vagabond heart

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, my friend has lived a vagabond existence. He was the last supposedly happily married one in our gang, and had watched no doubt anxiously as each one of our marriages came undone over the years. One day, it was his turn. He informed us that his wife and the mother of his two daughters wanted a divorce. He denied the divorce, and a cold peace, or separation was agreed. Putin flew in from Moscow for the negotiations, and everyone walked away waving a white paper. It was decided to share the kids, meaning they would be with him some weeks, with her others. Ever since then, he’s been on the road in his off weeks, as far as it can take him in the pandemic era, which is still anywhere. He’s become another one of the rootless middle aged, his home is where he lays his head at night, his heart is a swirl of memories and yearning. He does not seem unhappy. He sends us dispatches from wherever he happens to be, or remarks on the quality of the coffee or reliability of the local wifi. He’s taking it well, I think, or at least I hope. You might think you know who I am talking about, and the truth is that you both do and you don’t. You probably don’t know him as a person, but you have surely met someone like him in recent years. There are many of us, the dispossessed. Legions. Enough to fill Freedom Square in Tallinn with torches and dread. I meet them everywhere in every situation. Just the other day, my friend invited me over for coffee and gave me a new address. “But I thought you lived in the country,” I told him. It turned out that his wife stayed in the country and he had rented a house in town. The kids shuttle between their old house, now called “mom’s place,” and the apartment, now called “dad’s place.” They seem somehow less troubled by it. From the outside, that’s how things seem. I can’t say it’s any surprise to me now, that all of these families are tumbling apart. It’s become a trite and terrible cliché. The only thing that still surprises me is how business-like couples often are about these big decisions. It’s as if after over a decade of life together, the most significant life events one can have, the wives (and according to some estimates, between 70 and 90 percent of divorces are initiated by women) just wake up one day, decide it’s over and then just have to break the news, like a landlord telling a tenant she has sold the apartment and the tenant has a month to move out. Or maybe a Swedbank marketing meeting where they decide to nix one advertising campaign over another. It’s just a thing, you know, lihtsalt üks asi. It reminds me of all of those countries that lined up to go to war after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. They thought it would be a little war way back in 1914. A territorial gain here, some losses there, and maybe just a few soldiers would die. A century later and we are still grieving it. There is no sense in trying to understand catastrophe. The only good question is how to stay sane. That question has led me to look elsewhere. It has led me away from questions, from thoughts themselves. For a time, the only way I could even function was to stop thinking. I had to stop thinking and trying to make sense of it, because I was never going to arrive at an answer. It didn’t make sense. All of the folk healers, psychologists, astrologers, witches, and the like, weren’t going to help me either. They tried, they did, but most of it was up to me. I take refuge in memories, mostly memories of myself when I was small, before I could comprehend some of these things. Before I was an adult and before I was married, I was still a person and I still existed by myself. More than that, I always had the right to exist, independent of how anybody else assessed me or evaluated me, or was satisfied with my performance as me being me. This memory of existing on my own, not because I fulfilled someone else’s idea of who they thought the perfect man was, has given me comfort in my days as a vagabond. When I consider my existence, I forget about everything that has happened to me and I forget about everyone else. I don’t want to think about them anymore. I don’t want to remember anymore. I am tired of thinking and I am tired of remembering. I want to be like my friend, head for the islands, or vanish into the snowy mountains, find a café with good coffee and free wifi and write. 

I think he’s onto something.


This article appears in Estonian in the January 2022 issue of Anne ja Stiil. The title is borrowed from the Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa duet, “Coração Vagabundo” off their 1967 LP Domingo.

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