I arrived late for the conference, an oversight on my part in regards to timing the commute, traffic, and parking. Who am I kidding? I’m always late. But better late than never right? Forty-five minutes late, but still. I had awoken this morning with the feeling that something big was going to happen. My skin felt a little hot, a little itchy. Like I needed to shed it. It’s probably all these clothes, I mused. On any typical given day I tend to eschew clothing, being given to my natural state over the strictures of man’s need to cover his vulnerabilities. I never understood people that well, anyway.
I found a parking space, which was of course about as far across the parking lot as possible while still remaining on the actual campus. Checking myself in the mirror before locking up, I for a moment did not recognize the face before me. Her pale skin and brown hair seemed normal enough but I felt almost as if I was viewing myself through someone else’s eyes. As if I had expected to see a different face looking back at me. The feeling quickly passed and I shook it off, fluffing my long curly hair just a little.
The first meeting was, as expected, in full swing and the room was packed. I looked around the room hoping to spot Him, the man I loved more than any other being on this wide earth. I looked for his dark long hair and bristly beard amongst the sea of faces. Not seeing him, I slinked my way in, weaving between aisles and legs, laptops and messenger bags until finding an empty seat. The man on the platform glanced my way but continued his droning monotone speech. Maybe I didn’t miss much after all.
As I took my seat, the head in the seat in front of and one seat over from mine turned. We made eye contact. I was incredibly surprised to see an ex-lover of mine. Jimmy. We had partied hard mixing plenty of drugs and love and liquor during our time together. That was over twenty years ago. Interesting that he would be here too, at this very same conference. I didn’t really think this was his thing. Well.
I politely (I hoped) smiled and looked past him to the speaker again. Jimmy continued staring at me, a funny look on his face. Finally, I glanced at him again and as soon as our eyes met, he spoke, a little too loud for a room full of people. His stage whisper carried to those around easily, “I really love you. I should have told you that from the beginning. And I didn’t. But I still love you.” His words were slightly slurred and his eyes not quite focused. I knew he wasn’t sober. I held back the rolling of my eyes and pointedly looked away.
I scanned the room again for Him. After a moment, I spotted my love a few rows up and off to the side, an empty spot next to him. Picking up my things, I started to make my way over; I felt the air shift next to me as Jimmy tried to grab me but I was a little faster than him. I snuck over to where He sat and took my place next to him. I could tell he was annoyed that I was late, again, but he still smiled a little when I leaned over and placed a kiss on his bearded cheek. “Hey Baby,” I whispered. His hand squeezed my knee in answer.
I glanced at his face and fell in love with him all over again. Ours was a seemingly chance meeting. Connecting later in life, Chris and I had instantly loved deeply and thoroughly, as if we’d always been together, always known one another. He was constantly telling me that I had more potential than I allowed myself to see. Part of me understood. I always felt like I was more than just me. My thoughts sometimes seemed to come from a different form of myself…. as if from a “past Tara” who spoke across time and space, whispering into my mind. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
My skin started to itch again and I felt a little flushed. I shifted in my seat. Chris glanced at me, a knowing, slightly concerned look in his eyes. Somehow he sensed my unease. He always could. I tried to reassure him, but even I could feel the pitifulness of my returning smile.
My mind drifted to the sound of the lecturer’s plodding flat voice. Memories parade before my vision. Not all of them real. I remember fucking Chris for the first time in the back of my car when I was just 18… and yet I knew in reality I was actually 40 and it was in my bed the first time we coupled. We were naked and I had just bound myself to him, verbally and physically, my left hand tied to his right with a multi-colored cord. And yet somehow at the same time, I also vividly remember sitting on his face in that small cramped car. I have given up trying to understand these false memories. Maybe I’m crazy.
And still the memories that aren’t memories flow. I remember him making passionate love to me on the beach in the rain somewhere in Hawaii. I’ve never been there. It was high summer and there was sand in my ass. I can remember fucking like wild animals beneath a starry sky and a partial moon deep in the woods in some country I’ve never been. I can remember giving birth to beautiful baby boy in a warm tub of water, tears rolling down his face as he held us both, yet I have never bore a child. Memories pile on memories. I can remember wiping soup from his lips as he lay dying on an oversized mattress. I saw a glimpse of him in a crowd on market day. He fought two men over my honor in the emerald hills filled with the bleating of sheep.
I feel like I’m fading. Over my shoulder I hear Jimmy mumbling a little too loudly again and I am brought back to the present. My skin is tingling like a million ants are crawling across it. I reach over and grip Chris’s hand. He looks at me again and I see real concern in his eyes. My smile is feeble at best. I rub my neck. It feels hot. Dry. In an attempt to ward off the unseen heat, I push my long curls off to the side. The cool air helps a little.
It’s at this moment that the lecture ends and a break is called. We all stand and stretch and begin murmuring amongst ourselves. Chris and I make our way outside to the decks on the backside of the building. Pushing through the double glass doors, an idyllic setting meets our gaze, with the sun out and fluffy marshmallow clouds lazing overhead. A small breeze lifted the leaves on the trees every now and then. We stood at the railing looking out at the park-like setting. This being the third story, our view was grand, allowing a vision of the wide cement patio below giving way to a carefully tended lawn interspersed with clumps of decorative tall grasses and flowers and the occasional weeping willow. Beyond that lay a small lake and the forest with narrow meandering pathways showing themselves momentarily only to be lost again amongst the hummocks of grass and tree branches.
Lighting a cigarette, Chris turned toward me. “So. What was it this time?”
I fidgeted. “You know me. I’m terrible with time.”
“Hmph. This is important to me. To us. You need to be present. Your mind has been wandering a fair bit these days. What’s going on?”
I looked away. Back out to the green growth and the bright blue skies. I felt like if I let myself, I could fly. “I… don’t know. I feel… different. Like something is about to change. Like there’s something inside me wanting out.”
“Baby.” He touched my arm and I turned back to him. It felt sweltering out here. Unnaturally warm. “Look at me.” There was pleading in his voice. My eyes slowly lifted to meet his. “I’m worried. You are slipping further and further away. Please. You need to stay grounded…”
“That’s just it!” I explode. “I don’t want to stay grounded! Don’t you ever just want to spread your arms and jump?” I gesture to the railing next to us.
“Please. Don’t talk like that. Is your life so bad? Aren’t I enough? Aren’t WE enough? I love you. What we have is special…” he sighed. “Just hold on to us. Think of our love.” His cigarette trembled in his fingers. I looked away again.
“I always do,” I whisper. Turning away, I begin to walk a few decks over, just to put a little distance between us. His love is intense. Overpowering. His presence all-encompassing. I feel like I’m on the cusp of epiphany and his aura is blocking my ability to grab a hold of it. He lets me go. He knows me so well.
I weave my way around a few conference-goers chatting and smoking amongst themselves, probably enjoying the view along with me. I glance off to my left, out over the railing and notice a flurry of bee activity surrounding a hanging flower pot. The buzzing mesmerizes me. The thought crosses my troubled mind that these creatures, while small and seemingly unimportant, are vital to the livelihood of most of this park. I briefly wonder how far they fly to reach their queen and the hive. Oh that I could fly away with them.
It’s at this moment I feel a hand grab my arm just above my elbow, roughly. I’m yanked to the side and I turn, looking up to find Jimmy, who has just emerged from another set of glass doors, standing there. He looms over me; his hulking frame seems to be fighting balance. His skin is pale and pasty. A sheen of sweat on his lip. His piercing blue eyes too wide. “I meant what I said.” Instinctively I pull back, extracting my arm none to gently from his grip.
“Leave me alone.” I hiss and turn back, continuing on.
The longing to soar through the sky and leave all this behind intensifies. Something inside presses against my breast and it’s as if it will break loose at any moment. My hand goes to my chest. My heart is racing, yet I am calm. The prickling sensation returns with a vengeance. My hair stands on end. Electricity crackles around me, just out of my physical comprehension. Something is reaching out.
As I reach the railing, I remove my shoes. Up I climb, fearless. I want to feel the wind in my feathers. No. That’s not right. I’m human. On my skin. Yes. That’s right. I want the wind blowing across my skin. I stand there balancing on the narrow railing. The breeze caressing my now burning skin. I spread my arms wide. Turn my face to the sky. I know, absolutely know, that if I were to leap, I would not fall. I would feel the wind lift my wings and I’d soar away. No. That’s not right either. But I do know I can fly.
Vaguely in the background I am aware that the murmurs have ceased. Everything goes deathly still around me. My senses notice… everything. The bees continue buzzing. Someone returns in through the open doors. The breeze stills. A magpie calls off in the distance. I can smell the rose bushes down below. I can even smell the scent of Chris’s cologne across the yards separating us.
Feeling His eyes on me, I turn my face toward my Beloved. He is watching me, his cigarette forgotten. His eyes are filled with a deep love. I don’t deserve him. He’s so much better than me. So patient. So kind. The exact match I need for my intense mood swings, deep depressions and incredible highs. It’s not that I want to leave him. It’s just… something is changing in me. It will take me somewhere he can’t follow. I’m sure of it.
It’s as if he can hear my thoughts because even at this distance, I can see tears shining in his eyes and his lips tighten. He knows. He knows and he’s going to let me go, because his love is that deep for me. His eyes glance off to the side of me just as I feel Jimmy clutch my arm again.
Somehow I manage to maintain my balance as he pulls himself up onto the railing as well.
“We’ll go together,” he claims and then he allows himself to fall right over the edge to the patio far below.
It is in this moment that time slows to a crawl. I am staring into Chris’s eyes just a few short yards away. Recognizing what is actually happening, his eyes go wide. I feel an intense heat blaze through my body as I visualize and then consummate in an instant my full potential. I shed my human form and my skin turns to flame. My arms spread wider and those flames become feathers of fire. My neck elongates and a beak-like mouth forms, curving down into a fearsome visage. I am aware of long tail-feathers coming into being. Senses which did not exist before are created. I am able to comprehend my own self on a deeper level. My vision sharpens, changes, enabling me to see into my surroundings, into those around me. Colors shift. My pulse slows, moving molten nutrients through veins of flexible glass.
Jimmy’s hand passes straight through my arm completely and he continues his descent. I see his limbs at odd angles. His skull crushed on the cement patio below. His mouth is open as if in surprise but his eyes are black. A trail of blood slithers from beneath him. I am dimly aware of this. As I am also aware of the breeze beneath my wings, the intake of cold air in my hot lungs, the sky seems bluer, wider; I can see minute details in my surroundings I never noticed before. The veins on the tree leaves, the ripples of a fish moving below the surface of the lake, the pollen beneath a bee’s heavy body, the release of a puff of toxins from a young smoker’s lips, the gasping whispers of those beholden to my blazing glory, the flash of a camera whose lens immediately shatters.
But the only thing I truly see is my Lover, my One True Love, my Beginning and End: Chris. Tears are running down his cheeks. I can feel his heart has actually broken right in this moment of clarity. I can see Love emanating from his pores, covering him as wings. Light of knowledge shines from his eyes. He has never loved me more. He has never hated me more. A flick of my wings brings me closer but he steps back. I tip my head and I am aware the movement is reminiscent of an avian motion. He steps back again, his hands coming up partially to ward me off.
“My Love,” I murmur. My voice has turned husky, almost gravelly, with my newfound fiery vocal cords.
Chris shakes his head. “Please don’t.” The tears double. Sobs shake his shoulders.
“I’m sorry Beloved. It’s who I always was. I realize that now.”
“Couldn’t I have been enough, just this once?”
It is in that moment, his statement means Something. My memories coalesce. He knew. He always did. Suddenly I have clarity. This is why he constantly mentioned my potential, my true self. He really could see the real me when I never could. He knew. My visions were more than visions. They were futures past and past futures. We were bound together, him and I. We always would be. How many times had I done this before? And then I knew what my destiny was. What my impossible future held. It was to be with him, of him, for him, a part of him forever. Not here, not now. But soon.
“I will always look for you, my Love. We will find each other again.”
“I know, my Heart.” And then he turned and walked away, tears still pouring from his soul.