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A New Chapter

I watched them, drops of wounded child and unanswered prayers for love, fall gently from perfect brown eyes onto flushed cheeks. In those tears, tired and empty, I saw tiny snapshots of endless loss. I wanted to kiss them away, each one a barbed memory she didn’t deserve. In her courageous vulnerability, I found something I had sought for eternity. In all her messy, troubled past, I found the other part of my heart lost so very long ago.

The blue Vancouver sky hung above me as I walked along the seawall, listening to waves crash and bubble, trying to quiet the familiar voices screaming in my pounding head. An anxiety I thought long gone had returned with chest-tightening vengeance, and even my trusted mindless walking and deep breathing weren’t helping.

Soon the sweating, hot and dripping, would begin.

I stopped, resting up against the rough rock wall, and scanned the open water, aware my sandpaper eyes were weeping sadness. I had traveled countless, difficult miles, and accomplished more that I ever imagined possible. Regardless, the insatiable ghost of bitter self-criticism and nagging doubt lingered like a rusted anchor. Tired of dragging it around, I wanted to scream at the green-blue water.

My phone vibrated deep within my front pocket, and I already knew who it was. There was no turning back.

“Where are you? It’s almost time.”

I thought of replying with a glib text about changing my mind, but I owed her too much.

“Across the street. Be right there.”

Wendy, my agent — publicist — cheerleader, was all business when necessary. I loved her for it. A rare believer, she plucked me from underneath the rejection heap and rekindled a long forgotten dream. The work, hers and mine, finally paid off.

In previous lives, speaking to sizeable crowds was a simple second nature — an act I could pull off with unthinking ease. I learned early how to read a room, deftly crafting the perfect character from my vast chest of smoke-and-mirrors. Easier to pretend; I acted my way through several fake lives of perpetual lies and manipulative personas.

Even during my last ugly days of the old, dying me, hooked to wires, tubes, and monitors, I avoided the truth. When healthy enough to speak again, I still lied about attempting suicide on my late mother’s birthday. My dishonest, empty words ceased to matter, anyway. Nobody cared.

Now, 3 years later, many cared, and the persistent imposter inside me longed to poke holes in a distorted reality.

Inside the pristine washroom, just before the ballroom, the faux opulent fixtures suited me. I freshen up, but remained ghostly sallow. I saw it on my face — the traced loneliness across wrinkled cheeks, and fading color of tired lips. The coming true of a lifelong dream waited feet beyond the heavy, gold door, but I wasn’t sharing it with anyone.

Sobriety, healing, and continued therapy had changed my life immeasurably, but never changed that. I was and always would be alone.

“Thank God,” Wendy said. “Don’t do that weird shit to me. Jesus, we got almost 300 people here.”

“I’m ready. Sorry.”

“They’re going to introduce you. Just smile, sit in the big chair to the right of Phillip. A bookmarked copy of your book, is on the table.”

Phillip Chastin was the host of the TV show My Canadian Book Nook. Hired by Wendy to conduct a fireside chat of sorts with me, I sensed his disdain during our meet and greet. He liked the hefty fee. But my book? Not so much. Stuffy, judgmental, and drunk with literary uppity, we both knew this was merely transactional. I promoted my book, and he got paid to feign tepid interest.

It went as well as it could. People clapped on cue, and Phillip grin-screwed me — nodding his head and smiling at my answers while his eyes told me I should go screw myself.

I didn’t care.

I had become preoccupied with her.

Despite considerable distance and bad lighting, her dark eyes captivated me. They connected with mine, each glance her way a lightening bolt. Twice, I snapped focus back to Phillip’s patronizing platitudes and condescending questions just in time.

As the runners moved throughout the room with cordless microphones, I noticed her standing and waiting for her turn.

“Mr. Carson,” she said. “I just wanted to tell you how much I loved your book. You probably don’t remember me, but we communicated online a few years back. You commented on my poetry and told me it touched your heart. Well, I was in town when I saw this book reading, and I just wanted to come and say this book touched my heart.”

Her voice, the deep southern drawl, rocked me and I knew exactly who she was. Everything else in the room disappeared.

“You’re Jamie Calhoun,” I said.

“You remember me?”

“Of course, I do.” My voice quivered. “How’s your writing going, I would love to read more?”

“Well, I ain’t been writing much. I’ve been in poor health and just can’t seem to get going again.”

5 minutes and countless questions and answers later, Phillip thankfully stepped in and wrapped up the session. I accepted the well wishes from Wendy, who went off schmoozing and shaking hands.

My important book launch, a long-imagined event I dreamed of for years, became inconsequential and I gravitated to the only person I wanted to talk to.

When we finally stopped walking, the fading sun had slipped behind the surrounding mountains and the sparkling lights of the city took over. Hours of deep, personal conversation passed gentle and easy between us, effortless and natural.

I looked up toward the hotel’s top floors, pointing to one particular corner window.

“That’s me,” I said. “Way up there in the corner. I can see the entire city from that window.”

“I’d like to see that.”

When I pressed 32 inside the elevator, the doors closed, and I kissed her. She pushed my arms above my head and pinned me hard against the mirrored wall, kissing me back and pressing her hips against me. She sucked me into another dimension.

I fumbled, grasping the gray key card as we banged from wall to wall down the wide hallway, her hands making quick work of my loose shirt’s small buttons. Once stumbling ungracefully inside, I let go, turning myself over to her. I wanted to be taken.

As she moved on top of me, my vision slowed and I drifted into her eyes, swimming deeper inside as our bodies did the same. I couldn’t get deep enough, and I ached for more of her. She arched back, breaking our stare, and we shared powerful eruptions of raw togetherness… hers onto mine, and mine into her.

Rolling onto the bed, our faces met, her blonde hair wet and messy across her beautiful face. As I kissed her open lips, softly sucking the top one between mine, something settled inside. I realized, laying next to her, there were no voices in my head and the anxiety that paralyzed me earlier left. The warm peace in my heart settled me.

“Well… that just happened,” I said.

I felt her hand touch mine, and while I twirled my fingers into hers, she started laughing. Soon we both were.

“I’ve never done that before,” she said, turning to stare at the off-white ceiling.

“Sure, I believe you.”

“No,” she said. “I mean, I never literally jumped a man like that in my life.”

“Lucky damned me,” I said.

Nobody ever looked at me like that. Laying there, staring at each other in comforting silence, I was home.

I recognized it right away. Night terrors. The thrashing, crying out, sweating, and swinging fists. Someone else might have panicked, but I’d been there so many times myself I simply waited.

When she stopped, I touched my palm to her cheek, allowing my thumb to trace down her nose and touch her dry lips. Her tearful eyes opened, and she put her soft hands over her face.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

It was 4:30am when we finished talking. We’d shared a lot during those 3 days, but in those final few hours, we bared our souls, shared our stories, and held each other. In witnessing each other’s pain, we saw ourselves.

I watched them, drops of wounded child and unanswered prayers for love, fall gently from perfect brown eyes onto flushed cheeks. In those tears, tired and empty, I saw tiny snapshots of endless loss. I wanted to kiss them away, each one a barbed memory she didn’t deserve. In her courageous vulnerability, I found something I had sought for eternity. In all her messy, troubled past, I found the other part of my heart lost so very long ago.

She stood, bent down, and kissed my forehead. I knew what it meant. In all the emotional connection, honest words, and human healing, I forgot she was leaving.

“I better pack, baby.”

I looked away. I couldn’t speak.

As I listened to the shower, my chest pounded, and mind raced. It was the same desperation I would experience during my days of alcohol dependency, knowing I would die if I couldn’t find a drink. She was an addiction, and the panicked desperation scared me to the roots of my soul.

They say God works in mysterious ways, but I had experienced no spiritual connection to any higher-power. Agnostic, I’d prayed often, but always in that desperate crying for help — poorly disguised, childish pleading.

And then it happened.

In an instant, I knew everything. A lifetime of unease and constant searching ended. I heard the miracle from deep inside my trembling heart.

Jamie stood, the plush white towel tied snuggly across her breasts as she looked at me sitting on the edge of the bed. I let my head drop into her stomach as she came to me, running her fingers through my hair. I reached for her hands, took them in mine, and slid to my knees.

“What are you doing? I have to leave in 20 minutes or I’ll miss my plane.”

“Miss it,” I said. “It will change your life.”

I fixed my eyes on hers, trying to send my immeasurable love through the air and into her. She didn’t look away, but something moved, twisting and processing in her soulful, watering eyes. I went on.

“Baby, there are only rare, special moments in life when all the bullshit questioning, paralyzing doubt, and nagging fear disappear, leaving behind a striking, simple truth and knowingness that something is perfectly right.”

“Don’t…” she started.

“This is right. We are right. Sweet girl, I didn’t just fall in love with you these past few days. I’ve been in love with you my whole life — searching in all the wrong places. Finding you is the miracle of my life. I’ve known it from the first second I saw you all that time ago, and after these amazing days together, I can’t let you go again.”

I poured my heart out in those 15 pleading minutes. All of it, breaking it into a thousand pieces — scattering them like desperate flower-petals at her naked feet. It was my soul, laid bare in complete vulnerability.

It wasn’t enough.

A part of me died when she left. As the heavy hotel room door closed, sealing itself with a loud, heartless click, her last words floated around my emptied head for hours. An unbearable sadness descended and rested heavy on my tired shoulders.

“I love you,” she said. “But I just can’t.”

Nothing more. Nothing less.

“I just can’t.”

As Skip chased another seagull off the low-tide beach, I leaned back against the bumpy driftwood log and closed my eyes. I could feel the fall, the distinct dip in temperature and subtle change of wind direction. I couldn’t believe 3 months had passed since Jamie left me sitting on that hotel room floor.

In the weeks that followed, I tried to contact her with the information I had, to no avail. I wrote lovesick poems, scribbled copious amounts of lunatic prose about heartbreak and sorrow, and spent more tear filled evenings under the mocking summer stars than I’d like to admit.

But, I survived. At some point, acceptance settled on my shattered heart, and I could feel some gratitude that it had gifted me the opportunity to experience a type of love few ever do — regardless of how briefly.

Time, as time does, changed my perspective, but it would never change a fundamental truth now rooted deep inside forever. I loved her… damn; I loved her. Every word that spilled from my heart that day remained as true as it was then. Perhaps others would think me pitiful, but my heart saw it all differently. I had found the love of my life and being with her or not wouldn’t change that.

Skip snapped me back to the present, his wet nose poking at my exposed ankles. He knew my schedule better than me, and we walked toward the cottage, him keeping perfect step. It was time for me to write and for him to stretch out on the old couch and sleep.

As we rounded the winding dirt path, he bolted — another bird, or likely the long-tailed rat I’d noticed running under the shed door a week before.

“Skip,” I yelled. “Leave it, boy!”

I saw his tail wagging on the cottage’s deck, and I plodded up the 25 rock steps, shaking my head.

“What are you after, boy?”

I stopped at the bottom of cottage’s wooden steps.

“Hey, baby.”

There, in the shitty swing I had made to occupy myself when I first returned home from Vancouver, she sat, her crooked smile rising to dance with her soft cheeks. Her eyes, those deep pools of beautiful peace, sparkled in the morning sun.

I couldn’t move, but she came to me, floating down the steps to throw her arms around my neck, kissing me with the gentleness of an Angel.

“I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “I couldn’t tell you why I couldn’t stay that day. But, I can now, and if you’ll have me, I’d like to tell you everything.”

“I… don’t know what to say, I…”

“You don’t have to say anything,” she said. “I locked away every beautiful word you said in my heart — kept them, treasured them, and replayed them over and over each day. Sweet man, I’m ready to love you.”

“I’ve been ready to love you my whole life,” I said.

As we kissed, a bald eagle soared into the rising sun, and the tide inched its way back in, bringing new treasures, exposing new life, and smoothing the sand for a new chapter to be written.

David Sales is a Canadian essayist, fiction and nonfiction short story writer, and poet.

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