I started all three drafts of the memoir by talking about the sandals. Given that all three met separate untimely fates, and given that I need to branch in much wider directions than any of those manuscripts had traveled, I’m not going to start with the sandals this time.
Instead, I’m going to talk about the books.
There were usually two books on my nightstand at any given time, most often (and to be fair, often arbitrarily) categorized as one ‘light reading’ book and one ‘heavy reading’. I would switch back and forth between the two depending on my mood, and for that reason I made sure that the two books were never on the same subject.
But then, after that summer, after the injuries set in, I found I couldn’t concentrate on a book for more than two minutes. And the two books that I had just finished days before it all happened sat on my nightstand for several years afterwards, often collecting dust, standing as a symbol of both what I had lost and my denial around it. Often they poked out under papers, sticking out in their contrasting blue and yellow covers as a constant reminder of life before.
Over time, that familiarity resulted in a detachment from the contents of the books themselves, a detachment that held through several moves and related packings and unpackings, and through countless glances at the shelf as I would pause at them as symbols but not necessarily reflect on their subjects.
Eventually, when I moved into a loft in Eugene without room for a nightstand, the books went back on the bookshelf just as my nighttime mug became a water bottle and my nightstand altar became a shelf. And yet they stuck out to me, with strange memories encased in them, a haunting familiarity which linked their visual presence to a long-lost comfort. A few more moves, a few more packings and unpackings, with the two titles finally settling on the middle shelf of a tall bookcase in my downtown Portland apartment.
It was in searching for a Spanish dictionary on my bookshelf last month, with the pilgrimage in mind, that I came across the titles once more. And the detachment suddenly shattered as not only did their content suddenly scream from the pages, but their connection to both the pilgrimage and to each other became immediately evident. I suddenly felt a fool, reflecting on both my inability to draw a connection between them when I first read them and the fact that it hadn’t hit me until that moment despite their re-appearance in my conscious field on a regular basis.
On the surface, their only commonality is their geographic setting and their first-person nonfiction narrative. ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell is a detailed account of Orwell’s experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and ‘The Pilgrimage’ by Paulo Coehlo is a story of the author’s pilgrimage across the Camino de Santiago. And yet, one has led to the other, history and mysticism have become ever intertwined, and the connections between the two have become ever and continuously overlapping and revealed.
Looking back, I cannot dismiss the fact that those two books sat inches from my head through countless dreams and visions and nightmares, through countless conversations with gods and mortals alike, countless petitions and pleas and prayers for answers. Whether they acted as battery or conduit, suggestion or guidance, whether they bled into the plans of the Gods or they were the blueprints for such plans I cannot say.
All I know is that none of it is coincidence.