I remember the first time I saw her. I was about seventeen years old. A few friends and I were hanging out, passing the lazy summer day with beer and laughter. The house was filled with the thick humidity of the mid-summer heat and the cacophonic sound of idle boys who hadn’t yet mastered their testosterone. Flanked by a couple girlfriends, she walked into the house and everything went silent. The only sound was a bird singing outside somewhere and the beating of my heart.
There was a beautiful coldness to her gait as she moved through the sweltering living room. It wasn’t a malicious temperament she exuded, it was a sad one. This melancholy aura she carried only made her more mysterious and beautiful. Her soft, dark, unknowable eyes and pouting lips were centered by a haughty nose, which was always slightly upturned, not out of conceit, but from a naturally withdrawn bearing. Strong Slavic cheekbones and a proud forehead completed the most beautiful face I had ever seen. Her regal yet shy disposition was the perfect defense to keep the timid boys at bay.
I didn’t talk to her that day. I wanted to but I couldn’t. I would see her on occasion at a party or over a friend’s house but my youthful insecurities precluded me from ever having any real connection with her. The few times I mustered enough courage to talk to her, the conversations were superficial at best, agonizingly awkward at worst. Like a man who covets a beautiful piece of art, I’d steal a glance at her every chance I could.
After high school, I never saw her again. I went to college and then New York where I studied acting. In New York, I met a woman, whom I followed out to Los Angeles. That relationship produced a marriage, a child and grand failure of civility which resulted in a decade of contentious litigation over the parental rights to our daughter. As the years passed, I found myself far from home and the world of my childhood. I was living on the West Coast, divorced, broke and fighting a terrible addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. The exuberance, novelty, and romance of youth had been replaced by the cold steel and mundane reality of adulthood.
Occasionally she would drift back into my memory. I would talk with someone who said he saw her here or heard something about her there. I knew she had gone off to Europe to model and after that, I heard she was in living in New York. But like most of the people from my youth, she drifted into the oblivion of misplaced memories. One day, early in my sobriety, in an attempt to fight off the incessant pangs of alcoholic need, I found myself perusing Facebook. It was during this foray into the world of social networks that I stumbled onto her profile. It had been nearly twenty years since I saw her last but on this day, with her picture before me and memories flooding back, everything went silent except for the sound of a bird singing outside somewhere and the beating of my heart.
Her profile showed that she wasn’t married and still lived on the east coast. ‘Not married,’ I remember thinking, ‘how could someone as beautiful as her not be married. She must be divorced or engaged or lesbian or something.’ I sent a “friend request” doubting she would even remember me. A couple days later, she accepted my request and a day after that, it began. It started with her posting on “my wall” and me on hers. Soon we were commenting on each other’s pictures and exchanging emails. Our emails were playful and slightly flirtatious. We developed a little game between ourselves in which we tested one another’s knowledge of music lyrics. Over the first weeks of this Facebook affair I found myself more engrossed with every email exchange until I finally asked her for her phone number. She responded by sending it to me.
The next night I called her. She answered on the fourth ring. It was the first time I heard her voice in years. She sounded tired, like a child who was up past her bed time. Our conversation, hesitant at first, soon was flowing. We spoke for eight hours that first night. Probing and piecing each other’s lives and thoughts and feelings on everything. We chatted of old friends and places we use to live. We shared our dreams for a family and how time was slowly stealing that from us. I listened intently as she told me about the men who had passed through her life. How some had tried to buy her beauty and affections, while others tried to attain it with love or manipulations. I laughed at her sharp edged teasing of my fondness for dating younger women. I chronicled my aspirations and hopes and fears for her. I told her of the destruction my addiction had caused and the great optimism that was born of my sobriety. I listened with envy to her tales of swimming with the dolphins off Hawaii and living in Europe. She shared with me the pain that the death of her adopted mother caused her and the bottomless ache she felt by always being just outside of her biological family’s life. That night, she became my confessor and I hers. That first night, neither of us wanted it to end. We wanted our moment of living in this newly created universe to last forever but exhaustion and the early morning light forced us to part for a few hours sleep.
Every day that followed, we spoke as we had that first night. Our conversations were endless, unexpected and new. We talked so late into the nights that exhaustion shadowed our days. As little as I slept, she slept even less. We were possessed by a demon that was exorcised only when we talked on the phone. The nights and days melted into one. From thousands of miles away, we would lie together in our separate beds, sharing our souls. We made love by way of microwave towers and satellites and the cell phones they supported. Afterwards we’d murmur and love each other like newlyweds who had just consummated their vows.
“Baby, hold me,” she would coo over the phone. “I want to fall asleep with you.”
“I am baby.” I would respond gently, “Go to sleep baby, go to sleep.”
“I know,” she would say in voice raspy with exhaustion, “I can feel you.”
And I would lie there, sometimes for five minutes, sometimes for twenty-five, listening to her breathe. I could feel the soft, rhythmic flow of her body’s breath against mine. It was a marathon of emotions for me. This childhood love of mine, who was so unattainable in my youth, was now falling in love with me. My life, until she came into it, had been lived in the past. But with her, for the first time, my life was lived in the present and the future. I became conscious of her in everything I did. I picked up a third job so I could bring this future of ours to fruition. I stopped eating at restaurants and cut out unneeded expenses, so I could save money for our future plans. I stopped sharing my bed with the younger women I had grown so accustomed to because all I wanted was her.
Slowly, imperceptibly, like the rising of a tide, this electronic intimacy I shared with this woman, inundated my life. This digital kaleidoscope of passion, hope and love metamorphosized into my reality. I found myself in a relationship with a voice on the phone and text messaged words and pictures on Facebook. This universe my heart was now living in was a stillborn one, limited by its lack of the most essential of all elements, the human element.
“Tell me a story,” she would say late at night and I would oblige her. Over the months, these stories started to crystallize in my mind’s eye, until they became real. I imagined what it would be like when she finally flew in from New York to see me. I could see myself obsessively following the progress of her flight, charting its course with the assistance of software the airlines installed on their websites. I knew the moment she passed over the Mississippi and changed planes in Dallas. I was at the airport an hour early, pacing the terminal with the excitement and apprehension of a bridegroom on the day of his wedding. Some part of me couldn’t believe this lovely woman, this divine feminine of my youth, would fly across a continent to be with me. I knew the second her flight touched down. The terminal filled with the sweet perfume of aviation fuel as her “Jet Blue” flight taxied up to the gate. Time slowed to a glacial pace as a mix of people shuffled off the air bridge. In the crowd, I saw her and then she was there, standing before me.
Tired from her flight, she held a small bag in one hand and the book I sent months before in the other. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. We smiled the shy smiles of people who once knew each other but had forgotten some details. Without a word she entered my arms. The softness of her breasts and the length of her tall, lean body pressed against mine. Then there was nothing. The thunder of the jets powering up their engines, the noise of thousands of commuters in transit, the ever present drone over the terminal’s intercom all went silent. The only thing I heard was the sound of a bird singing outside somewhere and the beating of my heart.
We exhausted each other that day and the next with our love making. Insatiable with desire and love, I gave her ever bit of my strength and she accepted it all. I took her to all the restaurants I loved and we hiked through the Santa Monica mountains and spent days at the beach and explored the Long Beach Aquarium and MOCA. We played at Universal Studios theme park and stayed up late together watching movies. The days turned to weeks and the season changed but she stayed with me. We parted ways only once during that time, when she went back East to sell off her furniture and tie up loose ends before she returned with her two cats in tow. I couldn’t remember what I felt before her because before her, there was nothing. She was the perfect muse for me and with her love and support I wrote my first book within six months. With the money we earned from our “day jobs” we traveled where ever we wanted. We loved one another under the stars in the desert and shared a siesta at small villa in the mountains of Tuscany over looking Siena. We camped out in the shadow of Machu Picchu and swam with the dolphins off Hawaii. We made quiet love under the most spectacular waterfalls that Viet Nam had to offer.
On a whim one day, we eloped to Las Vegas. We had decided early on that we were going to raise our family far from the city. We wanted a ranch with llamas, goats, cows and our own vegetable garden with flowers. And that is what we did. We bought our dream home with the proceeds from the sale of my first book and commission from some properties she sold in New York. It was a Santa Fe style rancher that sat on a mountain meadow surrounded by hills of wild flowers. We had a spectacular view of the valley below that was bound by the white capped Serra Nevada. I remember the cool mountain air on my back and the warmth of her lips on mine as we finished tilling the soil and planting the seeds to our first garden. That first summer together on the ranch, with our livestock grazing at a distance and the flowers blooming like madness in a dream, we made love under an old, craggy Cypress tree at the edge of our property. Nine months to the day, our first daughter was born. Within a couple years, our beautiful daughter whose pig tails were in a constant state of disarray as she frolicked in the fields of wild flowers, was joined by a little sister.
We raised our children on that land in the shadow of the Serra Nevada. The years passed and our children grew up strong and healthy. With every year and passage of spring, our herd of llamas, goats and cows grew larger and our gardens more bountiful. We spent many summer days picnicking under that old Cyprus tree at edge of our property. Our family would eat, laugh and swim through the air on a swing I tied to that tree during our first summer on the ranch. Our initials, which we had carved into that tree the first time we loved each other there, already looked faded next to the newly inscribed letters of our daughter’s names. During the winter months, I would write and tend to the ranch. My Love had started a real estate business whose scheduling gave her freedom to tend the ranch with me and raise our children as a full time mom. She was a wonderful mother, ever patient and loving and kind. I imagine, she was very much like her own mother, whom I didn’t have the good fortune of knowing.
One day, I took our oldest daughter for her first day of school and a couple years later, our younger one followed. Then that trick, which lives just outside the perception of everyday life, came to pass. It was the same trick that time and space and life plays on all of us. And if you haven’t perceived it yet, I promise, you will. I turned around and my little girl, who it seemed I had just dropped off for her first day of school, stood before me as a twenty-one year old woman. She was home from college and she wanted the keys to the car so she could go into to town to see some old friends. Our daughters grew into beautiful, kind women, like their mother. They were both married on our ranch under the canopy of the never changing Serra Nevada. And in a few years, our grandchildren were swimming through the air on that swing I had tied to that old, craggy Cypress tree at the edge of our property. Their mother and I, gray with age and tired from a long life lived, spent our final years tending to our garden and flowers and livestock and each other. And then one day, it ended.
“What are you talking about,” she said in a soft, impatient voice. “None of that ever happened.” She was right, none of it had ever happened. We talked of trips to Machu Picchu and swimming with the dolphins. We dreamed together, on the phone, of a ranch with llamas and gardens and little girls in white dresses with pigtails. We fantasized via microwave towers of making love under the Cypress tree on the edge of our property. But none of it ever happened. I never looked into her eyes or held her hand or kissed those lovely lips.
Over the final weeks of our relationship, her calls became infrequent. Her morning texts, once filled with words of affection and love, ceased. The quiet joy she reserved for me, when I sent her flowers or a small gift through the mail, was replaced by an indifferent gratitude. Heartfelt emails I sent her only elicited perfunctory responses. An overwhelming darkness descended over my life. I was crippled by the pain of uncertainty. I couldn’t eat or sleep and my movements were slowed by an unending ache emanating from somewhere deep in my soul. I contemplated Vicodin and Oxycontin and Tequila for relief. With each passing day and every unanswered call and ignored text, it slowly became apparent that this Facebook affair was coming to an end.
Our last conversation went badly. When I asked her if things were different, she said it was all in my head. She swore nothing had changed and insisted her schedule didn’t allow her time to talk. She reproached me for calling her at night and swore I didn’t want her to sleep. She accused me of being “erratic and aggressive” when I disagreed with her. With every accusation she leveled, the sky grew darker. In the distance I saw our ranch being razed in a hail of fire. With every word she uttered, weeds sprouted and pestilence over took the garden and flowers we had planted. As she hung up the phone, I witnessed our llamas, goats and cows being slaughtered under the sword of her silence. And our beautiful little girls, who found sheer joy in the wild flowers of our meadow, were scattered to the four corners of the Earth as if some Biblical scourge had been cast down upon our land. In the end, I sat alone in my empty apartment, not knowing what was real and what wasn’t. As I stared at her picture on Facebook, everything went quiet for the first time that day except for the sound of a bird singing outside somewhere and the beating of my heart.
Separate names with a comma.