Levi’s unannounced visit to Berlin instilled a pull in me. It was as if he had left a chunk of iron somewhere in my daily life, and he was holding a magnet. I was drawn toward my older brother, toward a space where I knew few people and few people knew me, toward Usbekistan by default or by destiny. In Frankfurt the flight was boarded in an orderly fashion, a single file snaked itself across damp tarmac. Arriving into the Tashkent night I entered a completely foreign degree of commotion. Flocks of missionaries in white garb grappled for cardboard boxes and armed men road the baggage carousel like it was the back of some beast courageously slain. Were their automatic weapons poised ready to protect themselves, the goods, the arriving masses? I had not idea. And I heard no English, just a swirling of tones which adeptly served my desire for a cushion of uncontroversial isolation.
I pulled my eyes away from the shuffling of leather and rubber and boxes and they fell upon the one motionless structure in a room full of charged particles. A column of muscle and authority faced my direction. It smiled, disclosing small gaps between square teeth. I instinctively moved toward the strong hug with a rough patting on the back which I knew awaited me. This rare hug made me feel both small and safe. Levi drove me to his home with such casualness we nearly could have been heading towards Old Smoke Road. Rather, we entered a compound situated on the corner of two dirt paths. Inside the walls lived a family of introverts who choreographed their own soft bustling of independent actions; A piano was played, history and picture books were piled, perused through and shifted, records turned, and the smell of coffee was sustained. Inside those walls was a sort of home I had never witnessed and one which I fell easily into.
The days spent in Usbekistan were a balanced flow of input and output. I sought out complexes of worship, silk workshops, and paper mills; places that are the products of hands and minds, the grand and modest, the genuine and handsome. I drew everything and trusted words would follow. I had not been filled with such constant inspiration since venturing to Italy some fifteen years earlier, my deprived American roots perpetually thirsty for cultures that valued craftsmanship, that built spaces where the mind and soul could sit alone with itself, nothing to buy, nothing to do.
Toward the end of my visit I travelled to Bukhara, together with my sister-in-law. The journey was a rare gift. She had not had a night away from the children since her first was born seven years ago. The destination, a now quiet crossroads between two continents, felt befitting for both of our emotional states, parched and weary. I was admittedly becoming numb to the intricate mosaics that fronted each of the region’s religious complexes. Their pattern work was labyrinthian, a terrain of ever shifting hues and angles. When I looked into them I became lost, further and further from the surface and from myself. I had to walk away, walk by, or I would never walk on. We were approaching the end of a sweltering day of wanderings, my gait a submitting plod, when we came upon the madrasah which punctuates the Lyab-i Hauz complex. I felt it’s shadow overtake me as my eyes rose expectantly, preparing for another wall of geometry. Courageously, two phoenixes deified me, defied the Hadith, and defied centuries of enforced and accepted tradition. They swam inward and upward, in the direction of a sun with a face, in the direction of each other. Flowers and vines swirled around them seemingly springing from their fertile wakes.
A hardness formed in my throat. I stood in front of the mystical beasts in a mystical place, so far from home, and I smiled to myself and to the spirit of the artist, to the sustained determination to create and to disobey. I felt the place below that hardness in my throat begin to fill up, a place that I had been doubting still existed inside of me. A place I was sure I had ruined when I smashed the potential for love. A place I was drowning in alcohol, an attempt to halt the paining of the mind and the heart.
The very first time K came to my flat, he brought along a sunflower. One single bloom of tightly nestled petals on a thick stalk. I loved his offering. I felt seen and understood. I look back and perceive our time together as a mosaic. Tiles form a story of shared places, shared smells, and tastes, and views. That sunflower is the first of the flora-tiles. A tile placed by my hand, dirt under my fingernails and on my palms. The homemade ravioli and honey-roasted carrots were K’s first tile, a nourishment-tile, placed by his hand, dough under his fingernails and flour on his palms. These two acts of gardening and cooking are how we built our home together. From each of us a sincere expressions of our trust in the relationship.
Our vast mosaic lives vivid in my mind. This mosaic springs from K’s childhood park and spreads southward across Berlin. It is intricate, asymmetrical, and dominated by the crisp blue of K’s eyes. On its south-east corner are two gray punctuations. A last dinner eaten in silence and without the memory of taste, and a small cypress I had attempted to form into a bonsai. I left that cypress to die on our terrace, on the November day on which I left K. A hard ache in my abdomen had allied with my mind and my heart in the night. Their poison gas of lies, and guilt, and self inflicted punishment advanced over my body, a battlefield taken. I had no fight, I had no hope. I surrendered. I took a bag and left a note in our kitchen. I walked out the door and immediately began moving toward another life, a completely different life. A survival instinct.
We had been together for six years. I had wanted to give K the marriage his parents never had. I wanted to be his home. I wanted this so much that I forgot for a while about that part of me I had hid from Rinny, under the carpet on Old Smoke Road. I thought it was just a fantasy. Nothing worth looking at. But that part was always there, calling, suffocating, hating being hidden, and consequently hating itself. A poisonous seed had been sown.