It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life?daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
-Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
She didn't know how she had known that they would meet here, she just had. It just made sense to her that this was where they should have their final encounter. She couldn't think of anywhere else more appropriate.
She'd had no money to hire a car, and a cab out here would have cost even more than that, so she'd gone to a friend's house and asked if she could borrow her car. Normally she would never have asked, and perhaps it was this, as well as the urgency in her expression, that had persuaded her friend to let her borrow it- not something she would normally have done. Cammie promised to have it back before the day was over. She'd turned off her mobile earlier that afternoon, after running from the cafe and running to Anthony's house nearby. He was not there. She'd called his number, and he'd answered right away.
"Hi Camille, how are you?" He answered in a pleased, happy expression- so different from his normal, monotone voice. He'd gone from suicidal to normal with barely a step in between, and now spoke as if his previous self had never existed. She'd bought him back to life, all right- just like he'd planned.
For a moment she could think of nothing to say, and said nothing as a result. She didn't know why she'd called, what she was going to ask. Either what Alison had said was true, or it wasn't. With the cold shock of a glass of icy water being thrown into her face, she knew, in her bones, at that instant, that it was. And even more frightening than this realization was that she might have known that all along, somewhere deep beneath her thoughts.
"Where are you?" She'd asked breathlessly, afraid to let him hear the waver in her voice.
"Just at the supermarket." he said, and as he did so she could hear the noises of other people in the background of the phone's speaker, digitized and processed, sent through the ether as invisible waves and reincorporated into distorted audio directly in her ear. Trolley wheels spinning, children complaining, checkout registers beeping. Sensible noises, transmitted from another dimension, coming through only partially into Cammie's dimension. Here, to where the world made no sense. "I thought I might make us something special."
Cammie cleared her throat loudly while she processed her new reality. "Ah, can you meet me somewhere?" She said, planning as she thought, one idea coming fast on the heels of the other, and she spoke them the moment she had them, thoughts practically tripping over themselves as they rushed themselves out of her mouth. "I ah, need to ... show you something."
"Sure thing Camille." She was terrified that he was going to use a term of endearment, a pet name, and that she was going to drop the phone and scream as a consequence. A feeling of great relief washed over her when she realized that he was not going to. Even he, in the depths of his psychosis, had the tact to sense that it was too soon for pet names. She'd felt momentarily nauseous, then, but it passed quickly.
"Could you meet me, ah, at the point, the ah, Apollo Bay point. The cliff? Where we wrecked the car?"
"All the way out there? That's a three-hour drive!" It was strange to hear any emotion in his voice, but his whine sounded positively surreal. "Why? What's there?"
"I just ah ... it's important. I'll tell you when we get there."
"Uhm, okay." He'd said, eager to please his new possession. "Can I pick you up?"
"No, uhm, I'll meet you there. At six?"
"Is everything okay?"
Cammie had felt her composure begin to waver, so had finished the call quickly:
"No, I'll make it out there on my own, just be there, okay?"
"Sure, but I'll..."
"Thanks." She said, cutting him off and then ending the call before he could protest further. She was sure he'd meet her. If what Alison had said was true, he was beyond needy- more like obsessive. She turned off her phone before he could call her back, or Steve could call for the fourth time that hour, and then, in quiet burst of anger, she had turned over the phone, pulled back the sliding plastic cover, tore out the battery and threw it into the bushes at Anthony's apartment-complex door with a wrenching sob. She took a few minutes to compose herself, leaning on the brick facade of the building wall, and then hunted around the bushes for a few minutes, trying to find the battery. She found it, but didn't put it back into the phone. She'd then gone immediately to her friend and asked if she could borrow her car.
The drive from the city had been good for her. Regular drivers already know that there's nothing quite like a drive through a beautiful countryside to process one's thoughts, but Cammie had never owned a car and this new knowledge came as something of a revelation to her. She drove without music this time, partially because she needed time to think things through, but primarily because her friend's car had suffered the indignity of having it's stereo ripped out of it by thieves some weeks earlier. She'd listen to the sound of the wheels eating up the road in front of her, and bathed in the quiet internal stillness that came only from knowing that the city was far behind you.
When the drive first began, her mind was churning with a thousand thoughts and emotions. Fear, anger, humiliation, and confusion- they all piled atop one another in a messy tangle. Slowly, over the course of the three long hours, watching the road unfold, she unpacked her emotions one by one, layered them carefully alongside one another, allowed herself to experience each one individually, analyzed her reasons for feeling that way, and then placed it carefully to one side. Once she had gone through each of them, she did the same with her thoughts, saying them out loud to herself, being sure to articulate them as well as she could, accepting them, and then putting them aside. By the time the journey was over, her mind was clear and unfettered- she no longer felt out of control, she felt, perhaps for the first time in her life, completely in control. She smiled and felt at peace.
As the car came acrest of the twist in the road that revealed the roadside stop she'd asked to meet him at, the one she had followed him to some weeks ago, she saw the same car that she had driven, Anthony's blue Acura, parked in the same place she had parked it. He had arrived before her, which made sense, as she was delayed for a fair while trying to find transportation, and he probably came directly- probably in a rush, worried about what she wanted to say. Beyond Anthony's Acura she saw the man himself, sitting on the low metal barrier that they had sent the convertible hire car tumbling over. He was sitting just to the left of the point in the metal that the car had struck, where the impression of the bumper still remained, the metal twisted into a grimace of steel teeth. Small fragments of plastic from the reflectors had been smashed by the impact and lay in tiny triangular shards in a small semicircle, centered around where the figure sat.
He must have heard her car pull in, and then heard her car door open and close behind her, but he did not turn around at the noise. He remained very still, sitting on the barrier, his body facing away from the rest stop, out towards the ocean. The sun was setting low in the horizon, and blazed hot and white in front of him. The ocean reflected the sky, and was also a deep white, tending towards red, broken only by the occasional ripple in the surface, caused by some wave in the distance, which appeared only as a black streak through the white, momentarily appearing and then disappearing almost before it registered with the eye. It front of this hot white background, Anthony's silhouette wavered and bent in the evening heat. She could see no detail, only black.
As she approached him from behind, her feet runched in some of the larger gravel pieces that made up the loose sandy topsoil of the rest stop's flat surface. Still, he did not turn, just kept staring out to sea, as if in a reverie. He was sitting on the opposite side of the fence to Cammie, so that his legs hung down on the same side of the barrier that the car had fallen from. There must only be three or four feet of land between him and the cliff-edge, she thought to herself, slowing her walk as the thought occurred to her. If she were to run straight at him, throw all of her body weight into his back, he'd be shoved from the barrier and probably forward over the edge of the cliff. That would be justice of a kind, she thought to herself. She felt he had raped her, in a sense. Although if lying to someone to seduce them was a crime, she supposed most of the world must be guilty to some extent or another. She resumed walking at her normal pace and was soon standing beside him. She put one leg over the barrier, then the other, and sat down next to him, with about a meter between them. He continued to look away from her, out to the ocean- as though he were still alone and she had not just come and sat beside him. His face bore no expression, as she was used to.
She broke the silence with the simple truth: "Alison found me."
He turned to her, one side of his face illuminated by the flame blazing on the ocean, the other still lost in shadow so deep she saw nothing at all. "I thought she might. I'm sorry. I was going to tell you." He had reverted to his emotionless monotone, retreating from the lies he had created, into himself. In a way she was relieved that he even acknowledged the truth, as opposed to what he'd said. She had been afraid he would try to lie his way out of it, try to keep up the charade he'd created. She was far too drained to deal with that.
"And what did you think I was going to say? What did you see happening? What future did you see for us?"
"I ... I guess I never really thought about it."
"I believe you." She said calmly. "Can you tell me why? Why you lie?"
He shrugged, struggled to form words. "They felt true when I said them. I really did feel numb. I really did want to be saved. And you believed them too ... weren't we enough? If it was just going to be you and me ... aren't we the two people who need to believe?"
"You don't think someone can love you unless they've saved you?"
He smiled his small, sad smile. She was not sure if it was sadder when it came from a man who had lost his entire family, or from a man who wanted to have lost his entire family.
Cammie took a long, deep breath, in and out, before answering.
"I thought I'd be angry ... and I was, before. But now? I just pity you, Anthony. Living a life of lies. I thought my life was tough. No way out. It is tough, and you know, living- and your world looked tempting. It's tempting to just believe what you want, believe you're the victim, have the world feel sympathy for you. Maybe that's why I lied to myself, looked over the little flaws in what you said, didn't look too deeply, or think too hard. Maybe I felt I deserved the free ride, the way you seem to. Maybe the reason you talk about wanting to die so much is that you really do. And I guess any way you cut it, the one thing you were right about was: you are a coward. But not because you can't die- because you can't face life. So you live in the middle. I'd tell you you need help, but then I remember what you've done to me, what you're put me through, and I hope you do kill yourself."
She turned and looked away from his face, looked out to the ocean. The sun was about to set, the white light had transmuted into red, and now the ocean boiled with blood. She looked for as long as she could, almost tearing up from the beauty of it, but even the fading light was too bright to look at for long, and she averted her gaze downwards to her shoes, and the pattern they formed in the dust.
"But I wanted to thank you." She said quietly, almost under her breath.
"Thank me?" Anthony said with impossible hope.
"Yeah." she said, standing up and putting one leg over the railing, then the other. "For helping me to see that life may be shitty, but at least it's not bullshit."
She turned and walked towards her car, and toward the rest of her life. From behind her she heard something which may have been a splash, and may not have been. She did not turn back to see which.