A Departed Dream.
In the essay “Death of a Moth”, Virginia Woolf ponders the significance of life, and its implications. She describes the day moth as insignificant and pathetic, and yet admits that it, too, is full of life. That realization; that life exists, even if small and miniscule, deeply impacted her view on life. She wondered what the moth would have been like had he been born in any other form. That was a question that haunted me after my friend Michael died. I felt cheated, because I thought his life should have been different. He was human, perhaps more so than any other person I’ve met before. He did not deserve to die a dog’s death. Yet like the small moth trapped in a window, he was also tied down without knowing it. I never believed in fate, and still do not, but what happened to him seemed inevitable. There are, it seems, limits in this world that one can never surmount.
I met Michael when I was ten years old. Back then my family just moved into
Queens, Briarwood, and it was not a pleasant neighborhood to grow up in. At first sight it seems like any other place, a mix of apartment buildings and small two story houses that all looked the same. There were trees planted at every five meters, and some of them grew tall and cast comforting shade during the summer, while others would look sick and frail. There would be hardly twenty leaves on any one of those trees and looking at them always ruined my mood. That fall, when every tree’s branches looked like the hands of skeletons reaching towards the cloudy sky, I went exploring my new neighborhood. The further I went, the more small houses I saw. Like soldiers standing at attention, they lined the street on both sides, and as I walked past them, I felt like a general admiring his troops. They were all the same shape, had the same windows, doors, front yard, and a fence. There was always some variation among the houses; some had their roofs tiled differently, others painted their fences a different color. Some houses didn’t even have fences. As I walked down, I started to notice that most of them were quite run down. There was garbage everywhere, bags piled on top of bags. An occasional ripped bag would stink up the place, its entrails revealing dirty clothing, food, and other general trash. After a while, I started to wonder whether I could have walked too far. I forgot where I was, and there were hardly any people outside to ask for directions. I kept walking, thinking that if I just kept moving I’d find the right direction eventually, but instead got even more lost. Furthermore, the neighborhood started to look even worse; broken glass glittered on the sidewalk. I walked slower, to avoid stepping into it and then I bumped into someone.
A baseball cap covered his face so I couldn’t see his eyes. That frightened me and I thought I would be robbed right there, or kidnapped. Then he leaned closer and I got a better look at the stranger’s face. There was a lot of dirt and grime on it, but he didn’t look much older than me. He asked me if I was lost. I was too embarrassed to admit it, but he saw through me. “Come on kid, I’ll walk you home,” he said. On our way, I found out that his name was Michael. He was fourteen years old and lived in the same neighborhood. He said that the part where I lived was the white side and that the part where he lived was the white side’s shadow. I could see what he meant by that. What surprised me was that there was no bitterness in his voice. When I asked him why he didn’t mind living there, he told me that he wouldn’t live there for much longer. He had a dream of becoming an architect and rebuilding his neighborhood into something better. I listened to it, fascinated. I could imagine him, coming back to the neighborhood twenty years later, and fixing all the ugly little houses, and their grimy fences. I believed he could do it. When we reached my neighborhood, we parted, and I wished him good luck. He smiled at that, and said he didn’t need it.
It was about a year later when I saw on the news that Michael died. He was working in a grocery store when a robber came in to demand money. I recognized him because the news showed the video of the confrontation. Michael was wearing the same hat he had when we met. He tried talking the man out of it, and was shot. I couldn’t understand how someone could do that to him, of all people. I felt he was too good to die like that. I thought about him speaking of changing his neighborhood, and what was going to happen to his dream now. Would it just disappear, the same way he did? It was strange, I only met him once, but I felt connected to him somehow. His chance act of kindness made me see in him something different, something that shouldn’t have been trapped in that decrepit neighborhood. He deserved better.
Michael’s dream died along with him, because it had nobody to protect it. His dream was like the moth, a small existence, a pure bead of life in a miniscule, fragile form. Virginia Woolf stated, “I looked as if for the enemy against which he struggled.” Yet what are the enemies of dreams? Was it the man who killed Michael out of his own necessity? Was it Michael who put himself in harm’s way? I think it was the neighborhood where he lived in, a neighborhood which he loved, somehow, and wanted to change. It was as indifferent to him as the window frame was to the moth. It was a barrier of small houses, garbage bags, dead trees and broken bottles that were at fault. What chance did he have to escape? Three years ago I revisited the neighborhood and it was the same as always. The clouds above me floated indifferently, as if mocking me. Did you expect anything to change? - they seemed to ask. Truth be told, I did.