“You must listen me,” he said, his refusal to use prepositions starting to bug me. “Please?”
“Look man, I told you. I-DON’T-HAVE-MONEY-FOR-YOU. Niente. Nada. Nichts or nix or however the fuck you say that,” I told him, annoyed, trying to walk quickly enough to give him a hint. “Nothing.”
“You must listen me. Please? Sir, please?”
Sir? Who the fuck are you calling sir? I’m 19 years old.
This guy tracked me down in a park in Bern, Switzerland, and I found myself unable to lose him. Making matters worse, I found myself unable to adequately explain what I was doing in Bern in the first place.
“Look man, I don’t have anything for you. I have to go…”
“Listen, please,” he begged.
I wasn’t having it, trying my best to lose him between a pair of junkies in the park.
“Jason,” he blurted out.
“I told you, I don’t have ti — wait, what did you say?” I stared in his direction while he just looked on. “How do you know my name?”
That morning began like every other morning, with me taking the bus from my apartment near Florence, Italy, to the Santa Maria Novella train station. These were the Sex on Wednesdays days. Between my bouts of sexual ineptitude with Lorena and life’s other lessons with Professor Firch, I was on a mission to find myself.
Getting off at my stop, I decided to take a detour to class through the station, past the departing trains. They possessed an appeal that I didn’t quite understand, an almost-envy, of all the people getting onto the train, into the cars, and going somewhere. Anywhere. Leaving. Going. Moving. Where? It didn’t really matter. The destination? Irrelevant. It wasn’t about that.
I found myself on a train to Milan, for no reason other than the fact that it was the next to depart.
Arriving in Milan I still felt itchy, as if it was too close, culturally speaking, to Florence. I wanted different. Different culture. Different language. Just… just fucking different, ya know? Different for no other reason than the fact different felt better than the alternative.
I looked again at the big board of departures. A train was about to leave for some place called Bern. Now, I didn’t even know what country Bern was in, but that served more as a persuasion than anything else. An attraction. I boarded the train and gazed into the distance, head leaned up against the window, OK Computer keeping me company for the duration of the four hour journey.
Exiting the train once we got to wherever the hell Bern was, I followed the small mass of people out of the station, around to the right, where I tried to figure out which country I was in.
I drifted, but with propulsion. It wasn’t aimless, despite the fact I wasn’t aiming for anything in particular. Not consciously, anyway. The city-center was off to my left, but I stayed right, eventually finding myself in a place called “Kocherpark.”
The first thing that struck me was the number of junkies standing around. Orange needle-caps littered the ground, used syringes, dealers being anything but discreet in their dealings.
It was chaotic depravity, but in an overly-controlled, organized setting.
Ahh. I must be in Switzerland.
I’m not sure what it says about me, that with an entire beautiful city just a few streets down, I chose to walk through this park instead. Truth is, I felt like I had more in common with them than anyone else, despite the fact that I’d yet to disappear into my own addiction by this point. That was still a few years away.
Perhaps the person I’d become was just below the surface the entire time, waiting for the appropriate time to emerge. Or perhaps I became that person because I was constantly drawn to the types that occupied this park. Maybe they made me who I was, or perhaps I was always them.
Uncertain of what I was doing in Bern, I knew there was a reason. There had to be. I just didn’t know what it was. You know that sensation of feeling like you’re forgetting something? When you leave the house but know there’s something you’re not remembering? It felt like that, a certainty of the uncertain.
Roaming the park, a gypsy entered into my life.
“Uhh hello, can I talk you?”
This guy wouldn’t leave me alone. I spotted him from across the park when I first got there, watching him when he made the decision to walk my direction. I tried to ignore him but it wasn’t working. He was nothing if not persistent.
He had the heroin eyes, those black circles, pin-pointed pupils, totally disconnected from humanity and completely ok with it. His arms were covered in track marks, his right arm with bruises from times he missed the vein, a righty shooting up lefty. For a moment I wondered how he got here. I wondered what choices he made in his life that wound up leading him right here, right now. It made me wonder if I looked like I fit in amongst this crowd. I didn’t see too many people doing double-takes in my direction.
“Can I talk with you,” he asked.
“Hello? Can we speak?”
“Nah, man,” I told him, showing him my open palms, the international sign of ‘I don’t have shit for you.’ “I’m good.”
“I don’t want money,” he explained. “Only talk.”
I looked him in the eyes with an expression that begged him to just get this over with.
“It’s your future,” he said.
I rolled my eyes and began walking away, completely unimpressed. Living in Italy I’d grown accustomed to most of these scams. The one where the woman with 15 kids distracts you with a newspaper while her little ones pick your pockets. The one where a guy “gives” you a gift, only to come at you for money once you touch it. The one where an attractive female tries to get you to follow them down an alley or into an apartment. I knew this guy’s scam. He’d tell me my future in bad English for free, only to ask for a sizable tip when he finished.
“Nah, man, look, I told you. I-DON’T-HAVE-MONEY-FOR-YOU. Nothing.”
“Jason, listen me.”
“I said I don’t ha- wait, what the fuck did you just say?” I looked directly at him, head cocked sideways. “What did you say?”
“You must listen me.”
“No, you said my name.”
“Yes, I can talk?”
I looked down at my chest, just in case someone had mysteriously attached a name-tag to my shirt, a preposterous concept, but no more preposterous than what was actually happening.
Mouth open, not sure of what to say, he took my silence as permission to continue.
“Jason… it be ok.”
“Wha- How do you know my name?”
He paused, looking at me to make sure the words sank in.
“Jason… it is ok. Always, ok.”
“Wait, what? What be ok? What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked, looking around the park.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Everything.”
“You ask what be ok?” he said, waiting for my nod to continue. “Everything. Everything will be ok.”
I just stared at him, not really sure if there existed an appropriate response to any of this.
“You don’t believe in me,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“No, what? No. Believe in you?” I asked. “No. No I don’t believe you,” I told him, not really sure if I meant it. “Or in you, whatever that means.”
“Your father. He have…” his voice drifted upward, as if he was struggling with his English. “He have pigeons?”
Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. There’s no way he could have guessed that. He did not just say that.
Growing up, my father took up the hobby of racing pigeons. Seriously, such a thing really exists. The bane of my mother’s existence, my dad had a collection of about 100 pigeons, who, once a week, would be dropped off miles from our house, and find their way home, while racing other pigeons who found their own way home.
And this fucking guy, in a random park, in a random city, in a random country, on the other side of the globe, just told me all about it.
Seeing the look — I suppose it was fear mixed with surprise mixed in with a little anxiety — on my face, he set out to once again reassure me.
“Jason,” he said, “it’s ok. It will be, everything, ok.”
“What the fuck does that even mean?” I asked, confusion mixed with frustration. “Why do you keep saying that?”
“You must remember, in your life, at the bottom, when it’s very bad… everything will be ok.”
“Bottom? What? Is shit going to get bad for me? Is that what you’re you’re trying to say?” I asked, tip-toeing into the realm of suspension of disbelief.
“Jason, it will be, everything, ok.”
“Will I ever get married?” I had no idea why I asked that question, but I did. Perhaps there was a fear somewhere inside of me that I’d never find someone.
“Yes. Twice. One time in first half, one time in other half.”
“Yes,” he explained. “Your life have two halves.”
“When will I die?” I asked in a tone that was a total facade. I wanted to inquire while feigning an air of amusement.
He looked at me, reading something. “You don’t want this answer.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.
“But you will be old man. Not young man.”
I felt sick to my stomach, sharp, stabbing pains. The only thing I could think to do was walk away, back toward the train station, back, whichever way was away from Bern.
“Jason,” he said as I turned back toward him, “always remember — it is ok.”
Standing there, I wanted him to ask me for money. I wanted him to hit me up for a donation, just like the scams I’d seen countless times, so that I could chalk the whole situation up to a mind-fuck scheme magic trick. I wanted him to put his hand out, and give me that uncomfortable laugh. I wanted him to try and negotiate a fee for this experience.
But he did none of these things.
I didn’t thank him. I didn’t say goodbye to him. I simply turned away, walked past the junkies in the park, stepped over used syringes, kicked the little orange needle caps, and got back on a train toward Italy, away from Bern, a city whose center I never actually saw, and that I spent less than an hour actually visiting.
It could have been on the train from Bern to Milan, or perhaps it was on the ride from Milan to Florence, but at some point along the journey, I rationalized what had just happened. Mentally, I forced myself to come to the realization that what just happened, didn’t in fact happen at all. I got scammed. Not a financial scam, but a mental scam. Somebody was fucking with me. There was no other explanation.
By the time I got off the train in Florence and caught the bus back home, it was dark. Taking the elevator up, I entered my empty apartment. I had no idea where my roommates were, but I guessed Brian was at his girlfriend’s for the night, meaning I’d have the room to myself. Laying down, I stared at the ceiling and laughed to myself at what had happened that day. How I randomly decided to visit Bern, how I didn’t ever actually see the city, just the park, and how for a second I allowed myself to believe this gypsy told me my future.
I rolled over on my side to set my alarm for the following morning. It was one of those analog alarm clocks, where you position the little, red third hand to the time where you want to wake up. It was old school, all I could really afford at the time.
As sure as I’m sitting here today, and I swear on the life of my children, the clock was ticking backward.
Swear. To. God.
I’m not certain what exactly happened that day, or who the guy was, or what the purpose was. I’m not sure at what point a prophecy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, feeding upon itself, creating an alternate future and bypassing whatever fate was originally in store for me. Seriously, I have no idea.
My life went to shit immediately following my trip to Bern. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Wrong went wronger, bad got badder, and I just accepted whatever twisted fate fell into my lap. Friendships deteriorated as I became more withdrawn, isolating myself from the relationships I’d spent the year in Florence cultivating. Did my life go to shit and enter a period of great difficulty, as the gypsy predicted? Or did my life go to shit because I believed the stranger in the park said that’s what would happen?
Years later, be it sleeping in train stations or sitting in jail in Tijuana or staring at the ceiling in rehab, I remember thinking to myself what the gypsy told me that day in Bern. “It be ok, Jason. Everything. It be ok.” My world couldn’t have been much darker in those moments, but I specifically remember thinking the words in my head as every cell in my body felt like it was imploding, biology turning against itself. At those moments, where hope was but a rumor, it gave me a sense of calm. Peace in the most un-peaceful of places.
So was that the reason I met him?
Because, if that’s the reason, the whole thing makes even less sense. Prior to being in jail in Mexico, or being homeless in France, or checking into rehab — again — I remember getting hooked on a very large amount of Fentanyl, a drug whose potency has claimed lives far more important than my own, and thinking, “I’m not an old man.” Of course, this was my addict-brain rationalizing the abyss into which I was about to descend, but his words made the whole thing a whole lot easier. His prediction gave me a sense of indestructability, a belief that I could do as I pleased and still survive. “Everything will be ok,” I told myself. “It is always ok.”
And I have indeed been married twice. When shit got tough during the first marriage, I thought, “Well, might as well get this one out of the way.”
I don’t know if that guy told me my future, or if he told me a future that I chose to climb into.
Today, I tend to believe the whole thing was some elaborate, cosmic hoax. It’s the only thing to me that is logical; nothing else makes sense. I don’t know, maybe the fuckin’ guy spent his entire life approaching strangers in the park, calling out the name Jason, talking about racing pigeons, and finally hit the lottery when he found me. I have no idea.
And despite using what he told me throughout my life to either get myself out of holes or dig myself into them deeper, maybe it was my own belief in what he said that gave his predictions credence. My faith, perhaps, gave his words a power and strength they would’ve otherwise not had.
Because what’s the alternative? That some junkie-gypsy in a park in Switzerland told me my future?
That couldn’t have actually happened… right?