Last night was a kind of beautiful evening—a wonderful array of coincidences.
I was with David, brother to my long–ago love Anna Björnsdotter. Anna was my huge heartthrob for years and now her family is as real family as family can get to me. I had to visit her mother and brother during my trip to Sweden.
David, a 24 year old bus driver, lives in the middle–sized city of Gävle. Gävle lies north of Stockholm in the lush, rolling hilly region called Dalarna. Dalarna means the hills in Swedish.
He insisted that his friends "had no life," and he was a apologetic that they had nothing to do and nowhere to go. I suggested we go downtown and see what sort of fun we could create. Fun doesn't just find you. Most often you have to make your own. I started to photograph the people that I found walking through the main square. I shot pictures of some cute young people, a drunk man passed out on a bench, and a belligerent drunk townie.
At one point I excused myself to use the restroom. I started small talk with the girls in line and one of them told me she was playing a gig at the outdoor restaurant in the square. Then she invited me to play a few songs on the stage! So, I had a sort of impromptu evening concert for the people in the square—diners, drinkers, and passersby.
After that I took some more photos of David and his friends. Then we saw something scurrying on the ground across the street. It looked like maybe a huge rat, but slower. We decided to cross the street and investigate.
The dark brown creature was not a rat but a hedgehog—igelkott in Swedish. I chased it for a while to try to get a good photo of it, but it kept running away.
At one point two very cute young gothy looking girls joined our group—they were concerned for the scared creature, a wild animal lost in an unfamiliar island of concrete. The girls looked like picture perfect indie rock scenesters, only way younger—depressed with white makeup, ratted hair, and eyes bearing more color, stick–on stars, and more frilly decorations than an American house at Christmas time.
The taller of the two took off her black sweater and carefully wrapped it around the painfully sluggish little animal. Hedgehogs are fast and nimble in video games. But, that's a long cry from the reality of these drugged out little rodent zombies. Imagine chasing an obese, wheelchair–bound eight–year–old. Then imagine you just gave him two vicodins and a shot of Jägermeister. Then he'd be like an olympic sprinter hedgehog.
I told the girls that we couldn't leave him in the concrete and cobblestone jungle of the downtown shopping area. But, where should we take him? Until recently I thought hedgehogs only existed in video games and cartoons. I had no idea where they actually lived in real life.
My friends suggested we take him to the park a few blocks away. So the five of us and the two cute girls took turns carrying our new friend—walking the little guy back to what we hoped was his home.
The girls were shy and their English was bad, so I talked Swedish. I asked why they were so shy, and the taller one in red told me she was a sad girl. She explained that her boyfriend didn't care about her. She continued that he was her life and she had nothing except him.
I was so sad to hear her saying those things. I could see she really believed her own words. I insisted that her words were ridiculous, telling her that the truth was that she was her life—and that his life was outside of her. I told her that she needed to live her own life, and asked her why she wanted to be with someone that didn't want to be with her. She shrugged. "We're putting things on hold right now—a pause." Come on, I said. That's the same as breaking up. "No, it's not. It's just a break." She was trying to convince herself, but not even her own broken heart could be convinced by her trembling voice. Ok, then what does it mean to be taking a break? She admitted, "I don't even know myself, I guess."
She was mostly un–consolable—clinging to her sadness like a lifeboat in icy waters. She clearly wanted to talk—she was the one bringing everything up. But, I could see her wounds were fresh and she wasn't even a little ready to move on. She seemed like someone who had never considered the things we spoke about in more than the most superficial, reactive level. Her ideas were shaky like her voice—like someone walking for a the first time. She was a beginner.
It wasn't long before she and her friend friend with silver stars stuck around the corners of her eyes had to leave and catch the bus back in town.
I was a little disappointed. I wanted to talk with her more. I really enjoyed talking with her—I get so much joy from listening and talking with people having relationship troubles. Sometimes I think helping others was why I was put on this planet—well, that and Mexican food.
So she said goodbye and I joined my friends to go home. What a night! I got to play a few songs downtown. I got to see—and hold—a real hedgehog. And, I got to have a conversation about something I cared about with a stranger. And, I felt so proud because it was my first real conversation in Swedish.
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