"Marry me!" he said.
That was it. Maybe not the world's most romantic proposal, but conventional romance had never been Peter's strong point. But he was sweet as a honey-soaked kitten and life with him was never dull. Of course I wanted to marry him! Yesterday he had captured the hearts of all the females of the family, and the males liked him too. His nose was still black and not many women can say they have been proposed to by a semi-rabbit.
"Shit!" he said.
"The ring! I'm supposed to give you a ring! That was why I didn't propose yesterday and here I go and forget and propose anyway. I'm so bloody impulsive."
"It's only in American movies you have to have a ring and go down on your knee and all that, which is good since you didn't. We can buy a ring together."
"Good. I know a goldsmith who doesn't scare me."
"But I do would like you to kiss me." He did. Very thoroughly and in many places and when he was finished his nose wasn't black anymore. Go figure. Afterwards we were lazily cuddling and Peter pretended to smoke a cigarette and look cool, which he said the chord needed because of what we said about American movies.
"I have been thinking about New Year," he said. "I think it's the right time to get drunk. You, me, Bettan, Erik, Yussuf and David. Safe people, and if I get obnoxious or violent Erik can deal with me easily. And it's wonderfully normal to get drunk on New Year's Eve. But no fireworks! Animals don't like them and neither do I. Loud wrong and metallic!"
"Sure, my sweet machobunny, get smashed if you want. And I am sure you won't be a nasty drunk. Only risk I see is that you may fall asleep before midnight. Or puke."
I am engaged. Engaged to be married to the most goodorangely wonderful human being who ever trod this earth. Even her farts smell good. Yussef and David congratulated me with hugs and got their un-christmas gifts. Yussef had let slip once that he played the clarinet so I got him one. David got a laptop, not a very fancy one but he was happy. Yussef was happy too, now he could spend more time looking for his wife and daughter on the net.
My drums were calling me. They wanted a good beating so they could tell the world how happy I was. It was great to have two arms again. Loud right.
It suddenly got real cold. Clear, sunny winter days like the taste of medicine. A little bit of snow made everything less dark and depressing. I went for long runs in the snow, telling the ground about my happiness by drumming it with my feet. Yussef and David were chocked, though, they had thought that the warm winter we had had that far was cold enough. We had to help them find real winter clothes, and they still preferred to be indoors.
After a few days of this Magda and me went to try out her new skates. Long distance skates are contraptions you strap on to your shoes. They are not made for quick turns but enable you to travel fast and for long distances. Magda loved it, to my great delight, but the ice was not safe for long trips yet. We stayed close to the shore where there were people and others had skated before us. Skatable days were always festive here by the lake close to town. There were several fires and hot dogs were being grilled.
This was one of those occasions where normal rules don't apply and Swedes can talk to people they don't know without being drunk. We chatted with a guy, Johan, who turned out to be a psychiatrist. He and his German wife skated every chance they got, they were in a club. He knew Ola but got that look that psych people get when you talk about something job-related. It's like they are chewing on something big they would have liked to spit out, but can't. Back to the club, which sounded like fun. Being in a group with people who knew what they were doing they could take more risks and go where the ice wasn't totally dependable. They were off. They skated beautifully, totally relaxed and unhurried, yet with great speed. Again - beautiful! And all kinds of blue.
Christmas was a family thing but at New Year the usual procedure was to party with your friends. This I had never done, of course, since I had no friends before. I was very proud this year to have four people coming to our little party. I had insisted that there should be plenty of alcohol, but I had not managed to buy it. In Sweden all alcohol is sold is special shops to keep consumption down. Just before New Year those shops are full of needy and irritated people, making an awful ambience I just couldn't handle. Magda sent me to get some good food while she took care of the liquor.
I took care of the cooking. I will not bore you with details. I like to cook but it's incredibly boring to watch someone cooking on TV. Reading about it must be even worse. I was pleased with the dinner, though.
Peter was totally wrapped up in his happiness with our engagement and the excitement of the New Year's party. I was a little low since the police told me yesterday that they would not go any further about Roger and the battering. They had spoken to him, he denied everything, word against word, he wouldn't get convicted anyway, lack of resources, bye bye. It was not that they didn't believe me, they said, but for a conviction more than that was needed.
Peter really tried to care and he acted like he was just as upset as I, but he is a lousy actor, bless him. In other circumstances I'm sure he would have been properly indignant, but there just wasn't room for such feelings in his happy head right now. It wasn't a big deal - I could gripe about it with Bettan and Karin. I didn't look forward to meeting Birger again, though, I just knew he was going to say something smug and idiotic.
The party went off to a good start. Yussef and David didn't drink of course. They had learned quite a bit of Swedish in these weeks, but conversation still was special. A lot of giggling and innovative ways of making ourselves understood. Peter said very little. He had his getting-drunk experiment going and he mainly sat and smiled, watching everyone in that special way he has. He explained that he had a scientific approach - he aimed to slowly increase his degree of drunkness and observe the effects for each step. As yet little was observable from the outside. His smile may have been a little wider and looser and his giggling perhaps slightly louder.
The drunker I got the brighter and louder they got. Smells increased, too. This would have been unbearable if I had been with people that I didn't like. Note to self; don't get drunk among strangers. Now, it was kind of pleasant to be inundated in the presence of my friends, the chords loud like I was on a rock concert blown away by massive sound.
But the intermittent nagging of fireworks disturbed me. Some start early, I suppose people with small kids who goes to bed before midnight. Every explosion set off a bad taste like chewing on old copper coins and I started to worry about midnight, when the real fireworks would begin. The way I was going I might lie in the nest and tremble by then, the way our dog used to react.
I decided to halt the experiment. I was a little disappointed and in a way it would have been more fulfilling to have the experiment end in a disaster, at least from a story-telling point of view. Yussef and David also disliked the fireworks, by the way, but for very different reasons. It brought back memories from Syria, the shooting and the bombing.
The rest of the evening I just coasted along, floating like an albatross on the updrafts of alcohol and ambience. Sometimes I had the presence of mind to understand what they said, sometimes not. I occasionally said something that seemed appropriate at the time. Also, I was lord of the stereo, deciding what music should be played - an important macho thing, I was told. I was pleased that there was some small thing I did right from a macho point of view. Maybe I should get a TV so I could be lord of the remote-control, too - apparently another area of male dominance. On the other hand, why should I get a TV now, when I didn't even want one when I hadn't got a life?
Peter told us that he had had enough alcohol around ten. He would have a glass of champagne at midnight, he said, but no more. We talked and laughed and had a good time. Suddenly the new year was begun and we all went out in the garden to get a better view of the fireworks. Peter watched them with a sad expression.
"They are not evil," he said. "But they don't care. They don't care that they make a lot of noise and scare animals and some people. They don't care that they are poisonous either. They just care that they are pretty and loud is good because it makes people take notice." Sometimes he sounds like an irritating Wise Man in a bad fantasy novel, but part of the irritation is that you know that there is a lot of truth in what he says.
Drunk sex was intended to be a part of the experiment, but Peter promptly fell asleep when the guests had left. We agreed that Peter and alcohol was a bad combination.
"Never again!" he said, further shaken by his life's first real hangover. "Tipsy is fine, drunk un-fine. Too risky."
Peter felt that being hung over and nauseous was the proper state to tell me more about his family.
"My father was a bloody drunk and petty tyrant. He left when I was four and good riddance. Bitter metallic yellow fear is all I remember of him. Mom screaming and I was too small to help. When he disappeared it was much better, but still pretty shitty. We never had any money, I had to do the cooking if I wanted to eat anything else than sandwiches. Mom was mostly in bed. I can see now she was depressed. Wistfully weak violet, dark grey. Then black. She killed herself. I was gone for a week for a big chess tournament. I was eighteen. I won - my first big win and it almost made me a grand-master. I was excited about having won, felt happy that I had something good to tell Mom.
She had taken pills, then hung herself for good measure, she really meant business. They said she must have done it right away when I left. I guess that she hadn't had the time to rot all that much, but to me the stench of putrifying mother decaying flesh was like a wall of slime when I got home. That's why I can't bear the smell of rotting meat today. Brings me right back. I lived by myself then, I was a legal adult and I made enough money to support myself. And I had Ola, he's been there all those years. I think he has saved my life. And soon I will lose him because I don't need him anymore."
I hugged him and kissed him and hugged him again. I whispered everything beautiful to him and I comforted him and tried to make him feel that I would be his mother sometimes when he needed to. And I kissed him some more and pulled his pants down and gave him a slow loving blowjob and made him feel that most of the time I bloody well was not his mother at all. And we both cried for sadness and joy at the same time.
This year's first tournament was coming up. It was in Athens, which had Yussef somewhat excited. I had promised to do all I could to find his family. What I could do was to give interviews and tell the story and show photographs. Hopefully some newspaper or TV-station would find it sufficiently interesting to publish. I was a little nervous about it, I usually avoided interviews the best I could.
My plan otherwise was to try to revert to my old role as much as possible. When playing chess I had to be Peter P Hansson, savant chess-weirdo. The P in the middle didn't mean anything. At one of my very first tournaments, when I was just a boy, they asked my name and I was so nervous I started to say Peter a second time. I've always liked having a separate identity for the chess-me, and now it is even more important. I also felt the name was a part of my un-machoness. Peepee the little willie beating the piss out of the big dicks.
I had Bulov in the first round. Bulov the Belarusian Bore. My games against him always became drawn-out siege scenarios in dreary landscapes with severe shortage of water or pouring rain. It ended in a draw, as usual. Bulov smelled sour like old socks and nibbled raw carrots while playing.
My hotel room was too fake-grand. Fake leather couch, thick carpet and a lot of metal that pathetically tried to look like gold. The chords were just plain wrong and something had to be done. My drum kit would have cowed the room into submission easily and if I had been a famous rock star or something it might have been tolerated. Chess players are not expected to be noisy, though, we are more quietly nuts.
I took a walk to try and find something that would balance the chords. In a big toy store I found the very thing - a glockenspiel. Between games I then sat in my room and played Nirvana tunes on my glockenspiel, which I named Hilda. Hilda had a mild but undeniable presence and her childish brightness was not at all impressed by ostentatious false gold.
I managed to get interviewed by one TV-channel and two papers. I dutifully answered their questions, then I told them about Yussuf and his family. I showed pictures of them (Sarah and Yasmine) and promised a reward to whosoever knew where they were. They probably were dead, of course. But there was still a chance.
We were down to eight players I the tournament now. Bulov was not one of them (ha!) but Kostadikis was doing great and the audience was happy. I walked to my hotel that night, pleased that I had made the cut. I was thinking that, surprisingly, chess felt much less meaningless than before. Now I had the beginning of a family to take care of and now there was a meaning in the money-making itself. I was providing for the kids I did not yet have.
You who are reading this story will not be surprised by what happened. Stories are constructed in certain patterns and seldom surprise. When I have told you my story I have undoubtedly made choices about what to tell and how to tell it to make it as much like a story as possible. But remember that to me it was not a story. It was reality and reality doesn't follow the neat rules of story-telling.
Imagine yourself in my place when she, totally out of the blue, comes up to me, touches my arm and says "Mr. Hansson?" And imagine the feelings when I realize that it is her! It's Sarah, the wife of my friend who in the secret places in his heart is sure that she is dead but keeps hoping against hope because otherwise he would not have the strength to live.
I picked up my cell-phone, punched number four and gave it to her. Then I just stood there and watched as she and Yasmine laughed, cried and spoke Arabic at racer speed while I, and several passers-by who got caught up in the maelstrom of happiness, watched them with tears in our eyes. We humans are suckers for happy ends and this obviously was happy happy not the end or the beginning of the end but the beginning of the rest of something with a lot of love in it.
Sarah was red, too, a red like the curtains in an old theatre except not dusty. I could understand that she and Yussef could make beautiful chords together. Yasmine was more yellow, but she was still young. Sound of cats making small pleased sounds but not purring.
They slept in my room, in the bed. I slept in the fake leather couch. This was acceptable because Yussef had said I was his brother and thus family. This made me very proud, and very happy. I never had a brother before. I squared things with the hotel and we got an extra bed instead of the couch. Yasmine made friends with Hilda and I taught her Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Yussef was bouncing up and down, something I'd never seen this grounded man do. The paperwork and bureaucracy had been horrendous, but finally Sarah and Yasmine had been allowed to fly to Sweden. Now they only had to get through the border control. There oughtn't to be a problem, but we had waited for a long time now since their plane had landed. Peter was with them and had promised never to let them out of sight, but dealing with officials was not what he did best.
At last Yussef let out a big roar. Two different-sized females were running towards us. But where was Peter? The ecstatic joy and vast love going on beside me was all very well and would usually have me reduced to a blubbering heap, but where the hell was he? The minutes slowly dragged by and now the others began to notice.
"Sarah say he go bag. Say she go me." Yussef said.
"Ok, I'm sure he's fine. He'll be here any minute." And sure I was sure he was fine. Fine. I worried anyway.
Eventually he came, of course. But he was quite obviously not fine. He walked very slowly, bag in tow, all pale. I rushed to him and gave him the biggest but softest hug I could. We found a place to sit and he held on to me like I was his nest now and I suppose I was.
"It was so terrible," he whispered. "Cold clammy like old porridge glue with no air or dry hot dusty papers with no air. I could not leave them and I didn't. I think I'm proud again but now I'm so tired. I don't want to be here but I don't know if I can walk. Is it far?"
"Not too bad. I borrowed dad's car, I can bring it to the entrance if you want."
"No, you must not leave me. I can walk if I must."
Yussef picked him up. "I carry you, brother." he said. "You carry family, I carry you." And he did, through great halls and subterranean passages. Peter's eyelids grew heavier and when we reached the car he slept. He slept all the way back home and he slept back some of his strength. The backseat of the car hummed with love and softly spoken Arabic.
My love for Peter, palely sleeping beside with all his fragile strength, was humming along too. Once again he had stepped up and done what had to be done and paid the price. At last we were home and David came out and they did their joy-thing again and we staggered off to the nest and slept the sleep of the just and the just about just.
It was fantastic to get back home and to be with Magda again. The bureaucracy had been mindlessly murderous, much worse that getting beat up - which I didn't even remember. Without that helpful lady from the Red Cross we would have been lost, chewed to pulp and recycled as new forms. It was worth it, however. Yussef had his family back and I had come to really like Sarah and love Yasmine.
Magda and Yussef had been talking about him getting Magda's flat and her moving in with me. She seemed nervous about my reaction, but how could I be anything but delighted? We were getting married, after all. Everything was fun with her, we both loved small silly games and competitions. You know, like who-can-make-his-pizza-look-most-like-Ireland-without-consulting-a-map competitions. Everyday stuff, but so precious.
We had decided to get married on Valentine's Day. That seemed fitting and normal to me and Magda didn't mind. In a way I wanted a great big humungous wedding, in more than one way I didn't. One difficulty in arranging a large wedding was that I had almost no one to invite. The only person I could ask who Magda didn't know too was Ola. I wasn't even sure that his therapist code would allow him to come. Maybe, since we were in the process of ending our professional relation. The last few times we'd met we talked mainly about our separation. It was scary but, to quote Ola, life is more important than therapy.
I went into the bad flat by myself. I had to confront it on my own. I sat down, took a deep breath and looked the floor right in its eyes. Nothing there. Whatever had been there (whether that whatever lived in the floor or in my mind) was gone. The floor was still ugly, still smelled (to me) like old wet cigarette butts, but the ugliness was powerless now.
Not a church wedding. Magda had left The Church of Sweden and we were not very religious. In that we were kind of typical, Sweden is the least religious country in the world. Or so I've been told, but a lot of the facts you know always turn out to not be facts at all. So, a civil ceremony followed by a great big party.
There were many possibilities for theme weddings. Divers wedding, climbers wedding, bowling wedding, Elvis wedding, Abba wedding, castle wedding, zombie wedding in an old mine, zoo wedding with the animals of your choice, boxing wedding, downhill skiing wedding, naked and rolling in paint wedding, building a snow-house dressed only in leaves wedding or pig out on all the shrimps you can eat wedding. And so on.
Yussef offered to organize a Syrian wedding, which was more tempting than the bowling option, but less so than the nude paint deal. Eventually we decided to have faith in the weather and hold the ceremony outdoors, by Jimmy Pond's pond.
Jimmy is quite crazy, but it's not a bad crazy. He lives by a pond not far from town and never leaves it. He's the closest thing we've got to a shaman round here and I have always found him very soothing. It's good to meet someone who is way crazier than me but perfectly happy. Gives me hope. He is human nature, a human who is part of nature, and just as indifferent to approval. He just is.
That Jimmy fellow had promised us good weather for the wedding. He delivered, too. The night was clear and cold and the sky was full of stars. Our friends were standing round the pond with torches lifted high. The pond watched us, the stars, and the torches with its large unblinking black eye. The wedding officiant was standing at the center of the pond, waiting for us. We watched the scene, through binoculars kindly lent to us by my darling nieces. Peter tasted the chords. "Perfect!"
We made our entrance, bells jingling, in our one horse open sleigh. Friends and torches formed a path for us to where the officiant waited. His part of the ceremony was rather mundane and lasted no longer than two minutes, but when he was done we were legally married, rings exchanged, lips kissed. The officiant stepped back and Jimmy emerged from the darkness, looking like a mix of an old mattress and a bird's nest.
"The pond is pleased." he said. "The pond is pleased because your hearts are pure, and your love warms not only yourself, but other people too. The pond wants you to drink it and it will not make you sick. The pond wants you to drink it and be a part of it as it will be a part of you."
He handed us an old cracked cup with murkish water. We drank. He walked round the edge of the pod inviting our guests to drink. Most did.
This rag-tag algae soup communion was somehow very moving. By marrying Peter I became a part of something bigger than myself, which I think we humans have a deep need to. In accepting communion with the pond as an aspect of Mother Nature or something I reaffirmed my being a part of what I was and always would be a part of and who sounds like the bad fantasy novel now? Well, anyway, it got to me and I am sure you would have been moved too, had you been there.
Afterwards we went to a place we had rented, not all that far from the pond but too far for Jimmy, who stayed. We ate a lot. Dad made a speech. Peter was happy that Ola had come and happy with the chords in general. Yussef had learnt a short speech in Swedish that had us both crying. Then I had a surprise as some curtains were pulled back revealing music equipment. Peter, Erik and Bettan had been practicing in secret and now played some of my very favorite songs. Yasmine made a surprise appearance on the Nirvana tune. She, Greta and Emma made friends in spite of the age gap and played all night, when they didn't all squeeze onto Peter's lap. I must make that man a father as soon as possible. He is born to be a dad.
The wedding, the party, coming home as married - all perfect. We didn't wat to spend thee night in a hotel, why should we? Instead we lit 82 log white candles - one for every day we had known each other - in the plant room and had fantastic we-are-married-sex. Magda solemnly ditched her contraceptives which gave the whole thing an extra edge. Rough and tender at the same time.
Well. I guess that's it. If it had been just a story all threads would be neatly wrapped up by now. They aren't quite, Roger got off too easy, for instance. But that's life for you, as oppose to stories.
One final word of advice, people: Do things that you will be proud of! When I finally did it changed my miserable life into something wonderful.
Now I'll go with my favorite ending and claim that we lived happily ever after. I suppose it's really too early to tell since it's only been a week since the wedding. But if that week is an indicator happy ever after seems probable. Bye bye!
Feb 13, 2018 in romance