Across The Rainbow

You chose us.

Almost eighteen years ago, you chose us. You had been separated from your mother far too early, just to be abandoned a few weeks later because you would use a litter box instead of using the people toilet. I guess your previous owners were at least decent enough to bring you to an animal shelter, instead of abandoning you in the wild. It at least gave you a fighting chance.

When my parents walked into that room, intent on adopting a cat as my sister and I had been asking for one for a long time, they had not yet settled on any one cat. And while the other cats stared at them with mistrust in their eyes, you just trotted to them, a little ball of black and white fur, and without a second doubt, you climbed up my father’s leg, all the way to his shoulders. You started purring then, rubbing your face against his. Not an hour later, my parents were walking out of the animal shelter, with you. There was no way they were going to pick another cat and leave you behind. It felt too much like destiny. You crafty cat.

As soon as they got home though, you turned into a demon. You were the devil incarnate. You were defying the laws of physics in a way I have yet to see again, climbing and running up and against walls, accomplishing prowesses. There were even times, I think, when we almost regretted picking you. But we hadn’t picked you so much as you had picked us, and there was just no way we were going to give up on you. You were not very patient then, often suddenly biting us with little to no warning when you didn’t want to be petted any more. But you loved us. And you gave us the most fantastic times.

I remember how I would play hide and seek with you; I would hide, call out your name, and you would come looking for me. We would spend hours playing with just a ball of aluminium foil, or with a plush toy tied to a long string. Anything that could be turned into a makeshift toy.

I remember how you would often hunt and proudly bring back trophies: I’ll never forget the time you brought a living one-meter long snake to us as we were playing in the yard. And you did it a few more times. You would bring us birds, and mice, and you would sit by the corpse of your prey, high and mighty, purring with contentment and pride. I would congratulate you then, for I did not have it in my heart to take away your happiness. I would wait until you were not looking to get rid of your “gifts”, for you would be sad if you saw me do it.

I remember how you would climb trees while we were nearby, and look at us until you were sure we could see you; you would then spring into action and climb as high and fast as possible, performing impossible feats, and wait for us to cheer you on. And the more we would clap and congratulate you, the more daring you would be. You were so proud.

I remember of you would roll in our lavender bushes every time you were about to go see our neighbour’s cat, who barely even tolerated you. We would laugh at how you seemingly perfumed yourself before courting your princess.

I remember the first time you saw a spider. You curiously approached it, wondering if it were something you could hunt. And when it moved towards you, you jumped high in the air, your coat and tail puffy with fright, before running away. I can’t say that I blame you. I run away from spiders too.

I remember how chatty you were, always meowing and rumbling, and how I would meow back at you, sometimes for hours, until one of us would tire and give up. We were both so very stubborn it could take a long time.

I remember how you would drool all over when you were happy, and how loudly you would purr. So loudly that one of our closest family friends, your “uncle”,  would jokingly call you “Moteur d’avion”, which translates as “Plane engine”.

I remember how you would greet the people that had come to be your family: the family friend who nicknamed you Plane Engine, and who would care for you whenever we couldn’t, and how you would run to greet him as soon as you heard his car pulling in the driveway; our grand-mother, whom you would happily greet every time, in a manner that only grew kinder and calmer as she grew older; the people who had come by our house enough time to have become friends in your book.

I remember when you got lost for a week. I remember the terror of not knowing were you were, the hurt that you might be dead, and the sorrow that you might have gone on your own, with no one by your side. And, worst of all, the dread of not knowing for sure. Of wondering. It was only for a week. I also remember the fierce hope, that lit like a fire in me, when I came by my former neighbour in the school bus, and he said he had seen you, even though I had not tell him you had gone missing. I can still feel my heart pounding in my chest as I heard his words. The hope, burning so hot it hurt. Counting the seconds as the bus made its way to my city. I ran home that day faster than I had ever ran, grabbed your cage, and ran back to our old house, screaming your name, begging entities I didn’t believe in to find you safe and sound. I remember the small meowing sound you made, how I froze when I heard you. How surprised you sounded, as if you couldn’t believe that I was finally here, finally back. How I hugged you, and laughed, and cried, because I didn’t know what to feel any more.

I remember how you laid on the patio table for a week straight after that, taking in the sun, because you were so happy to be back with us. You had never been allowed on that table, but it soon became yours. It didn’t matter. You were back.

I remember how you changed after that. How much kinder you became. How much more time you would spend with us. You were so afraid to have lost us. We were so afraid to have lost you. It brought us even closer together.

I remember how you slapped Ullan, our dog, the first time you met him. How you slapped him so many more times, when he would come running to save you from other cats, because of how vexed you were that you had needed his help. I remember how you would follow me when I would walk him, from a distance, at a nonchalant pace, and how you would suddenly start running when we would turn a corner because you wanted to keep us in your line of sight. I remember how you would lie down by Ullan, groom him, hug him, and how tensed it would make him sometimes because he was afraid you might slap him. How you would sometimes share his dog bed by the fireplace in the winter. How you kept each other company. How you loved each other.

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And I think that’s when you really got old. When Ullan died. When you lost your companion of 14 years, who would be with you during the day when we couldn’t. You were already old of course, and plagued by the diseases that plague old cats, but you did not act or seem old. All your years caught up to you all of a sudden, and they weighted heavily on you. You started becoming picky with your food. Arthritis was slowing you down, hurting your hips. But you were still happy to be. Until you weren’t.

We tried. We really did. To make you better, to help you, to save you. I think it was just too much for you. You never complained, not once. You tried to stay with us, for as long as you could, because you loved us so. But it was just too much. My mother and sister brought you to the vet to try some more, and the vet told them there was nothing more that anyone could do. That the humane thing to do was to let you go. So they did. Like I had done for Alex, and then Ullan before you, they did it for you. And I couldn’t be there. I was on the other side of the country, getting for a new life in an even further place, and I wasn’t there for you. I just wish they would have waited two more days, so I could have come back on my day off and be with you as well. I just wish things could have been different.

My absence on this day will forever haunt me. I never thought that not being there would take an even bigger chunk of me than when I was there. After Alex, then Ullan, died, I knew I wanted to be with you when you went, and I also knew it would take something from me. I just did not expect that not being there could be worse. I really wish I had been there. Not so it could take away some of my pain, but so I could be with you. So you would know I was there, and I had not given up on you. That I had not left you. That I loved you, and that I was there, until the very end. Like I had been with my horse, and our dog. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there. I should have been there. I wish I had been there.

You changed so much with us. Your capacity to love, your kindness, your empathy; they all grew so much. You went from being a wild, angry kitten to being a kind, sweet and loving cat. It’s just amazing what love can do to a creature. You might not have been an angel like Ullan was, but you truly were the most incredible cat that has ever walked this Earth.

I grew up with you. I was six when you walked into our lives, and have few memories of a time when you were not there. With you gone, so are the final vestiges of my childhood. You saw me grow, helped shape me into the person that I am today. I hope I was able to return the favour.

We had decided to call you “Iris”, because of your striking green eyes. Iris is the Greek goddess of rainbows, and what is more striking than the colours of a rainbow? It mattered not that you were a male; after all, irises are also flowers, and they are a male noun in French. So we named you Iris. I found out later that Iris is not only the Goddess of rainbows, she’s also the Goddess of communication, new endeavours, that she was the granter of wishes, and that her rainbows are thought to spread from Earth to the Heavens. I don’t think we could have found a more fitting name for you. Every meaning of your name proved to be true. For all of us.

Once again, I am going to pay no heed to my own beliefs or science. I instead choose to believe you happily climbed the rainbow to the Heavens, where you were greeted by Ullan, and are now both watching over us. And every time I’ll see a rainbow, I’ll know it is you, telling me that you are thinking of us, and that everything is going to be alright.

Iris, my cat, thank you. Thank you for eighteen years of happiness. Thank you for teaching me how love can shape a person, help them grow, make them change for the better. Thank you for showing me, every passing day, how to strive to be the best you that you can possibly be. Thank you. I miss you so much already.

Iris, I love you. Always.

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Iris

??/08/2000 – 16/06/2018

May you walk across the Bifröst, and any rainbow bridges, to the firmament.

Grief

Grief is a monster.

It is abhorrent, appalling and dreadful. It looms over you, always, like a shadow in the night. So hungry. It sits on your shoulder, always, like a devil from hell. So angry. It never leaves. Never. It is all-consuming.

You can run, but you can’t hide.

It will hunt you down to the edge of the universe, and further still. It will stop at nothing, for it is relentless and unyielding.

You can fight, but you can’t prevail.

It is real, but it is intangible. There are no chinks in its armour. It cares not for harsh words or supplications. There is no defeating it. It just stays with you. Always.

Grief is a monster, an everlasting one, and it will not die.

I carried my grief like a burden for over a year. I tried hiding from it, and it found me. Time and time again. I tried running from it, and it caught up to me. Even halfway across the world, literally so, it did. I tried fighting it, with every ounce of strength that I had left, and it just laughed at me. I tried ignoring it, and it just seeped deeper into my soul, digging its claws in my heart even more ferociously.

I tried everything. Everything that I could think of. Everything that I was still strong enough to do. But it never left.

For grief is a monster.

But then, a thought occurred to me. Grief was a monster, yes. But I had not tried everything.

I had not tried to accept it. To embrace it. To let it in. To simply let it in. So I did. I opened the door to my mind, so heavily guarded, and I let my grief in. Instead of treating it like the enemy that I thought it was, I treated it for what I suddenly saw it to be: a wounded creature, that needed to be held.

So I held it. I comforted it. I accepted it.

I now walk through life with a grief monster alongside me, and I hold its hand. And you know what? It holds mine as well.

There are still times when I hate my grief monster. Times when I want to run. When I want to hide. When I want to fight. When I want to just give up. But this grief monster, this devil sitting on my shoulder, it’s not going anywhere. So I just hold its hand a little tighter, and I keep walking.

And it makes Alex’s loss a little less heavy to bear. Bad memories have stopped plaguing me. They are still there, of course. Every day. But the good memories have come too. Every day. I can now think of him with a smile on my face instead of tears in my eyes.

For my grief may be a monster, but it misses him just as much as I do. It knows the ache from his absence, and it hurts just as much as I do. It loved him just as much as I did, and still do. That’s the beautiful secret behind grief monsters. We are not so different, them and us. Just wounded creatures, in need of someone to hold.

Do not corner a hurt animal. Do not scream at it. Do not hate it. Do not fight it. For it will tear at you with no remorse. For it will win this fight. Put down your weapons. Breathe. Calm yourself. Give it space. And let it in.

Grief is a monster.

Grief is a monster, an everlasting one, and it will not die.

But not all monsters are monstrous. And grief is not one of them.

Grief is a monster.

One that can heal you, help you grow up, help you move on. So do not fear it. Just let it in.

Grief is a monster, and I walk hand in hand with mine.

Wish You Were Here

You would have turned 23 today. What is starting to be somewhat of an advanced age for a horse, but I know you would have never behaved like an older horse. You would have remained your wild, youthful, silly self. It was too much a part of you for you to ever give it up. I thought I was stuck with you. Always and forever. Quite an incredible fate that would have been.

But three weeks ago, to the day, it was the one year anniversary of your death. A year. A whole year. Already. Only?

Three hundred and sixty five days. Eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty hours. Five hundred and twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. Thirty one millions, five hundred and thirty six thousand seconds. As many moments with your constant presence in my mind. And at least as many heartbeats without you by my side.

I honestly could not tell whether this year had a bitter taste of eternity, or a sour, fleeting, ephemeral flavour. Time itself convulsed and writhed; it withered and expanded simultaneously, suddenly void of any sense or logic. Empty.

Even now, after a year, the pain still has not gone. It stays with me, every day, and every night. I have simply learnt to live with it. To breathe with it, instead of letting it suffocate me. I don’t even think I have any words left to express it. Any of it.

Just know that I miss you. I miss you more than I could possibly tell. I miss you more than even I understand, I think.

I love you, Alex. Always and forever.

Happy birthday, Bud.

Asexual Awareness Week

Around my twentieth birthday, I became restless. For the first time in seven years, my age would not spell “teen”. I was gradually turning into a grown-up: I was pursuing my studies, had a steady job on the side, was paying for my horse’s boarding and everything he could possibly need. But still, I could not shake the feeling that there was something wrong with me. Something missing, or something broken perhaps. As if I were missing pieces of a puzzle, unless I had maybe one too many. I spent hours on the web, trying to find answers to a question I did not even know.

I ended up on AVEN somewhat by accident, after having clicked on a bunch of websites on yet another forum that seemed to hold no answer for me. I had long given up browsing French websites and forums, as they had not proved to be of any help. It may be hard to believe, but asexuality is even less known in non English-speaking countries. When I started reading article and testimonies on AVEN, I felt the pieces of the puzzle click. The shadow that was bearing down on my heart, so heavy, was finally lifted. I was not alone. It took me time to accept that I was not broken, or that I was not a freak of nature. But I at least knew that I was not the only one: if I was going to be a monster, I would at least get people to be monsters with.

And I thought back on all the times that I felt lost, or confused, while growing up. How teachers, parents, or friends, would tell us it was okay to be gay or bisexual. How it was healthy, and normal, for young people to have a sexual appetite that would need sating. And there it was, that word, “normal”. It can be such a degrading, dirty word when it is not used properly, and you find yourself being on the wrong side of the fence. No one ever said to me that it was okay to not experience feelings for anyone. It was okay to experience attraction to someone of the opposite sex, of the same sex, of both; but having no attraction to any sex or gender whatsoever was not even in the cards. It was not even worth mentioning, because how could it possibly exist? Experiencing attraction isn’t even human, it’s animalistic. It’s how every species has survived so far: adaptability alone would not be enough if a species had no desire to reproduce. We were told it was a primal need, as essential as breathing, or drinking. Even certain psychologists and psychiatrists, in Freudian times, reduced the core being of any person to their sexual needs. These ideas were pummelled into our very minds. Ignorance was not bliss then; it made me a freak of nature, a monster, something wrong and broken.

And flashbacks to forgotten moments hit me then. I’m fifteen, maybe sixteen, sitting with friends at a table in the cafeteria, having lunch. They’re talking about their sexual fantasies, or maybe is it famous people they think are sexy. And there I am, staring intensely at my food, trying to blend into my surroundings and disappear, because I have no idea what they’re talking about. I understand the words, but not the feelings behind them. I stammer, make a joke, comment something someone said, while trying to think of something clever or interesting to say. And I feel wrong, and out of place, because I do not even remotely understand the way that they experiences things.

I’m fifteen, maybe sixteen, and I have a boyfriend. I have feelings for him, maybe not quite love yet, but I know it’s not just a friendship. A shy first love, perhaps. But no matter how hard I try, and despite what people have told me, nothing seems to click in me. There is no switch. I can’t seem to experience any kind of physical attraction towards him, or anyone for that matter. And I worry that I am even more broken than I thought, but I try to convince myself that I may just be too young. But I can’t take the guilt, and I break things off; breaking his heart, and mine, in the process.

I just turned eighteen, and finished my first year of college. I got back together with that boy. The loving feelings are still there, somewhat different as I have grown, but there nonetheless. But the feelings every one else seem to have, the physical and sexual attraction, still escape my grasp. Being eighteen now, it’s getting hard to pretend I’m simply too young or not ready yet. There is no pressure from him, there has never been, and he would wait. But something in me tells me that, no matter how patient anyone is, I will most likely never develop these feelings. So I break things off again. It just seems fair, to him, to me, to both of us. But again, I break both of our hearts.

I’m twenty, and I have finally figured out what I am. I am asexual. I do not experience sexual attraction. But I may experience romantic feelings, regardless of their sex and gender. And I am starting to accept that it is okay. So I open myself to someone I thought would never hurt me. I’ve only told my best friend so far, but it went so amazingly well that I feel confident. And I fall down hard. The words are harsh, severe. They hurt. I’m told I simply haven’t met the right person yet. Or maybe there is something physically wrong with me. Or, perhaps, have I suffered some kind of trauma in my childhood. Or I could just be a late bloomer. But the feelings will come. They have to. Because it’s normal. It’s human. Even animals get them. It’s how we survive. And there it is again. I’m not human. I’m not even an animal. What does that make me? Abnormal. Monstrous. Broken. Sick. Wrong. Such words are not necessarily spoken directly to me, but they are so heavily implied that it is all the same in the end.

Most of the other people I talk to are simply sceptical, and though I doubt they fully accept them, they respect my words nonetheless. They simply ask of me that I keep an open mind, and accept that I may experience these feelings for someone, someday. Which I do regardless. And, sadly, that reaction has become good enough. It is good enough that people do not treat me like a monster because of they way I feel, or rather, do not feel. People fear what they do not understand, and that fear can cause them to lash out. And to many, it is simply unthinkable that someone could experience no sexual attraction whatsoever, to anyone. Because, they, too, were told that it was at the very base of the pyramid of life. The reason why the circle of life has been going on for so long.

I will never forget the day I told my best friend. We were in Brittany, in France. and we had just had an amazing meal in a fancy restaurant by the seaside. We were sitting by a big window, West oriented, which had allowed us to enjoy the sun setting over the horizon, painting the skies and sea with crimson colours. After night had settled in, we went for a walk on the beach. We took off our shoes as we walked on the sand, in the dark, enjoying the quietude of the moment. I remember how my heart was pounding inside my chest, and how terrified I was. I had never told anyone. And while I trusted him, and trusted his reaction, it was still not an easy thing to say. He did not even blink. He didn’t know the word, or that there was even a word for it, but he had noticed that I had never seemed to show the slightest bit of attraction for anyone. And he couldn’t care less what I was. I was still me. I have to admit that he did set the bar pretty high for any person I would tell afterwards. But reactions like his are uncommon, even rare. There aren’t that many people that are willing, or able to, to accept so easily something that they do not understand.

And this is why awareness matters. It may have changed my life. If I had learnt about asexuality early on, I might not have felt so broken for so long. I might not have been so harshly rejected and made to feel stranded. And I am far from being the only one with such a story. Most people in the ace community have similar stories, have faced such loneliness. Some have even suffered corrective rape.

And while there will always be bigoted people, people that are not willing to accept anything that is even slightly different, I do believe that awareness would prevent most of it. Letting people know, especially younger people, who already have so much to face, that it is also normal to not experience attraction, could make a huge difference. In accepting others. In accepting yourself. We won’t change the world in a day. It will take time, and efforts. It will be hard. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have to try. Just because asexual people could hide their sexual orientation, or lack thereof, if they so chose, does not mean that they should, quite the contrary.

So spread the word. Don’t get mad at people who ask questions, even if these questions can seem insensitive. If they are asking questions, then it means that they are willing to try and understand. That they want to learn. So teach them. Do not shame them for experiencing something that you do not. Just let them know that we are as every bit normal as they are. That once they have that knowledge, they could help change some lives. All it takes is some acceptance.

Oh, and we have cake.

On Sacrifice

Thrice.

This is how many times I have dreamt of the one I would come to call my “oneiric guide”. Tens of thousands of dreams, most of which I could remember at some point in my twenty-three years of existence, and she has only appeared to me thrice. That’s three times. Her visits are not rare, they are exceptional. In every sense of the word.

I have never seen her face. Not once, not even for a sporadic second. Even her silhouette appears blurry and out of focus, as if she were standing in direct sunlight. And no matter how hard I squint, I cannot perceive any of her features. I do know she is female though, not so much because of her voice, but because she feels female. I have never really understood the concept of gender, and I cannot say that I feel female (or male, for that matter), but I can undoubtedly say that her energy reads and feels female. They’re dreams. She doesn’t have to make sense.

While I am aware that she is a part of me, my disbelief is too powerful for me to fully accept it. She has such a way about her; how she holds herself, how she speaks: not just what she says, but how she says it as well. How could that possibly be me? She radiates wisdom and quietude. She exudes kindness and compassion. She is fearless. So maybe that’s not me. Perhaps is she not even who I could become. She may very well only be who I wish I were. Who I could have once been, but not longer can; a long forgotten echo, a ripple down a future that never was. Whoever she is, whatever she represents, I always treasure her appearances. I long for her serene presence, her enlightened words and humane gestures. Time stands still when I see her, the world fading into oblivion.

I will not tell of the first time she appeared to me. Her words were far too precious for me to share, and I hold them close to my heart. However, I would like to bestow upon you the words she whispered to my ear the second time I dreamt of her for they were, I think, true and kind. It would take me a whole book to tell you of that dream in detail, or at the vert least a lengthy short story, and the dream itself matters very little; I will simply summarise it to its most basic premises.

I was trying, in a bleak dystopian future, in which it snowed ashes, to save a group of children who were being persecuted and haunted by fascist militias, whose members believed these very children were the key to stop the oncoming apocalypse and restore order, creatures to be led to slaughter, to answer the demands of a blood-thirsty god. I was leading this crew of children to a cabin that was said to hide a door that led to a better world. I cannot remember with certainty whether that better world was simply set in the past, if it was part of an alternate universe, or if it simply grimly meant death, but I do know it was there. On the way to this cabin, I met a man whose wife and daughter had been butchered by the militia that was chasing us. He was looking for revenge, but above all, he was trying to redeem himself in his own eyes by saving someone else’s daughter. He came to our aid, and we travelled together. We learnt to know each other. To trust each other. To love each other. I felt a love so fierce, it was like an inferno sucking the air out of a room, asphyxiating me. He loved me in a timid and delicate way, a controlled flame, and I knew he did not love me the way he had loved, and still did, his wife. That he could not. And I was content with it. It is better to love than to be loved.

As the cabin grew nearer, so did the militia. Our lead on them was gone, and they were on our tail like a pack of wolves stalking their prey. A fox to be led to inevitable carnage and bloodshed by the hounds. But none of us gave up, gave up hope. Not me, not him, not even the children. We just kept pushing forward, hoping, praying, that we would make it. When we finally reached the cabin, our pursuers were so close we could hear their cries and shouts echo through the cold morning air of the valley. After I led everyone inside, I urged them not to stop. I compelled them to get to the tunnel, and to keep running until they had come out on the other side, and then run some more just to be safe. I quickly said goodbye to the kids as I barricaded the door, firmly intent on holding my ground and buy them all as much time as I possibly could. It was a sacrifice that I was gladly making, and not once did I hesitate or tried to find a more cowardly way. Long after the children had disappeared, swallowed by the darkness of the tunnel, he was still standing there, looking at me, an unending ocean of hurt in his eyes. I hugged him goodbye before pushing him towards the tunnel, yelling at him to go, to stay with the kids, to live. He, too, was soon swallowed by the tunnel, and I stood against the door, weighing heavily on it. Our hunters had finally reached the cabin, and they were banging on the door, trying to kick it down. The door finally gave way, and one of our pursuers managed to slip his face and one of his arms through the interstice that had been ripped through the wood, and he was clawing at me, his fingernails turned into sharp claws.

And suddenly, some pressure lifted off the door. I felt his body against mine, pressing against the wood, helping me resist against the invaders. I turned to look at him, and his face shimmered for a moment, before I felt him morph into my oneiric guide. It wasn’t just his body though, it was his whole self, his mind and his energy as well. He was gone in an instant; and there was standing my guide. Quietude descended upon the world, and everything faded away, muted. I do not remember her exact words; and even if I did, some of it would be lost in translation anyway, as she spoke to me in French.

She asked me about sacrifice. It was more of an affirmation than it was of a question, but it still held an inquisitive, yet gentle, tone. She already knew the answer, and I think I did too. I had simply not been willing to accept it.

“Sometimes, the real sacrifice is to not make any sacrifice at all.”

Such is the wisdom she imparted upon me, though the words are not, as I’ve mentioned, perfectly accurate. She silently looked at me for what I believe was an eternity in its own right. And for a moment, I do think I saw more than just her blurred features, and directly stared into her eyes. When she was sure I had processed her words, she gave me one last kind, and somewhat sad, smile, before fading away, fading into him. The world came crashing back. Screams and smoke filled the air again, and the pressure on the door had returned. So had he. He was back where he had been, as if none of it had happen, a dream within a dream. And it hit me. All of it. His sorrow. His pain. His hurt. His weariness. How tired he was. How every step was a struggle. His longing to see his wife and child again. To be reunited with them, in whatever version of an afterlife that he believed to be true. His love for me, overshadowed by his love for them. His guilt, too. His shame, and his self-hatred. For loving me, but loving them more. For praying his time had finally come, and all of it would stop.

I was crying by then, choking on my own sorrow, drowning in my own tears. I kissed him, deeply, lovingly. And I stepped back. There was surprise painted on his face, and relief too. I backed away until I reached the entrance to the tunnel, my eyes fixated on his, refusing to let go. I stood there for a few seconds, unable to move. Unwilling to run. And I ran. Before long, I was out of the tunnel. I was running through woods, branches slapping at my face, kids running all around me hollering in joy. No ashes. Finally safe. I woke up there and then, tears streaming down my face, my pillow wet with tears, my sheets drenched in sweat. I turned on the lights, akin to a child who is afraid of the dark and the monsters hiding under his bed or lurking in the closet, and hugged my knees. I felt stupid crying over a character that I had imagined, and fallen in love with, in a dream. I felt silly, and ridiculous. I ended up putting a Disney movie on, to try and clear my thoughts.

After a couple of days, I finally realised that I had not cried over a fictional character. Well, to be fair, my dream-self did. But I do not believe it is sufficient to explain how shaken I was. There has never been a doubt in my mind about how far I would go to save someone I love. I would go to hell and back in a heartbeat, and I would gladly give my life for them. I care very little for my own life, but I do care about the lives of the people I love. And I will go above and beyond to keep them safe. I would sacrifice everything I have, without a second doubt. The one thing I would never do, however, is let them feel the same way about me. I would never let them sacrifice themselves, all that they are, everything they have, to save me. I am not going to pretend that this is out of nobility, dignity or greatness. It is not. It never was, and I never even thought about pretending that it was. I think I simply never really questioned it. It was simply a part of who I was, something that I carried with me, something that was there.

After my oneiric guide visited me, I realised that, if anything, that feeling was there out of cowardice. I could not bear the thought of losing someone I loved, especially if it meant they had gone while trying to protect me. I could have never lived with myself. I have no problem dying for someone I love. I, however, cannot bear the thought of being the one that lives. The one that is left behind. The one that has to live with the knowledge that they could have done something, anything, differently. The one that has to keep moving on despite that knowledge. The one that lives. I would gladly give my life. I just wouldn’t keep it.

It may seem like an easy conclusion, but I am not sure that it is. It was not for me. Most stories about sacrifice praise the bravery of the one who sacrificed themselves. Most stories, however, do not even mention the courage the one that has been left behind will need to rebuild themselves. They present such a sacrifice as a gift, a second chance, even something that is due sometimes: you owe it to the person who sacrificed themselves to shine from now on, to enjoy your newfound life, to make the most out of it. And it’s not fair. It never is.

When we found Alex, I would have done anything, anything, to trade places with him. To give my life for his. I would have probably even corrupted myself and sacrificed someone else, a whole city if I had to, to save him. I would have sent him away, halfway across the world, if it had meant keeping him alive. Anything, but being left behind.  They say that love is, sometimes, accepting to let the other person go. And that is true. But when you let them go, they are usually alive and well somewhere, and you let them go so they could have their own happiness. That’s an easy sacrifice to make. But letting go of someone you love so fiercely and ferociously, with the knowledge that it is so bleak and final … I probably could have fought more. I could have gotten a truck there, with a crane, to hoist him up, and get him in a truck at all cost. I could have rushed to the clinic then, and I would have taken on any necessary amount of work needed to pay the bills, indebted myself until the end of time if needed. I could have thrown my studies away just to be able to work full time, and then more. And for what? More pain? In the distant, and near, future?  Just so I wouldn’t be alone?

In the end, the decision was surprisingly easy to make. He wanted to go. He needed to go. All he was waiting for was my approval. So I let him go. And I stayed with him, rocked him in my arms, my head against his, whispering words of comfort and love to him. Most people seem to think that it was the easy decision to make. But it wasn’t. My heart and my head agreed on things for once, and they were screaming at me to fight, with all my might, to keep alive. To keep him with me. A primal cry, a primordial scream, that came from my very core. So I let him go. Because doing nothing else would have been cruel. And, ultimately, that was the real sacrifice.

Granted, the situation in my dream was different. But the end result was the same. And the feeling that pushed me to make the hard choice had not changed either. That feeling? Love. If you love someone enough, you will go above and beyond for them. You will sacrifice everything, anything. Even if it means, in appearance at least, to not make any sacrifice at all.

Ride

I have never felt complete without horses. And for a long time, I associated this basic, primal need with riding. But as I grew older, and learnt more about myself, I came to the conclusion that I did not need to ride to be happy. I only needed some form of contact with horses. Simply caring for them, for their needs, being around them, was enough to make me happy. And after I was finally able to buy my sweet Alex, and share my life with him, I started riding less and less. He was in a good enough shape to do much more than what I was asking of him, that wasn’t the question. But I could tell that he didn’t want to, not any more. So I started retiring him, and riding less and less, until I reached a point when I was not riding at all any more. And I was happy.

After my kindred spirit died, I felt so broken that it became inconceivable for me that I could ever ride a horse again. The simple thought of being around horses put such a tight grip on my heart I was afraid it would stop. I wouldn’t even look at the horses I could see on the side of the road, grazing in their fields, as I was driving. Something that had always been so essential to me had suddenly become damaging and scary. But the complete absence of my equine friends was also, in a way, making things worse. They had become as essential to me as breathing.  I was caught in a gap, a divide, and I had no idea what to do.

Estelle, my former instructor (and the one who originally saved Alex), whom I admire and respect profoundly, helped me through this. Thanks to her, I managed to dip a toe in these waters again. It helped me remember exactly what horses meant to me, and how I could not give this passion up. And I am so grateful for that.

I rode a couple of time in between. Once with Estelle, and twice on my own, here, in Canada. And it all came rushing back to me. Feelings I had forgotten. The wind rushing in my ears as my horse is cantering. The feeling of the tight leather riding chaps against my calves, and through them, that singular warmth irradiating from the horse’s flanks. My fingers lightly playing on the reins, and how the horse would respond to it, with their mouth, on the bit, and how it would vibrate all the way back to my hands. Feeling every muscle of mine working independently, and yet connected in the grand scheme, like a well-oiled machine. The horse’s body moving under mine, and being able to tell exactly what was good, or what was bad, about it. Knowing how the littlest muscle, the little move, could influence the horse’s attitude greatly.

And more importantly, that dialogue. A conversation the rider has to set up with the horse. Finding the right way to ask. Always ask, never order. A silent dialogue, that a non-trained eye cannot perceive. A dialogue that has to be so discreet it seems like rider and horse are in communion, exchanging thoughts telepathically. The magic of it. I fell in love all over again.

I will never find again the sensations I had when I was riding my sweet Alex, and I know nothing will ever even begin comparing to them. I will never again find a similar connection that was, in some way, truly telepathic. And my heart still bleeds from his loss, and always will. But I have found that I can still enjoy it, with other horses, in different ways, without betraying his memory. His legacy. I can cherish it, without it diminishing my love for him in any way. It’s not a betrayal. It’s not a rebirth. It’s not even moving on. It’s simply sticking to my core, and my needs, the ones that I can fulfil at least. And I can feel a part of him in every other horse. An aspect, a mannerism, a whiny, a movement, a way to communicate with me … There’s a part of him in every thing. I just have to know where to look. It will never bring him back. And maybe, just maybe, it is not fair of me to search for him in the other horses.I know they are unique entities. That they are their own being, have their own self. But I carry him with me, wherever I go. Always.

Eclipse

“The night is dark and full of terrors!” someone screamed, quoting Melisandre from Game of Thrones, bringing a round of amused, and somewhat scared, laughter as the moon started swallowing the sun, over the skies of Oregon.

The second our planet’s satellite overshadowed our star completely, people cheered and applauded. But they did not do so for long. The heavens turned so dark stars were shining in the midday sky. Temperature dropped so intensely shivers were running down our skin.  And nature went silent. Everything, and everyone, had gone quiet. It was a silence so thick a knife could have cut through it, so heavy it made breathing hard; not that anyone even dared breathing too hard or too loudly. No bird, no animal, no insect made a single noise. Hair rose on the arms and back of some people’s neck. People were fascinated. And they were scared.

Even now, with all our knowledge, a total solar eclipse is an incredibly eerie and uncanny experience. And I think of ancient times, when people did not know what an eclipse was, or how it worked, and how terrified they must have been. They must have thought the end of days was upon them, that hell had come to swallow them whole. Even a lunar eclipse could prove to be a terrifying experience : Christopher Columbus managed to predict one with enough accuracy that he had native Americans believe he held control over the moon, and could make it disappear and reappear at will, prompting the Native Americans to keep helping him. The moon disappearing was a terrifying experience, supposed to bring about all the horrors from their legends.

“And everything under the sun is in tune,

But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”

EclipsePink Floyd

But as incredible as a lunar eclipse is, it cannot even begin to compare to a solar eclipse, let alone a total one. I am amazed that our ancestors did not go mad in the sudden darkness. Norsemen believed that a giant wolf, Fenrir or his son, Sköll (sources vary on this) would swallow the sun whole and bring about Ragnarök, the end of days. Every civilization had similar tales, believing that the disappearance of the sun would offset the balance of the world, and cause untold chaos.

And as I was watching the eclipse, thinking of the times of old and how it would have affected people back then, Pink Floyd’s song just went through my mind, as real and intense as it would have been had I been listening to eat with earphones, and it was just the perfect length for this eclipse.

I was lucky enough to have seen one as a child, on August 11, 1999, in France. My parents drove over one thousand kilometres for us to witness that amazing event. I was only five at the time, a young age to remember something solidly, even something as amazing as an eclipse. I hold no memories of the sun being swallowed by the moon, the sudden cold as sunlight was being eaten away, and the stars appearing in the midday sky. I never forgot, however, the uncanniness of it. We were near a farm, and nature was so full of life. And as the eclipse approached its stage of full totality, nature started going silent. Horses, sheep, chicken, cows… they all went silent. And they remained so until sunlight started flooding the Earth again. Nature roared back to life in an instant, as if the silence had been but a dream.

But my five-year old self never forgot the feeling of eeriness that floated through the air. I had been marked for life. And experiencing that feeling again, after 18 years, was extraordinary. It was just as I remembered it, perhaps even more incredible; after all, my memories, as sharp as they were, must have been dulled by time, very much like a blade. And it awoke something inside me. I have always loved the dark. As I’ve said before, I find it comforting. And the dark an eclipse brings, that special, gorgeous kind of darkness, has me hooked.

While everyone was staring at the sombre heavens, mystified, terrified and in awe, unable to make a move or a sound, I laughed. I could not hold back the laughter that was building up in my body. I, too, was mystified and in awe, but I revelled in it. I was drunk on that eerie feeling, and wanted more. I wanted so much more. These 130 seconds of totality felt only like a single heartbeat.

So I will chase the eclipses from now on, all over the world. I will hunt down that feeling, and bathe in it. And so should you.

Of Dreams And Nightmares

As a child, I used to be a natural lucid dreamer. Being able to control my dreams was as natural to me as breathing was, and I was always baffled to hear that I was the only one, amongst all the people around me, to be able to do so with little to no effort. I also found out that my dreams were unusually vivid, vibrant and sharp, and that they were longer and more packed than most dreams are. Dreams always were the only thing that made sleeping bearable. I have suffered from insomnia for as long as I can remember, and my sleep has always been of very poor quality, too light and not restorative enough. But my dreams … I feel they are worth the severe sleep troubles.

If there is one downside to my dreams, it would of course be the nightmares, as they are as terrifying and bleak as my dreams are amazing and colourful. I also had night terrors as a child, and later developed sleep paralysis in my teens. Every child is plagued by nightmares at some point in their life, of course. But again, mine were remarkably numerous and lifelike, and gave me little respite. As I am growing older, I am learning to enjoy some of my nightmares as well, and embrace the darkness. I do not need to content myself with simply watching horror movies, I can actually experience them as I would the real world.

My five senses are as developed in my chimeras as they are in life. Not even my senses of smell, touch and taste are affected. So many things happen, impossible things. Even the whole extended LoTR trilogy, with the Hobbit movies, packed in a 30 minute film, would not have so many twists and turns happening.

Things that are supposedly impossible to achieve in dreams, such as reading small characters or a clock, are common occurrences for me, and require no effort: I do them without even thinking about it. It makes little sense to me that anything could actually not be enacted in a dream. I am never really aware that I am in a dream. The thought will cross my mind, but it will soon be swept away by the very dream itself. I just navigate my dream the way I deem it should be navigated, without giving it much thought. The funny thing is, my dreams sometimes push back, as if they were trying to escape the control I exert over them.

I was once dreaming that I was trapped in a house, at the mercy of people intent on hurting me. I simply wished for a way to escape, and Alex appeared before me. Every detail about him was accurate, from his smell to the distinctive scars and cowlicks he had on his body. And as he materialised, I could feel the very fabric of the dream shift, as if the dream itself was simply an extension of my body that I could simply will. It is very hard to put words on the exact feeling of it. I imagine that is how a super-power would feel, should such things exist. But as soon as my beloved kindred spirit came into being to whisk me away from this dreaded place, I collapsed to the ground, blood gushing out of my side, suddenly too injured to get on his back. And I felt the structure of the dream push back, fighting me to get control. That fabric, that structure, the dream… it is both tangible and ethereal, there and not there. It can be touched, and manipulated, though it cannot be so in a physical manner. And it only feels palpable because my mind is trying to make sense out of it. So I gave ground, moved to a different corner of the fabric of the dream: one can only push back if there is resistance, so I took that away from the dream. Stopped resisting, and tried to outsmart it. Next thing I know, Alex and I were crashing through the door, galloping away. But cars materialised, so the people hell-bent on hurting me could give us chase. As soon as they put the keys in the ignition, the cars all stalled, before suddenly roaring back to life, even though I knew their engines were not functional any more. But dreams never have to make sense to feel real. And as the bad guys starting chasing us again, I simply willed for Alex and I to become invisible: they couldn’t track us if they couldn’t see us. Grass suddenly grew out of the paved road, wild and brittle, breaking under our weight, leaving an easy trail for our hunters to follow. It kept going on and on like that for a while, until my alarm clock woke me up. Never had one of my dreams felt so alive. Not lively, alive. As if my dream was an entity in its own right, a cornered wild animal snarling and growling, baring its teeth at me, fighting for control. It had become more than simply an extension of my persona. We were somehow connected, but we were not one any more.

Rarely have I felt the fabric of my dream as strongly as I did on that day, but that feeling is always present, at the back of my mind. There is always some resistance, some impossible thing happening outside of my control whenever I will for something to happen in a dream. Some mysterious force pushing back. It’s always there, lurking in the shadows, prowling, testing my mind. Always ready.

And it is glorious.

 

Six months

Six months. It’s been six months since you left me. And I have been thinking of you almost every waking moment of every day, and almost every sleeping moment of every night. The pain has not dulled. Time does not heal all wounds. That’s bullshit. Some wounds simply never heal. And this is one of them.

I don’t know what to say, except that I love you. And that I hate you sometimes, for literally dying on me. I hate you so much it feels like my blood has turned to liquid rage. And then I hate myself for hating you, because you never meant to leave me like that. It was an accident. The first thing I told you that day was that it was okay for you to go, that I wouldn’t blame you. And I meant it. But I had no idea it would be this hard. So, sometimes, I need to hate you to keep my sanity. You can only hate what you have loved, because these emotions are two sides of a same coin. And I love you so much.

You were a good boy. I want to say that I forgive you for leaving me, but I can’t make that promise. Because there are times when the hurt is just too great for me to be lucid enough to know that it was not your fault. To remember that I told you that you should not fight on my account. To be aware that I wanted you to let me know when you simply couldn’t take it any more. And that’s all you did. You let me know. So I did the only thing that I could do. I let you go. And I can’t blame you for that.

I miss you, buddy. So much. But most of all, I love you. Even through the anger and the hate, I love you. More than I could possibly tell. I love you. Don’t you ever forget that. I love you.

Always.

Cosmic Dancer

On Sunday, June 4, 2017, I scattered your ashes. I went to the beach where we had been over five years and a half ago. I will never forget how happy you were that day. More than that, you were ecstatic. In your youth, when you were still a race horse, you used to train on the beach from time to time. There is no doubt in my mind that you loved running as fast as you could on the sand, with the waves roaring and crashing near you, the wind rushing through your mane, free as a bird.

You had galloped fast before. And you galloped fast after that. Faster than any horse I had ever known, and I have met quite a lot of them. But never did you run as fast as you did on that day. You even forgot I was there, on your back, holding on to dear life as you were trying to race the wind and the sea. It was both the most terrifying, and the most exhilarating experience I have ever been through. We weren’t even able to gallop with the others, because I knew that, if we did so, I would be unable to stop you. Your thoroughbred instincts would have taken over, and you would have raced until there was no more sand before you, and even further. So it was just the two of us, you and I, as it had always been. As it always was after that.

I remember hearing people yelling at me to turn, their voice swallowed by the wind and crushed by the waves, and I could barely hear anything anyway. You were going so fast my eyes were filled with tears, and I wasn’t even sure where I was going. I had to rely on my body, and the feel of you under it, to hold on and know whether or not we were turning. I managed to put you on a giant circle, probably over one hundred metres wide, and I let you gallop to your heart’s content. I will never forget how your body felt under mine, how you were nothing but raw power, and I could feel every single one of your muscles, feel your heart beating through your chest and flanks, against my legs, your breathing and the muffled thunder of your hooves on the sand the only thing that I could truly hear over the raging wind.

I would give anything to go back to that day. Be free, once more, with feeling. Free, with you. I captured these moments the best I could, and I treasure them, holding them close to my heart.

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I scattered your ashes on that beach, on the day of my birthday. I know many people think it strange, but it felt right. More than that, it was an evidence. From the bottom of my heart, and the very depths of my soul, I knew I had to do it on that precise day. I would not be able to explain it. Perhaps was I just trying to feel closer to you on that special day. Perhaps was it just time for me to let you go. Whatever the reason, I am at peace with it.

I think you would have loved that. To spend eternity on that beach. To have all of you be scattered by the wind, swallowed by the sea, mixed with the sand, until the end of time. Where you could race all the horses that come by this beach with their riders to enjoy it, as we did so many years ago. You were never meant to be buried, and trapped under the earth until kingdom come. It would have been cruel, and it would have gone against everything you stood for. It would have gone against your very nature, your very personality. Never had I met such a free-spirited being, and I am so incredibly lucky that our paths not only crossed, but went side by side for almost seven years. I had, and will have until I am no more, a duty of care ; and I hope that I did right by you until the very end.

On that day, even if your muscles screamed that you were nothing but raw power, you were dancing. You were always dancing. It was but one of the infinite things that I loved about you ; how you were always waltzing your way through life, with such ease it was shameful to the rest of us. That day, on the beach, your cavalcade might have seemed chaotic, but it may actually have been one of our most harmonic ride. You were not struggling against the wind, you were toying with it, slipping through the cracks ; a whirlwind in your own right. I did not quite grasp it at the time, I was far too overwhelmed by feelings to understand. But now I do. Now I know. You were not just galloping, you were waltzing. And you shared it with me. Thank you for that, my sweet boy. My amazing dancing horse.

“Is it wrong to understand

The fear that dwells inside a man?

What’s it like to be a loon?

I liken it to a balloon.

I danced myself out of the womb,

I dance myself out of the womb,

Is it strange to dance so soon?

I danced myself into the tomb,

But then again, once more.”

Cosmic Dancer – T-Rex

I think you were dancing to the sound of a tune only you could hear. And more often than not, you were not moving on the same tempo as the rest of the world did, and this is why almost no one could understand you. You and I, we were in synch. From the moment we met, we were always in harmony, with our very own tempo, one meant just for the two of us.

I remember once, it was the first winter after we met. You were quite dangerous that winter ; you were regaining strength as your weight was slowly coming back, and you were determined to let us know so. You would always try to throw your riders to the ground ; after a while, I was the only one not only willing to ride you, but to actively ask for it. You were moving the way Doma Vaquera horses do, and a little boy, who was watching you with incredulous eyes, yelled at his mother “Mom! Look at the horse, mom! He’s dancing!”

That little kid knew before even I did that you were, in fact, dancing. That you were always dancing. On the day you died, you were probably so busy dancing with the elements and the other horses, that you had your accident. You did, in fact, danced yourself into the tomb, I guess. I wish you would have waltzed with me a little longer, and a little further though. I miss our dances. I miss you. You’ve left me to dance alone, and I do not know how to do that. You used to lead the waltz, and I was just along for the ride. Now I have to learn to dance for myself, and I’m not sure how to go about that. Now, you are forever dancing in the wind, and in the waves. And you will be dancing there long after we are gone. My cosmic dancer.

 

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