Standing on a cliff, looking over the city. Wondering what to do now. Where do you go when you’ve burned all your bridges? When there’s nothing left but you and the road? What do you do when what was burned was nothing more than embers of a life you once had, but lost somewhere along the way?
Alone, looking over what was once my home, it doesn’t seem so different? The same houses, the same landmarks in the distance and the ocean. Beneath me is just the abyss, but I’m not falling. I will never jump. Instead I pull away from the edge and start descending again.
Entering the city again is like coming to a new place. This is a strange place now, and not the same city I left all these years ago. The name I once bore is long lost, forgotten in a sea of other things better left in the past. Stern steps, a hollow mind and I face the demons up a head. These are bucktoothed, two headed, one eyed monsters I’ve always been afraid of, but they don’t scare me now. I may have stepped into the fairyland, filled with danger beyond imagination but I have the tools any modern hero needs, and that’s not fearlessness but the ability not to care.
The world will be saved by people who do not care and afterwards populated by the monsters they chose. And as I enter a quiet drinking establishment and order a mojito I see just one other lost soul lurking in the back. He’s dark, dirty and the kind of person I would have crossed roads to avoid in my previous life, but times are different now, so I take my drink and I walk back to the man in the corner nursing a whiskey sour, and I sit down without asking for permission.
He looks at me. Smiles and I see a bit of arrogance in that smile. And something familiar too. Something from long ago.
“I know you,” I say surprisingly.
“Come here often?” he asks me and I can’t but laugh.
“Is that a come on?” I ask.
He shrugs his shoulders and smiles and although it may be lost now, it’s obvious there was charm in that smile once upon a time. And something familiar.
“I know you,” I repeat.
“So? Did we do this last month? Why did you come here then?” he says sourly and nurses his drink
And that’s when it hits me.
“We were in high school together,” I tell him. “You used to tell me my coat was ugly”.
He looks at me, taken aback.
“That was a lifetime ago,” he says. “But I saw you when you came in, your coat is still ugly”.
I laugh. “What happened to you?” And I can hear the judgment in my voice before the words are out of my mouth.
“You mean why am I drinking in a pub alone at two in the morning?” he asks.
“Something like that.”
It’s as if a fairy enters the room and waves her magic wand. Suddenly we’re back in high school and nothing has changed, the whole life is a head of us and hasn’t vanished into some dark pit.
“I really liked you,” he says finally, “I hated your coat, but I liked you”.
And I think about the times I sat in my room thinking about this man before me now, this stranger in a dark corner drinking alone and I think about the anguish that followed his words back then.
“You could have fooled me,” I tell him.
“I’m good at that,” he says, “fooling people, it’s an expertise, always has been.”
“I guess I liked you too,” I admit and I can feel that soul, long since vanished kick me hard in my metaphorical shin.
“You did?” he says and I can see genuine surprise on his face, but then it vanishes, “lets not dwell on the past” he says and stares into his glass. There are other regrets, bigger regrets than a teenage drama that played its course a long time ago.
“Lets,” I say and I take a large sip of my drink.
“So why are you here?” he asks and looks at me and I can see in his eyes what I saw all those years ago, that thing that made me like him, that thing that made his words hurt all the more back then. He has changed, but it hasn’t.
“The same thing you are, I guess.” I tell him and finish my drink. I walk to the bar and I order another for myself and for him and I bring the drinks to the table again after taking off my sweater.
“Still look good,” he says and nods his head when I hand him the drink.
“Married?” I ask.
“Not anymore,” he says flatly.
“No.” I say simply. It’s a lie of course, but my past has been buried. This is the new me and what happened between the time I last saw this man, when he was really still just a boy and now, doesn’t matter.
“Lesbian?” he asks. He isn’t drinking as quickly as he drank his first drink. Keeping a pace that his exterior looks wouldn’t suggest.
“No.” I tell him.
“I live just around the corner,” he says. “Small one bedroom apartment, will you join me?”
And I stare at him, finding some crazy comfort in this initiative that I probably would have slapped him for just a few weeks back.
“Sure,” I say instead, get up and put my sweater on.
He seems to grow at that, he finishes his drink hurriedly and gets up. He’s taller than I remember and although his hair is a bit thin on top, he still looks good. When he’s not lurking in a corner of a bar, looking dark and dirty.
His hands are big and strong and he has dark lines underneath the fingernails.
“So I guess you ended up working in your father’s garage after all?” I ask.
“I own it now,” he says and the frown looks genuine and not faked.
We put our coats on and go out into the dark night. He pushes his hands deep into his pockets and I remember the boy who used to do that.
“You haven’t changed much,” I tell him.
“You have,” he says.
We round a corner and he picks keys out of his pocket and goes down a few stairs towards a dirty cellar door. “It looks scruffy on the outside, but it’s cozy on the inside,” he says and smiles.
“Just like you,” I tell him.
“You don’t know that,” he says simply as we enter the apartment.
It’s small, kitchen, living room and bedroom in one, but it’s clean and he’s right, it’s cozy. There are pillows on the grey sofa, that can be changed into a bed. There is a large television in front of the sofa, a small table by the window that’s high up and I can’t imagine it letting in much light even during the daytime.
I take off my coat and throw it on my shoes on the floor. He goes into the kitchen and asks if I want a beer, but I don’t want a beer. I want something else and he knows what that is, but with his back turned towards me he opens the fridge and pulls out two beers. He opens one and takes a clunk of it.
I don’t hesitate. I walk over the small space that now separates us, I take the beer from his hands and put it on the table. Then I push him towards the wall beside the fridge, I stand on my toes and I kiss him.
He doesn’t need to be told twice. He kisses back. Just the way I used to imagine, all those long years ago and although what happens afterwards is more adult, and a lot better than anything I could have imagined then, that initial kiss seems essential.
It’s a healer. A bridge towards something that may become.
And when we’re finished, lying on the floor panting in a way I haven’t panted for years I ask him if he minds if I smoke and I get up to get my cigarettes. He just shakes his head and watches me.
“What now?” he asks, watching me still and I just shrug my shoulders. I fill my lungs and blow smoke into the air.
I haven’t smoked for ten years.
“I don’t know,” I tell him.
He gets up to get his beer, but he seems to have second thoughts and instead of drinking the beer he walks towards the kitchen sink and empties the can.
There is something quite strange about seeing a naked man emptying a can of beer like that.
When he’s finished he turns around, leans back towards the sink and folds his arms over his chest. “I have a problem with the spirits,” he says. “But you may have guessed that already.”
“I have a problem with almost everything else,” I tell him.
“A match made in heaven,” he smiles and walks towards me, sits down beside me on the floor, takes my cigarette puts it in a flower pot beside us. Then he pulls me to him and kisses me. Again that feeling of getting back to something old, something lost.
“Will you stay?” he asks.
“The night?” I ask, “It’s almost morning.”
“I don’t mean the night,” he says, “I mean stay.”
And I think about it for at least fifty seconds.
“Sure,” I say, “I have nothing to lose.”
And I may not have come home, and the abyss may still be staring at me, but at least there is strange familiarity in this and something new that can’t be touched by the past. A different set of pace, a different me born in the embers of what once was.
And I stay.