I stay with Nemel longer than usual one evening and witness the explosion of colors as the sun sinks into the horizon. Since his cave is at the opposite end of the outcropping, he witnesses the end of the day whereas the others are awakened by the new day’s light. Now in reviewing my experiences, I think it gives him a different perspective on life, one that allows him to see life differently than others, his own in particular.
“What was it like – growing up the way you did?” Nemel asks as we sit quietly, taking in the view.
I take a moment to respond, as though considering, when in reality my actual experience is true enough. “Good or bad — I don’t know what it is to have had parents. There were figures of authority that would get after me, provide me with basic needs but no one to care about how I was brought up. Not like here where a young one has so many adults looking out for him or her.”
“Unless they’re deformed and shunned,” Nemel murmurs more to himself than to me.
“You will probably have to work harder at overcoming those feelings than your physical limitation,” I tell him, glancing over at him. “I can help you with the latter.”
“What do you want to do here?” Nemel asks, ignoring my assistance. “I don’t see you being content with our life of fieldwork and occasional trades.”
“You’ve seen too much and I assume have done too many different things to be content with such a routine.”
I stare out into the blood red sky. “Actually, with all that I’ve been through it’s kind of a relief to see life in such a routine.”
“It holds little appeal for me,” he confesses quietly.
“I think it is possible to adapt to any situation. It’s just a matter of working at it and getting past the struggle which sometimes precedes it,” I tell him. “The more you do it, the easier it becomes.”
“I thought if I isolated myself it wouldn’t hurt so much. I told myself that their rejecting of me didn’t matter, that I would be fine without being around everyone. I was wrong. It made me mean, unsociable and unable to relate to others. I told myself that the rejection was deserved, that they were limited in their view of life. I lashed out at Dar-el … you, initially because I figured you’d reject me like the others. I saw you struggle to fit in here and to be accepted by others — my father especially. You just never gave up or in to frustration. It was like it was never an option for you. I was never taught to fight — never allowed to prove myself or even encouraged to do so. I look like a child and have always been treated like one, except by you. You helped me in a way no one else could or was able to do. Perhaps it was because of how you grew up or maybe it’s part of your character. While I can wish I had never had to live through all this time of isolation, I know it’s made a difference in who I am now. And, I suppose, in the end that’s all that matters.”
“Life begins when you chose to live it – that’s what Elder’s told me,” I tell Nemel, sneaking a look at him. In the dimming light, dark shadows have creeped in around his eyes and mouth, aging him softly.
“I feel like I can put this all behind me,” he continues. “It will be a struggle to forget the pain and loss of the past years and I haven’t had much experience in struggling to understand its benefits. I never worked in the fields and gained that sense of accomplishment.”
“Perhaps you should. You know I will help you any way I can.”
“Sometimes I think I’m still asleep,” Nemel says quietly, again ignoring my offer. “Like I’m still dreaming and I hope that someone comes along and wakes me. There’s that moment when you come to the end of a dream where it breaks apart and fades away and you’re aware that you were dreaming, though you’re not quite awake yet either. Sometimes, in that short span of time I’m able to convince myself that my life has been a horrible dream and it’s just come to an end. All I have to do is wake up to what my life should have been. But … then I open my eyes and look down at myself and realize I have another day to live through, another day to wonder why I’m here, why I continue to live. Why … why I was even created.”
As Nemel’s words pour out, I sense it isn’t a conscious decision on his part to ignore my offers of help. Instead, he is simply taking this moment to release what he has buried inside for so long. I realize that my presence here, now, is my assistance.
“Do you know how many generations I’ve seen grow up, pair up and have children of their own?” he continues. “Inside, I feel old, really old. Some nights I look out and hope it’s the last time I see that view. Yet, the next day it’s there again to greet me upon waking. I’m stuck between the land of the living and those who have gone beyond — alive but not living. I keep wondering what it was that I did to deserve this. Why me and not someone else? But, that’s not realistic because I was born this way. While I’m beginning to realize there may be some reason, it’s hard to hold on to during each day’s passing along with the emotions that go with it.
“That’s at least the way I used to feel,” Nemel declares with a sigh, as though having reached the end of his emotions. “I still do sometimes when the day is dark. Mostly now, it’s like I have a purpose, something to live for and my own pain and misery don’t seem as dark or overwhelming as they did before. I still feel pangs of … regret over all of the lost seasons, but I’m beginning to see life in a different way, thanks to the testing. I had to go through this for a reason, for me — for all of us. My existence at this particular time in the life of our tribe may as of yet prove valid. I don’t know that yet. I hold on to that though — it’s all that I have.”