The street shines glossy black after the rain. Pavement cafés are crowded, and vehicles hiss by — their roars constantly approaching, breaking, receding. I watch them holding my breath, forgetting to blink. I am alert, but null. The restlessness of the city mirrors mine tonight, and slowly tempers it.
I’ve always enjoyed lights, noises, explosions. They came to me like divine permission to sit back and enjoy the ride. The world was happening. I wasn’t in charge of holding it together. What a relief — for an hour, not needing to be in control.
I sit in the dark and hold time in slow gear. Either the experiment, or my sanity, will fail. They are eyeball to eyeball, waiting for one another to blink. I bet on being mad. It’s late, so very late for this. I should have started earlier. I should have started sooner.
I’m not surprised how many insomniacs are out here, I’m actually pleased. And I’m not worried either, because this switch reminds me how young I’m getting and I’m almost, almost close to seventeen again; when the ice was melting and I was gently growing from its underneaths.
Raised by the street, with the sky blue and new above me, I knew how to roam free when I had to, and lie on my back in tall grass and dream in the present tense when I wanted to. Nights were dark and long and hot, like the future I was both scared of and couldn’t wait to run towards.
Troublesome, perhaps, but intriguing, surprising and refreshing all at once, I was in my captain-of-her-own-rocket days; sweet days of stitching myself together out of desires and needs, with oil-burning eyes and a heart still owning the right to the future.
When the temperature dropped and the power of inertia became tangible, I surprised myself turning into this shadow of a person sitting together with her ghost in the car, wishing she could reverse or, at least, slow time enough to figure her way out without wasting all of her young years.
Here I am, wishing it would all end tonight. It’s a compulsion, a series of quiet, desperate attempts with occasional flashes of rightness. I’d always do it — fighting to gain more time to make things better — it’s just odd that it’s become my life.
I know; somewhere along the line, the pressure sent cracks up and down my psyche and I simply fell apart. I feel bad. I feel bad in every place and part of me. I have no comforting thoughts to fall back on. Life has become days sitting in a chair, staring.
But the magic is in the hard. Hard is the new black. I talk to myself in a low, kind voice. I know that I’m still worth it. There is a fire inside me still longing to be fed. That fire is worth it. There is nothing else worth more than that fire.
How many times has it been the first time? How many times has it been the last time? Bent under the burden, I can still sniff freedom. I have not given in. I owe it to myself, despite not being that anymore.
There she comes — remarkable, slightly eccentric, with her bizarre hat and toothpaste advert smile. She’s crossing the street hand in hand with a slim, hip young devil in ripped jeans and an oversized shirt. Her cool is almost tangible. She does not bleed through another’s wounds. She owns the street. She owned the night.
I, too, would have eaten those hours of being in love whole. I squeeze my eyes shut, imagining what I’d be like innovative, unconventional, romantic still. It doesn’t come natural. All I’m getting is a cynic craving to be loved, turbulent skies and the sad, numb calm after the storm. The images are grainy, monochrome and dark. I can’t think of textures. I can’t think of sounds.
My attraction to her is ambivalent. She has the power of hiding who she is while, at the same time, advertising how she wants to be seen. It makes me jealous of the god-like heights she came down from, and tragically aware of the unknowability of another human being. I can despise her intense hedonistic lifestyle all I want, but I will never know if that’s what she gets in bed with. Security blankets don’t always function as protective screens around those who sew them.
I trace him with the corner of my eye. I am not his type of girl, but near enough his type. He would give me speed. I would give my all, but there isn’t much left of it. I’d trade him what I don’t need for whatever it was from him that I wanted; that’d be fair. I do not blink when I look at them, who are no longer significant but only there, and them. My hate is mine. It belongs to me. She is merely there. A click in my head cancels boredom. I know what I’m doing, because I’m always doing it. Ah, there goes it. I lost tonight. I’m always losing it.
After a heavy sigh, I allow myself to step into the vision. I am good at projecting myself on the outside. All my friends eat sunshine, and I train in speculative fiction. Sometimes I think I could be my own imaginary friend.
I open it like a window and climb through. Inside it is home, after being gone for years. I left in search of some ideal, but reality had failed, time and time again, to come up to the mark. I will always return.
It’s suddenly me who went to a jazz concert with him and spent the night nodding along to soft tunes with eyes closed, sipping on cheap whiskey. It’s got to be me. I am the girl who lives on air and intensity alone, and I’d never stray away from hotter nights or bigger feelings, whatever turn they took; I’m with my madness all the way if I’m getting my buzz, my fix, my life.
It’s summer and soon after dawn, strands of orange all across a turquoise sky. I’m up in the mountains, sitting in the front of the car singing along with the radio, my hair blowing in the wind and my heart still harvesting my baby goddess energy. The ride is pretty, right alongside the river the whole way. I’m going to drink the ocean, again and again, and celebrate being madly alive. This has got to be me, too.
I’m reading paragraphs over and over again, because it’s too delicious not to. We have worlds we want the other to see. Somehow these very different worlds fit together. Writing down about all the things he finds on restaurant napkins, under car seats, in her refrigerator, in between, in your wallet, by accident, too late, he makes up a world of details without frames and limitations. I spend hours getting lost in it. It’s beautiful and crazy, like a miniature of life minus all the big problems. If you’re stubborn enough, you find something good to do on the way down; but the bizarre repetition in your eyes betrays your madness to others. Whatever. It’s me who sits long moments in silence with him. No one else comes near enough. It’s always me.
I’m moving forward through the day by small explosions of will — and I take my hand up to my heart. My brain, too, wants to play this game and stay lost in the dream. It’s utopic to find myself again, although so far from shore. I’ll rock any boat on my way here. This is the last thing left that makes me happy-hearted, warmth ringing true inside these bones when I come for it. It’s like all is right in the world because one heart managed, despite all the chaos, to get it right. And not any heart, but my heart. Mine. It’s got to be mine.
We lie on our backs, intertwine our fingers and hold on tight once more, as though consistency can substitute for stability. I missed the girl I almost still am, the girl I will never be again.
The words come out much slower than I want them to, but I say them out loud this time; papers and devices have only ever stopped my train of thought. There’s so much left to say when you think you know how to say it all — and ah, how we turn our unsaid things into our life’s work. I’ve cleared my desk and climbed onto it. There’s only my breath left now, fogging up the window. There is no her.
Ageless and gorgeous, she is, one by one, 17, 27, 37. It does not matter. Whoever the girl crossing the street with her lover was, there is only me, and smoke, and mirrors in this world. She is just the end of the rainbow I never followed, the person I haven’t become, and I hate, because I can’t love. And it would be so very ironic if I tried to love my neighbour as myself; because, of course, most people hate themselves and I am no exception to that.
X marks the spot where I took the other path — travelled or not so much, it does not matter. It lead me astray from the plans I never even knew I’d have for myself. My anger has since turned from hot and quick to a lingering coldness. I see myself in other girls, imaginary and, occasionally, on nights like this, made out of skin, flesh, bones and stories of their own. What’s odd is that they never remind me of the person I see when I look at myself these days. They are always so very different.
I drink hot tea under cotton candy skies and think of the fleeting nature of me. I think I like that. Maybe in another life I will live roof-raisingly loud. In this one I am sane, painfully sane and aware. From behind quiet eyes I stop and pat every monster. I get them. Putting love where there is none is a hard job. Slowing down time is ever harder. I can only be bad, in the dark, as seasons go by.
I often wonder how much of the people I make up is me. I don’t believe my everyday self defines me. There are much crazier worlds on the other side of me; some still unexplored, some still works-in-progress, and some already used, abused, stretched to limits. Fiction gives me the second, third, millionth chances that life, real, fleshy life denies me, and there is nothing in this that makes me sad. I can’t take every path, but I can play hide and seek with mine.
It was never my intention to create a new person in whose skin I could have then quietly slipped into, and be a million times better at last. I was simply creating; I still am. I’ve still got it. I’ll never lose it. I have no reasons, no intentions, no master plans. I learned to feel by writing about feelings, not the other way round. I learned to love by creating characters that belonged to me, so I could love them without fear. This is how I learned intensity; first-hand, from myself, in my bedroom, in the car, in the classroom, at night, at 16, at my own pace.
I don’t like it when people get bored easily and frequently. This is an interesting planet — and, when you have no more attention to give, you are a luminous, playful, interesting person. I am who I am because of my imagination, and because of it again I am so much more.
And, like all the best quests, in the end I’m doing it all for a girl: me.