Hello? Nautilus Foundation. Hello? This is Nelson Mandela. Is Francois Bucher there? Yes, yes. Just a minute.
That was part of the magic of the place. A modern art castle in the North Florida woods. Gauguin's ladies. Ancient books. Skin puppets in an old trunk. A secret passageway. A ghost ship. Michelangelo's cold brained boy. A phone call from Nelson Mandela. A monster from my childhood. Einstein's couch. Avenging angels. Pick-up truck angels. A nun's room. A locked tower. Zillions and zillions of stars. A Minotaur. I began to pull away and Francois became bitter again. You don't wiggle anymore. He accused, his face turned away but his eyes cut to me. I told him I had to leave. Who will make me my smoozies? Of course he argued. I told him I needed to get a job, and that Lloyd was just too far out to work and to go to school. He told me that I was throwing away an opportunity. He told me that my studies would suffer, that my health would suffer. He told me that children who went to school and lived in apartments did more partying than studying and did not take school seriously. (I think he had forgotten that I was in auto mechanic school.) He told me I was not like them, that I would be unhappy. For the most part he was right. I loaded up my truck and moved into town. I got a job at a falafel place and an apartment with a girl named Nikki who ended up trashing some of my things and ringing up $906 worth of phone bills under my name that I had to pay. I dropped out of Lively Vo-Tech and TCC. I did not take school seriously. But I did have fun. I smoked pot out of a hookah with naked girls. I wore an evening dress and drank icy cold vodka while Nikki read aloud the works of Shakespeare and I rolled around on the floor in hilarity. We ate Chinese food till bursting and passed out in greasy stupors. I danced barefoot at drum circles and tried to learn to juggle fire. I did not shave my armpits. It was everything Francois was afraid of and more. The other day I was describing my time at the Nautilus Foundation to a friend of mine. He said that it seems so surreal, that it must seem like a completely different life. It does and it doesn't. My life immediately after I left seems more like a dream or something that happened to someone else than my time with Francois. When I lived in the apartment with Nikki (who grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and was far more foreign to me than Francois ever was) and worked at The Pitaria (real name, delicious falafel, shitty hommus) I was trying so desperately for the sort of youthful exuberant life that I thought I should have. It was fun, but it was forced, and I never felt like I belonged. Living with Francois was a bizarre and magical fairy tale, and I always expected the bizarre and magical. My brother and I lived in fairy tales when we were kids, and something like a castle in the woods was only a matter of course. In some ways I am more shocked at how mundane my life has become. It was that same year that I packed up and headed west. Those adventures were more my style, done alone and slowly with many many miles to absorb what I was doing and who I was becoming. I never saw Francois again. He died a couple of years later. I do not know if he died alone, or if someone else was there to call for an ambulance. If anyone ever wrote his memoirs they are not published. His body was placed in a concrete box on a slab between the pond and the main house. I went back once, to lay flowers at his grave. It was a bluesky sunshiney day and it must have been in the summer because I also went looking for black berries. I drove down the driveway and it looked much the same except the dormitories were condemned and there was a giant gate, like the entrance to a Shinto temple. The property had been bequeathed to Florida State University and I was stopped by a man on a riding lawnmower as I got out of my car. He told me I was trespassing, and had to leave. I stood and talked to him for a little while, I told him about living there and the wonders that were inside the building. I told him about Francois, and he was kind and listened. By the end of the talk he let me wander around a little bit. I walked around the building. I touched the rough cinder block of the walls and noted the wear and tear. I went into the woods but I couldn't find any trace of the Chinese junk. I stood for a long time by the box that held Francois. It is very plain, that box. If you didn't know it was a mausoleum you might think it held a pump or some sort of electrical gadgetry connected to the house. I put my face against it and tried to feel the man inside, but he was not there. I cried a little, laid my yellow flowers down and said I'm sorry. That was the surreal part, the part where I knew he was dead and cold and in a box and I was standing next to it. It was surreal that I could not just walk inside and find him sitting at the kitchen table, smoking and waiting to tell me something he had been thinking. I wondered what happened to the art, what happened to the dogs. I still don't know, and I haven't been back. FSU has now renovated the place and turned it into a conference center. The art gallery, which contains some of Francois's own work is named after him, but the center itself is not. When I look it up on the internet I find no mention of the things that really spun my brain, the valuable art, the little light green couch. The information says that there are four bedrooms and two bathrooms available for rent or retreat, but it does not say that there is a secret passageway to one of the bedrooms and I wonder, where are all of these bedrooms anyway? Do they really make visiting guests climb over a stage to sleep in the Nun's room? Did they put a bed in the tower? Or have they ripped the shelves out of the library and put bedrooms in there? It would be too strange to see it so changed and so naked. No doubt FSU has sucked the magic out of the place as best they could, they are good at that. Visitors don't want to be surprised by angels and spiders in the corners of the rooms. I do. I do. I want the angels and the spiders both. Francois lives in me so frail and whole, his naked skin, his purple scar. He is not a part of another life, he is part of this one. I could not give him what he wanted from me, but he did touch me and I touched him and we changed each other, even if it is just a little bit. To be honest, I do not miss him. But I remember him. I think that is a fine thing. When I die I don't want too many people aching for me, but I would like someone to remember the shape of my hands and the way I laugh. He did not wear his seat belt. He liked artichokes in oil. He had large knuckles and ropey veins in the backs of his hands. When Francois laughed, sometimes it was a bitter chuckle and a sideways glance, but sometimes it would burst so loud and unexpected I could hear it even if I was tucked up in my room. Even if I was walking away, as fast as I could.
Rugs hold onto dirt and catch your high heels. I have no time for rugs, let's roll them on up. Let's throw some sawdust on the floor. Let's put some music on. Let's wake the children, rouse the neighbors, and see who has the rhythm in 'em. It's time to dance.