large (6)I was 17 when I met him.

The most wonderful age when anything is possible and the world is at the palm of your hands. I was pretty, rebellious and altruistic. Qualities that time pacifies as we become greyer images of ourselves.

I walked into what had become my sanctuary after long days working as a dental assistant. It was a small, bohemian bar, decorated with lit candles in empty beer bottles and lively paintings by the man I was destined to fall madly in love with. I had recently become used to a small ritual where I would sit on the bar and have an aromatic tea, chat to someone or simply allow time to pass…

This particular evening, the friendly voice of a regular asked me who I was and we introduced ourselves. He told me he was a sociology student and I explained that I was going to start university soon to study to become a vet. He added that I must love animals (everyone made the same comment) and I replied that, in reality, my dream was to become a psychiatrist but I didn’t have the tenacity to compete with far more ambitious people to get into medical school. This side of me interested him more than my chosen career and we talked about why anybody would want to become a psychiatrist and in that process, truncate the genius minds of the so called ‘crazy’ people. I explained that I thought maybe I could be different and that I could listen.

He asked me to read something that was kept behind the bar. He handed me a handwritten text with beautiful, free flowing calligraphy, entitled ‘The House of A Thousand Keys’. Over the next twenty minutes, I fell in love with somebody I hadn’t even met. This person had suffered our precarious mental health system and had spelt every bit of his suffering out in black ink. ‘I like the word crazy, although today they won’t see me that crazy’; he spoke about the room that welcomed them in a crisis: ‘the fridge’, as they would call it. The room where they would be tied to a bed and the process of administering the necessary medication that would be carried out without delay.

I read it and I loved this man. I wanted to rescue him from his loneliness and hug him until all his demons were exorcised. My new friend explained that I could ask for the text if I wanted to read it again as Chepe (its author) had kept it there for that purpose.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it that night and the clock ticked by so slowly at work before I could get back to the bar and ask for Chepe’s notes. I wanted to scrutinise them, learn each word as you learn poetry, dig deep for any subliminal clues. I returned one evening, on the 6th April 1992… It wasn’t the usual lady serving at the bar and I asked the guy serving to make me the usual tea. I then asked shyly for Chepe’s ‘The House of A Thousand Keys’ and his dark eyes pierced right through to my soul. He handed me the text and added apologetically… ‘I am still editing it’… My heart jumped at the realization that I was in front of the man I had fallen in love with the night before. The man I would love for years to come. I read, while he observed me, and then he invited me to walk out with him at the end of his shift. He opened many of the doors in the house of the thousand keys and with each door he unravelled his soul to me… in layers… but without reservation… A pencil in his hand from a geometric point in a piece of paper would create a delirious world of exotic birds, a group of indigenous tribes in a dancing trance or any other world that would occupy his mind… He would then make them a work of art upon a canvas with vivid colours and then tell me a story that would become a world in itself. He became the creator of my new realities from the day I met him, when he dared to plant a soft, goodbye kiss on my lips… until the day madness struck his genius mind all over again.

That didn’t stop me loving him.

He was the man that opened the doors of the house he could inhabit at this own desire… He gave me an insight into the fetid world of psychiatry and caressed my soul with his poetry, with his bare hands creating words that nobody else could ever open up for me. He would mould my world with clay and destroy it in a dance where I was no longer welcome. He would invite me to be like the hummingbird who anxiously extracts the nectar of the flower, consuming its existential anguish… he would then throw me back into the deepest darkness of his bipolarity.

I loved him with my all… but he couldn’t be subject to the world and like the hummingbird… he had to go.