The ideal life – Gathering the materials

– Ideally, make your own story –

Part 1 – Gathering the materials

My name is Bill. People call me Bootstrap Bill. I’m not a real pirate, nor do I lack a leg. I liked pretending to be one as a child, though. A pirate with a wooden leg, that is. Me and my friends would play all day long and sailed many imaginary seas together. Nothing special about kids playing pretend, though you may ask why I chose an one legged character…

Even that young, I was fascinated by people with disabilities. I thought they were the real life heroes. I still do. I grew up fascinated by people that could get through life just as well as the next person even thought they were lacking something others took for granted. I thought if those people could fulfill their dreams, I had no excuse not to do as well. Though my dream back then, when I was racing with my friends though the dirt pretending we are at sea, was to be a pirate. My parents didn’t tell me there were no pirates. My dad wanted to be a sculptor and as far as I was concerned, he was. He made me a new wooden leg every year to fit how much I grew, because I did wear and walk on a wooden leg. If you think it’s crazy, think about the fact that no one was cruel enough to tell me that. Except that old guy that would walk on our street every evening and was disturbed that we got in the way. He too had a disability that, I’m sorry to say, I did not hold in as high regard as the others: old age.

My father did not carve anything in wood since he was a child, until he made me the wooden legs. At sixteen he had to get a job to help his mother raise his sister, because she couldn’t work anymore, and after his sister got married, he did to and had me and was happy with what he got. He grew up with a disability too: he lacked a father. I, in turn, had no disabilities. I had no sisters or brothers either, but I had lots of friends and my aunt had three children, but two of them were kinda sickly. Me and my friends would pretend their sickness was a bad guy and we would rescue them from it. They would play along and pretend to fell better too. They were my childhood’s heroes.

On my side of town, few kids finished high school. Most of them had to get a job to help their parents. I knew only four… no, six, people that made it to the university. They did not come back, though. Two of them never visited after leaving. My father made a point of me finishing at least high school. He didn’t and felt he missed something I shouldn’t. There I met Elise. We fell in love, like only at that age you can. All was clear. We would be forever together, until I brought up leaving the town. That first time, it was just talk. Dreaming out loud. But she took it serious and made a point of not leaving, not even for me. For a while I did not make anything of it. I though she overreacted. I wasn’t going anywhere… or was I?

High school ended and I got a job. Elise and I were talking about moving together. Everyone expected wedding bells, but instead they got a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to do that either, but it felt so right that nothing could stop me. I must admit I ran away shamelessly.

One day, a guy on a bike and with a backpack came through town. He stopped by the store I worked at, to buy some supplies. He didn’t seem to have much, but he seemed to have all he needed. I showed him around the town that day, after work, and let him stay at my parents place. The next day, he left and I left with him. I took all I could in a backpack and got on my bike. I said all my goodbyes. My mom was crying and my dad was speechless, but not really disapproving. I guess he was thinking of when he gave up the dream to be a sculptor and preferred to let me find my dream. Whatever that was. Elise was a different story. She gave me a heartbreaking look. Then she started crying and begging me not to go. She was asking what she did wrong, what could she do to make me stay. I said “Come with me”. Her eyes grew so wide and she shook her head. “I can’t. My life is here, with you.” I smiled at her. She didn’t seem to understand my life was out there… travelling the world. “You can’t ask me to give up what I want for you no more than I can ask you to do that,” I told her. She looked me in the eyes and said “But I want you…” “Then come with me” “… to stay.” “I can’t.” I knew I was hurting people, but I left anyway. I could see the child in me dying in that place and I did not want that.

I called the guy on the bike Fox because of his red hair and pointy nose. He wasn’t much older than me, but I felt like he was my mentor. He showed me how to live differently. He became my best and only friend. We got to know lots of people where we travelled, but most people we would never see again. We travelled across the country and then went to the next and than the next. Years passed. Except from the first year away from home, I haven’t really thought much about what I left behind. I still don’t regret leaving. The first year was hard, though. I had mixed feelings. Fox told me that it was easy for him. He had no one to go back to. I left a life behind. He said he wouldn’t hold it against me if I decided to return. He would help me get back too. I didn’t though. Having someone to talk to that understands surely helped. Well into my second year on the road I wasn’t mentioning home anymore. Home was wherever I was. With me, in me. I was a snail on wheels. Fox laughed at this notion. “A fox and a snail on the road. Who would have thought of it?” He noticed that I had a thing for animals so we started paying attention to those we encountered. Nature was fascinating me, after leaving almost all my life in a dusty town with very few parks that had nothing on the beauty of the forests and fields we came across.

After that, time started to blend. Lots of things happened, but apart from recent events, I can’t really tell what happened last year from what happened ten year ago. At one point, we met a puppet master. He had a theatre in a small town. He put on good shows for the amusement of the kids and not only. He was making money from selling the dolls he made, though. The puppet shows were free. I was fascinated. I wanted to learn. He had no kids, so he was willing to teach me. He was rather old, but that didn’t stop him from working. Unlike the old man from my childhood, for this one old age was not a disability or else, he overcame it. I finally met my hero. I made a deal with Fox. He wanted to go somewhere and would come back in a year and we would resume our life on the road.

It’s been an amazing year spent around children and hearing their stories. I would dress up as a pirate again. I felt like a child again. Maybe that was the puppet master’s secret for not having old age get to him: spending time with the young ones. I started documenting the stories I heard and making puppets to look like characters from them. Children were fascinated and came back to tell me more stories. The puppet master started to make plays out of them. Even more people came to the theatre. Some from far away.The puppet master said I had a talent for entertaining people and making them come back. But I wasn’t ready to settle. When Fox came back, I left with him. Part of me felt like I was leaving home again. The puppet master let me go with the same look my father did. He was sad, but he had to let me live my own life.

I didn’t live my life though. It was Fox’s life I was living. He was the one who wanted to travel the world to no end except he couldn’t let himself get attached to anything and anyone because of some disappointments he had as a child. He got attached to me though. Or I to him. I just didn’t fail him. Yet. We seemed to want the same things and I really believed that for many more years to come. Until one day a man came up to me in great excitement. “Bill, thank God I finally found you!” His face seemed familiar, but that happened very often during this life of travelling. I seem to know the people I was meeting. I thought that was the reason I could connect with them so easily. But I really have met this guy before. He lived in the same town with the puppet master. He was a frequent visitor of the theatre. Upon his death bed, the puppet master entrusted this man to find me and tell me that he had left everything to me: the theatre, the puppets and all his life savings. I did not know what to answer him or what to do. Finally he went back to his home and I would go to the theatre when I would decide it was the right time. If ever.

Fox though I should sell everything and move on. I went there with this thought in mind, but I remembered that year so clearly. It felt like I lived many lives in hose days. All the stories. All the puppet master taught me was everything I needed to know to be whoever I wanted to be. So who did I want to be? Not the traveller I was. Not anymore. I have seen a lot of places and the familiarity of the events on the road made me realize this was not an adventure anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. Maybe even before I spent the year at the theatre, but it was all the life I knew. Except for the puppet master’s life. But that’s what that was. His life. I needed my own. I was passed forty and I left home because I wanted to live my own life, but I never did. The puppet master knew that and once more he gave me what I needed to start living my own life. I did sell everything, except for some puppets and the pirate outfit I wore when I worked at the theatre. The puppet master left me a beautifully carved wooden leg too. It looked like one of the legs my dad carved for me when I was a child. He told me stories and I told him mine. He listened, but so did I. I know some of the stories he played were inspired by his own life. He was disappointed, but didn’t run away. He lost a lot, but never gave up. And he was happy in more than one occasion. All made the universe he was playing for the people. After I left he started acting the stories of the children. The stories I collected. People would bring him more stories. His life got so much richer because of me for I connected him with all those people. This was my talent: I connect (with) people.

When I told Fox what I’ve realized and what I wanted to do, I saw him turning into Elise. Those eyes. That look. The disappointment. I tried to make him understand. To show I’m grateful. It wasn’t as easy to let go as back then. And I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to remain friends. Maybe even entertained the idea that he might come with me to start a show with puppets in my home town. I knew that was a selfish thought, but I did live his life for more that twenty years. “As long as it suited you, then you threw me away” No, that wasn’t it, but I couldn’t make him understand. “You were the only person I came back for,” he told me. “And now you are leaving me. I was right not to trust anyone. I shouldn’t have made an exception of you.” It was as if the twenty five years I spent with him didn’t matter. All we did together. All that connected us didn’t matter. Only that I was leaving, so like Elise, he left first. He got on his bike and went without me. I got on my bike and went to an airport. With tears in my eyes I flew to the town I grew up in. I thought of the time spent with Fox. At first, I could only remember what he did for me all this time. How he took care of me when I broke my leg on the mountain and stood by me in the hut while I recovered. He even went hunting, so we would have what to eat. He taught me how to hunt too, but I was never as good as he. I felt like such an ingrate. But then other things started to come back to me. Like that time when we spent four months in the river lands. I was seeing a girl and that’s why we stood more that we usually did in one place. He made me choose between him and her and I chose him. I didn’t even blink. It wasn’t the only time I gave up something that could have been good for me because of him. I was his companion, but I had my own needs he didn’t seem to care for. I stopped those thoughts, though. I did not want to go there. I didn’t want to hate him. He was my friend and a dear person to me. It is hard to walk away from someone like that though. Still I had to, but I didn’t have to hate him too, even if he did hate me.

When I got to my childhood town I put on my pirate costume and my wooden leg. I was a forty and some years old and had a beard. I looked like a proper pirate only less dirty. I got to a square close to where I grew up and put on a show. Soon kids started gathering around. I attracted two policemen too. They needed to see my permit to perform there. “See what, lads?”

Things changed and yet things remained the same. Most of my childhood friends were still there, working different jobs. Most of them took the place of their parents. The young kids were all me and my friends were at their age, playing pretend and being superheroes and such. Older kids had a different attitude, though. They wanted to leave (live) but they felt trapped. “We were born on the wrong side of town”. I remember me and my friends feeling the same way, but we outgrew those feelings once we took on our adult responsibilities. Or my friends did. I am obviously still the child playing at being a pirate.

That last thought made him smile.

Part 2 – Making anew

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