Can I help it, if I want the whole world to know who you are?
My heart is in my throat when I watch the van headlights miss my driveway and wander into the one adjacent. The door is in the way, the steps are underfoot, the gravel beneath my feet feels like heavy sand. Night is just arriving to the valley and the first stars are watching with interest above. I stand at the end of the driveway in the time-stopped stillness of that moment, take a deep breath and wait for you to realize you've gone to the wrong house.
White dress in the dark.
Suddenly the headlights sweep back over through the trees.
Then everything takes off at light speed.
We're shrieking with laughter, I can't remember you opening the door to the van just this tumbling of motion, my whole body shaking, you're the same height as me and there we are in each others arms saying 'Oh my gosh' over and over again. Your neck smells like heavy cologne.
I don't even really know what your face looks like yet.
I chase your van back up the hill to the glowing house. Black hat. Necklaces, coins suspended at the ends of them. Bracelets at your wrists. Suddenly, there you are. We're staring at each other wide-eyed and a little shell shocked, laughing all encased with nerves.
We were only ideas of us before. A filmmaker from Montreal who made me hold my breath late at night as the music picked up and a giant crow came falling in slow motion out of storm clouds. The little boy closed his eyes.
And then he was gone.
A photographer from Vermont, a girl with a remote and a heavy black camera and all these feelings that never found their way into words but instead inside of those moments. Those hold your breath moments. The lift before the drop. The dreams you see when your eyes close for just a moment, and then...
You open them.
And there you are. A dream come to life, pulled from my head and into reality. The voice on the phone telling me you had to run to a meeting while I paced the floors of the house and tried to drop my own voice just a pitch and a half. I was so worried you'd be like any other dream- one that arrives in the middle of the night and comes too close to the morning and dissolves. When you wake up you can half-remember it. Did they really care for me, for just a moment?
I had only just dragged myself through some kind of relentless search for you- except I couldn't find you. Other men appeared and disappeared, voices on the phone, half-hearted messages. One, only at 2 in the morning when he was drunk or else very lonely and maybe I was like a glass of water and a blanket for his shoulders when he was disoriented and scared. Another, only until he heard my singsong mannerisms when I was very tired and I stammered my way through a time-zone difference and an explanation of my countryside life. And a last, only because I crept close like I was stalking a timid animal in the woods and it didn't know what I was, so it held still and waited to see what I would do. I almost touched it's face for a moment but then...
it was gone.
I had always loved to love. I didn't want crazed passionate kisses, really, or jewelry or someone to go out to dinner with. I wanted to be the only one to have a key that could unlock someone, so that their soul came spilling out, someone as lost and vivacious and wondering as I am.
'Two spinning spheres, two spinning spheres,
in a bed of stars'
Someone to pour my life into. Someone who would pour their life back. And after a little while we could be some kind of torrent river on it's way to flood into the wild sea. We'd be full of rainwater and bottles and brightly colored fish and maybe someones tears and maybe water lilies or ancient pebbles worn all smooth from the passing of time.
Something the world had never seen before and perhaps, would never see again.
But it was always wrong, or else at least it would end wrong and I worried that for this person I had been far too much, and for that person maybe I had been too little. And the rest of the time my spirits would lift for a moment to say 'Maybe... it's you?'
But it wasn't.
Heaven only knows how I got like that. I think maybe, you understand it. That when life feels devoid of all else, love is like water and it rushes in and fills all those empty spaces. And maybe for me it was only some kind of tepid, sad tale that happens to many; that without parental nurturing and safety, one goes out on the hunt and is always scouting for it elsewhere. To face a barren desert of a childhood maybe it's set in some kind of whistling stone, you have to march with a glass jar- always on the lookout for an oasis, for something to quench all that aching thirst for connection.
I prayed I wasn't like that. I prayed my intentions were different. But my efforts had been marred by failure up until that balmy June night, and I couldn't be sure (though I hoped), that you would turn the tides any other way and I think maybe you thought the exact same of me.
I knew more about you than you realized.
You didn't send photos of yourself, or reveal them, and they were nowhere to be found. The latest was years old. You kept delaying our time together. There were little clues all along the way if I looked keenly enough. A hint that something was terribly wrong, that something somewhere was troubling you at a place no one could catch sight of.
'He's so... cold'
I said to my sweet friend who was staying with me, the night we met, after the stars and the hill and the van and the stuttering, halting conversation.
'I don't think he likes me at all'
You were fast asleep or at least pretending to be on the couch. She was smoking a cigarette on the front porch in the middle of the night. I'd lain awake on the opposite couch trying to look at you without really looking at you, your face all hidden in the pillow and the darkness of the house. You were like some kind of fortress, your emotions indiscernible, your true feelings hidden just past where I could see them in the fall and rise of your chest.
It had been a secret pride of mine- the ability to read an emotional landscape like it was a vast expressionist painting, every stroke of the brush and where it came from visible to the eye.
But it wasn't that way with you. Everything was instead carefully organized and tucked well away. When I reached in your direction the space was grey and shrouded in clouds. What emerged from behind them was carefully placed just so.
Your face was unreadable. Your blue eyes huge and unfathomable. What you thought as you watched me fumble through making you tea and putting on an animated movie in a panic as I lost track of what I could possibly say, it was all mystery.
But then I stumbled across the way in.
You couldn't go straight through as I had always done in the past, turning handles and unlatching and walking smoothly in past all the hastily constructed doors- so easy to breeze by and relatively ignore in others.
Instead you were made of walls. A maze of dark stones that towered high above my head and out of sight. There were no doors, there were no windows. No signposts, no hints.
The only way in was to go in at the very start and work my way through, path by path right in the thick of the endless dead-ends. But at times the ground was very soft and if I looked very sharply in the dim light I could follow where you had once been, the mark of your boots on the interior of your world.
I found one clue and then another. Into the Wild. A boy runs away from his family to rush away into the sky in solitude with only his thoughts and his mistakes in the epic frontier of Alaska.
Medallions from your beautiful mother. Protections against whatever was always chasing you.
The Kin Fables. A sad young prince with only two friends in all the forested green world- a swirling fairy made of the light on water and baubles from the sea, always running together, and a Knight- watching from the background, always ready to rescue and protect, until the little prince with his curls and his fears, vanished. To try again somewhere else. Or else to be reclaimed by those who wouldn't give up on him.
With his motorcycle and his exhaustion and his striving to blend in. His attempts to love and to feel- only everything blurred together, didn't it?
You can't outrun your problems.
But you don't have to face them alone.
Did you realize Seb was telling you your own story?
A relationship that hadn't quite made it. As everyone bears, a thorn in their heart, a hope that fell to the ground on shredded papery wings. A hurt that still hurt. The face you made when your phone went off occasionally, eyes all pooled with pain. I knew that feeling from both sides- when forever turns out to look a lot shorter than you thought it would. It wakes you up in the night and you have to always blink it back, all that sweetness turned sour and into what looks so much like deceit. Wasn't this the One? Wasn't this love? And if it wasn't, where did I fail? What did I do wrong? How did we lose?
The love you were cautious to begin.
Not so much of a mystery, or so you thought. The girl everyone claimed was made of light. Sunshine. Smiles. Picnics with strawberries and two friendly kittens in the summery sweet-smelling grass. Always reaching for your hand, always laughing, laughing, laughing. Swinging on tree vines, wading out into the ponds, sparklers at sunset, marshmallows over the fire. I was supposed to be so good. My life, wholesome and healthy and shining.
But here is how I won you in the dark. My first glass of blood-red wine that turned into two glasses and you eagerly running to the gas station to buy me Sprite to mix with vodka and grapefruit juice. Two lost souls at the kitchen table talking until the sun came up about films and Instagram, and nature and love.
'Tell me something you've never told anyone before'
I paused for such a long time, lost in thought, alcohol singing with my heartbeat, my head only a muffled daze of happiness and longing. But you were watching me so intently, so cautiously to see what I would say. A secret no one else knew.
I looked for a long time at the tiled floors while I said it, what I had never said to anyone before, what I had hidden far back and never even allowed myself to think about, but now just flooded out unbidden but unmistakably called forth by some whisper:
'When I was very young, I made an enormous mistake. I tried to commit suicide'
Then the air in the kitchen was so thick and every crickets chirp through the open windows slowed and there the maze opened up in one fell swoop.
There you were at last, right in the center, your eyes blazing fire before the water put it out.
That was how I found you.
In that long, long quiet before we left the glasses on the table and you began to cry, before you fell into the couch sobbing in my petrified arms, before the whole story came tumbling out in one headlong rush of despair and a one last-ditch attempt to turn it around in the West or else to never come back at all, your own Christopher McCandless....
The river begins to flow.