This is a story of love. When we were very young, a boy and I met in a classroom. We stated then and there that we would never get involved. This is a story of loss. A story of circles and cycles: How we lived apart then found each other again; the virtuous circle of harmonious exchange; the vicious cycles of pain; the continual cycles of changes. These exchanges, in the form of emails, IMs, chat messages, span almost a decade.
Epiphany. I was in New York City for a week for work. I hadn’t known until then how difficult it was to find somewhere to pee if needed. Spending long hours a day going from one meeting to another, I discovered this. Before then, I had always had a home or an office to go to. And I couldn’t exactly ask to use the bathroom every time I had a meeting in someone else’s office. Anyway, I’m getting off point. I was in New York on business, and this took me from meeting to meeting. I was very happy to be back in my city and on business no less, having convinced my boss that this would benefit the company, setting up ties with other businesses in the city and bringing a more international focus to our work. I hoped this was the beginning of regular trips and growing business partnerships, a way for me to keep a foothold in my hometown while building my career and caring for my family. I was setting the groundwork for a life change. One evening I was invited to a dinner at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park. This was a thrill for me, my first time having a meal in the rather exclusive club, a haunt for authors, publishers, and painters. Its nineteenth century charm attracted me, bringing back the world of two of my favorite authors, Henry James and Edith Wharton, two students of the subtleties of human behavior, who were also close friends and severe critics of each other, each coaxing and cajoling the creative best out of the other.
I enjoyed a lovely evening at a large wooden table, with journalists, authors and publishers. I soaked in candlelight and red velvet curtains and was seduced by the rarified literary air. When I left, a little tipsy from wine, rich food and conversation, my imagination was on fire, I was caught up in a feeling of hope and possibility, of going towards a future not yet fully defined but suited to me. In this ecstatic state, I stepped out into a magical world—soft snow was falling down, the park was alight with its turn-of-the-century lamps, the street was hushed and empty, sparkling under the lamplight and the falling snow. Then suddenly a strong image came to me, and a flash of pain that seared my gut. I saw you, before me. And I saw myself run to you and into your arms. We held each other with all our might, under the snow. My heart was pounding hard against your chest. And I imagined I could feel yours against mine. Not a word was exchanged. But my heart and my gut hurt. My body pulsed with love and yearning. This was only a vision, but I wanted you and wanted you there with all my body. I had never felt anything like this. Nothing so vivid or so painful. Within seconds, the vision was gone. But the sensation remained. I was overcome, and felt the urgent need to find you, to speak with you. It was as if all the years that had separated us had collapsed, and there we were, purely together, with all of our being, overtaken by the relief of finally being able to hold each other. And yet we had spoken not a word.
April 2005 You have such an odd way of starting off your e-mail, "Of course it's funny”, as if we were in the middle of a conversation. It has been so many years since we’ve spoken or even seen each other that it somehow doesn’t seem right to start off with such familiarity. As if all those years in between never existed. It’s as if just yesterday we were having a coffee together instead of being thousands of miles apart. Out of surprise, I have to ask if such if this message was meant for me? Maybe you meant it for someone else? Nonetheless, yes, I would like to keep in touch. I have often thought about you over the years: wondering where you were, what you were doing? Basically, I missed you. You were an important part of my life and then you were no longer there. Your absence has been often felt. Yours,Bear
Dear Bear, It just seems so natural, doesn’t it? As if the years had all collapsed and it really was just yesterday that we had coffee together and a walk in one of our favorite neighborhoods. Of course the message was meant for you! And I’m glad you’d like to keep in touch. That would be nice. I’d love to read about what you’ve been up to all these years. I imagine you married, with children, the whole deal. And you’re back in New York! I envy you that. I’ve wanted to return for years. Luckily I get back at least once a year, for Christmas and now, for work. I look forward to more news. All the best, Squid Dear Squid, Since you ask me to tell you about me, I’ll try to do so but please forgive me if I don’t do a very good job of it. I’m a businessman, finance to be more exact, numbers are more my thing. Well here goes nothing. Here is my story: You walk out of life by closing the door in my face. You are mad as hell at me for my transgressions. Then the scene fades to black. When the lights come up again, I'm in business school in downtown New York City. Given all my areas of study in college and afterwards I’m sure you are surprised to learn that I went to B-school. I could have gone to medical school, possibly into architecture, or even Law school; I sat for all the entrance exams and in some cases even made applications. And, yet, none of them seemed satisfying. After much thought and consideration I decided that business would allow me use not only my creative attributes but also the discipline of the sciences. In hindsight, this was true to a certain extent although power politics are a much prevalent tool for success than actually knowing how to get things done. But no matter, that is a different story that I’ll keep for another time. I start by majoring in marketing since that provided me with the largest field of vision. Marketing touched on all aspects of business and thus gave me multiple levers to play with in my creative moods. Unfortunately, after a number of conflicts with my teachers I had to opt of this discipline and went into accounting. From my point of view, the teachers didn’t have the necessary imaginative requirements to understand new businesses and new business models. For example, back in the 80’s, many bridges in the tri-state area were in need of repair - one bridge in Connecticut I remember even fell into the river it was straddling - they were closed, so I proposed a service of river transportation just like in Venice. My professor gave me a poor grade on this assignment. Lucky for me there happened to be an article in the NYT on similar solutions so they changed my grade. Today, river transportation is a common business all the way up and down Manhattan Island. It doesn't do very well for a teacher's credibility to evaluate students with such biases. The school was and I imagine still is well considered in accountancy and I figure a degree plus a state certificate would allow me to get ahead in life, at least from an economic point of view. As you will see even the best-laid plans go awry. As often happens, during the course of my studies, I met a woman. A French girl. She was a nice girl, warm and friendly. We started going out together and even discovered that we knew a Syrian family in common. It was the sort of coincidence that means a lot to you when you are being carefree. Me, a guy from NY, and she, a girl from France, both knowing the same Syrian family! Kind of weird, don’t you think? Yet, it did contribute to the bonds that would unite us for years to come. Anyway, after a lifetime of hearing that I am capable of doing better than I actually do, that I should aspire to something higher and more noble in life, it was refreshing to meet someone simple and average that doesn't aspire to anything too sophisticated. She had a nice loving family, a large extended family for boisterous family gatherings and no one is a doctor or lawyer or professional of any kind. This was entirely in line with the direction my life was taking; it was comfortable and not too demanding. Having decided to be less demanding with myself, I also decide that life with this woman and in France is not an unappealing prospect. In August of 1990, I move to Paris: an MBA in back pocket, a "fine" woman to share my life with, my dog, a one bedroom apartment in an immigrant neighborhood in Paris, and debts with my soon to be in-laws for getting the flat. I began working for a Big Six audit firm right a way. My girlfriend still didn’t have a job but her family was giving her hand to find one and it wouldn’t be long in coming. At first, things went just fine, new city, new job, new family. Lots of new things to discover. Enthusiasm. But almost just as quickly differences started to pop up: cultural, educational, and personal. Although I had always grown up in what I considered to be a multicultural environment – much like you – I was taken aback by the degree of intolerance the people around me had for those who behaved differently than they. An example would be at work. There was a small age difference between myself and the other first junior auditors but because of my studies I had already been exposed a number of concepts that were new for them. And, being American, I had a vision of the individual and his place in society that was certainly not French. Just these two points made my life a living hell. Sure, I made a couple of friends in the office; I was even well viewed by some of the higher ups. In some cases I was even put in change of a client’s audit. I was happy. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing: creating value for my company. Boy, was I wrong! What I was doing was creating conflict with those around me. Colleagues at my level and on up started to polarize into camps of love and hate. There were those who “loved” me because they could give me even a challenge and I would get it done. And then there were those who “hated” me because in getting the job done I would somehow undermine them. Thus months of conflict ensued. With one client, an acquisition I worked on for a number for months I had two managers that succeeded each other with the first I got a great evaluation, with the second I was less than scum. Oddly the first was a Canadian and the second a German! So much for cultural acceptance! Having said as much, it got me looking at my life in a different manner. Although I had decided to live my life in conformity with middle classes values - that is, not wanting anything better than my neighbor has - I am not part of that stratum of society. My parents, my entourage, my schools have brought me up to aspire to something higher, finer, better. Some people I encounter perceive this and appreciate it because they knew that they can give me a challenge – and, like a trained dog that jumps through the flaming hoop - I will jump. Then you have others that consider me aloof, arrogant, a snob who essentially felt threatened by me because we can't relate the way they would want to, they always have a sense of inferiority. And, finally, there is the third group that sees me as a potential threat to the status quo and wants me dead before I kill them. In a nut shell that just about sums up fifteen years of my professional life working in France and Europe. Sorry, I'll try to make a long story short. I’ll just say that since embarking upon this path, since trying to lose myself, I have been unable to be something that I am not. After two years, I was fired from the Big Six firm, the partner who fired me told me that although I was a very intelligent person I was not apt for that kind of work so I should seek employment elsewhere. I went to work for a multinational company as an internal consultant. During the two years I worked in this position I developed a reputation as a “killer”. After I completed a review of a subsidiary one of the executives, usually a guys who was 15 - 20 years older than me would ask me, "Do I still have a job or should I pack my things right now?" That was a frightening responsibility to put on the shoulders of someone who was not even thirty years old. I did not decide whether they should stay or go, it was the senior executives at the HQ who made those decisions. I just did my job. If they mis-managed their businesses it was my job to figure it and out recommend how to improve it. So as the "star" of the department I was promoted to CFO of a multi-million dollar business in Italy. The company was losing money my job was to turn it around. After a couple of years this was done and I was asked to return to HQ in France. In the meanwhile, my daughters were born. My wife had quit her job so I was supporting the family by myself. Not what I was expecting this when we got married but everything was basically fine, until the family moved to Italy. That's not true, the girls were fine even afterwards, my wife was not. She hated living in Italy so when I was dismissed she was relieved, we could now move back to France, which we did. Before leaving though, I was approached by a headhunter and offered a senior executive role heading up the division of British multinational. The only problem with this job was that it was based in Italy. I was offered the job but needed the wife’s agreement to accept it because of the "bad" experience she had already had. She agreed. I guess since she was not working and I was the only breadwinner she felt obligated to do so. Nonetheless, once we got there, all hell broke out. She was unhappy and made my life miserable. I traveled often. Mainly to Spain. I was out of the house three days out of five. She wanted me to be there and I couldn't be. Basically, her theme when I got fired was to recommend, rather strongly, that I take a less challenging position so that I could be with her and the children more often. This was anathema to the way I was raised, so I couldn't. Plus the reality of having her and two children to maintain wouldn't allow it. As close as I can pin point it, this was where the marriage started going south. Yours,Bear
Bear, What a week! It has been quite an experience to be communicating with you. Bring it on, eh? You're adventurous, aren't you? Well, I imagine, some opportunity will make itself available for a shared meal, whether it be en famille or otherwise. In the meantime, how are you finding New York? Any news on the job front? What do you think you will be doing in the end? Despite your fallen hero story, I imagine you have had a degree of happiness also in your life. I hope so. Talk to you soon. Best,Squid Squidoo, What is this about it "being such a week" just because we are talking after ... years? To me it is just fine, comfortable, so to say. Ok, I will admit that between your first and second contact my world was turned upside down because I was overcome by a whole bunch of feelings and thoughts that just overwhelmed me. One of which was that I thought someone was playing a joke on me! But a bottle of scotch with Mark and Andrea took care of that (you remember them from high school?), just enough to take the edge off. But, afterwards, when you called the second time, I was ready for you, and it's been a great pleasure ever since. Although, I do find you a bit standoffish. Then again I get the feeling it is one of your character traits from when you were younger. But I can't remember very well. Maybe it is because like many of us, we wish for something and then when we get it... So maybe you can elucidate to me - not your little book - what you have felt talking to me again after so long and why it was such a week? Yes, it is sharing some intimacy and yes I am bold to even suggest it but if you don't ask you won't receive and I always ask! Worse comes to worse you say no but at least you know where I am. Well, you get an idea. Ergo, my proposal for a meal. Hell, I could even come to Madrid for a couple of days just because I am so happy and excited about being in touch with you again. (Then again maybe it's being in touch with me again? But I won't go into this; I wouldn't want to bore you.) So I guess this leaves the ball in your hands for now. I’m interested to see if you pick it up or not, instead of just whacking it back at me like you've done up to now. I know, I'm not being fair. I also know that I risk you wanting not continue this dialogue. But, sometimes, you have to venture off into...at times alone, at times accompanied. So, I guess this brings me to your inquiry about New York, the city, the return, the job hunt. Well, it's wonderfully fearsome. I love to scare myself! I haven't been here for 15 years and I've never worked here. Everything seems different than in Europe but this could just be a misperception on my part. I'm trying to meet with as many people from the business world as possible to understand how the market is structured and where I can fit into it. It's been slow going for now, the learning curve and all but things should pick up later on. The city itself is beautiful. I think the spring is the best time to be here. My sister lives on the Upper East Side, so Central Park is a stone's throw away. I keep thinking about running again (I used to do 10 km a day) but I just haven't gotten mentally to that stage yet. It is hot, hazy and humid like NY knows how to be in summer. But I can breathe again so that's all I care about. I have also had the pleasure of renewing my ties with people I haven't seen in years: Mark and Andrea from high school and Annie and Jennifer from college. And, yes, I still can't get over it, you. Ok, so you’re in Madrid but we found each other again when I got here, so it's here, not Madrid, at least for me. Likewise, I've met family friends. Almost everyone has been very warm and compassionate with me. That makes me feel very good. I would really like to meet other people I haven't seen in a long while, so I might go to this high school reunion. Scare the ... out of myself some more; it feels good to be alive again. Well that is all for now. Do pick up the ball.
PS I've been meaning to ask, how is your mother? I have such fond memories of her as a very gentle and warm person. Please give her my warmest regards.