There’s something about the January rain in Detroit. How it chills you to your core and leaves you aching. How its effects are intensified when you’re permanently tired and have coffee stains streaked down your shirt and rent to pay. I’m sure this traffic jam I’m stuck in isn’t helping my case either. I’m trying to get to the laundromat, honestly that’s it. I put my car in park while turning around to look at the mountain of overdue laundry begging to be washed. Amidst the collection of dull graphic tees and oversized jeans, there it sat. It made my chest sting for a millisecond and my face hot, but that blue striped button down wrinkled up underneath my passenger seat makes me feel more emotion than any inanimate object should. A relic. A reminder. A slap in the face. A memory caught and entangled in my idiotic inner being, trapped inside a mental labyrinth that I just can’t seem to shake. I guess I’ll tell you its story. At this point I kind of have to so you don’t get confused or think I’m being dramatic.
Birdie and I were strolling hand-in-hand last April. I was wearing the blue button down and some oxfords. She a lavender dress with the most delicate straps. Her pale blonde hair swept into this low bun thing. It took her less than a minute to assemble it, but she had things to see and people to meet and vivacious life to live, so taking the extra time to sit in front of a drab hotel mirror was definitely not on her agenda. But the thing about Birdie is that she has this effortless way of making everything a gorgeous masterpiece. I swear she is from a different planet. One that is utopian and much higher than ours because let me tell you, she is otherworldly. Her voice is soft and gentle, yet has this understated fierceness about it. Her day-to-day words are poetry that deserve a Pulitzer Prize. To be more specific about her nature, as a baby she was nicknamed “Bluebird” because she would uncontrollably giggle while pointing at the birds chirping outside the kitchen window. Hence the name “Birdie”. Her outlook on life is unparalleled; it’s like she views it from a kaleidoscope. But I digressed.
Anyway, one night on her porch- or morning I should say since it was 2 AM, I asked her, “Serious question. I want the absolute truth.”
Her sleepy, grey eyes widened.
“Okay, hurry and ask. I’m nervous now. You know I hate that.”
“Well I’ve been dying to know.”
“Where is the one place you without a doubt want to travel to the most?”
Relieved by the lightness of my question, she responded, “I’m going to be honest with you. Ever since I was seven, I had this massive crush on Paris. I know it’s a cliché answer, but have you seen the pictures? It’s art.”
That night or morning on her porch at 2 AM, while talking about politics and music and conspiracy theories and our naive aspirations, illuminated by hazy streetlights and the moon, I ordered two plane tickets.
And so it goes, Birdie and I were strolling hand-in-hand last April in Paris, France. I was wearing the blue button down and some oxfords. She an undying smile and bewildered, sparkling eyes. The day began to delicately shift to night, revealing an inky blue sky. She was beautiful under the navy hues, but hell, she’s beautiful everywhere. We spent our days sightseeing, botching pronunciations of food while ordering at restaurants, meeting locals at quaint coffee shops, and creating. Birdie with a pen and paper. Me with a camera and my muse living her tangible dream. Birdie is an incredible writer and I’m savvy with a camera. You can just imagine the things we created. Over the course of our trip, we visited the Arc De Triomphe in all of its ornate beauty, ate gelato while walking by the Seine, and sat on a blanket underneath the Eiffel Tower. Our getaway was coming to an end, so we decided that our grand finale in the City of Lights should be a nice date. We left the Louvre and started walking to Le Fumoir, a quaint restaurant just a block away. As we walked, we were talking quickly and loudly about all the art we just saw in person. We were truly slap happy, and I felt invincible. In the midst of our excitement, I pulled out a cigarette from my back pocket and lit it.
“Maybe you shouldn’t smoke so much” she said quietly while staring at the ground.
“What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know, I just like to think that lungs should be fit enough for flowers to grow from them. And I want your lungs to grow flowers for a long time if that’s alright.”
“Okay, poet. Easy with the analogies.”
We both laughed, but that moment in particular stuck with me. If there’s one thing Birdie can do, it’s influence without aggression. I haven’t picked up a cigarette since.
We got to the restaurant and as previously mentioned, we stumbled through the pronunciations of French dishes while nervously laughing through flushed cheeks. That day, we had taken in so much. We couldn’t stop talking and laughing. I can’t remember all of our conversations, but I do remember how she looked in the dim candle light and the way I felt at home in a foreign place. After a few too many glasses of red wine, we decided to head back to our hotel. On our way out the door, Birdie jumped up and down with excitement because a street performer was playing his trumpet. Her little lavender dress now decorated with crimson wine spills bounced with her. She’s such a goof, but I guess clumsy mishaps like that happen when you’re just that full of life.
“La Vie En Rose! He’s playing my song! Hurry! Come on!” She yelled as she grabbed my hand and marched over to the street performer.
You see, I have this problem where I cannot for the life of me say no to her. Although there were people eating outside and pedestrians walking, she grabbed my hand and began to dance with me. After a few seconds, we became completely unaware of the fact that people were watching, or that other life even existed for that matter.
“Give your heart and soul to me, and life will always be la vie en rose” we sang in unison loudly and off key. As the song finished, our performance did as well. What’s funny is that we didn’t realize the spectacle of it all until afterwards. Pedestrians had stopped to take in our show, the people eating outside the restaurant cheered, and the street performer high five-d us. That night, we were unstoppable.
That is my most hauntingly beautiful and bittersweet memory. I never felt more alive than in that moment. If only I could go back, I’d—
BEEP BEEP BEEP
The minivan behind me lost its patience. I don’t blame them, the traffic jam did let up and I’m holding traffic I suppose. I can’t help it though, that memory is so vivid and everything hurts so badly. I’m still in a lot of pain and it’s been months since the whole incident. To this day, she’s the first thing I think of in the mornings and the last thing I think of at night. She was the motivation my apathetic, discouraged, starving-artist-self needed. She was my inspiration, my light. But I guess I got too comfortable. I hope more than anything that she can forgive me, but I understand if she can’t because I just can’t seem to forgive myself either.
We met for coffee on her porch about two months ago to “talk about everything” and “get closure”. The air was ominously chilly, and the sky was white and stark. Her oversized sweater kept falling off her frail shoulders and her inquisitive eyes were now glazed over with blankness. In the most soft and gentle voice that I’ve ever heard, she told me that she’s forgiven me. She kept her head down and her words brief, never once making eye contact. Knowing her, she’s probably compartmentalizing all the hateful things she truthfully wants to say to me. I know Birdie better than anyone else, and I know that she’s not the type of person to let her hurting heart tattoo words of bitterness onto someone else’s. I’m selfish, she’s selfless. That’s just the fact of the matter.
As I left her house on that cold day, I took one last look at her and all that she is. She is forever a masterpiece, even with her sallow skin and purple bags residing underneath those sweet grey eyes. In that very moment, I realized that our adventurous, passionate, and effervescent journey ends here.
On cloud eight.
Almost there, but not quite.