And, as the reality of that soaked in, they looked at each other and vowed that, no matter where they were or what they were doing, in ten years, they would all meet back at that very same pub.
But, even as they were reciting (perhaps even before) their vow, they were well aware of the cliché. In fact, the very split of a second after the vow, someone even said out loud, "How cliché," which in itself seemed cliché.
And hearing the phrase out loud seemed to shine a new light on even their former memories.
The pictures of lovers or mothers in their pockets.
The letters written for family and handed to a trusted friend "just in case."
The one who had fallen in love with and written sonnets to a French girl.
The one who kept a journal the entire time.
The one who now questioned the validity of the war.
In fact, just sitting at the dilapidated pub, drinking beer, and reminiscing seemed cliche.
And, their goals...
The one who planned to propose to his girl the second he saw her.
The one who planned to eat home-cooked food until he burst.
The one who wanted to stay in France.
The one who wanted the world to know "what really happened."
The one who wanted to forget it all in the largest bottle of bourbon he could find.
Someone tried to tell a bawdy joke to disrupt the melancholy. But, even that seemed cliché.
And, as quickly as they had vowed to reunite in ten years, they cancelled it. No reunion. No nothing unless it was something absolutely original. They had not fought so long and hard to come through the other side and live a cliché.
So, they crossed their hearts and swore that, from that point on, at the mere scent of cliché, they would walk the other way. And Allister proposed that they burn all their clichéd mementos in a pyre the second they got home. But, even as the tail end of 'home' fell from his mouth, he knew that idea, too, was cliché. And further ideas of burying their mementos or casting them into the sea seemed just as cliché.
So, after abandoning the symbolic burning/burying/drowning and (to prevent any clichéd last-ditch attempts at a ten year reunion) refusing to exchange addresses, they sailed back to their respective homes to begin living their non-clichéd lives.
And, for a while, Allister felt like he was accomplishing this very unique and very original task. He lived as fully as he could and followed his heart and, when his heart would lead him down Cliché Avenue, he would take a right or a left onto Original Street. And, when he realized following his heart was cliché, he followed his brain. That, too, became cliché. And he just altogether stopped following.
He had begun to paint, but that seemed cliché-especially since his paintings were all reflections of the war. He switched to still-lives and, then, went abstract. But, to no avail. An army veteran painting battle scenes or an artist painting still-lives and, then, switching to the abstract all sang familiar clichéd tunes.
He began a business and started saving his money, followed the stock market, and started investing. He became a miser and, at the same time, became aware that a rich miser was a cliché. So, he donated money and built hospitals and orphanages and realized that, too, was a cliché.
And what wasn’t a cliché?
Whether he became a high-ranking general or a pacifist, either would be cliché. Whether he had a family or dogs, both were cliché.
There was nowhere to go anymore to be completely free of it. And he sincerely tried. He had gone into the mountains, into the woods, into the jungles. But, it had all been done. And the only places left to live were places we could only get to in the future. And, even so, it was pretty safe to say that Jules Verne and Georges Melies had long since dreamed up so much for those places that the main storylines for the future already felt stale.
It seemed the more Allister tried not to be cliché, the more cliché he became.
So, he finally sat down and said aloud, “Why am I here?”-which is, perhaps, the most ridiculously-clichéd question that humankind has ever known.
But, he felt a pang, a tug, a longing that he could not suppress. You could call it nostalgia. And you could, furthermore, call nostalgic moments cliché. But, you could not (with any honesty) claim that it was not there. There was a panging, a tugging, and a longing. Ten years had passed since he had seen his friends and he desperately wanted to see them again, no matter how cliché it was. But, no contact information had been exchanged.
He felt restless and, so, he took a walk. A very clichéd walk to a pier as the sun clichéd-ly set. And, of course, he saw something cliché.
But, something beautifully and majestically cliché.
An elderly couple held hands and smiled at each other as the sun dipped into the sea behind them.
And a gust of (perhaps clichéd) clarity swept over Allister.
Each one of us is a thread in a tapestry called Humankind. And you can, of course, call that cliché and of course you can. But, the farther down you come in on the tapestry, the harder it is to do something absolutely new. Of course, new things were bound to happen, still.
But, when Allister stumbled upon a well-worn plotpoint or an entire used storyline, he vowed to be ever so careful not to look upon them with the discontented glare of a spoiled child ever again. Clichés were gifts, too. They were markers that said "others have been here." They were reminders to pause and pull back to see the pattern he was weaving. He could see the finished pattern in the lessons of his ancestors. And, if he liked it, if it bettered the tapestry as a whole, he would continue. If it did not, he would change course.
Clichés were where Humankind meets.
And, with that, Allister made his peace with clichés.
To bathe in the beauty of a sunset so deep that it reached beyond the beating of his own present heart into the past beatings of his ancestors’ hearts and into the future beatings of his descendants’ hearts was to be fortunate enough to be part of something bigger than him.
And, so, Allister left the pier and set off to find his comrades.