The Other Side of the Moon

My Confession under the Stars

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copyright(c) Fariel Shafee

It was a moonless June night when I had finally realized that my life was shattered beyond repair. When the thought had evolved into a conviction, I sat solemnly on the stairs for about two hours. Then I lay down on my back with my hands folded under my head and gazed straight at the sky for an unmeasured amount of time. I saw the dead leaves float about, but in the background of my conscience, they just passed, simply as the last twenty-five years passed in front of my eyes like a cinema projected on no screen but in thin air.

I heard voices first - sweet voices. Some voices I could not recognize in the beginning, but they sounded too familiar and very comforting indeed: A lullaby in a woman’s voice, a clap of hands next to my ears and then another deep voice laughing. There was one more child; it was a girl and she was crying.

Not any more; the deep voice laughed again, and the cry changed into a giggle, a very beatific giggle.

The voices came from different angles with a blank screen placed around me. It was dark. I would be lost if the voices were to leave me and if they stopped guiding me. I knew that I was safe with they around - those dark characters in the murkiness – and the thought made me happy. I could feel a smile slowly spread on my face, and I felt intent as I stared at the blinking star right above my head. I was a very happy fool now.

My trance broke with the discrete sound of footsteps next to me. There was more than one pair of footsteps - at least one in a man’s shoes and another in high-heels. They proceeded with a harsh and arrogant rhythm; quite annoying.

"Is this boy under drugs!" a shrill voice almost screamed. "Forget him, come upstairs honey." The man coaxed. They were Mr. and Mrs. Johnson from the fifth floor. I knew their faces and their voices from their frequent morning episodes of arguments. "I knew this chap was into weeds." I heard Ms Johnson’s voice again. She was nagging and chattering as usual as she went upstairs with Mr. Johnson, who in turn was probably only thinking about sex. "Right honey, right." I heard his cajoling voice. The answer bore no connections with the initial comment made by his wife, but it obviously made Mrs. Johnson happy and eager to make love to him. I heard her fading giggles from a distance.

But I did not have time for them now. I had no place for them in my life quite at this moment; I was two years old. And no, I was not on drugs, just beyond any emotions.

These chatty and inanely happy characters now tired me to death. I wanted my own realm to wrap me in isolation from the rest of the people. I craved for my mother’s warm voice next to my ears again. I clenched my fists tighter and closed my eyes. I could have stayed like that for eternity, feeling the warm touch on my forehead and the kisses on my chins.

As I closed my eyes I felt like I was floating. I was on a white cottony cloud. It was soft and very delicate and also sparkling. I had the freedom to laugh like a child here. I wanted to be alone and completely to myself on this surrealistic cloud. There was this annoying old woman I knew; she had been bothering me for the last seven days, telling me to seek help. How much I despised her officiousness. I did not ask for her help. I did not want her to rescue me. There are some doors that you choose in your life, and you enter the rooms the doors lead to by yourself. The rooms are made very privately for you, even the doors measured to your height. I was in such a room now. It was dark and very gloomy; frightening and quite repelling; but I wanted to be by myself. I did not want the meddling lady in this private corner as well.

When your life goes wrong the first time, you try to deny the situation; especially, if you had wanted it to be so perfectly right. When the problems grow bigger, you argue with yourself that everything will be okay in a while and you make efforts to fix the holes. However, after the sincerest attempts in your part, when things still don't quite look rational, but in the contrary, keep appearing blatantly unfair to you, you hide the filth under the rug, and then trash it into the bin. The stain, however, stays and multiplies like a vicious virus spreading to evade the uncontaminated areas.

Have you ever wanted something so fervently that you could have done almost anything for it? I did. I thought that I was about to become the luckiest person in the world when my love's labor created the most beautiful object I could expect. The first time I heard about my great luck, I drove to Suzanne's apartment overlooking the park from my shabby studio in Brookline. I drove so fast that I almost broke every speed limit on the way. I wanted to lift her up in the air, and scream in joy; I craved for her warmth next to my body for the rest of the night. I wanted to share my feelings with her. I felt good thinking about her now. I closed my eyes slowly. It was a soundless world here, with only feelings surrounding me.

I was disturbed once again; this time by the rain. The shirt I was wearing was beginning to cling to my skin and my hair was sticking together. My face was covered with water, and my lips felt moist. I was now as wet and happy as I was the first time Suzanne had pressed her lips onto mine and touched my tongue. My jeans were getting drenched now, slowly. I saw a dark blue patch grow bigger and change in shape as it merged with other similar spots. I parted my lips a bit and let the water go into my mouth. It tasted a little salty, almost like teardrops from the sky. The sky was crying its pains out and the tear washed away the dirt. I was soaked and I had this inexplicable feeling of joy as the drops hit me with no mercy. The water was laving my body; it was washing away my agony. I laughed out loud to myself.

The night was silent and the sound of my laughter echoed back to me from the big white walls. It was as if the lifeless bricks too were mocking me at this point. What a fool I had been! Yes, that much I knew already. I wanted to fall asleep and dream of something sweet, but Suzanne kept coming back to me again and again.

Suzanne and I were not quite the happiest all along. I think that she was rather uncomfortable with the idea of me being her lover in the beginning. She was a few years older, and I was working as an intern in her lab. She was showing me how to compile data for my project. Technically speaking, she was supposed to be my mentor, and she was indeed great at what she did, only not appreciated by all. The people surrounding her found her annoyingly arrogant and dominating.

However, underneath her defensive, bossy behavior, I discovered the most insecure person I had met. When I spoke with her, I felt like she would break into pieces and turn into dust if touched. The first time I had coffee with her while we discussed the latest set of data, I intentionally touched her leg with mine. She became a little nervous, said sorry, and shrunk away a bit. I touched her once again, now more confidently, and this time she did not move. The next day, after I pushed her a little, and teased her a bit about the ethics of her research, she gave in and exploded about all the hidden stories of exploitation and betrayals. I never expected such an outburst. She was almost crying in front of an intern she did not know too well. I was sorry for her indeed. All I was expecting was some inner saucy stories that I could use during my short stay at the office, but I am not too sure if I was prepared to deal with the amount of information I received over the steaming cup of tea.

I felt bad for her, but I did not quite wish to get involved. I had my own worries and grievances. I distanced myself from her and tried to concentrate in my work. Two days later, I found her sitting in my office with a file, a little embarrassed about giving in to my taunting arguments about her intentions and her ideals during an unacceptably weak moment.

She was sitting erect, trying to behave in a composed fashion, as someone who is supervising me should, but her face was clearly blank and very pale. She was searching for hints on my face, trying to extrapolate my future behavior regarding the use of the information she had passed on to me.

I was feeling a little guilty, a bit ashamed. After the work was done, I took her over for ice cream, and insisted that I pay. For the first time, she did not say no, and sat quietly under the green umbrella. This time, I touched her hand and then went close to her face and kissed her.

We spent the night on a couch in my living room. The next morning, when I was up, she had already gone to office. She was working there all day, toiling like a perfect workaholic, with her lights on long after 10 pm. She was not to be disturbed, the note said in front of her glass door. Apparently something very serious requiring immediate attention had come up.

In the meantime, I was trying to break into the heart of the project. I badly wanted some data I had no access to as an intern. It was an exciting research that was going on here, and I was too young and adventurous to go by the rules. I had my own postulate about the research, but limited access to data. The restrictions were not fair to me - most famous scientists in the history of mankind had written their significant papers before they had reached their thirtieth birthday. There was no valid reason why I should have been denied the equal opportunity to reach my potential to the fullest.

When Suzanne had locked herself behind the doors, trying not to argue with herself about the rationale behind her recent weakness of mind by going over piles of papers with no breaks, I had taken advantage of the drawers left unlocked in search of pieces of information that could build my career and fortune.

No, I am not a saint. I had taken advantage of Suzanne. Not once, not twice, but many times. Not because I detested her, or wished her any harm, but only because the temptations were too great to resist. Later in our relationship, when she was lying naked on the bed with an expression on her face that cried for protection and trust with huge files and notes resting on the kitchen table, I had gone to the restroom and on my way back, had raked through the piles in search of any clue that would aid me in my work. I felt inane enough living with her as if I was still an intern; I was not. I had given up the job some five months ago. You cannot be in a relationship where you are forced to think that you are unfairly unequal because you are deprived of information. I had photocopied many of the notes that I had "borrowed" and put them in my drawer.

When I was back in the office with Suzanne in the beginning, we pretended not to be intimate, and she used to leave instructions for me on my table in small pieces of paper. I found those pieces amusing, and went back to her office with long lists of questions. "Tell me what to do next, I am lost," I would say simply to irritate her. She would give me a vacuous look and go out to have a cup of coffee as the earliest possible excuse popped up.

For a rather long period after those long nights in the office, when Suzanne had tried to deny that she had made love to me in the most unprofessional manner, that she had shown her weakest parts to a stranger, she made every possible effort to shun me from her life. I resisted.

During the summer after I quit my job, I was back with my parents for a few days. After I returned to New York, I went to Suzanne’s apartment and unlocked the door. Dr. Peter Richardson was sitting in the living room when I entered, and both he and Suzanne had been delving into some calculations. Suzanne looked suddenly embarrassed. "Peter, you know James, right? He was working with me at the lab. I told him he could come and pick up some notes. He was working from my computer in my office here." "You are funny, Suzanne, very funny," I replied. "I will be up taking a bath while you finish your business. Nice to see you again, Peter. Have fun," I kissed Suzanne on her mouth and went upstairs.

As I took a hot shower, I felt awkward, and very rejected. "What do you want, Suzanne?" I asked as I buttered a toast while Suzanne stood behind me with a pale face. "You need to come to a decision. Do you want me?" Suzanne remained silent with a confused and uncomfortable demeanor for a few more minutes and then came to me and put her hands around my waste. I turned back and put my lips next to her neck, and carried her to the couch. We made love in broad daylight with intensity stronger than that of the light that passed through the kitchen window. She was melting under my body, and I wanted to crush her in adoration. She was more delicate than the motherless puppy I had once rescued from the drain when I was three years old.

Life was, however, cruel to me. I needed to find a job. My days would have been worse if I were to stay with Suzanne with a low income as well. I wanted to be a man; I wanted to take care of her. One summer night, I had this bizarre dream where I saw her with a child on her lap. The child looked strangely similar to me, and was smiling at me like an angel. I wanted the dream to be true. I did not have the patience to be a scientist; I did not want to be a scholar and teach pupils in a white classroom with a large black board on a wall for the rest of my life. I started my own company where I could be independent and have my own world. The pieces of paper with scribbles in Suzanne’s handwriting that could unlock a huge mystery remained locked in my office drawer.

After Suzanne and I became engaged one bleak winter evening under the glowing candles in a restaurant in SoHo, I promised to myself that I would start a completely new life with her. I was looking for a house and was trying to expand the company.

Suzanne, however, suddenly became very occupied with her work. She was on the verge of making a discovery, as she kept telling me. She was busy in the office until 11 or so every night. After she took her dinner, she was too tired to make love and went to bed to sleep, as she would need to be up early the next morning. She would keep talking about her research, and would not stop for perhaps an hour. Apparently, one single calculation was missing together with a sheet of vital data, and somehow she kept insisting that she had solved the problem before and the paper had simply vanished. She became obsessed about the idea, and started to doubt all her colleagues. She developed this unreasonable paranoia that all were eager to steal her work. A year or so ago, I would have become very excited. Now, however, I seemed to have grown out of the fantasies of discovering new theories and finding the secrets of life. I wanted more to make a decent living, and to bring up my children in an acceptable neighborhood.

I supported Suzanne’s dreams for a month, and then I began to lose hope. "Why are you so horrid to me?" I asked her as she refused me once again. "Can’t you be a little nicer?" "I am trying, James," she replied briskly, "but you always knew who I was. You shouldn’t expect me to change to fit all your needs."

After an hour of argument, I went to bed with a sore heart, but a promise that she would meet me for dinner on the fifth avenue the next day. Some of my colleagues were to meet me, and I needed her to be there. It was to be one of the most important meetings for my career. If I could make them agree to a deal, I would be secure with my company. We could even buy an apartment in Chelsea.

Suzanne did not show up the next day. I waited for her for three hours. I called her at her office, but no one picked up the phone. I smiled at my colleagues like an actor; spoke with them with an artificial happy attitude. After the dinner was over, I took my car not to the house, but to the bar across the street. I wanted to drink away my disappointments.

Disappointment was what I was feeling now, as the rain had also stopped. I was lying on the stairs with my t-shirt drying on my skin. I was going to catch a cold, or perhaps pneumonia. But I did not really care. I had another dream a few nights ago. I had seen Suzanne again; but the child on her lap wasn’t smiling. To tell the truth, it wasn’t moving at all. My child was lying dead.

I tired to feel Suzanne again, as I shut my eyes. I felt a warm body. I rolled over to smell her hair. The hair wasn’t quite brown and long, as I had expected; it was blonde. I wasn’t lying with Suzanne now; I was actually lying with Laura.

After my fifth drink at the bar, Laura had walked in, and had waived hi to me. I knew Laura from a dinner at our house a few months back. Laura used to work with Suzanne. While Suzanne was excited about the work and was explaining possible extensions to the crowd in our living room, Laura had asked for a glass of water. She had come down to the kitchen with me. As I filled the glass with water under the tap, she went over my portfolio that was lying on the counter. She was interested in what I was doing, and we had a little chat.

The rest of the crowd, now arguing and discussing the new results, looked fairly oblivious about me. When they had first walked into the house, I had seen this confused gaze in their eyes. "Didn't he leave the lab a year ago?" I heard one of them whisper to the other. "What! She is living with him!" one voice had tried to exclaim while another uttered "shhhhh" in the most diplomatic manner. They all beemed at me artificially, and then, after five minutes, forgot about my existence and went back to their conversation.

As I listened to them debate, it was clear to me that they actually sounded fairly confused and lost. I had left the lab because I was bored, but I was not quite a dullard. They were missing most of the important points and many of the obvious conclusions, and although I laughed about their over-enthusiastic brainstorming, I left them alone in the room and followed Laura to the kitchen. I had been disenchanted about discovering the truth of the universe some few months ago.

I had a double major in physics and architecture from MIT. The two fields were not quite complementary, but back in school, I had taken any classes that had appeared interesting. I had never been too focused about what I wanted to achieve in my life; I never had the drive. I had left the physics part for Suzanne to tackle with reverence, and had started a startup architecture firm. Laura was now going over my series of sketches and was asking me about the specifics. I think that I was standing there for an hour or so, engrossed in my ideas, until Suzanne walked in and asked us to have dinner.

"So how's your project going? Is Suzanne fine?" Laura inquired merrily as she walked into the bar by herself. I most probably had been rather drunk, as I don't quite recall the exact conversation. I must have complained about Suzanne in detail, about how she had been so cruel and horrid to me. I must have also screamed about how she and her group were so thick headed that they were spending nights over the most ridiculous problem. The next few hours appeared out of focus to me now. We must have gone to my office a few blocks away after a couple of more drinks, and I must have taken out my frustration and anger by opening the locked drawer with all of Suzanne's notes and by challenging Laura about how I could have solved the problem so easily. We were there all through night, and we must have made love. In the morning, when I woke up with a hangover and a confused memory, I discovered myself on my office floor in a not so decent state.

Suzanne did not ask me about my whereabouts the next day, and this attitude worsened my emotional starvation. The next day, I found myself with Laura once again, trying to solve the problem. When Suzanne was back in her lab, with the "do not disturb" sign hanging in front of her door, Laura and I were in my office, sitting on the floor, with me explaining the details of the problem to her over the Chinese food and wine we had bought on our way back from the movie.

This situation must have continued for a month or so with me frequently leaning against Laura's shoulder, listening to her carefully about how she thought that she would like to create a new women's group in the office, to balance career and family, and about how it was so important to her that women received the chance to shine in the sciences as well. Laura was not particularly bright, but she made me very happy. When I went over a calculation, she listened to me with awe and then returned to admiring my table lamp. I felt important while she was around. I had been missing this feeling for long.

As I lay on the stairs now, with Laura's golden hairs shining hazily next to my face in my mind's eye, I suddenly hear a fumble, a word that has no meaning. Yes, this was my child. I now remembered my child.

It was a Friday afternoon when I had returned home early from the office, and had been going through Suzanne's drawers in search of a pen and a piece of paper, when I came across the prescription. The memo was almost a few weeks old and read that Suzanne was pregnant.

"Is it mine?" I asked her in a low voice, while she prepared her late night snack. It took Suzanne a few minutes to realize what I was talking about, and then she gave me the same uncomfortable silence that was too familiar to me.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Suzanne explained to me in an inconsistent stream of sentences that she did not think that things were working out between us, and was not sure about what to do.


I sat quietly in the living room for the next few hours, with the lights turned off and the TV muted. It was cold, but I was too frustrated and weak to leave my seat to turn on the heater.

The next morning, I woke up around 11 am and left a message for Laura. I told her to meet me at the coffee shop across the street from my office. I begged her for all the notes she had taken from my office and explained to her that with the baby coming, I wanted to give Suzanne and me another chance.

Laura sat there quietly and in a composed manner, told me that she understood, and left the shop in half an hour. Two days later, I received a huge envelope. Inside the envelope all the notes were tied together with a red string. I put them back in the drawer and locked it once again.

The day I had received the first contract for my company, I had driven to Suzanne's apartment overlooking the park from my place in less than thirty minutes. I must have set a record somewhere that day. We shared the same apartment now, but when I discovered that I was to be designing the new skyscraper to be erected across the park, I drove back home at the earliest convenience.

Suzanne was sitting in the living room, her face totally pale and very firm. She looked angry and she looked disappointed. "What did you do with my notes, James?" she asked me very coldly. I was staring at her blankly when she picked up a paper from the table and handed it over to me. It was a paper published in the Physical Review - awkwardly enough, coauthored by Laura and me.

I was staring at the pages in the most confused fashion when Suzanne handed me a newspaper. Laura's picture flashed on the front page. She was smiling with pride and confidence. Underneath her picture, the headline read in bold confirmation "woman scientist breaks century old puzzle: urges other women to follow her into traditionally male dominated fields."

I was not too sure what to say. I was still looking at Laura's photo, dumb-folded. "Could I please be alone?" Suzanne said very gravely as she walked me to the door. I was too confused to protest, too shocked to defend myself. I walked slowly out of the door and stood silently facing the street. I saw the cars pass one after another, but they just passed in front of me. I must have stood there for an hour or so, when drops of rain began to hit me. I signaled a cab to stop and went back to my office.

I was spending the nights in the office while I was looking for an apartment. I was too puzzled and ashamed to face Suzanne now. Rumors said that Laura had been declared a role model for women in physics, and she was now actively involved in fulfilling her agenda. When one scorching June afternoon, I had sneaked into our old apartment to collect some of my belongings while Suzanne was not expected at home, I saw flyers lying on the center table. Laura had been organizing sessions to boost the confidence of the female scientists in the lab, and Suzanne was invited too.

I left the apartment at the earliest convenience and sat in the park quietly. Some crows were flying by. I was not too sure if I could ever show my face to Suzanne again. But I wanted so to hear about my child, to touch Suzanne's belly.

As my t-shirt slowly dried, I closed my eyes now, and I wanted to see my child smiling on my lap. I wanted her to clasp my finger and utter "daddy" sweetly. After a few seconds, however, I could see her slowly melt and then disintegrate into dust. As I lay lonely on the stairs, I truly wanted to hold her tightly and in this nightmare I was screaming; I shouted out aloud for help; but she simply vanished while I held her. I now remembered the death of my child.

During another episode of torrential rain, while I was sitting in my office, and as the fifth cup of coffee, expected to recover me from my depression, evaporated slowly on my table, I played the messages on my answering machine. I was happy to hear Suzanne's voice. She did not sound too heartbroken as she pronounced "James." She sounded fairly calm. But a few moments later, the world broke down for me. Suzanne was trying to explain to me why she was not certain about whether we should at all have the child. She did not wish to subject herself to this trauma any longer. She was going to have an abortion, erase me from her memory, and start a new life in another part of the world.

The day I knew about my child growing inside Suzanne, I had spent the entire afternoon in a store looking for the perfect toy. The awkward looking dinosaur sat quietly on my table. I gazed at it with passion for a minute and then rushed out of the room. I needed to stop Suzanne.

I could now see my child dying; and I now remembered Suzanne taking her last breath. I had killed them both myself. I never wanted to shoot them; it was an accident. Suzanne was standing with a gun; it was the gun she kept in a drawer after a man in a mask had once tried to mug her. She was being paranoid as usual that the world was after her calculations rather than acknowledging the fact that the streets of New York were teeming with muggers and criminals. I never really knew that these days she carried the gun in her purse as well. She had asked me to stay away from her, and I did not listen. I told her to calm down and to listen to me, and I tried to seize her and kiss her. I wanted to rationalize with her about keeping the baby. The gun that I had snatched from Suzanne's hand to prevent her from committing some insane act had gone off by mere chance, and the bullet hit Suzanne's heart. I tried to call an ambulance, but the phone was far away. Suzanne and my unborn child died together on my lap.

"It was an accident," the police had stated too, and they had let me leave the scene. The witnesses would not allow for my confession to murder to be accepted. I shut myself in my office and missed all my deadlines. I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that I did not quite recognize the face. I bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles where no one really knew me.

As I now lay on the stairs, and tried to contemplate my life, I saw the stars blinking. They blinked with the message of hope; but a cloud came often and covered them. I heard Mr and Mrs Johnson argue up stairs about which of them it was who had forgotten to turn the lights off. "Annoying people with no real problems in their lives": I laughed to myself as their fight continued for an hour. I closed my eyes and saw my child crawling on the floor. Yes, it was the skyscraper that I had designed. In my mind's eye, it looked even more beautiful than it did in my computer-generated image.