A Short Story
Andrea liked to have Paul around, he seemed like an honest and generous guy. He knew a lot about food. His cake was delicious. Paul cooked some vegan meals a few times and it was great to taste something new.
Danny introduced Paul to their friend and neighbor Valentina who lived in the same building, on the ground floor apartment. The four of them had some fun times together.
As it was, both Andrea and Danny had birthdays a couple of days apart and Paul kindly offered to buy them a present. He saw that they did not have a blender and while Andrea was at work, Paul and Danny went to the supermarket and bought one. When they got home and tried to start it, it did not work.
The next day, Andrea went with Paul to return the blender for a refund. He said he intended on buying another one.
Valentina had an idea to buy a birthday present too. She was using her blender every day and she thought her friends could use one. That day when Paul bought it, Valentina saw him coming home with the new blender. She thought that Paul had stolen her idea and got a blender for her friends.
The thing is, Paul did not buy another blender. He took the money back and forgot the whole birthday present idea. It seems that along with forgetting to buy another blender, he too forgot about the rent. He did some cooking and bought some food, but only once did Andrea and Danny not pay their share for the food.
While all this was happening, Paul was very confident and self-content with his own image of who he was. He took pride in how much he knew about food, what to eat and what not to eat. He watched some videos of a guy talking on YouTube--and now he was an expert! He was very attentive in teaching his friends how to eat and how to live. It seemed that he had it right.
One morning, after a week of Paul staying in the apartment, some friction happened between he and Danny. They threw some words at each other. Andrea overheard Paul say, “But, that’s not how I am. I am always paying for everything, I am a giving person,” which in his mind, was really true. He saw himself as this amazing generous friend with perhaps an idea that the couple owed him something.
That morning, he wanted to go to explore another town on his own. He got in a taxi, took all his stuff with him, and left, for good.
Danny and Andrea never heard from Paul again. Days went by. Paul showed no sign of wanting to communicate. He took a flight home without saying goodbye. The mysterious disappearance of an old friend left an uneasy feeling, there was something that felt annoying and unresolved.
A few months passed by without any word from Paul. Andrea and Danny did not know what to think. They stayed quiet too.
The day started slowly and Andrea was leaving the apartment to go to work. As she was walking down the stairs she noticed blood. There were a few drops of fresh blood that led to the apartment in the middle, below theirs. She went out of the building looking for clues, but could not see anything. Then she heard Renny, Valentina’s thirteen-year-old daughter, calling her. She was in tears. Blood was dripping off her hand. Rennie was washing their blender and the glass broke. It cut her in two places, badly. Afraid and panicky, she went to the neighbor Sonya, upstairs. Her mum was out at a gym, so Sonya put a bandage on what appeared to be deep cuts that needed direct attention, and went to get Valentina. Andrea asked Rennie if there was anything she could help with and Renny said, “No.” Andrea hesitantly left for work.
When Andrea got home, during her lunch break, Danny, not knowing that Andrea already knew about the accident, began to tell his wife about Valentina messaging him about Rennie having stitches. (She hadn’t mentioned anything other than that.) Andrea then told Danny that she saw Rennie bleeding when she was headed back to work. She didn’t know that it was that bad.
Being hungry, Andrea decided to get some take away food from around the corner. On the way out, she knocked on Valentina’s door to check on Rennie. (Who now, come to find out, had 8 stitches and a scar for life on her wrist)
Surprise surprise, there he was, Paul. What a shocker. “What was he doing there?” she thought, as she saw him sitting on the sofa and smoking a cigarette with a dumbfounded look. She had no idea that he had come back after nearly three months of not hearing one word from him.
“Hello, hello there,” she said. “I had a dream about you last night and here you are.” “Here I am,” said Paul, with an obvious look of discomfort.
Apparently, Paul showed up at the door without saying anything--just a couple of minutes after Valentina got home from the gym and organized a taxi to take her daughter to a hospital. So all three of them ended up going to take care of Rennie’s hand and literally just returned home some five minutes earlier.
The blender broke and Rennie got injured and stitched. That made Andrea knock on Valentina’s door and find Paul there. Paul showed up at the door a minute before the taxi arrived. Was it a chance? Andrea asked Paul if he was going to come upstairs to visit and Paul, looking a bit lost said, “Yes, yes.” Andrea told him that they didn’t even understand what had happened, why he left like that without saying goodbye. Paul told her, ‘’Mm, eh, things happen, you know, and now we are in the same country, so we will meet and talk.” Basically having no intention to clarify.
Andrea felt awkward and strange because Paul was seeing their friend in the same building and did not even have a wish to come upstairs. It was also strange that Valentina held back from Danny about Paul coming. She was texting about the accident that Rennie had and getting stitches. Why didn’t she tell him? When Andrea asked her the next day why she did not tell them that Paul was here, Valentina said “There was no time. We only just got home and you showed up.” As if caught in an awkward situation, she was trying to make it look right.
Nothing in this situation looked right. Paul did not come up and Valentina hid behind a lie. Suddenly Andrea remembered the dream. In the dream, she was looking Paul in the eye and heard herself saying these words: “Awareness sometimes has blind spots, we do not see clearly. You have a very nice image of yourself, but you do not see that it is just an image, it is not real.”
We all walk around with our images about people and situations, colored with our judgments of right and wrong. We carry our own image as the most precious thing and those that challenge that perfect image become a threat to our identity. If someone shows us that our idea of ‘perfect me’, is not how they perceive us, it can be easier to break a friendship than to face the fact that our imagined self is fake.
An image is just that- a mind created story about, “….how awesome I am, how perfect and kind and loving I am.” But when behavior shows otherwise, we have to choose to keep the image or keep the friend that shows us that we are not as great as we imagined ourselves to be.
We all fail sometimes and that is how we grow. Failing is an opening, an opportunity to start fresh, to clear old ideas and look for more authentic and honest connections. But admitting failure requires honesty and courage. The image of perfection cannot take that blow. As long as we are choosing the mask, we are hiding behind our own story of greatness. That does not give us peace. We have to distance ourselves from people that see through that mask. Being real, honest and open is not an option to someone that builds an identity about themselves and prefers to keep an image over a real connection.
Without the image of "a perfect me", there is not so much to be proud of. To wake up to the real you need to see that all images, that you have about yourself, are not you.