On the night of the Hunter’s new moon, I was taken on a hike in the Catskills. We thought we’d go and see the moon, and how nice it’d be to take a walk away from it all, it being mostly the news that I had to go back to Europe for an indefinite period of time. The steep path left behind traces of civilisation, which at this height was a buddhist monastery and a few cars parked next to it. Quickly enough, the light disappeared and with it, the warm colours of the dying leaves. There were three of us. We kept silent. I was covered in sweat and my muscle were hot and protested the sudden effort. Walking in the dark, walking in silence, checking every now and then that our torch light was still working. Just in case. Halfway up was the Overlook Hotel, or more likely what was left of it: the empty carcass of a stone building, rare in those parts of America where houses are mainly made of timber. The remnant of a fountain, overgrown and forever silenced as well. Caroline took pictures of us around the remains of the monumental fireplace which must have adorned the hotel foyer. The camera flash fills the space for an instant, leaves us blinder than ever.
Josephine tells me about pirates, how they wore eye patches in order to train their eyes to see in darkness. Nothing to do with injuries, but rather with harbouring the capacity to see above and below deck. One eye for darkness, one eye for light. We leave the site of the Overlook mountain hotel and keep our pace up the narrowing path. Almost there, Josephine keeps saying. Almost there. Atop the mountain, we climb a rickety tower, which shakes under the combined influence of our moving bodies and of the strong wind. I tell Josephine to keep hold of the rail. It’s one of those moments where everything feels very real. The teenager’s mother, who didn’t want to climb the tower, yells from the bottom, loudly enough for us to hear her despite the wind, to be careful. She keeps taking pictures. But when we reach the top of the tower, which sits on top of the highest mountain of the Catskills range, everything stops.
On one side, we see the mist that unfurls and nests in the recesses of the mountain range. On the other side: the Hudson valley, and the lights of Woodstock, Kingston, and beyond, over the river and its gigantic bridges. My heart was open, so wide in my chest that it felt like it was taking up all the space. Perhaps that was the reason why I was breathless. I felt ready to welcome it all. The beauty of the land, the unreciprocated love, the sorrow of my friends.
It takes all of one’s courage to welcome these things when they come about. It takes all of one’s courage to let go of the crippling anxiety, the years of negative reinforcement, and to breathe. Just accept the things to come. Just look at the others and accept their help, their friendship, their caresses. It takes all of one’s courage to smile and stroke someone’s cheek. Imagine one second if I could put all the energy it requires to worry about every single thing, and if I could put it into something like climbing a mountain, making a cup of tea, or writing a story. All the things I could do, if I was courageous.
It is true that I am a coward. But bravery and cowardice only depend on how you look at them. If I am a coward, but I do something that is brave, does that turn me into a brave person? I don’t know how one becomes someone brave. What if the acts that others deem brave are only motivated by a deeper, more secret cowardice? See, how something can simultaneously be brave and cowardly. Don’t be too eager to judge someone according to these ancient, out-fashioned values. No suspension of disbelief for the brave and the coward. These things don’t really matter anymore. That’s what the eyes tattooed on our bodies, painted on the walls, that’s what the eye-shaped amulet nailed to the wall tell us: things have different shapes depending on your perspective. Don’t get so strung up.
The danger would be to disregard the multiplicity, the complexity of viewpoints. When a person, or a situation, let’s say mostly a person and their way of being in the world, is purposefully regarded from only one point of view, when their complexity, their history are not looked at, they are being fetishised. They become a fetish, that is, they become an object. I became estranged and divorced from the image that some had of me and were reflecting in their behaviour. I could not understand. It happened all at once: people were telling me who and what I was, what was like me and what wasn’t. ‘You’re a collector item’, someone once said. It got out of hand. I was sought after, acquired, consumed, then put on a shelve with other trophies. Then the collectors, the fetishists, the swingers would look for another piece to add to their collections.
These things worry me. I don’t want them to happen to me again. And when I get scared I scream and I point my finger and I roar ‘how dare you?’. Then I apologise for being so frightened and inhuman.
Funny what we consider freedom. I was seen as someone free, because I appeared careless. Because I never let a bad night get in the way of a good story. I faced a disappointed anger when I did not appear like a free spirit. In truth, I was not free at all. It take all of one’s courage to free oneself from the others’ expectations of who and what you should be. It take all of one’s courage not to accept the easy way out: letting others define you.
‘But look at the way you paint yourself!’ someone said. I’d been reminded that I’d often use the term War Mask to talk about my appearance. Heavy make up, aggressive lips, sharp eyes and glistening teeth, if I ever laughed I was sure to kill a few dozen mockingbirds, at least. But surely if I had to wear such a war mask, that meant I was vulnerable. That’s what I thought, but not everyone was willing to accept that things could be seen from different perspective. Least of all, me.
One eye for the light, one eye for darkness.
We climbed down the mountain, past the Overlook Hotel. We finished our bottles of water, eventually, the torches ran out of battery.