One Must Believe That Sisyphus Is Happy

« La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux. » – Albert Camus

“The struggle toward the summits itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

            It’s Wednesday night.  I’m walking through the streets of Lausanne with a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time. She’s telling me how 700 people came to her little brother’s funeral when he died by suicide. 700. One suicide. What am I supposed to say. Is that enough? Goddamn, that’s a hurt no one knows how to heal. We keep walking. I’m showing her streets she’s never seen before. She feels like we are really penetrating Lausanne. The night glows in Swiss stillness. But we laugh.  How is it that we laugh when – when, that. I tell her how I love it when Germans speak French. My phone buzzes. She wants to get water so I wait to check until we’re inside the McDonalds. It’s from him. He’s invited me to his party on Friday night. I accept right away. A French speaking German. Damn, I shouldn’t have accepted right away, I should have waited to seem less desperate. I start looking at who else he’s invited on the Facebook event page. 16 people, mostly girls, mostly Germans. They all look so pretty to me on their profile pictures. And he’s one pretty boy. We’re back in the street going to the metro so I don’t miss the last one. I make some idiot comment about The Sorrows of Young Werther. Like suicide is some great romantic ideal. In a story, may be, but even then, blur the boundaries of book and body, and what have you got. Awkward. And it wasn’t that good of a book. She decides to take me home. I could have taken the metro, but the night calls for the unexpected. Swiss revolution. We’re in the parking lot now. Oh how I love these parking lots! The low ceilings, the smell of gasoline. A safe warm smell. Reminds me of winding through the levels of Nice parking lots with my grandparents, going to the beach and market, wishing we might never actually park. Because even though I like the beach and I like the market, I like thinking that we’ll never get there. I’m laughing a lot, surprising myself with what I’m saying, using French cuss words and all.  But I’m already planning in my head. What will I wear? What will I bring? Will I show up a half hour or an hour late? How will I look? Should I message him to ask him if he wants food too? Should I bother inviting him to climb on Friday? He has his exam, so he probably can’t come at lunch. What about in the evening? But then I might have to go straight with him to his party and I won’t have time to make myself pretty and all? And pretty-and-all is all we’re ever after. Oh gosh, I haven’t really been paying attention to Nina. Not sure how to direct someone to my place by car. She’s so sweet she brings me all the way up to the front door. I really wish I could tell her something nice. Something to make her feel okay to talk about her brother with me. If only I had been the 701st person at the funeral. Then there would be another one in there. Ones are always lonely. But you put them together and they lose their identity. I’m ridiculous. Just something to make her know I’m so glad we’re friends. But I feel a bit empty, I don’t have the words. I won’t sleep because I keep thinking about that gentle German boy. The boy whose look is softer than a doe’s.  Well, now it’s Thursday. There’s lots to do. Should I message him or not? Should I go work at the library to try to run into him again? No, let him feel my absence. My person subtracted from the stale air and books of the library. As if he will feel it. Thursday night, the eve before the fray. I’ve substituted for two English lessons and I feel high off new people. I’m messaging him to ask him to climb at lunch knowing fully well he won’t be able to come, but it’s just so I can add that I could make something to eat if he wants. Time to sleep. But oh his sweet reply! Je me réjouis que tu viennes… oh that perfect use of the subjunctive! And he’s German! That’s right, folks, time to sleep. Well it’s Friday now. And he’s German! Lots to do. Still need to fall asleep, for one. Well it’s Friday now. Today’s the day. Lot’s to do. I’m writing his name in mirror in my agenda to see if it tells me anything new. Perhaps a sign that we’re meant to be. No, nothing special. I’ll write mine underneath just to be sure. Still nothing. Well I must go get ingredients for the cake at the store. The far store, because I want the good ingredients. I can’t sit still in this damn metro. But, look, a newspaper. Who am I kidding, there’s only one section I want to read! The horoscope! It doesn’t say anything special for me, but for him it says a proposition will make him change his mind about something! Then I will propose something! Riddle solved! Oh and, yes, I’ll still go climbing with my friends. How little they suspect of what a big day this is for me. Of the nerves I feel inside. Oh I am hungry. Nothing I eat stays inside me very long. Oh I must get back home to bake that cake. Don’t use the fork, use the whisk. Use the wooden spoon! Scrape off as much batter as you can! But, give yourself some credit, lick the rest.  Okay now I need to check the metro times and decide how fashionably late I’m going to be and give myself enough time for showering and dinner and make-up. I don’t want to eat too much for dinner because there might be food at the party and I also want to try my cake to make sure it tastes alright. What the salad! What the fish! Dinner dinner in my dish! Oh, I don’t feel hungry at all. I’m listening to “Give Me a Shot at the Night” by The Killers. Please, oh please, let this be the time, give me a shot. Just one shot at the night. You know what? To hell with self-control, I’m going to have a glass of wine before going. I need to loosen up. One glass of wine. I’ll collapse otherwise. Just this once, just for my nerves, just for a one shot. Alright, the time has come. Make-up. There can be no mistakes. A one shot. But I am hopeless case, I’m no proper girl. Come on Jess, come on. Foundation first. Some lip gloss and balm. Dab with toilet paper. Jesssssss! Is that right? Jesssssss it is! Eyeliner. Mascara. Fill in my eyebrows ever so slightly. And those gorgeous earrings my mother gave me! Hey, look at that, you might even be looking at a pretty girl tonight! Wow! Last touch, the perfume. Two sprits behind the ears and one for the undie. My unlucky lucky underwear. They’re lucky, but they’ve yet to prove it. It’s my only sexy pair that’s why. Even if I have no intention of having any sex. In fact, I’ve never had sex. In fact, I’m not even sure I want sex. And underwear or not, I may not have an ounce of sexy in me. But never mind that, to the metro! Hey, I feel alright. Gosh, I hope this won’t be an awkward mess. Oh look a group of people walking with bottles in their hands. Bunch of young hooligans, surely. Wait they’re talking about Rue Valentin. They’re his friends! I’ll say hello and follow. What a lively bunch! We’re at the door. I’m standing in the back, I want to be the last one in. To see how they all say hello. And to be the last one he welcomes in. There he is. Oh he is so adorable! I give him a slight hug and we walk in together. The others take their coats off and roam around the apartment and then onto the balcony. I stay there standing, not sure whether to follow them, take-off my coat, or set the cake down. And in what order? Follow, cake, coat? Or is it coat, cake, follow? Nicolas comes to talk to me. Niiiiiiii Cooooooo Lasssssss! I do feel fine, it’s that wine, wine, wine. He asks me what I did today. He asks me if I usually go to that library. He’s talking to me! To me?! But he’s got a hoard of pretty girls and boys to choose from! Why me?! And to me, first! Another pretty girl comes to join our conversation.  She’s friendly. She’s pretty.  I’d half wish she would leave. She’s pretty. I’m so lively tonight! I must show him how engaging I can be! I laugh, I joke, I tell them about hot chocolate and ice-cream places! Proposing things! I’m fulfilling the prophecy! The prophecy! There is a cute boy too. He’s lively, he’s got that nervous energy and giggle, and he’s drinking tea. Another crazy! I should pretend to flirt with him to make Nicolas want me more. Yes, that’s how it works right? But I have no idea how to flirt, and it’s oh so comfortable to talk to this pretty Italian girl. I feel like his eyes are on me. His soft doe brown eyes. Nicolas suggests we go to the other room with the other people. Does this mean he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore? Or he feels bad that he is not entertaining his other guests? There it is. He’s talking to other friends. The evening is over. But someone says something about kissing girls and he smiles over at me! Really? At me? Oh I could never need anything more than that gentle German look! He hasn’t had much to drink either. Just one beer I think. Too tired? But he’s eaten a lot of my cake. He did tell me he had not eaten dinner. He loves my cake. He’s leaving the room! Why? Where is he going? When is he coming back? Well, I’ll have to talk to the others. Time to make as many German friends as I can! One never knows! Hey, he’s back! Back to me and the Italian girl! Do you think he likes her? Hey he’s suggesting we go sit on the couch! The couch! But it’s all three of us. I’m in the middle and I’m right next to him. I mean, our thighs are pressed together. That’s good. I’m not moving. Italian girl wants to go back and dance. She can go alone. I’m on the couch. But, he seems nervous. He shifts and gets up to sit on the side of the couch. Now he’s getting up. Great. He’s gone to talk to other friends. That’s it, that proves it. He doesn’t like me. He doesn’t like you, get it in your head, yeah? No, but there could be another reason. May be he had an erection?  Well, Italian girl, looks like it’s you and me. Let’s get up again. I might actually want to dance now, now that you mention it. No, I’m going to go sit on that other couch now that people are leaving. See the way he leans his head in when he’s talking to other girls? Other girls. I’m the eternal ugly duckling. Well, time to start checking my phone to pretend I’m not a loser. I mean, I do have to see what time it is to see if it’s time to take the last metro. Everyone’s leaving anyhow. Let me first hug the people I’ve barely met. The only girls left are me and that friendly German girl I saw rock climbing once when I went with Nicolas. She is saying bye to him before me. He looks at me surprised and asks me, “You’re leaving already?” Well, yeah, so is everyone. Does that mean something? It must! He must like me! Or is he just sad that everyone has left so early? It’s too late, I’m out the door. There it is, I missed my chance. I had a chance, didn’t I? I’m still so wound up and high strung, this German girl must think I’m one of those crazy friendly Americans. Golly, but she is nice too. I hope we’ll see each other again. I’m desperate. Well I’m home, I should be sleeping now especially since I have to wake up to leave tomorrow. Yeah, sleeping…. Not my forte after a partay. Should I message him now about the cake pan? No, it will seem like I planned it. Saturday 6:30 a.m. I’ve slept enough right? Let me message Anita to tell her what happened and ask her for advice. I’ll wait to message Nicolas about the cake pan. Wait, just wait a little. To not seem so desperate. Anita has all the answers. She thinks I should go for it, tell him, slide it in somehow. I’ve waited enough. Message sent! I even told him I was sorry I had left it and that I could come anytime today or tomorrow before he leaves. Has he seen it? When was he last active on Facebook? He’s probably still sleeping. I’ll take the morning off to browse stores in town. Find something cute to wear for our future first date. Yeah, right. Has he seen it yet? Oh, he was just active! Why hasn’t he checked it? May be he doesn’t want to check it on his phone until he can be on his computer to reply properly in French. I’ll go sit at a café and read and may be wait until lunch. No reply yet. What is he waiting for? He’s looking for the pan first? Ughhhhhhhh. Uuuuuuuu. Ggggggg. Uuuuuuhhh. The nervous sickness is wearing me down. I’ll just head over to my uncle’s house and rest there. He’s replied! He’s replied! Okay, calm down, wait to reply. Wait a couple hours! Yes, make him wait! Make. Him. Wait. One hour, that’s enough right? He says I can come all day! And he gave me his number! Wow. Okay! I’m replying! Wow! I’ll say I can come in two hours, to seem busier. I’m so productive I’ve read the same page ten times over. Cats. Cats are distracting. Cats, the time has come. Oh Uncle Phil, you have no idea where I am going. I am going to my doom! But it doesn’t matter, I am going! I’m out of the metro. I can still turn back now, say I’ve got something else to do. But, no, the stairs are before me. The stairs, ever upwards, I must go. I am going. Il faut croire Sisyphe heureux. I am climbing. I will climb. Ever climbing, I will go. I will tell him. Il faut croire Sisyphe heureux. Wait for the mother and child to pass. How innocently they see this night. Alright, let me sit on that rock. Three deep breaths. The drivers of cars must think I’m crazy. The drivers of stars must think— I don’t care, is this the doorbell or the light? I’ll give it a try. Oh there he is! He seems happy! I won’t try to hug him now, seems too awkward. He isn’t just giving me the pan! He’s showing me his room! There’s my bag with the pan in it on the door handle! He’s showing me all the stuff he’s packing. He shows me his skis and his climbing rope. I tell him it looks like a snake and more used than mine. Gosh, I am intelligent. I offer to help him bring some of his stuff to his new place. He accepts! Oh sweet boy! And he’s trying to carry all the heavy stuff! Oh Nicolas! And look, he’s washed my cake pan. What a good boy. He’s all smiles and sweet looks in the metro. How is it that one can keep a tender look for so long? Good boy. Here’s the metro stop. It’s sprinkling outside. Damn, my hair is going to look extra frizzy. We’re waiting at the door, should I put down the skis or keep holding them? How long are we going to wait? He’s texting someone. Oh it’s a girl. Oh she looks nice. We get in the elevator what with all the stuff. I get in with Nicolas. Oh she’s about to go the other way. He says there is space for one more. Damn. Nice boy. Oh it’s collapsing now, isn’t it? We drop his things. He leans against the wall and talks to her in German. It’s there isn’t it? That same sweet attentive look. A doe gaze. How did I not see it yesterday? So falsely have I felt his eyes on me of late. Putain. Il va falloir vraiment croire Sisyphe heureux. When are they going to stop flirting? German flirts slant against the wall. And I can’t understand half of it or myself. I should try my German! They’re impressed! She asks me some questions and my answers are pretty good. Boo-yah. Bis später bitches. We’re leaving together. That’s right, Nicolas and I. We’re leaving. He says he’s surprised. Did not know I spoke so much German. Back in the metro. God, my reflection is so ugly in the metro windows. I almost thought I was pretty yesterday! Fool, the mirror is always so convincing! And him! Look at him! His thick muscular fingers, the sleeves of his sweater, that same North Face sweater he once let me borrow, pushed back to reveal his beautiful veined climber forearms… and all else is so tender….elongated magnificence of man! Oh! He makes as if to say goodbye, but I tell him I want to walk. So I exit the metro with him. We walk and talk about… what do we talk about? I don’t know anymore. I know only that this is the moment. Nicolas, I say, as I’m looking down at my feet. Nicolas, I say. I think it’s important to say these things. Nicolas, I say. Je t’aime bien. I like you. In English too, I’m afraid he’ll misinterpret the French. There, you’ve ruined something again. You’ve ruined it. He says thank you and that we’ll go climbing in the spring. Did he even understand? Okay, I’m leaving now. I look back at him, his head turns slightly. Quick, look straight ahead in case he looks back at you. Hey, I don’t feel that bad. I feel mostly nothing. Just freed from all that anticipation and nervous energy. Gosh, I’m brave! Poor guy didn’t know what to answer. Oh well, his problem now. What a relief. How did I go from beautiful to morbid in a matter of days? At least I still have some pride. At least I’m brave. At least there is dinner to distract me. I can’t follow the conversation to save my life. There’s warmth outside, but I’m hollow inside. I’m crushed like soft candle wax. The flame is gone. Out. Out. Or was it ever there? Back to the icy glow of my laptop. I check his birthday on Facebook. Turns out I read the wrong horoscope. That explains everything. Well, it’s time for bed. The tears are coming now. What shame, I haven’t even brushed my teeth, and they’ve come already. What embarrassment. At least I’ve taken my lithium, at least I don’t feel like killing myself. I hope I haven’t lost a sweet friend. An elongated deer of a boy. A painting. I should have told him how German is thick and rich, like homemade hot chocolate, and how French is floating and light, like a leaf in the wind. How did I forget? How I did forget! It would have made all the difference. The truth is, after all, that I’m gay. And, la lutte vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme, no? Ah, but il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux… there was no croire at all!

Published by Johanne Boulat

Johanne Boulat was born in French-speaking Switzerland, where she lives again now, but she grew up under the resplendent California sun. For 21 years she basked in the spirit of the Wilderness, which she discovered on hiking as well as literary paths. She received her Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology from the University of California, Davis in 2012 and since then has worked as a scientific field aid, a translator, a sales specialist, and a running coach. In 2018, she completed her master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She now teaches English and Science at a local elementary school and dedicates her free time to the three “R”s: Running, Reading, and Writing.

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