Ezekiel Nathaniel Hawthorne!!! There I’ve introduced myself. Yes I know, with a name like that, even I doubted my parents love for me. The good part of it is that the intended grandiosity of the name was diluted, when Ezekiel was shortened to a mere, rather pedestrian, ‘Eezee’. So, ‘Eezee’ I was, to everyone who stayed in my life longer than three days.
Perhaps the name imitates life. My life was easy from ever since I can remember. Some random gene pool had bestowed good looks upon me as well as upon my younger sister Zakia. All I had to do was flash a dimpled smile, for my relatives to wag my chin about and say, “Isn’t he a good-looking devil?” (Makes one wonder why good-looks are always associated with the devil). My I.Q level was pretty high too and the combination of good-looks and intelligence made for a pretty combustible me.
I breezed through life; there was no dearth of friends, and I did well academically with very little effort. My parents loved me and my sister very much. There wasn’t anything really remarkable about my childhood. I hung around with my friends, played soccer and really believed that the world was made for my amusement. Most teachers loved me while some resented the fact that I had it so easy. Childhood passed by in a blink of an eye and all too soon I was a teenager.
My earliest memory of entering the teens (and my best-kept secret to date) was my initiation into manhood by my 50-year old librarian, Mrs Zachariah one humid Tuesday afternoon at the age of 13. I had stayed back from school to finish a project. I don’t quite remember how it happened but oh boy Mrs. Zachariah’s firm and formidable exterior sure did hide a very passionate interior. I found a new respect for older women that lasted my entire life.
I was elected captain of the soccer team and that was my passport to the wondrous world of women. Soccer drew the ladies into my life by the dozens. I gladly meandered though the mysterious world of exotic perfumes, long hair, flavored lipsticks and coy looks. I loved and respected them all indiscriminately (which really means that I ran from relationships that hinted at long-lasting commitments).
The only lady that I was possessive about was Zakia, my sister. She was three years younger than I and I couldn’t credit any boy who’d come near her with having a single noble thought. My history so far with the ladies didn’t give me any reason to believe that the male of the species was even capable of noble thoughts around beautiful girls. I drove Zakia insane by insisting on accompanying her wherever she went until finally I left for university to do my medicine. I wanted to heal, ease pain and give hope and most importantly, my scores were good enough for a scholarship at Oxford, so I bid farewell to my family and friends.
My first year at Oxford was a blur of women, studies, classes and notes. It was during my second year that Jezebel waltzed into my life. (I sometimes suspect that it was our mutual discomfort with our names that attracted us to each other). The first time we met was at the campus cafeteria and it was first the sound of her laughter booming out of her that caught my attention and then I noticed her mass of black curls and only then did I see a happy face with large brown eyes looking at me with open curiosity. (I still think of it as an audio-visual attraction – first her laughter and then her face). Though I was used to women looking at me surreptitiously, I was amused by this blatant appraisal of my face and the rest of my anatomy. I cocked one eyebrow and asked, “Do I pass muster”? “Just by a whisper”, she replied with a cheeky laugh. Jezebel was doing her first year of medicine and it was almost pre-ordained that we would get together. We would find time to meet whenever our busy schedules allowed it. She was a free and happy spirit. I had never before met a woman who was so unapologetically herself. She was absolutely fearless. She cried and she laughed and lived life with this great big passion. She infused a sense of adventure in me. Before I realized it, we had been seeing each other for two years.
We were happy with things as they were. It was when her mother came down to visit us that things took a drastic turn for me. Over dinner her mother innocently remarked, “My goodness both of you are so good for each other and I am looking forward to holding beautiful grandchildren in my arms one day”. I was raised to be polite, so I managed to smile through the rest of the evening, but I could feel the tendrils of fear starting to curl around my heart. I loved Jezz but I just wasn’t ready for the house, the dogs and the picket fence yet.
I was unusually quiet that night when we returned home and Jezz sensed that something inside me had changed. “What is it Eezee?”, she asked. “I’m just a bit tired Jezz”, I replied, trying to side-track her. I smiled at her and held her tight till she fell asleep, but I was restless and didn’t sleep a wink that night. I watched her rhythmic breathing and tried to convince myself that things were ok. She found me staring out the window early next morning. “This is about what mom said isn’t it? You can’t blame my mom for dreaming but I am not asking you for a forever Eezee. If you feel like I’m holding you to a commitment please know that I am not. I’m happy with what we have and I’m more than willing to take it one day at a time”. I twirled a curl around my finger and said, “Jezz, I love you and I know that you will eventually want a home and a hearth and I don’t know if I will ever be ready”. She kept quiet for the longest time and said, “Then I think we should try going our separate ways Eezee because I don’t want you to ever feel like you’ve lived half a life”. She looked at me to see if I would say anything to contradict her, but I could only look at her in helpless silence. An immense sadness crept into her eyes and in a very quiet voice, she said, “Eezee, I’m moving out tomorrow. I want us to be together in total honesty or I want nothing at all. I also want you to know that you’ll always be a very beautiful part of my life”. She turned away from me and I knew she was fighting tears. That killed me more than anything she could have said or done because Jezz was just not used to hiding anything. Even in her pain, I knew she was trying to make it easy for me. In my heart, I knew I would never love quite this way again but I was overwhelmed by a sense of finality and it was closing in on me. So I let her walk away from my life – just like that.
I didn’t see Jezebel for days after she’d moved out. I finally asked one of her friends who told me that she had not been attending college. I tried calling her and even visiting her apartment but there was no sign of her. One day Derek, a mutual friend of ours, called me on the phone and said, “Eezee, you’d better come over to Central Middlesex hospital”. “What’s wrong Derek”? I asked as I imagined the worst. “Just get here as soon as you can”. I drove as fast as the speed limit would allow me to and hurtled into the room that Derek had mentioned.
What I saw there, made my blood run cold. Jezebel was lying on the bed with tears streaming down her cheeks looking pale and a doctor was holding her hand and saying, “I’m sorry my dear, we couldn’t save the baby.” Oh my God!!! A baby? Was that our baby? We made a baby? I knew the answer even as my mind was forming the questions. Derek said “I’ll leave you two alone” and left. I tried to reach for her but she turned away. I felt like the worst kind of cad on earth. I ran my fingers through my hair as I tried to get myself together, “Jezz, I swear to God, I had no idea, I am so, so, so very sorry”. She turned to me and said, “What would you have done if you had known Eezee? Would you have stayed because it was the right thing to do? Would you have reduced everything we had to an obligation? Which one of us would have been happy with that in the long run? I would have told you nonetheless Eezee but I wasn’t sure myself. Even before I could realize I was pregnant, I lost our baby”. The tears started pouring down her face again. “Let’s make a new beginning Jezz”, I pleaded. She shook her head, “I need time and I need space. What we had was beautiful and innocent and now I feel like it has morphed into something complex and heavy. I need you to leave now Eezee. Goodbye and have a great life”. I floundered about for something to say but she had already turned away.
After a long time, I got drunk that night.
I finished my course in medicine and graduated summa cum laude. I moved back to Boston to set up a small practice. In my home town I soon gathered some loyal clients. It was as though I had never left. I used to take Mrs. Carmichael, our neighbour with me for her weekly check-ups and make sure she was dropped back home. “You’re very kind to me Ezekiel, God bless you”, she’d say. “It’s only because I’m hopelessly in love with you Mrs. C”, I’d reply and she would laugh every single time. I was back to friends, family and a string of meaningless relationships. I never questioned the emotional void in me because I knew the answer and I had let the answer walk away from me.
I celebrated my 26th Birthday with a small group of family and friends. Zakia kept hovering around giving me strange little looks from the corner of her eye. “What is it sis”? I finally asked her. She hemmed and hawed till I said, “Ok out with it”. “Eezee, I found someone that I want to spend the rest of my life with” she said. “I want to be the first to tell you and it’s your friend Liam”, she finished in a hurry.
For a minute I could only look at my sister. My brain did not want to comprehend that my lovely little sister wanted to wed my rascal of an Irish friend. I grabbed her, held her close and with tears threatening to choke me I said, “Zakia, you’re an adult now and you owe me no explanations. I love you and I am so happy for you… and I’m also going to let Liam know that I will kill him if he ever hurts you”.
I raised a toast to Zakia and Liam as the party raged on. My mom came up to me and said, “I’m so happy Eezee. I have everything I could ever ask for. Are you happy my love? ” “Well mom, I have no reason not to be”, I answered, evasively. She gave me a tight hug and whispered, “You need to love a woman who really loves YOU Eezee and I’m not talking about the trophies that you bring home on your arm”. She gave me a kiss and went on to play hostess. My mind immediately turned to Jezz and I wondered where she was and hoped that she was doing well wherever she was. Just then a beautiful svelte blonde (a trophy as my mom would put it) wound her way through the party and onto my lap so I put thoughts of Jezz aside for the moment.
A week after my birthday it was my friend’s turn to host a party for his birthday. I closed the clinic at 7:00 p.m. and decided to head straight to his house, two blocks away. I got behind the wheel, turned the radio on to a country station with Willie Nelson singing about a ‘Whiskey River’. I smiled to myself and thought how depressing country music could be. That’s the last coherent thought that I had!
It was as though lightening had struck me. When my vision cleared, I saw myself lying on the road in a pool of blood. My car was a mangled mess of metal. I heard my mother scream “EZEKIELLL”. My family had gathered around my body. There was my sister, in a state of absolute shock and Liam holding her close. I could see everybody and I tried to shout out but no one seemed to hear. I tried to reach them but my fingers slipped right through. I WAS DEAD!!!
It was the strangest feeling to be floating above my mortal remains. I looked around for a bright light or a tunnel that I might have missed but I didn’t find anything. I only knew that I had to move on to a different plane. Is this it? My avatar as the charming, eligible Ezekiel was over?
I felt myself being sucked into a vortex of feelings. My mind went back to my childhood and I saw a bunch of us friends teasing my cousin, “podgy Georgie, podgy Georgie”, went the chorus. I felt George’s embarrassment and sadness as though it were I who was being tormented. My mind then flew to the white sterile room where Jezz was lying. The anguish that tore through me was beyond description. ”Jezz, I would give up my entire life to tell you how much you mean to me and how much I’ve missed you and how l was such an ass for letting you go. Please God; give me just one minute with her”.
I remembered old Mrs Carmichael smiling at me and the pain that I had felt a few moments ago was slightly assuaged by her gratitude. My entire life of 26 years had boiled down to experiences. My mind had turned into Schumacher, driving at a hundred and fifty kilometers an hour and it was flipping through an entire album at crazy speeds. Only these weren’t static memories. I could feel the pain of those whom I had caused to shed a tear; I could feel the joy of those whom I had made smile. It made me wish that I had taken more mental photos of meaningful moments. I wished I could delete all the nonessential, frivolous, insignificant waste that I had hoarded. I had just one album left and not much time in which to flip it.
My time on this plane is drawing to a close fast. The last few thoughts that I had were:
You invest so much into living and then you die!!! On the face of it, it seems like an exercise in futility. If there is any validity to life at all, it is to squeeze every drop of living out of it.
This life isn’t a dress-rehearsal. You will never walk this exact path again, so you can’t come back to do things differently the next time around.
There isn’t a hell or a heaven (at least none that I had yet encountered yet). The experiences you have had while living make it so.
It is irrational and illogical to fear death when the fear of life cripples you while alive.
It’s time for me to leave now. I hope you live it up (down, around, under and every which way) while you can. Perhaps we will meet again.
Ezekiel (Eezee) Nathaniel Hawthorne