I’m not for or against anything, Gregor said, and he leaned his head back against the white wall, where winter light was falling in through high windows like a powder and obscuring his face, pale to begin with and with blond highlights; smearing it but leaving moving indentations, half-human half-chalk, eyeholes sick and dim and hollow and the craggy mouthcrack opening and closing and telling stories of how he’d had to let everything go. Now I only care about me, taking care of me.
He came to London because of suffering, the reason for all refugees everywhere and most travelers, and with the intent to make himself available for one of those miracles, which in one oceanic span of few years catapults the sufferer, now bounded by lawful territories, into a place of utility, to enjoy something like contentment. To enjoy the slow passage of time, to sleep with the same woman in the same bed, to sit in the same den in front of steadily improving televisions. These were vague impressions he had had, images cast across the now almost-white sheet of memory by the projector of his youth. Of course it was what he had seen since that had blanched it; where those memories had sat in the interceding years, the formaldehyde of life’s destroying caustic experience.
There had been the literate washing, the deep and painful well of the experience near Novgorod, and the chemical disaster, the wine-red faces of the smallest walking residents of the town seeking aid unavailable. The inhalants which carried him through his time in Chechnya but carried off his sense of smell permanently, while the generals carried off and raped and strangled young girls in another town and laughed drunkenly and astoundingly afterward, feeling rage and lust but no humor whatsoever when sober.
How can a man’s constitution hold against such forces but to leach memories? Under conditions of starvation, the body first consumes its musculature; the sacrifice of mobility and inasmuch perhaps its only chance for survival. Next the organs are one-by-one sacrificed, all in order to keep the brain alive. Consciousness and memory, an animated identity, is the last to depart. But in spiritual matters it is the mind which departs first, following which the body can endure a gruesome farrago for years and years, bullets of harsh experience and deprivation somehow absorbed and dissolved, death avoided out on the ranges of homelessness.
I sat there watching him, listening to him tell his avalanche of a life story. He was good at telling his own story. Some people aren’t. And the fact that he was good at it, and had absolute clarity about the strategy others had employed against him in his need and the hazards in his own makeup and in nature unfortunately for him did not make the outcome any better. You couldn't say he had survived, really. He was about 45 now, and the tragedies were too significant, for him to ever look back on his life with satisfaction. Some existential comfort notwithstanding, he had already lost.
And he wasn't done loosing apparently. Gregor was the type of guy you felt bad for not wanting to be around, but you still didn't want to be around. He was gushing, and it was the kind of pain you couldn't do anything about, but somehow he didn't think so. He wanted to tell you about his pain, it didn't matter that you had just met, it didn't matter that he was working for you, and the fact that you couldn't do anything made you creeped-out and feel an unnatural, frightening revulsion of the type that made ancient people reject the children of others, even if it spelled their death. But he was an adult obviously, and he was supposed to be our tour manager, he was supposed to be guiding us with some assurance through the strange vicissitudes of an equally unnatural life, and I just didn't buy that he could. He was making everybody feel strange and the quarters are just too close these days. On top of that he had already made several large missteps with several promoters and venues.
And now he sat there, telling me about his renunciation of women and decision to get a permanent residence instead of living on tour, and I felt a horrible sense of guilt about what I had to do, and how it was going to make life harder for him, but that there are many variables in life, and that nature has a way of taking care of things, and that you can never tell where a piece of newspaper, now blowing in the air above the boardwalk in Venice Beach, is going to land.
So we fired Gregor.