I never met him, but I observed him many times. I came to love the man who separated himself from others, I came to feel his loneliness, and with time so it came that I also felt his gift. He walked among his peers, knowing them, but they did not know him. That is how I am different from the many who have seen him but never took the time to understand or know him; I do understand his process, his life, his many sacrifices, his challenges which ultimately bore the legacy he gave us.
His life was measured, with care, to keep the curtain lowered and in place to separate the two lives: the existence that he lived on one side of the curtain and not the other: one on stage, well lit and with an audience, and one backstage, stumbling in the private drama and alone and often in the dark. He assumed all men lived in such a manner to one degree or another, to one degree of success or another, and in a state of denial to a degree, lesser or greater, but in denial. He, however, was not in denial; it was a mere thread that he clung to, he realized, but it satisfied him and provided him a distinction however minor from the rest of the people. He didn’t feel any more alive or any more dead, he didn’t feel any stronger or any weaker in his acceptance; acceptance did little to alter the illusion of compliance, but he did know there was a thread. He grasped what the masses did not seem to understand: his life was controlled by this thread; that his one existence was no more dead or alive than the other, that one ego was not stronger or weaker than its other ego; to have control of the puppet strings that held everyone was what he felt he was able to accomplish more than most. When he first saw the strings he knew he must conquer his, or suffer obscurity and slowly die.
He recorded this in his journal; as he wrote he knew every word was controlled through the strings, that he was just the hand that held the pen. The most he could do he knew would be to slip in a kernel of truth, a slip of reality and hope it was unnoticed by The Puppeteers who must be so busy with all those to control. As he wrote the string of words that flowed from his pen, he watched his hand work independently of his thoughts. He never dared to ask of himself who it was who controlled the pen, he only hoped the pen would not write it. He wondered if they had headaches, the same way he had headaches, if they had pain the way he had pain, if they were consumed with fear the way he was consumed with fear; he wondered how many hours a night they lay awake trying to think of nothing or if they had lists of things to ponder. He wondered if they kept ledgers. He wondered if they had pens and stared at them as they scratched at the ledger. It was a dark night, darker than usual after a day with no curtain that he wondered about the curtain. He wondered if they graded his performance in front of the curtain as well as the performance backstage of the curtain. He wondered if they had curtains, and if they learned to manipulate the curtain. He wondered if their performance was graded and if the grade depended on his performance. He wondered if he was graded as one person would he be allowed to continue. One day, in that in-between time, transitioning from one side of the curtain to the other he wondered about other people, the ones he bumped into at the crosswalk, the lunch counter, the ticket office; he wondered if the people knew about the ledgers stacking up around them filled with grades and mysterious numbers and spaces left empty and those spaces that had rubbed over smears. He wondered how they divided their life that they were able to stand in line with lively conversation yet never make reference to a thread; he wondered about their threads, then he wondered about his thread that linked him together, holding him apart. How close was too close? How far was too far? His other side of the curtain was important; he wondered if people could survive without one. He summoned a slight bit of hope that the people around him held their curtain in a place more secret than his; it was the only explanation he could extrapolate for their ability to survive with such casual aplomb. Perhaps they had control of The Puppeteers. He looked at the words, and read the words, and with that thought he put down his pen. He would write later that night and the next night and the night after that. But he first would have to clear his mind and think of nothing. He would have to invent a better way to write. He turned the page and fell to sleep in a deep sleep where the headache was just part of the sleep and not a pain to endure and the night became the dream with an omnibus conveying him to a place where he lived without headaches and pain and his book was freely written with words he chose, word after word and there were no curtains to divide his spare existence, but the night ended. There were days when the dream lasted until noon, there were days without dreams, there were days without people laughing at crosswalks or in the lines of bakeries eating sweets and telling stories that made them smile and he watched them perform for him, as he watched everything perform in a controlled synchronicity. With powerful stabs of truth that cut into him and further divided his existence, he wondered how The Puppeteers managed such intricate presentations: the tiniest act was perfectly executed, the grandiose equally well done, all without disastrous calamity: so rarely did The Puppeteers make mistakes how could he fault them for controlling everything? But slowly as he watched the world change before his eyes, he saw the mistakes, first it was something tiny, then another tiny mistake; the small mistakes were piling up around him, piling up everywhere, and then he glimpsed what he thought must surely be a big mistake. That night, when he could not write, he surrendered and threw his body to the bed and he lay in bed waiting for the vehicle that did not arrive to take him someplace else and as he was desperately trying to think of nothing, he realized The Puppeteers controlled everything, including the mistakes, tiny, small or huge. He extrapolated further than he ever dared to let his thoughts travel: since The Puppeteers control everything there can be no such thing as a mistake. He was certain of this. It gave him a small bit of comfort to realize that if he were a mistake it was controlled and it was meant to be. He realized with a panic, if they controlled the thread that bound him to the book, the thread could be broken by their hand. He lowered the pen and read the words. He watched his hand that turned the page and then he fell to his bed and then to sleep and the headache was not as bad as it was without the dream; but the night ended and the curtain reappeared.
The curtain provided him great comfort: on stage, looking at people seated row after row in the lit auditorium, he relied on the thread that linked him to the curtain and to the other side behind it and gave him that small bit of confidence; the thread was what made him an excellent actor. It was the thread that kept him taut and tethered and safe from being lost or swept away in the crowds and the brilliance of the penetrating spotlight that could sweep away the curtain and sweep away his life with it- if he let go. Always clinging to the thread, he wanted it to be close. He clung to the wish that his work was what The Puppeteers planned. He hoped they would forgive him his mistakes, and if not, he clung with desperation to the idea that he could excel in the light of the auditorium and redeem himself with a performance that pleased the audience, knowing all of it was graded in the ledgers, and this need pushed him to maintain a level of achievement and personal excellence, which surely they would reward. However, on the private side of the curtain, when a few from the audience slipped through, laughing and smiling and filled with ideas of their own which they forced upon him with big open hands and words stacked upon words, and the thread tangled upon itself, he became lost in a drunken blur, yet found his way home to the comfort of his room, and he set his pen to the book and he wrote for an hour, and then another hour until all the agony was written from him and he fell into bed as his eyes closed with dreams; and he turned the page and the night ended. In the morning hours of new wakefulness, he read the words recorded in the book, searched for the true meaning as he drank his morning coffee and then with the thoughts still in his mind, he turned the page. Walking through crowds of other mistakes he arrived safely tethered and found comfort in the curtain: his life was carefully measured and the thread held taut, once again. He learned to not stare at the crowds around him and to not fill himself with questioning. He stopped looking in the corners of the stage where it was dark. He stopped looking at the faces in the light of the audience. He stopped looking at his hand in front of him. He stopped looking at hands of others. There were times when he arrived backstage grasping in the dark that he wondered for how long could he sustain life. He wondered if there was a way to hold the thread of his existence, and he could live happily, perhaps without the headaches, perhaps without the pain, perhaps without the curtain.
He turned the pages of his life, one page after another, and the day would end, as it always did, and he would watch his hand enter more words into the book knowing that he could never be free of the thread that bound him to the book or the need of the night that followed when he finally slept to dream of nothing but dreams.
Written February, 2006, Millfield Street, Woods Hole