Switching gears

I can still remember the day when I first met Karl. He was a teenager back then. Many youngsters, at his age, are spreading their hands around, trying to create some space in a world that feels, let’s be honest, a little bit too crowded. And from the space they created, they are yelling to the universe: ‘we are here!’. Karl was … well, different. True, he was stubborn, like his peers, but in a quiet manner. In fact, that was his strength. Listening. And where most people have trouble following word after word, especially when they’re too many in a sentence, Karl had patience. Sometimes for hours unending. And there he sat, following not only every single word you said, but also your thoughts, your emotions, your subconscious, your unconscious, your heartbeat. It was as if, at his young age, Karl has already lived a hundred lives, and one of those lives was yours.

I will not talk about how difficult it was for Karl to convince his parents to let him study psychology. No, that’s not important for this story. I’m going to jump right to the accident. Of his uncle, Frank.

One morning, Frank was in a rush. He jumped into the car. Pressed the gas full pedal till it hit the floor, forgetting to check the gear. The car went fast into the wrong direction, hitting the wall behind. 2 months in the hospital left Frank a completely different person. And nobody could tell why … not the doctors … not his family. There were no signs of brain trauma. Not much was different, except for one very important thing. You see, Frank used to be a very successful storyteller, and the trademark of his craft was his optimistic, meaningful stories. Now everything was gloomy, negative, hopeless. And the worst thing was that Frank couldn’t tell the difference between his older stories and the ones after the accident. For him it was all the same.

It was because of this accident that Karl’s father decided to pay Frank a visit. As soon as they arrived, Karl’s focus was entirely on Frank. Through the day, Karl listened patiently to the stories, and through the night, he would roll in his bed, trying to figure out what … what … what happened with the storyteller? Until one night, it was about 4 o’ clock, when Karl jumped out of his bed with an idea. He sat down at the table, and started re-writing the stories.

First story (as told by Frank, in his hoarse, cancerous voice):

I made it. My daughter asked me to speak for her at the graduation ceremony. The lights are on. A sea of eyes, staring at me, eating my soul alive. I’m already sweating. I start to run towards the exit. Fast, hurry up, they must not catch me. I jump into the car. The engine starts, the gear is in reverse, I need to see the danger with my eyes, they must not catch me, I don’t care about what’s behind. I drive like there’s no yesterday, sharp turns, the rubber squeaking. And the eyes … the eyes are following me everywhere. I get lost, it doesn’t matter, the eyes are still fixed on me. Another sharp turn, I crash into a fence, and find myself in front of a jar of jam. The clock is beating 18:30. I’m a dreamer. Where is my memory? I’m late, I’m always late. I go to sleep. I am so tired.

Re-written by Karl

It’s afternoon, I’m really tired, so I go to sleep. The clock is suddenly beating 18:30. Where is my memory? I’m late, I’m always late. I’m a dreamer. No time to eat, I dip a slice of bread in the jar of jam in front of me and jump into the car. I’m late, no time to open the gate, so I crash through the fence. All I can see in front of me are those eyes fixing me, waiting for me. I run towards the eyes. The eyes are everywhere, so I get lost. Oh no, I’m late, they’re waiting. I drive like there’s no tomorrow, sharp turns, the rubber squeaking, I run towards the eyes. The theatre is in front of me, the eyes are inside. The backdoor, I hope I didn’t forget the keys, good, good, they’re here. I run towards the stage. I’m already sweating. A sea of eyes, and there I find them. The eyes of my daughter, who asked me to speak for her at the graduation ceremony. Those kind eyes, they are my soul. They make me feel alive. The lights are on. I made it! In time! For the first time!

Second story (as told by Frank):

That’s all that matters. The beginning of the day. The ring is on her hand, and she says yes. I kneel down. Her radiant, surprised face changes into an angry one, once she remembers. I smile, a smile that could make a crocodile really cry. It doesn’t work. She hits me. I am once again late, 3 hours late. I walk away, discouraged. Well, I still have my work left. And I’m late there too. Why didn’t I take this day off? The boss waits there, impatient. Two words: you’re fired. Why, why me? Well, I still have my home left. Today is the day! The end of the day. I look around. My home is gone, no trace of walls, just the bed left in the middle. So I sit down. My mind, once full of thoughts, is now empty. Darkness.

Re-written by Karl

I can see only black. My head is empty. Until I wake up, and then, it’s full of thoughts. I jump out from the bed. Aaah, Today is the day! I look around, and it’s as if the house has no more walls, and I can see far far away. To the end of the day. Oh no, I’m late to work. The boss is waiting there, impatient. Two words: you’re fired. Why didn’t I take this day off? You know what: it doesn’t matter. I run. I run as fast as I can, because I’m late. So late. 3 hour late. She hits me. It doesn’t work. Because I’m smiling, a smile that could make a crocodile really cry. Her angry face, turns surprised and then radiant, once she remembers. I kneel down. The ring is on her hand, and she says yes. The end of the day. That’s all that matters.

It was silence in the room, filled with over 500 people, who were listening breathlessly to Frank’s story. Many people were checking their watches, not sure whether time went in reverse or not. Fortunately, in each and every case, time went forward, undisrupted, or so it seemed.

The people were so caught by the fictional story that they couldn’t tell which one was the real Frank – the story teller, standing in front of them, or the one inside the story. Just like you right now, they were confused, as waking up from a dream that was too much like reality, maybe asking … what is going on?

(yes, I know you’re surprised, but it’s true, Frank is the one who has been telling you this story from the beginning, and you’ve been sitting for all this time in a large hall, with 500 other people)

(Frank switches voice, and talks again in his hoarse, cancerous voice)

My life started in mid July, under the sign of cancer, an animal born to walk backwards. And just like the cancer, I’ve grown to live in reverse. Until somebody suggested that I was driving in the wrong gear.

The trick that did it was the following mantra: Cancer not am I. Ups, not that way. I am not cancer. Oh, and by the way … my name is not Frank.

(Switch to normal voice)

It’s Arthur.

And now, I’d like to leave you with three pieces of … I wouldn’t call advice … let’s call it something … I’d like to leave you with two pieces of something:
– First: Always check your gear before pressing acceleration.
– Second: have now a look at your watch and make sure that time is still going forward.
– Last: if you ever get the chance to turn your life upside down, do it, it’s totally worth it!

Hey everyone it’s so cool to be with you! The title of the story that I’m about to tell is: Reverse!

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