Joe sat under the bridge.
Well, it wasn’t really a bridge, more of an overpass between life and death.
While the doctors did their best, and I mean really, the best, to bring Joe back to life, in the end, it all depended on him. Whether he would decide to turn left to life or right to death. To live or to die, that is Joe’s question.
It might seem obvious to many of you that any idiot who was lucky enough to be faced with this question and who had the power to determine its conclusion would turn right back to life. You’re one in a million, Joe. Go left, man! Yet it’s not quite as simple.
You see, Joe has been sitting in this place where time is at a halt. Nothing really moves except for him. It’s like he fell into a still painting. Let me describe what that place really is.
You have an eternity. God only knows how long Joe has been in there, might be an hour, or maybe 10 years. And he was all along trying to make a single decision: to stay or to leave. It’s like standing in front of a pastry shop and trying to choose between a croissant and a doughnut except that the time has stopped, thus nobody is pressuring you into making a quick decision, and the choice you make pretty much determines the rest of your life (or the lack of thereof). And when Joe goes back, everything will be just as it was, while Joe will have spent hundreds of years or split-seconds contemplating everything in his life, moment after moment after moment. He has had time to see behind every betrayal inflicted upon him and relive every disappointment that he caused. Joe has passed the Great Judgement Day, and now he can go back to life. But how many of us could bear life after this encounter? Maybe there is a reason why death follows the Great Judgement.
This painting is a stage, and on the stage, they perform spectacles, like a Fellini film where characters are the phantoms of your memory.
The shows usually start with Joe. There is a big book of life that the Joe flips, and the play initiates with whatever memory it falls upon. Section 13; Chapter 25, How Joe was too busy for his daughter’s middle school performance. Comes in Clarisse. 12 years old, brunette, in a finely ironed dress and neatly curled hair.
Clarisse starts to sing in front of an audience for the first time. She is singing “Hallelujah,” and doing her best to hit all the high notes and the low notes, and to keep a bit of a smile for the audience. Suddenly, she loses herself when she looks in Joe’s direction. Suddenly, Joe sees himself from her perspective. Stage directions, the empty, big, red, overwhelmingly soft, and important red chair! The empty red chair, that takes up half of the stage! Now, Joe sits there and screams: “Hey Clarisse, I’m here! Look! I’m so proud of you baby!” But then little creatures, the little ensemble of the show appear and laughs at Joe, like small naughty angels. “Hey, Joe! This show is not interactive anymore!” “She can’t hear you, Joe!” “The memory is written and done”, one of them even sings, “and what’s written is written, and what's done is done, you won’t overwrite it anymoooore!” The page is closed, rendered, and sealed.
Section 16, Chapter 8, How Joe cheats on Katy. This started happening recently before Joe fell into a coma. The girl was Betty: Elisabeth - the beautiful blond, the slender fox from the office. It just started in his mind, a mere thought, what of it? And just like that it just moved to a café, a casual talk, just a cup of coffee, and then it just casually made a tiny slip into her bed. And there they found themselves one day. Joe loved Katy, and he was so sure about this, that was out of the question. But besides loving Katy, Joe wanted Betty. When you’re with someone for so many years, you don’t feel the stars bursting inside you when you lay by the all too familiar body every night. And in the beginning, Joe didn’t think it dangerous to think, or to want, or to desire, because Joe thought – what’s on your mind, is just on your mind. He would never cross the boundary. That wasn’t Joe. And then one day, with a cigarette in his hand, and Betty’s body by his side, Joe realized, that when you don’t clean something like that from your mind, it grows like the Baobab’s in the Little Prince’s world and overtakes your planet. The desires we have become actions after, and single eye contact may suffice to ignite them. Katy still doesn’t know, but Joe has been living in fear of being exposed for every day of his life starting then.
“Maybe the world is better off without me,” Joe thought.
That’s what he thought he was thinking anyways. In truth, Joe couldn’t go back because he would be afraid to continue from the point he left off. Maybe, who knows, that little slip and fall down the stairs was the best thing to happen to him.
After two or one hundred years or just a couple more seconds, Joe discovered a final chapter in the book he never knew was there. DREAM. It was called.
Even though most of our dreams are random mishmashes of the impressions of the day, there is that one dream that we are predisposed to.
Joe opened this section of the book. Suddenly, he saw this house he had dreamed of thousands of times.
It was in a clearing of a forest. Joe walked by river streams and he smelled the grass and the familiar earthly feeling on his bare feet was better than anything he recalled recently experiencing. He was all alone, in this idyllic place.
Joe reached the house in the clearing. There was a mute old woman in front of the house. She gestured Joe in. Nothing could go wrong here. This was the safe house in the safe forest, where no one could sabotage Joe. The tea that the grandmother brought him was hot and aromatic with freshly plucked forest flowers.
Joe lay in the grass in front of the house, bending his tired back, bone by bone, and watched the stars at night, and let the rays of sun wash over him in the day.
The old woman knitted this scarf which was always the same length and never grew longer, almost like the work of Penelope.
There was only one tree on top of the hill. And a scripture about this tree, in the mute woman’s house, said, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it.” Joe felt like he knew these words from somewhere.
Joe kept away for as long as he could. He had everything he wanted, after all.
Just as it comes out, the greatest enemy of humans is boredom. One scientist did an experiment. He sat a participant into a room with a button. Whenever the participant would press the button, he would be hit with a stream of electrical shock. The participants, logically, kept away for the first couple of minutes as to not inflict pain upon themselves. But there was not much else in the room to do, so after a couple minutes, they hit the button again, knowing full well about the consequences that this action would bring about. The conclusion of the study was that people prefer pain over boredom.
Ask yourselves a question, for how long could you enjoy the Idyllic life? Was the forbidden fruit just the ticket out of the garden? Did Adam and Eve know the fate that awaited them when they bit into its flash? And would they still do it, even if they knew what sinful world would follow this act?
Joe did. One day, he kissed the old woman’s hand and told her his “thank yous.” Joe climbed up the hill and in the hike, he endured many hardships that his frail body had gotten unused to. But when Joe reached the top, he finally felt that feeling of vanity which humans so adore: the feeling of victory.
Joe bit into the fruit. A hurricane advanced sweeping everything from the garden, then tearing all the pages of the book, setting the stage props flying in the air, the angels - trying to hold from something solid when nothing was yet solidified.
Joe stood at the bridge, and he had to turn – left or right.
Joe woke up on his bed. Katy was sitting there next to him, asleep.
“Joe?” She thrust to him.
“I need to tell you something. You’re not gonna like it. I hope we’ll get through this. But first of all, I love you, and I came back to say – I’m sorry.”
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