Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Lighthouse

She wanted to take me somewhere special this time. It was a surprise. I sat at a corner bookstore in downtown Rio for a good 20 minutes before she appeared on the back of a motorcycle. Under normal circumstances, I might have been annoyed with the tardiness, but this was the girl of my dreams. I’d wait an eternity for her to show up. I pulled out from behind my back a single orange orchid, a gift a friend recommended that I put around her ear. She pulled her hair back and closed her eyes as I wrapped the stem around her right lobe. I could have lived in that moment forever.

She wanted to go to Paqueta, one of her favorite spots that she only shared with a few people. As we waited to cross the water, she told me about a time where she wandered in her curiosity and missed the last return ferry home. She found a couple to take her in that night. She traded live songs on the guitar for a one-night stay in their guesthouse. The way she recounted that memory, the look she had in her eyes, told me that she still believed in the goodness of people, that stories like this kept hope alive. 

I tried to come up with an equally touching story in return, but the best I could do was ask her if she had ever seen snow. She hadn’t, but always wanted to. I told her that I’ve lived in cold climates my entire life, and that I knew it almost too well, but one day, if we ever found ourselves in a place that permitted, I’d pack together a snowball and throw it directly in her face. The way she reacted still comes to me in my dreams. That surprise, that smile, that gentle nudge against my abdomen – it is everything I miss about her.

We arrived later than anticipated. By then just about everything was closed. We flirted with the idea of going into the park after hours, but she thought about the guards on night patrol and how our intrusion would have made their job that much more difficult. Instead, we found an old lighthouse and climbed up its rickety ladder, aided by a flashlight from my cellphone. We sat up there, not really knowing what to do or say. Or at least I had no idea what to do or say. I ran through the list of conversations in my head, went through the likely responses and how I might weave that into a discussion about my feelings. I’m actually pretty good at that - predicting how people think - but with her, everything was different. I was perpetually surprised by just about everything she ever said or did. There was no strategy with this one. After about 10mins of silence, I finally blurted out the best thing I could come up with.

“I’m about to tell you something really intense,” I said. “But if you don’t want to hear it, I’ll understand.”

“You don’t have to be afraid to tell me anything,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. “I like intense things.”  

“I think I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you,” I spouted. 

Right there, at that very moment, I was ready to devote my entire life to her. No questions, no second thoughts, just instinct. I then realized that I barely knew this person and was saying this the third time we had gone out together. But I meant every word, at that moment as I do today. I sat there waiting for her to pack her things up and leave.

She didn’t respond. She just sat there and nodded her head. She then rested her head on my shoulder and the relief was one of the best feelings I have felt in my life.

Night fell and it quickly grew colder atop the tower. I had foolishly worn a thin tank top, and she wrapped me up in an extra long-sleeve shirt she had brought along. After a few more minutes of staring out into the sea, I think she took pity on my constant shivering and suggested we catch the ferry home. I’ll never forget when we climbed back down the ladder. She didn’t want the flashlight. She said she wanted to know what it was like to go down into a path where she couldn’t see too far ahead. She said I could use the light if I wanted, but to wait until she was all the way at the bottom. I climbed down right behind her in the darkness, using only the feelings in my limbs, and the sounds of the one ahead to guide me.

We ordered a spinach and mushroom pizza when we got back into town, split it into four pieces and sat next to each other waiting for the last ferry home. We talked about our parents, and the shortcomings of their marriages. Her parents divorced when she was still young. Mine are still together, but I wouldn't exactly call them 'happy'. There was a tinge of fear in both of our voices. I don’t know if she thought this, but I thought about the futility of us even dating. More than likely, we’d end up a statistic of a failed couple, but there also comes a point where we need to believe there are relationships that exist outside of what we witness growing up. 

We finished the rest of the pizza on the ferry. I made a quick jab at her appetite. She called me a hypocrite. Our shoulders pushed up against one another, her hand slipped into mine and she laid her head against my shoulder once again. I put my chin on the top of her head. We weren’t going to make it, but we were going to take a chance. That’s really the best you can do in the end - be brave enough to try.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back with Flora. I don’t even know if I’ll see her again in this lifetime. The relationship we had is no longer part of my life. But I’ll always have the Lighthouse. That one is mine to keep.

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