An Art Deco boutique hotel. I felt soothed by the room's cream-coloured walls and the mossy green of its upholstery. That still didn't stop my breaths from coming up shallow and short in those last moments before I closed the door behind me. Just before I did, I stood in front of the mirror in the glossy bathroom, phone in hand.
What I captured was Before. I was all long and lean lines of black and silver. Charcoal smudged along my lash lines. Lips blazing ruby. I'm smiling just a touch, and my eyes are sparking electric anticipation. But despite the rock-and-roll exterior, I can see it: the tender naivety at my core. The belief that anything was possible. It trailed me like perfume as I descended to the sidewalk of Sutter Street and walked uphill to the top of the Stockton Street Tunnel, to his favourite bar.
I wouldn't be the same After. How could I? Meeting him recalibrated everything — the things I felt, the things I wanted, the things I'd give. Those things were so much bigger and wider and deeper than I ever imagined they could be. My understanding of reality was also recalibrated. I learned that belief in boundless possibility sometimes isn't enough. Sometimes it isn't enough to close the space of four thousand kilometres.
The photo arrived via text message in the spring: an upward angle of the sign hanging over the door to that bar overlooking the tunnel. It took him several more days to tell me why he sent it — as a reminder that what happened that night more than a year earlier was real. He had brought people to that place for years, he said, in search of a certain kind of moment, a moment of powerful connection. "You were that moment," he wrote. He said he hasn't been back inside since.
Somehow that wasn't — isn't — enough.
I put my phone down after reading his message and looked into the mirror. The woman who returned my gaze is different than the one who looked back at me then. All the soft-focus filters in the world can't disguise the parts of her that have hardened.
The woman who looks back at me now is fearless. That's what you become when you risk what she did, and lose.
People are quick to praise the qualities of fearlessness and courage and bravery. I don't deny that they are good qualities to have. It's just that I understand they have a price.
And that price is incredibly steep. You can see it in my eyes.