Monday, January 25, 2010

Francois Bucher, pt 4

One day the phone rang and I answered it.

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.


downtown guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
downtown guy said...

Better than two pots of dinner.

Also, I think you will feel me on this one:
(Make sure to just put your mouse in the middle of the comic to see the hidden message as well.)

Mel said...

Oh my. I could talk to you for hours, based on just this story alone. I completely get it. It made me nod and sigh and cry just a little. And remember my own version of Francois. Thanks.

And I completely believe this is a wonderful short story, I can already see it in a book. Of course I want more.

And dtg that xkcd is hilarious.

May said...

DTG- Oh yeah, I totally get that. And I love the secret message. Did you figure that out yourself? Tricky tricky. By the way, I just finished your two pots of dinner. Call me when you get home. Love you x a million.

Mel- Thank you for reading. And for getting me. That is rare and sweet.

downtown guy said...

I read that comic all the time, so I don't remember if someone told me about the secret messages or not. Yum, I will call when I make it to the house!

Petit fleur said...

I remember hearing he left that place to FSU and it pissed me off. They will suck the life out of that place and when they are done, they'll probably sell it to developers. ugh!

So glad you has some time with the old boy. It was probably just the right amount of time. It is sad and mysterious not knowing where all the treasures went and if they are being appreciated and revered. I hope so... especially the couch and the art.

Ms. Moon said...

I used to walk down that road, May, back when I first moved to Lloyd or sometimes I rode a bike down it. And whenever I passed that Shinto Temple Arch, I thought of the time that Lynn and I came to visit you at Francois' house. How charming he was to us and how strange your nun's room was and it reminded me in a way of the time your father and I lived in a house down on the bay in Panacea. How a bunch of us hippies were squatting there and there was no electricity or running water and you couldn't walk into some of the rooms because they were falling in but how magical it was, too, because it was on the bay where the sunlight danced on the water and the dolphins danced in it.
I am so glad that you children have had fairy-tale experiences in your lives. And lived to tell the tales. So beautifully. So magically.
It is if you had been infused by magic and indeed you were! How many people have spoken to Nelson Mandela on the telephone?
We are people who know that floors can fall in so you must walk carefully, especially in the dark, that there may be secret passageways, that old wood and rough cement can hold secrets we will never know but will get to rub up against, if we are lucky.
Bless you for this one, baby.
It was a work of art.

May said...

Petit Fleur- I know, right? Grrr, FSU. I have such mixed feelings about that place. I did find the contact information for inquiries about renting the buildings for a retreat, and so I may call and ask about what happened to the contents, but maybe I'll let it be a mystery. Thank you, as always, for reading and commenting. It means so much. Love you! Kisses to you and yours!

Mama- You and what you write are so beautiful Mama, you fill me with awe. Always. I didn't know about the house in Panacea. Is it still there? Have you gone back to look? You filled us with fairy tales, you know. All that reading to us, and showing us that reading is magical in itself so that we picked up the habit. All those hundreds of stories were just as real to us as anything that happened in the "real" world. And I was lucky, because I got to hear the stories that may have been considered too mature for my age because you read for Hank's pleasure and at his level, and I got to listen. Even when I did not fully understand I made up explanations and made it all fit within the contexts of my world. My worlds. You gave us worlds, and the eyes to see them. Thank you for that. For worlds and for words, oh my we are rich. I love you.

Bethany said...

Ack, this just made me BAWL.
I love your honesty, your heart.
May! I know you don't know me. But I'm just studdering in awe.
What a story.
Thank you for telling it.
Thanks for sharing.
You told it perfectly.
The end was heartbreaking and real.

SJ said...

Ahh my love, my heart twin! What a great story--tell us more? This makes me so, so wish for you to be published, and for your mama to be too.

Because you are a writer! And I know that feeling of 'it was fun, but it was fake' oh so well.

Here's to more adventures for us both.

Melissa Kaye said...

I looked up Francois Bucher and found this: Article on Bucher

Melissa Kaye said...

I loved your story so much that I looked up Bucher, haha. It's really rare for me to do that. I looked up a guy in a Rick Braggs article the other day. Braggs is an amazing writer too. He is a journalist with a perspective on life that is so raw.

Your writing is so elegant, and so real. You draw out Bucher's imperfections and make them somewhat...beautiful.

Danielle said...

ach make me happy and sad and all at make me wish i could go there and meet the may you was back then..sure i dlike meet may u r now too...everything you write about is parents both were artists and so i know this kind of places...always loved them..and i m sad they arent part of my now-life anymore..:-/..thank you for sharing all this...

Angie Muresan said...

Oh what a magical place and what a magical person this Francois is. You really lived in a nun's room? And there was a tower and artwork and stars everywhere? Wow! I am mesmerized by your storytelling.

Mwa said...


Sarcastic Bastard said...

I loved this series, May, and I thank you for sharing it with us. How lucky you are to have lived it.

I adore you, as always.


deb said...

May, I just wanted to let you know that I've skimmed these stories, and am waiting until I can truly give them the time for reading they deserve.
I can't wait, but I must. I can just tell.

May said...

Bethany- Thank you so much! I'm glad it all came out, and that I could get it down real, and that people wanted to read it. You are very sweet for hanging on for the whole thing.

SJ- Yes! Here's to more adventures for us both! Cheers!!

Melissa Kaye- Ha! Thanks for the link. I read the article and it's so funny. The Trivium? The Quadrivium!? My, aren't we fancy. By the time I got out there it seemed like no one was helping him at all. FSU had just let him hang. It did sound wonderful, though didn't it? I wish it had happened. I wish he'd been able to realize his dream.
I've read Rick Bragg and he is pretty great. Thanks for reminding me. So much to read, so little time.

Danielle- I think the May I was back then would have like you very much. As it is, I like you very much now. I know what you mean about the happy sadness. I think that emotions like to get tangled up together, it makes them more real. I would like to hear more about your childhood, if you ever feel like telling.

Angie- It was pretty magical. Thank you so much!

Mwa- Kiss Kiss!

SB- Thanks for reading the whole damn thing. I adore you! Always. M+SB 4-ever.

deb- I hope you enjoy it! Thank you for reading.

Bethany said...

I just wanted to tell you I tried the cinnamon in the coffee grinds thing and it was SO delicious. Why did I never think of that. Well except it made a big mess because I used the powder and not a stick. But it didn't matter. So yum. I sipped on it all day at the library yesterday. Thank you!!!

Allegra Smith said...

This is simply wonderful. I didn't get to read it until today, my problems with focusing were greater than my abilities to overcome them and now I am delighted and sad and happy and I know I want to read it all over again. I want to read all four parts at once.

I come from a family of artists. Painters and writers on both sides, one of my uncles was the director of the Beau Arts School and a great painter with a very tragic life. Too long to go into here but some day I will write about it. He and his wife, a sculptor had a wonderful studio where many artists, some very well known came to drink wine, discuss politics and each other's work. I was young, and completely mesmerized by the milieu I found myself in when coming home for short periods of time during my years in college. Without a doubt my love for the arts in all forms was born during those times and I will be forever grateful to them for that gift.

I love your writing and I hope you could put all these wonderful memories in a book of short stories. Like your Mother, you have the ability to translate word into image without any difficulty and that my darling, is the gift of the Muses. Don't waste it. Thank you again and hugs from here.

claud said...

I just left a comment after part 1 not realizing you had written parts 2,3, and 4. I just discovered your writing this morning. It's curious, the dynamic is so repetitive, what you describe is the way he behaved with many people. To answer some of your questions, he did die alone, though he had daily help from a neighbor and was also receiving hospice care. One of the dogs, Abbess, had been my dog originally. She was put to sleep after Francois accidentally ran over her hind legs not knowing she was lounging under the car tires. In the year before he died, Francois withdrew his gift to FSU. The entire estate went to the Collins Institute for Public Policy. That's a long story. In the end he was rather ungenerous with his own children and did not want us to have much of anything. My brother was able to convince him to allow us to each have one object (officially). Though it was like pulling teeth, I was able to get the sleigh bed. I wanted the sleigh bed because it was an object rich with memories and I associated it with his most quixotic quality, the art of storytelling. I myself have been contemplating writing something about life with Francois, but I'm not so sure I want to go back and relive that part of my life.Thanks for your writing on the topic....Claudia

May said...

Thank you so much for answering some of my questions. When I wrote this I didn't imagine Francios' family finding it, but I used his real name and of course it might come up in a Google search. I hope you don't mind, and I hope that this didn't bring up hard things for you. I just... I was just thinking of him so much for some reason and it was a very magical part of my life. I'm sorry he was not more giving toward you and your brother. I never understand why people care so much about what happens to things after they die, I guess it's a way to continue to have power or control, and dying is sort of the opposite of that. We have no control over death.
I'm glad you got the sleigh bed.
I wish I could've written this all better. I tried. It's the hardest thing for me to write about something I've experienced and make it true. If you ever do write that book, please let me know.
Thank you again, so much.

swimmingtube productions said...

May, Thank you so much for your very well written memories of your time at Nautilus with François! It sounds like you followed me... I sort of ½ to ¾-lived with François a few months (I forget how many!) in the year before he had the bypass surgery. When I was first there, it was called the Monk's room. Maybe he re-named it after it was my room. Were the navy sheets still there? I love the description of stepping up onto the stage, crossing, etc in the middle of the night, the kitchen and the aluminum kisses (I still have one). All your descriptions take me right back there to the place and to François. I stumbled onto your blog while looking to see if there was a photo of Einstein's couch somewhere.
Claudia's words are appreciated as well. I was unable to attend F's funeral. I had met M briefly at the hospital after his surgery (I stayed a day or so until she was able to get there.)I'm sorry I wasn't able to meet Claudia. So many memories, so long ago.... V