I knew exactly what I was doing. Didn't I?
I was tired of being a wallflower from nowhere. So I stopped. And I became something else entirely: the woman I actually am.
As the city came into view — a mosaic of bone white, bright blue, and gold mortared together with veins of that iconic rusty red — I showed my own colours. In this place of heights and angles and sexy curves, I filled every inch of my own frame. In this space that houses the avant-garde, the romantic old world, and the edgy fringe, I found a home for the whole of me.
It was easy in the beginning. It always is. But even amid the climb and the climax and the fall, this is the time that cannot be taken away from me: The discovery.
Moody weather, the push and pull of tides, a moon tracking across a purple-black sky. I looked around me at all the people simply walking these streets. But I... I felt them. I tasted them. And they inhabited me. With foggy fingers stroking my hair and a kiss of salty wind parting my lips, I opened myself to a lover who finally knew me.
When a woman comes into her own power, there is no mistaking the tectonic shift. The ground beneath her moves.
I set off earthquakes that shook everything in my path as I discovered mine. I no longer cast my eyes aside demurely. I not only met men’s gaze, I matched it before looking into them and feeling their knees quake as they realized I saw exactly who they were. I knew I could purse my painted lips and leave them just parted at the centre, as if I were about to whisper the word "whom," and trigger rumblings they would quell with ferocity in their darkened, private moments. But most of all it was my voice that reshaped the landscape. I was tired of pretending that there was so much I didn't know. So I cracked myself open and let it all pour of me — what I thought, what I perceived, what I wanted.
It was from this centre that I lived and loved. That centre did not always align with the world's expectations and rules, but I chose my own truth over constructs that simply didn't fit the shape of me.
We assume that when we find this place of self-aware power we become — our hearts become — invincible. But being here, in a place where everything constantly shifts, obscured by ground cloud in one moment and revealed by golden light the next, I should have known better.
I should have understood that things are very rarely as we assume them to be.
Love changes everything.
I wanted him to love me. I wanted that so much it left me dizzy and breathless, verging on madness. I'd be halfway up a hill on a route I walked every day with ease and would have to stop. I’d rummage in my bag or look in a shop window, buying myself enough moments to let the vertigo pass.
He hovered like the fog. He enveloped me with presence while staying elusive, gliding in and then out, burning off when the heat built only to return with a vengeance under the veil of night. He wanted me but he didn’t — I was never quite right. The more rooted I became in the source of my own power, the harder he fought to make his rules the ones we played by.
The hair, the suit, the gloves, the heels. He needed to control the narrative, to be the master of each scene.
I played along, writing my own story as we went. I counted on him seeing me, finally, when all the words played out. A mind, a body, and soul he would choose for himself because it was unlike any other he’d ever encounter.
Except I forgot where we were. Here, in this city — beautiful, yes, overwhelmingly so — but not without its dark side. And what is that quote tapping into this very duality of San Francisco?
“It's a great setting for a horror story."
Here, now, at the precipice, this is what I know:
I know that you can have a brilliant mind.
I know that you can have a soul whose song resounds.
I know that you can be beautiful.
I know that you can have talents in abundance and magic in your bones. I know that you can love with both ferocity and tenderness and use your lips and teeth with equal skill. I know that you can wake up every day with courage enough to fill a universe.
And I also know that despite all this, for some it is never enough and for others it is too much.
Look at me carefully, in this space. What do you see? What do you know? I am very much that collection of jewels, an array of facets and dimensions sparkling in the light. But I am also an unfixed entity, a blank canvas, a place where others project their desires, their fears. (Note well: Fear is crafty. It often urges its host to wear a mask of confidence.)
Did he push me, or did I fall? No one agrees on how it ended.
Sometimes there is nothing else to do but destroy it all and then start again. People always make that mistake with Death — they assume it's final. But for some of us, being broken is just a beginning.
So as he stares down, wide-eyed, from his perch above with credits rolling and soundtrack swelling, don't weep for my body lying in pieces. Don't assume you understand what that means. Because it is neither punishment nor penance.
It is passage.
“Madeleine,” an interpretation of Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton played by Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, was inspired by a recent trip to San Francisco and stay at Hotel Vertigo, named for its cameo in the 1958 film.