9.36 The Kiwi Perspective
The next few blogs will be transcripts of the fourth season of Storytime with Paul Dore. This season is based on my latest novel Dreams of Being a Kiwi. Each episode/transcript will contain excerpts from the book, as well as an introduction to some of the characters.
Dreams of Being a Kiwi was the first novel I wrote a long time ago. It’s a story I continually return to and am finally getting it into print and on the podcast. The book is about a young man who suffers from a mental illness and how he navigates his way to find peace.
I wished I could say it was something more dramatic than a kiwi, but there it was: a kiwi every day. Shuffled down to lunch, sat by myself. Waited in line, grabbed a tray, the tray heavy in my hands, it got heavier as food piled on. The last thing I got was a kiwi. On this day, the day I spoke with the doctor, where I wondered who I was, wondered if I wanted to get better, wondered what getting better meant. I sat down before my tray of food, I was not hungry, as usual.
I stared at that kiwi, felt like the kiwi stared back at me. It was large, with a furry exterior. The kiwi transmitted information to me, telling me something or trying to tell me something. I stared at that kiwi, used my imagination, imagined it was the last kiwi on earth, it was the last piece of food. This was it, there was nothing left after this kiwi, it would not be long until I perished. Dreamt of that kiwi, the way it tasted, my mouth would water at the thought, my parched throat would be swelled, swallowed imagined pieces of kiwi. My ears remembered the softness when I bit into it.
Everything went away from me at that moment, the voice over my shoulder said nothing. I wondered if they finally decided I was not worth it anymore. I picked up the kiwi, felt the weight in my hand. It would be the last time I ever lifted a kiwi, the last time I felt its heaviness. I turned it around in my hand, explored it, investigated it, put to memory every small dent and imperfection. Lifted it to my face, looked through it. Moved it to my mouth, parted my lips, sunk my teeth into the skin, breaking it, feeling the juices flow into my mouth. It was glorious. The last kiwi in the world. The last piece of food in the world. It was mine, all mine.
Sliced a piece with my teeth, dropped it into my mouth, let it lay there, sloshed it around inside, sucked on it, finally breaking it up into small pieces, swallowing the pieces. It was without a doubt the most delicious, most satisfying mouthful that I had ever experienced. The small pieces moved down my throat, through my chest, moved around my insides, slipped into my stomach. My entire body thanked me as the kiwi pieces dissolved. I took another bite and another bite, savouring each piece, chomping it into small pieces, sucking the juices, knowing that with each bite I was getting closer to the end. I didn’t care. I took each bite as it came, treated each of them equally.
No voice spoke to me. I expected it to tell me how ridiculous this was, but I did not care. I was eating my last meal, this was it, the only thing to look forward to was death from starvation after this lonely kiwi. I made my way around the kiwi, tackled the top, the bottom. Stared at the last piece, knew that I was dying after this. I ate that last piece, felt it all mix together in my stomach. I had just accomplished something I had rarely felt - enjoyment. I sat to relish in this enjoyment.
The light from the windows seemed to change, the sun snuck out from under some dirty clouds, its rays penetrated the glass, showed shadows from trees, from tables, chairs, other patients. The rays moved quickly, sprayed across the tables, reached my face, reflected off my eyes. Tears ran down my cheeks, I let them, I did not move. I did not cry because I was sad, I cried because of joy. I cried as a release.
Cleaned off my tray, thanked the person slopping out the food, returned to my room. The next morning, I felt better than I had in a long time. Went through my morning with hardly a thought.
At lunchtime, I went through the line up, ignored the smells of the food, my mouth dropped when I saw my kiwi. I grabbed it, sat down, stared at it. Rejoiced that I was able to have another one, that I was lucky enough that yesterday was not my last one. Surely this was the last one, I convinced myself there were no more after this. Bit into it. Somehow it was better than the one yesterday, was fuller, juicier. I tasted every drop of it, felt it fall through my body. I thanked the kiwi. I knew this was the last one.
I appreciated every bite. Drank it up. After I was done, I looked around, looked in the faces of the other patients, wondering if they felt the same thing as I did, wondered if they felt so lucky to have their kiwi. It seemed so small, thinking of a kiwi in these terms. It was, after all, only a kiwi.
I went to bed every night knowing I had eaten my last kiwi. I woke every morning wondering, hoping there might be a kiwi waiting for me in the lunch room. I surprised myself with wonder at the sight of the kiwi. Cut into it, felt it go down, nourishing my insides. I learnt how to be human again, learning from a fundamental level that I was a person, someone who had thoughts in his head. An individual that was maybe different, maybe someone that heard things in his head, heard other people talking. I just started ignoring them, filled my thoughts with the kiwi. My senses exploded with the taste, with the smell of the kiwi.
After weeks of eating the kiwis slowly during my lunchtime, I started noticing other things. The tree outside my window, knowing that it gave life, that its leaves fell in the winter time, that they grew back because it was alive and I was alive. I looked at the tree with the same appreciation with which I felt towards the kiwi.
The kiwi was revelatory to me. In the hospital, I entered afraid and scared of myself, of my surroundings, of what I was capable of. The voice was there, always there. I worked at different forms of acceptance, of trying to understand what it was that ailed me. Why this voice spoke to me, why it chose me.
My sister came to see me. I convinced myself I would never see her again, but she walked into my room and the light changed. We ate in the lunchroom, I gave her half of my kiwi. I knew it would be my last kiwi forever. I wanted to make sure my sister got half of it. We went out for a walk through the trees. We walked all day, I talked and talked, she barely got a word in.
She stopped me while we walked in the woods, lightly grabbed me by the arm, turned me to face her, looked into my eyes, made sure I was listening, she said, “I wanted you to know that I’m proud of you. I wanted to tell you that you are becoming an adult, someone I always have been happy to call my brother. Now, through all that you have become, I am so happy that you are coming out of this, that you are getting better.” My sister started tearing up, but she controlled it, I said back to her, “I am proud of you too. I would not be standing here without you.” She looked down, I continued on, “No really. Who else was there for me? No one else. We only have each other. I think we have done a good job at holding it together despite everything.” She put her arm around me, we continued walking, we were siblings alone in this world, unable to rely on anyone else. We would have crumbled on our own, lost it a long time ago. We kept each other’s fire going, made sure it never went out. We would always be there for each other.
The next day, it rained, which kept me indoors, but I still wanted to go for my walk. Something told me to have a look around the floors, talk to people, maybe someone knew the place I was looking for. On the third floor at the end of the hallway, there was a bench that looked out the window.
On the bench was an old woman, staring out the window. I knew that look. I did something I would not usually do - sat down next to her. She did not acknowledge me at first, I was okay with that. I was going over and over in my head what I should say, having the loudest argument.
My heart told me to relax, so I relaxed, opened my mouth, said, “It is beautiful isn’t it?” She looked at me, she did not move, finally she nodded her head. A faint smile crossed her lips. Congratulations to me. She knew I was here. I did not know why I was talking to this lady, but I was, I said, “The trees give us strength.” She turned back towards me, let out a little laugh. I did not think she was laughing at me. It was a laugh where she was laughing with me – there was a difference. If I had figured anything out, I had figured this out. She said, “Yes they do.”
She talked funny, had some sort of accent. The accent sounded British, but I could not be sure. It sounded like a funny British accent. I had to get her talking. I asked her, “Did you see the movie yesterday?” A smile came across her face, she nodded her head, she said, “Yes, that is my home.” I tried to figure out her accent, it was not Australian. I was concentrating so hard on her accent, I did not realize at first she said it was her home. This finally registered, I calmed down, I said,
“Your home?” She sighed, nodded her head. She said, “I am from New Zealand. They shot that movie all in New Zealand.” I nearly farted right then and there with the luck I was having. I could not believe what she said, so I asked, “And all those places they traveled through, all those mountains, they can be found in New Zealand?” She nodded her head some more, smiled as though she remembered something far away. She said, “Yes, everything is there. My heart is there.”
I was so blinded by the information I learned, I did not even notice what she might have meant by her heart. I had just one more question, I asked, “How far is New Zealand from here?” She laughed at that, she said, “It is on the other side of the world. It is far away from here.” She turned towards the window, I turned towards the window with her. There was something more to what she was saying, her words had a weight that eluded me. I stood up, I said, “Thank you!” She called after me, she asked, “Don’t you want to know more? Come and see me anytime. It was nice talking to someone.” She turned back towards the window.
The next day I returned to my room after lunch, sitting on my bed was a book about New Zealand. The book was packed with photographs. Bowled over, I looked at the first page, drank it in. The mountains were the same from the movie, they existed. They were not fake. I turned the page, more mountains. Turned the page, water, lakes, oceans. Turned the page, flipped through the whole book, I felt Helen watching me from the doorway. When the book was finished, when there were no more pictures, I turned towards her, she was smiling, I smiled back.
I told her I was going for my walk, she nodded her head at me, she said, “Okay but there is someone that wants to visit you first.” Helen helped the old woman into my room, she sat on my bed, no one had ever sat on my bed. Helen introduced Margaret. She looked nervous, looked out the window. She looked down at my books, a smile came over her face as she looked at the cover. She pointed at the mountain, she said, “Mount Cook.” I turned the page, she pointed at the photograph of a waterfall, she said, “Milford Sound.” I flipped, she called out the names as we went on.
She gave me more information about every page. I drank it up, her words were music in my ears, I kept asking her if these places really did exist. She kept telling me, “They do, oh yes, they do!” At the end of the book, we both fell backwards, exhausted. We lay on our backs, we stared at the ceiling, both of us had pictures in our mind playing behind our foreheads. They were pictures I wanted to make real, that I wanted to see, to touch. Margaret smiled at me, she left me alone. I went to sleep, I could not sleep. I flipped through the book one more time by the moonlight.
The plan formed in my head while I tried to sleep in my hospital bed, out for walks through the forest, when I touched the trees. The trees provided strength to help me. The plan developed underwater when I swam in the lake, when I sat at the edge of the lake, looked at the water, when I ate my kiwis, talked with Margaret, learned more about New Zealand.
The only one I told was my sister. She visited me, I asked her to go out for a walk with me. I was nervous about telling her, nervous about asking for help, she's already done so much. I could not do this without her. She could tell I was nervous, knew I needed to tell her something. It was time for me to leave this place, but the doctor didn't necessarily agree. I wanted to know what she honestly thought, if she disagreed with me, I would talk no further.
She was silent for a long time. She nodded her head finally, smiled. As we went through the plan, she never second-guessed me, never suggested something else, never attempted to persuade me towards another direction. Only nodded, added the odd suggestion which only helped and told me she would provide all the help she could. She would be happy to help me, talked about how this is a new step towards a new life, one where I would be independent, where I would live life on my own terms, see the world, live inside of it, try to find happiness somewhere far away.
So relieved, I thought she would have tried to talk me out of it but I should have known better, should have known she would only encourage me. I told her all about New Zealand, she saw how the mountains and the lakes and the ocean lit up my eyes. There was no way I could not go.
From then on we were in constant contact daily through the telephone. She visited me every week where we walked out into the woods and we went over the developments of the plan. She brought me requested items such as maps and books and information I needed to make the plan fully complete. With the help of my sister, we mapped out the transit system of the city, how I would reach the airport, where the locker would be, the new documents that I would need, plane tickets. We then mapped out New Zealand, when I would arrive, trains, cars, ferries, my destination, the apartment. We worked together, the two of us, two siblings lost in the world with no one but each other.
With everything organized, we picked a date, settled on a month from our last meeting. She needed to set some things up through her contacts. She would give me the go ahead, then I would be on my own.
The last time I saw her was out in the woods. We were going over the flight and how I needed to make a connection in Los Angeles. We went over it three times. I folded the maps and papers, put them inside my shirt to bring back into the hospital.
She grabbed my arm, spun me around to face her. She looked into my eyes, said, “This is it, we will not see each other for a while. The past few weeks have made me very happy. I can see that you will be fine. I will admit, although I might not have shown it, but I was hesitant at first. I have to be honest and say I doubted whether you were ready for this, but I am only disappointed in myself for these thoughts of doubt. These past few weeks have made me happy because we are brother and sister again. We have become two people with a common goal, working together, getting to know each other again. I spent so many hours sitting, standing and watching you but feeling like I have been seeing someone else. I did not know this person but you have come back, you have surfaced and it is your own doing. To say that I am proud of you is an understatement. You have grown so much, you have taken your life back with both hands. It is yours now, you should do with it what you want, push ever forward, go find what you are looking for. There are so many things out there for you to experience and you will experience them like a new person, someone who has the opportunity to feel emotions like they are new. I hope you will find what you are looking for. A fire has been ignited under you, I hope you never allow the flame to burn out. I hope you always keep moving, always grow more, learn what it is that you want and get it. The only thing I can say is when you get it, grab on to it with both hands, hold it close and never let it go.”
We walked through the hospital, out the front door to her car. We hugged, she held me closer than before, whispered in my ear, “Good luck. We will be reunited sooner than you think.” She got in her car, rolled the window down, smiled at me. She had tears in her eyes but they did not fall down her cheek. She pulled away, I watched the car speed away. Before she got too far away, her arm appeared out the window, her hand turning into a fist. I held my arm up, turned my hand into a fist. I wondered if she saw me. The car turned the corner.
Alone. One more month left.