his feet with my own and stroking the back of my hands with his long, meticulously clean fingers. “I want to –“
“I like you too” I interrupted. The moment felt perfect. It was silky and clean to love him. He deserved the best of me, he was kind and intelligent and made me laugh and insisted that he walk on the outside of the sidewalk with his arm around me. We danced in clubs and wore our Lacoste shirts untucked over our jeans.
“I don’t want you to hate me later, nor do I want to hurt you,” he said, his eyes narrowing, looking down to focus on his own fingers caressing my hand. I didn’t say anything. It had happened so fast. We met, we danced, he called me and we met again. And then again, and now we were seeing each other every night. But I was leaving. I told him that we were both grown and intelligent enough to handle what was happening to us, and it sounded so good coming from my lips that I gave myself a little longer to actually ponder whether it was a true statement or not. And then he told me something that I couldn’t refute.
“Sairah, I know that you are passionate about your religion. I think that you are the most perfect girl for me, I can tell you anything. When you come into the room, my jaw drops, you are so intelligent, honest, kind – everything that I want – that’s you. But I don’t think that I’m the best man for you,” his eyes glazed over, looked away and then he ran his fingers through his hair as if he was massaging his scalp. “I know that you want someone who is the same religion as you. Don’t you?”
I nodded my head yes. That was what I always imagined when it came to being serious with anyone. I imagined going to my mosque with my husband and he taking the children when I wanted to socialize or the two of us talking to friends in the foyer. I imagined leaving together and then going out for a bite to eat with friends. That’s what married couples did. It was the only picture that I had in my mind when it came to marriage. It was what my parents did, and my friends did.
“I want to marry you Sairah. We have a connection, I can tell you anything. But religion is going to be a problem.”
My eyes were getting heavy. I watched him lean forward and hold his head in his hands. I thought, ‘he’s serious, he’s thinking’.
I decided to enjoy him for the short while that I had with him. I wanted to forget that I was leaving in three days, and I decided to put the conversation we had had about our future on hold for a while.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” I asked. Since our first kiss, we had seen each other everyday despite the fact that he had to wake up at five-thirty every morning and head to the hospital.
“I want to. But I’m exhausted.”
“Of course, you haven’t had proper sleep for the past week.”
“It’s catching up with me, I’m getting old” he smiled.
“Good one. You are far from old, sweetie. I’m the oldie.”
“You are thirty. That’s not old. That’s sexy. I have three transplants tomorrow, liver in the morning, then kidney and then another kidney. Kidney’s are easy, just pop them in and plug all the connections. But, I’ve got to sleep.”
“I want to see you, but I’m exhausted.”
“I know that sweetie.”
When he was gone, I furiously worked on my thesis. I had been struck by an electric bolt, energized; words flowed from my brain through my fingertips and on to the page at an astounding rate. Suddenly, what I wanted to say was clear, pieces of the puzzle were coming together and nothing was a cloudy haze anymore. Sometimes, Gaston would call to leave a message on my cell phone, to remind me that I was his sweet lady and that he was crazy about me. That was all I wanted from him, which lead to a big fear – that one day I might want more.
In the courtyard, I began to think back when we first met, the classes we were in together. Then my train of thought took me to Biology class and learning about the cell, its organelles and their functions. The lysosome was a round spherical organelle that contained poisonous enzymes and it killed things, even the very cell body it was contained in. A ‘suicide sac’. It was necessary, but self-destructive. Just like we were being. We knew that we weren’t meant to be together, yet we saw each other everyday. We were going to end up killing ourselves just so that we could enjoy the moment.
I imagined Gaston, scrubbed and sanitized, wearing his mask and surgical glasses. In the operating room, for every transplant Gaston performed, he was giving life to one patient at the expense of someone else’s life. There was no life if not for death. It was a circle of ups and downs and young Gaston had devoted his life to rolling with its cycles. It was no wonder he was exhausted. The meticulous detail of surgery was tiring enough, but dealing with life and death for every moment of his workday must have been as taxing on his heart as the hearts of his patients.
I clenched my fists and flexed my forehead in thought. It was dawning on me that I had one day left, my thesis was finally finished, but Gaston was more complicated than the thesis I had conjured up and made arguments for.
“Sairah, I want you to know that there is another reason that we can’t be together and it’s not because I don’t want you. I think about you constantly,” he told me on our last night together. “It’s good that we break up before you leave because otherwise, I’d miss you too much.” We were in bed together, our legs wrapped in a tangle.
I froze. A million thoughts rushed into my brain simultaneously. Good to break up? Can’t be together? He was going to tell me that he was in love with someone else. Or that he was suffering from a life threatening disease, and only had a few months to live. Maybe he had accepted a position where he was most needed, in some third world country, and he assumed that I wouldn’t come. If he were moving, I would move to be with him! I loved him. He wasn’t saying anything. He was watching the endless tragic possibilities roll around in my aching head. I finally spoke; the thoughts came out quickly like dry grains of rice pouring from a heavy jar.
“Is it religion? Because if it is, I’ve thought about it. I would rather be with someone who I love and can live with as happily as I can with you than marry someone else just because we can drive home together from the mosque,” I blurted, he listened and waited for me to finish before he spoke.
“Sairah, it’s not you that is the problem. It’s me. And I’m not trying to be cliché here. I can’t do this, I’m going crazy, my life is changing and I can’t get you out of my head. My work is suffering. I used to love work, it was my first priority, but now I feel like a cad. I’m always tired; the people I work with are noticing my sloppiness. Love is not supposed to be like this. It’s supposed to make me better, not messy.”
“You feel self-destructive. Like a lysosome.” I said, understanding. He always did this. He said things that I agreed with but hated to hear. He smiled and squeezed my hips tight like they were handles of a defibrillator, as if the strength of his clutch could possess the power to save me. “Yeah, like a lysosome.” I massaged the back of his neck lightly while he nibbled on mine.
“So I guess this is it?” I said, trying to be strong. I couldn’t force him to change his mind, he had obviously thought about it, and I was leaving in a few hours. He didn’t answer my question; instead we made love and slept for minutes at a time about three hours before my plane was scheduled to depart.
“If it’s meant to be, we can’t stop it Gaston. I know you don’t believe in all that destiny stuff, but I do.”
“I believe you,” he said, before I scurried inside my departure gate, disappearing.
The plane ride back home was a jumble of knotted muscles, popping ears, and lumps in my throat. I read my book trying to displace my thoughts, but a trashy novel is like a cooler when what you need is whisky on the rocks. I wondered what he was doing. I worried about him. I imagined him unshaven and sleeping on a couch in the hospital, wearing his light green grubs. I thought that he was the ‘one’, but obviously not. As much as I cherished our memories, my heart was no longer interested in wildly beating a tabla, instead it dictated that I just roll over and fall asleep.
Three months later, our summer fire had fizzled, and I got a phone call from his friend, Khan who was a lung doctor. It was a surprise, because he was more Gaston’s friend than mine.
“Sairah! Are you well? I stole your number from Gaston’s cell phone when he wasn’t looking,” he said with his usual cheerful voice. “I’ve been meaning to call you for a while, but it seems that respiratory disorders are hitting an all time high.” At the mention of Gaston’s name, I felt my cheeks reach my eyes in an open smile.
“I’m glad! How are you?” I asked, thankful that we were on the phone and so could not see me daze into space, lost, thinking about Gaston.
“I’m fine. Listen, the reason I’m calling is that it seems that my silly friend Gaston has got himself into quite a mess. He’d not be happy to find out about this conversation, so for his sake please lets keep this one between us?” he asked.
“Fine,” I prodded.
“Have you two spoken since you left?”
“A little bit, he’s been really busy since I left so I only hear from him maybe once every few weeks, we talk, small talk, for about fifteen minutes before he turns into an incomprehensible mess and nods off. When he’s not working, he’s drained.”
“Right, that’s Gaston. Listen, Sairah, he’s taken on a big workload since you left. He’s doing well. He loves it. But he works so hard it’s almost self-destructive. He’s doing this because he believes it is what you want.”
“What I want? I want him to work himself to exhaustion?” I asked, confused. I had always tried to get him to relax. I gave him massages, and rejuvenated him in my own special little way.
“No. I didn’t mean it like that. Sairah, he thinks that he’s being good to you by staying away from you. But I saw you two together. How much do you like him?” I paused, wondering whether I was up for playing along – this sounded like an exhausting game of endurance. I decided to kill all negative thoughts. Clearing my throat, I took a deep breath.
“A lot, Khan,” I said, feeling my heartbeat thump.
“Because he’s distancing himself from you so that it will be easier for you to leave him. He thinks that you are better off without him and his crazy lifestyle. He doesn’t want you to feel guilty about not sticking by him. He cares about you.” Khan said. He sounded proud of his bridge-building skills. ‘He cares about you’ rang in my head as if I were inside a colossal bell ringing on top of a church.
“He stopped calling me because he thought I didn’t want him anymore, so he thought he’d make it easy for me to leave him?” I slowly asked.
“Is he stupid or something?”
We smiled into the phone before changing the subject to chat about common friends, Khan’s love life, and lungs. After we hung up, I immediately knew that I needed to make another phone call.
I called my travel agent, Azmina.
“Azmina, it’s Sairah. I need a ticket to Montreal again,” I said, taking a deep breath, “Departure date late next month.”
“I thought that you were finished with your Masters!”
“I am, this trip is strictly pleasure.”