The Counter

The Counter at Grand Central Terminal, 1929

Once I had this dream. I don’t even remember if I was actually sleeping – or just slipping away.

I dreamt I was so worn down by my life as I knew it. So exhausted by all the painful memories that were blurring all the positive ones.
Roaming around every day and trying new stuff, but it wouldn’t work.
Thinking, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
Realising, after a while, that the stronger you get, you only get lonelier.

After a while, I got so weary, I couldn’t learn how to enjoy whatever was going to come anymore. I’d only see the lousy sides of everything and would draw miserable conclusions, so life would increasingly become a spiral, with little variation.

I kept searching for a way to change it.
After a while, I learned there was a counter somewhere, where you could go to and give up your life, as a package, and ask for another one in return.
But you wouldn’t know what was in the new package, before you traded the old one in. No way of choosing.

Eventually, I found the building. It looked like a station, allthough you could walk around it. It had only one large double door.
I went to watch it, time and again, wondering if now was the right time to ask for the exchange.

I’d sneak around the impressive thing, observing the people who went in and out. They were not showing any major change in mood. But they’d come out with a different look on their faces. As someone else.

Every time I’d go there, I would toy around with the idea. And wonder.
Maybe the time’s not ready yet- imagine, you’ll give up all your memories, entirely.

All of them.
You wouldn’t know your loved ones anymore.
You wouldn’t remember how you discovered sunshine, in a plastic fishbowl, one morning.
Or your grandma’s generous smile. Sour cherries on mown grass.
The taste of freshly ground pepper on tomatoes, that grandfather made you eat one day, because ‚you can’t say you dislike something, without even having tried it.’

You’d never remember that day dad held you on his knees, while you were crying over your first bleeding knee or lip, and how he told you that it was going to be ok.
That way the streets smelled after a hot summer storm, when mom would come home with a sunflower from ‘patriotic work’ in a nearby field. Exhausted, but smiling.

You wouldn’t know your favourite perfume anymore. Or your first kiss.

Or your first trip abroad, when you discovered ‚the other world’, Switzerland! the land the old ones had told so many stories about. The wonderful house on the hill, where your godmother lived!

That amazed way in which someone, who had really mattered back then, had looked at you one morning.
Your first flight, alone! The travels!
…Those warm hugs with friends, when you came back, after all these years – it took them a couple of years to believe that you were going to stay, this time.

That crazy chase in the streets, one short happy night.

All of these were linked to painful memories, that would seep through, just when you were recalling the good ones!
The loved ones had judged you and had turned against you so many times, for no big reason,
the fish bowl had mysteriously disappeared one day.
Grandma died years ago – and nobody smiles like that anymore. Most cherries had had worms in them – and she used to eat them!
Someone too close had told you, furious, one day, “You are as reckless as your grandfather used to be.” He had died when you were six and you don’t even remember him that well anymore…

You always had bleeding knees in summer back then, because you were invariably veering too close to the corner of the house with your bike. The lip was from your first humiliating fight at school.
After that, things had gotten worse for years: you remember having been involved in more fights, than the others would remember afternoons of holding hands and kissing behind the school as teens.
Mom’s face looks ashen with exhaustion almost every day now, but she still keeps trying to save the world,
and there’s always so much more to be saved than is humanly possible.

So many other women are wearing your perfume. The guy who gave you that first kiss told you, two days later, that he had only kissed you out of ‚duty’ and you should forget about it, because he knew you had been fancying him for two years now…

You had never encountered the Switzerland of their stories – it was probably gone long before you were born – and the new one you had found instead had, in time, turned a very cold face at you.

That someone with the rapt look on his face had cheated on you in a terrible, unexpected way.
You had flown so many miles alone, wishing there was someone waiting for you at the airport, that the mere memory of those flights would turn your stomach.
So much about the friends.

And the chase that night? He had been drunk and exuberant and you were probably the only one to remember it that lovely way.
He had misleaded you – and you had gratefully accepted that lead.
Or maybe it wasn’t even that clear.
It wasn’t clear anyway. But it was gutless and sad…

So, now we’re here, you think. Have it, all of it, the whole package, with all its memories, let someone else delight themselves with its content, may they enjoy having your enthusiasm, your wits, your courage and your smile. Your skills, your love of so-many-things-in-this world, books and horses and languages and everything. Let someone else have it! …Maybe they’ll handle it better.

What if there are other, much more terrible lives, that people come to trade in? Are you feeling you’re there, now?
Would you trade your whole life in, for that?
he said, frowning.
Only desperate souls would come to trade their lives in at this counter, anyway.

Smart ones, not the trite ones, I know those happy simple souls! those wouldn’t find the counter anyway.
Would you switch with them,
is your misery so much sadder than theirs?

I never found the counter. And, I must say, I don’t think of it often.

But I now think that “in the battle between you and the world, bet on the world”, as the saying goes.

I wish I’d learn how to enjoy this world, instead of trying to battle it.

I guess that, for some things, I’m a slow learner.

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