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CollaborationFOUR Competition

"Just Like That" by Kathleen Williams
inspired by "Turning Point" by Shari Cerney

 

"Glance into the world just as though time were gone and everything crooked will become straight for you."        Friedrich Nietzsche

 

I didn't know I was sleeping as I worked and lived and played and prayed and cried, but I was.

Or, more accurately, I was sleepwalking through a hazy taffeta dusk for years, nodding my head to answer questions from a life that wasn't even listening. I didn't notice because I'd been paling and losing my color so slowly and for so long, pouring it into someone who swallowed it whole without savoring the flavor of it, without feeling its warm pinks and cool blues or the burgundy lifeblood that carried it.

I'd often had a recurring dream, even as a child,  that I could breathe underwater, through a translucent aqua pool, pervasive and fearless. Then, through life and over time, my breath became more shallow,  with exhales sometimes long and arduous and empty. I wanted to breathe again, effortlessly, like inside my imagined crystal sapphire water. I wanted to feel myself coursing in and under my liquid air, not just in pieces or moments, but all the time inhaling and exhaling life and staying in the middle of it, allowing  oxygen inside of me at will and releasing it KNOWING there would be more than enough for the next breath, and the next. My shallow breathing was that of the shadowed white blankets of sleep, keeping me barely here, alive but not vibrant, not living.

The real me had always been a kaleidoscope, a fluttering silver green leafy canopy over a torrid crimson heart,  lemon chiffon custard oozing into violet laughter. My precious purples and blues had always flowed in and out of me like waterfalls, washing my blood and sweat and then swirling them back into me, reabsorbed, important, and purposeful. These were all being stolen from me in parts so tiny I didn't notice, because I still had color inside of me and around me, an aura more than most, perhaps. I looked for life and found it in my children and my friends and my work. There just wasn't enough light around me, over me, or inside me to reflect the shimmer and depth and dimension that real color has. I kept my eyes open, always trying to see and feel more. I kept them open, no matter my exhaustion from searching for the iridescence I was missing. But, as it turns out, it wasn't my eyelids that were blinding me. My life was.

I had known love, so I knew that I'd lost it, but my search for it to return was so relentless and so focused that I set real life aside to complete my quest. My then husband became a memory of love lost in the black-green jungle of mental illness. I labored a crusade through that wilderness long enough to become disconcerted with its cyclic disorientation and his increasing lack of commitment to go into the light, and then could only barely rescue myself in the end...not the victory I had worked for. What was left of me looked ashen, was confused and slightly broken.

In this, my next life, I seek art before order, now before later, pleasure before work, and color for my drab canvas. My divorce is official, and I have mentally buried it in two different coffins. The smell and taste and sound of the end of a 35-year marriage is a death-haunted by cellophane ghosts. These are not the powdery specters of reminiscing and yearning and lamenting that one feels when a loved one is missed.  A cellophane ghost is to be kept at a distance. It is difficult to see,  so is always just one inhale away from wrapping itself around you and blocking your airway. I 've imagined these ghosts of the final 15 years of my marriage buried in a nonporous coffin of grey stainless steel because I do not mourn the loss of that life. In this way, no more of my own color or the color of the first 20 years can be sucked in.

Conversely, the more distant phantoms of the first 20 years of my marriage are remembrances of my first love and nurturing father to our beautiful children. Those ghosts should be kept in a rich mahogany coffin so that I can remember them and breathe them in from time to time. These cherished spirits could come and go organically through the pores of what was once a living tree until all fond memories were absorbed into present life. 

Embracing my freedom and aloneness simultaneously, I discovered that there was me and then there was me in relationships--my friends, my family, my colleagues. Giving and receiving love is a part of me, I have discovered, that is necessary to make me whole. So, dating was the missing piece to the puzzle and, I had automatically assumed,  from where all the color needed to come. One significant reason for dating online, I know, was my need to anonymously explore the world of dating, explore men, explore myself. I needed to find my color again, and since lost love had drained me of it, I was sure that an intimate romantic relationship was the only way to replace it.

Post-divorce, my quest was to find a long-term relationship. That was the only way I knew how to date, the way I had done it 35 years ago. I had lost my color within my marriage, so I wanted to have the sense that the person I would click on, chat with, then date would be able to travel and take me with him where there would be lots of color--the red and white wines of Italy, the classic grey stone structures of Greece and the azure blue waters of the Adriatic Sea in Croatia. My problem, I'd decided, was that I needed to find a mate to complete me. I needed a man to hand me color, his color, so that I could use it since mine was gone.

I didn't wear any masks,  so there was no fear of some great reveal of who I am. It turned out to be pretty easy, really, and always a tour of myself in some regard. I had been seeing myself the same way for so long that my perspective was kind of stuck, like an old door, squeaky and awkward and noticeable at first. Every encounter with a stranger oiled the hinges a little bit more, opened the door to who I am so that I could look inside along with someone who was trying to assess me.

I made the decision to enter the world of online dating honestly, in "currently separated" status. I'd considered lying and calling myself "divorced"  since I'd certainly felt divorced after moving out eight months prior, but decided that revealing a lie upfront on a first date might set a precedent for being dishonest in general, so I didn't. At the time, I was setting out on a journey to find someone to be with, remain with, grow with for the rest of my life. Externally,  I created and found pictures that I thought might show different sides of me. Look! I can be funny, spontaneous! .....Oh, look at me here. I am sophisticated, formal!......Look at this one. It shows I am a traveler!   I wrote a short bio about what I was looking for, what I like to do, what I aspire to do, etcetera. I talked about myself, my potential partner, answered questions about family, career, my dog, and my zodiac sign, and on and on. Me...in a dating nutshell, listed like a product online.

Internally, though, I knew that I didn't really know what I wanted. I knew more about what I didn't want. The assumption, of course, if nothing else, was that I wanted a man who would give me life and then keep me alive. I'd decided I needed a long-term relationship so that I could feel the fireworks of what I'd once felt--the sparkling psychedelic explosions that I knew could be found in an attraction to the opposite sex.  I sifted through the beige sands of boring nerds, wallowed through the black mud of emotionally damaged and paranoid cynics, looked under the shell of perfect appearance, sorted through the "never married," "widowed," "divorced" and "currently separated" categories of 45-60-year-old males. I jumped in and out of the fires of bad boys and clicked past bald or long-haired, shirtless or tattooed, too fat or too thin, rich or poor, looking for someone who was full of the color I craved.

After reading enough online profiles to fill the pages of a novel, I could ascertain that attraction must be the floodgate to opulent surges of color. I was counting on someone else pouring their color over me, and I had to make my best guess at who this would be.  "Chemistry " had seemed like a buzzword from the 80's until I experienced it firsthand. Really, there's no escaping chemistry in the world, and there's no fighting or forcing the most basic elements of existence. I'm not a science expert, but it doesn't take a scientist to understand this. It just takes a first date.

Success, I'd decided, would be measured by whether or not he would stay with me forever since, if he left, the color would go with him. I was sure of it. I was looking for a man whose passion red would spill over into mine, whose yellows would brighten my world, whose blues would splash me in the face and whose greens would give me life again because my color, I'd assumed was gone never to return. Since  I'd wanted, needed, someone to share his color with me, I looked for someone who had a lot of color to spare. I stayed away from men more than 5 years older because I worried that their desire to travel and create might be fading. I avoided those more than 5 years younger because they would have young children to raise, and their children would need their warm blushes and bright golds to be a priority. I deleted mail from men who appeared to bathe themselves in the sepia tones of life.

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My first date was Brad who had worked his way through two divorces. I 'd decided that I would always offer to split the bill on my first dates. Brad was a nice guy. We talked. We laughed. There were moments of silence. It was safe and simple with light brown conversation, just pleasant to be out to dinner with a man's attention and enough for a first date. The eggplant parmesan was delicious. The bill came when I was in the washroom. I was quite ready to leave, but when I realized he had paid, I mentioned I'd intended to split the bill with him, and still wanted to. Brad, who had obviously had a better time than I'd had, smiled and said "next time".  I responded with, "Well, I really wanted to split the check with you this time." Brad got the message, I'd made my debut into the world of dating, and the pale yellow color of a waiting room was the color of the evening. He walked me to the parking lot. We hugged.

I liked Rick number one, as a person and a conversationalist. He was an engineer with a gentle spirit, and the evening with him was tan, practical and warm. We talked intellectually; we laughed, he shared how lonely he was with no kids, no wife, and no one to help him spend his multitudes of money. He'd insisted on paying. We had barbecued ribs and drank beer, and he walked me to the valet. No hug. No kiss. The next day, he texted me, "I don't think our dating could work out. There is too much distance between us, and that would make it hard to be spontaneous." I had already forgotten his name.

Rick number two was intense, coloring the date a chartreuse green that matched nothing, but screamed anything. Our phone conversation had been lively, and he had been fun to talk to and was very excited to meet me. The pictures he'd posted were of hiking in Austria, camping in California, and other such adventures. The problem was, they had all been snapped at quite a distance. Close up, I didn't even recognize him OR the funky way he smiled and nervous way he got in my face when he talked. He looked like a turtle to me, sticking out his neck to communicate.  Dinner was upscale and lovely, and I ate while Rick number two talked and talked and talked about himself and his job. When I just couldn't bring myself to feign interest anymore, I stopped responding, and he got the message. I'm guessing it was not a new message. He left me with a kiss on the cheek at the restaurant door before I bolted to my car.

Steve was a semi-attractive Greek accountant who didn't find it necessary to go out a lot because once a week "I go to the neighbor's" for dinner. I mean, it's a free meal."  Steve was the color of oatmeal. I grabbed the waitress and paid so I could go home.

Bob was portraying himself as athletic and adventurous, posting pictures of himself bicycling, running in a marathon and golfing, none of which revealed that he was more like 5'7" than the 5'10" height he had claimed to be. He'd had an attractive face which came up often as a potential match. One day, he sent me a not-so-irresistible message, "So, ready to meet?" I said ok, and we did. Drinks were ok, but when he walked me to my car, he got in and sat down to "talk" which, translated, meant a terribly orchestrated kiss and attempted groping.  I said goodbye....then "ghosted" him the next time he messaged.

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So, there I was with another attractive stranger. His name was Gary.  I was very late to this meeting, and his response to my finally arriving was sweet, tender even, and slightly admonishing with a grin that removed any angst that might have (probably should have) been there. He pulled out my chair and the "interview" began. He has done this much more than I have, I thought. We started at the bar. At one point, in retrospect, I know exactly when he made a decision to make it dinner. Smart move,  I know now. Things were going well and conversation felt easy between us. We were pretty obviously both attracted and enjoying each other's company, and I guess was passing the interview with flying colors---or at least enough for the follow-up interview. He certainly was. Every online dater knows that there's nothing worse than enduring a dinner on a date that makes you want to be home curled up with your dog on the couch. He graciously asked if I were hungry and secured a table for us upstairs where it was a quieter ambiance and more conducive to intimate conversation. I asked him to go first up the stairs to show I could be just slightly assertive, slightly flirty. I told him it was so I could watch him (when actually I really just didn't want to lead). This made him smile unexpectedly, so it made me smile, too.

We sat in a booth... which meant we could see each other straight on, and in a more discriminating light. I had started this night, just another first date, in the same way, smiling, making my own interesting fun with no real expectation. I was enjoying the people and experiences in my grasp: pieces of conversation all around me, white tablecloths, our bustling, animated waiter who made a joke about being able to tell this was our first date. There were black jackets over arms, berry lipstick, lime-garnished drinks, the aroma of grilled steak and stories all around me. The clatter, the laughter, and the movement of heels across hardwood filled the room with sound. What I wasn't expecting was his pure enjoyment of my interaction with other people. I caught him looking at me, smiling on several occasions: when I was laughing with the bartender, thanking the hostess who seated us, then later, bantering back and forth with our witty and lovable waiter. He could tell a lot about a date, he told me later, by how she treated everyone other than himself. More good advice, I thought- not only from an experienced dater, perhaps, but more from having experience with people in general. It was wisdom that I found so endearing that I had to make a special place for it in my brain. He was gracious, always, never missing a beat.  Was this a persona that he consciously tried to project?  Was this guy ever really caught off guard? I decided that it didn't matter to me right then. We shared stories of our past online dating experiences, really just quips of incidences or bizarre moments. I explained how Brad's response had been "next time" regarding the bill, and how I had to explain that there wouldn't be a next time, and this made Gary laugh.

In the reality of the moment, within all of the sound that made up this setting, this public place, the universe whispered only through him, through the apricot chestnut skin that moved his face and ruddy lips in a voice too quiet for anyone else to hear, but that wrapped me in its vivid volume. Like an old song on the radio, it carried a subliminal message, not a cerebral one, a vibration so clean that it needed no filter for me to process it. I could hear everything from him without effort. His voice didn't travel just to my ears like other voices did to be sorted, processed and understood. It penetrated me, and I tasted it, absorbed it like my glass of oaky red wine, my peppery filet and the tiny bursts of tangy round tomatoes in my salad. His resonance soaked in, sweet and savory and complete. It cooled me in azure; it warmed my skin in rich sienna brown; I could feel my whole face brighten from the radiance around our table. When suddenly a flirtatious look came into his face, and he leaned back and folded his hands, he was outwardly confident. "So, what do you think, Eve? Would you like to go on a second date?"

I stared at him across the table, then, and  I saw eyes so sincere, and so playful all at once, they relaxed me, and, just like that, I remembered what it felt like to smile from every part of myself and raise my consciousness above the beige of life. "I really, really would," was all I articulate, but it was enough. Really, what else was there to say? He'd known the answer, after all, before he'd asked me.  So, when the check came, and I offered to split it with him in keeping with my first date policy, he said, "next time." And, of course, we both smiled because he was showing me that he listens, pays attention, and had made it to a level that Brad had not. And every moment was like that with him from that point forward. He always heard me, remembered the details of what I'd said, noticed nuances of my candor, my expressions, my moods that no one else had. He handled me in a way that taught me things about myself, made me love things about myself that I still embrace.

 

We left the restaurant, me mentally poring all over everything, messy and real and inspired, and him with his hand on my back, gently claiming me for the brief walk to the restaurant exit, a serious expression on his face that was confident yet still so fragile somehow in its focus. "I'll walk you to your car."

 Then we were standing there, next to my car and the life I came there with, empty water bottle in my cup holder, bag of clothes on the back seat and a makeup brush on the floor that hadn't fit in my little black purse in my rush here, to what I'd expected to be a simple and convivial evening.

As we stood there in our winter coats in the green-grey foaminess of dusk, the occasional person passing by in the dimly lit parking lot, I expected he would kiss me goodnight by my car. Even though this is pretty common practice for most men when the date has gone well, there is sometimes an awkward moment when I am not sure how much to assume. Somewhere between a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a kiss, I felt like I may have been ruining the chance for a kiss by leaning in for a hug, so I just asked.

"Oh.....were you giving me a real kiss?"

"If you'll let me."

Only our lips touched, so soft and sweet at first, it was like water touching air, ocean mist rising with no actual force, just a suggestion, really. Then warm, pink flesh melted into something so natural that it moved and changed on its own while he placed his hands carefully on my ribs where he could surf the waves of my lungs filling and emptying so that we both felt more grounded. At first, I gasped because my breath caught and stopped until whatever was there growing between us and around us took my breath completely away, then, like a miracle, began breathing for me--all of this, all of it, happening in just an innocent kiss.

Even though I could see it, I never actually felt the weight of his arm on my shoulder. It lay there so gently just so that his open hand could cup my head and safely hold me while I floated in the deep blue water I had missed so much. This was the water I'd dreamed about, I was sure, and now my prophesied ability to breathe under it seemed fulfilled and genuine.  This was my rebirth into the world for whatever it had waiting for me. Warm waves moved down my neck, through my arms into my hands that dared reach out to his firm low back while his breath moved across my neck, moving strands of my hair with the spirit of it.

Everything was there: my feet and hands, my torso and my face,  but I couldn’t get close enough to him to feel any of them, and I knew that all the life, all the answers, all the colors were coming from somewhere inside him. They swirled around inside my brain, and when I found the center, the vortex, I could let everything just be, right there, just like that...and I did. ...too perfect for thought or measure, too cryptic for words or definition. Just like that, I woke up to the full whipped cream moon behind his now-shadowed face, a light that was bright, but not blinding, a glow inside, outside, and around me. He was an alarm clock whose sound is ocean waves--not blaring at me, but surrounding me. I could see light and color with closed eyes and open ones, suddenly so aware of what the universe was doing and so unaware of anything else.

Noses touching, we both smiled, knowing that this beauty was for our understanding only, knowing that for the world around us we were just two ridiculous adults kissing goodbye in a parking lot.

"You're in trouble," he exhaled, still smiling. "You're exquisite, Eve. Brains and beauty. Wow. You're beautiful....and a great kisser."

"Well, it takes two people to kiss." And I meant it. So, this is chemistry, I thought. We needed to go back to our lives separately, which seemed all at once impossible because something would be different now. My life had permanently changed, and I would not leave it in any parking lot. I would wear the happiness like a perfume--all over my skin, enhanced by my own body heat, an invisible but detectable part of me to be applied daily just because I now know that it is available, attainable, and mine. I would paint my life across everything I touched, and then relish it, messy and beautiful.

In the real world, we continued to date, miss each other, see each other, send flirty texts, plan our time together and enjoy each other. I believed we were also learning about each other and learning about ourselves. In these days and months, my color deepened. Sky blues swirled into deep indigo moments, and ballet pinks ran true underneath the fuchsias and reds of fully-lived occasions. This turning point in my second life was a place I had journeyed never to return, a canvas already painted, brushed and stroked into being with its own life force for me to tour and remember and revel in.

I felt his color and added it to mine.  I heard his tender voice inside and outside of my skin. I bathed and floated in him, and my raft was his whisper. And in this new normal that he made for me, I trusted that he knew what I knew about what is real and what is pretend, and I thought we'd had no choice, no decisions. But, I was wrong, because there are always choices and, as per life, making them doesn't necessarily make the best things happen. The saturated pigment was ultimately released from my hands, but, endless, is still there, is still mine.

We weren't cut apart, didn't erase each other or explode into tiny remnants of the psychedelic fabric that was the truth of us. The color of us remained true in memory, as if it were still usable, which is exactly why it wasn't. What we had created was sifted away through tiny holes of time and space and circumstance, some true and some false. I took up space on his timeline, made him smile and feel genuine and better, somehow. But, I wasn't enough...or I was too much. The intensity was real, and some people are afraid of where it might lead. I, for one, could have handled the brilliance, but I am made of color.  I know it was my color that changed and developed the most because I no longer fear life's prisms.

Now, awake and alone with myself in the phosphorescence, the light is intense for just me without his shadow, without his shade. My polychromatic canvas is exposed, and not yet used to the exposure. When the flames of memory burn my eyes, I simply close them to cool the orange heat that leaks from my lids until I know they will cool themselves, and they do. I use the warmth that remains to inspire me and move me forward. I still try to stay awake, to see what others see. I call the cool blue of my water to soothe me, and it pours through my hair and drips to my neck, reminding me that I can breathe air and water both. My value is more recognizable to me now. A stained glass background follows me, and I see it. Every day more pink is in my cheeks and more emerald is in my eyes, more turquoise water flows through my reflection, more magenta is in my voice, and my walk is more fluid and upright. I am headed somewhere better, winding, rolling and unknown. There are many reasons for this. Reentering the world of relationships is one.

I am adjusting to this new blazing context because my kaleidoscope deserves to be seen, the essence that is me. So, I throw my head back to embrace the heat, and I let it warm me. I practice breathing within my watery blue air, letting it cool my exposed face, a resplendent white, keeping available space for new hues, other palettes. I open my arms to others who can really see my variegated color and let it drip off of me like honey, sweetening their lives with my own for their desire to be near me. All the confetti of life surrounds me, pieces of color follow me and come from me, and I welcome them. I know now that color has to be seen to exist, so I show my pigment, mix it with air and water and paint my life with it. Gary is no longer in my life, and I see now that he was never the source of my color,  I will always be grateful to him for seeing it and pointing it out to me. Now, when I sleep, it is to become more awake, to replenish my rainbow with even more vitality and brilliance so that I myself can always see it. I might never know why he chose to wake me, to bring my colors into being again, but that's ok. He was my turning point. I am back. I am awake now. Just....like.....that.     

Words and Brushes

located in California, USA

art.team@wordsandbrushes.com

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