I was driving down Sunset Blvd. The sun was beating in my eyes. I had forgotten my sunglasses at home and so I was squinting and having a hard time seeing in front of me. Traffic was thick and sluggish, adding to the problem. Right before the street takes that big dogleg left into Beverly Hills I caught a glimpse of a billboard advertising the movie Australia. It threw me into a daze. The car in front of me came to a stop and I almost hit it.
Like that, memories of her rushed back to me, overtaking my thoughts and sending me cruising through the past on a Thursday afternoon.
She was fashionably possessed by her own beauty. Everyone else was possessed by it too. Her Aussie accent was a delight to the ears. Her blond hair found a perfect home in Southern California and she was tanned perfectly by long days at the beach. She was athletic and her body was toned and tightened without need of pilates or fancy workouts.
She lived on the 22nd floor, near Westwood, and was always out on the balcony smoking clove cigarettes. Her condo had the best views of the sunset. When she was entertaining up there she held forth like queen of the city. I gladly allowed her the title.
At the bars and nightclubs she was dependably the first one out on the dance floor, shimmying around and throwing her hands towards the ceiling. Her spirit was contagious. It was impossible not to fall for her spell.
Some people are programmed into patterns and some people have no patterns at all, no programing. That was the way it was with her. She would disappear randomly, wouldn’t pick up the phone, wouldn’t call, only to reappear days later with tales of adventure that make Lewis and Clark’s memoirs seem blase. It was her signature magic act.
She was from the Outback in Northern Australia and used to chase dingos away from their farm when she was young. I remember the first time she told me that I laughed because I thought she was kidding. She was always kidding. Always laughing and illuminating the air around her. Everything came easy, everything she did was graceful. It tired her to think of money. And the issue never came up. Life was too interesting for that. Her worldview was untamed.
I wanted it for my own.
She believed she had the right to have fun and if you stood in her way she would barrel through you.
It was inspiring, even when you’re the one being bowled over.
There are three types of friends she lectured to me one evening. “Supposing they roll a joint and pop into the shower. You come over, find it and smoke it. One type of friend will come out in their towel and smell the clouds of smoke in the air and see you all giddy and guilty and throw a fit — they’re not a good friend. Another will come out and make a joke about it but not really be mad — that’s most of us. The third friend, and this a true friend, a rare brother or sister, will come out and say, ‘good, you found the joint I rolled for you’.”
We would talk about the novels we read, and love affairs we had. Our conversations were long, meandering rivers. We were never want for words. She had read Chekhov but found him too dreary. “That’s the point,” I argued, “we’re miserable creatures.” “Then why write about it?” I couldn’t give her a good answer and so I kept quiet. She laughed and cut some joke at my expense. Something to do with me knowing nothing about life. “That’s no joke,” I told her.
We create dust clouds looking for the place we want to stay.
We’re migratory animals always heading towards our hearts.
She had come to Hollywood to be a star but when things didn’t turn out ended up working in an organic food truck that set up outside the studios. It’s a typical story, but it was hers and she felt damn attached to it. I ate lunch there often and finally worked up the nerve to make some kind of move. I ordered a tofu wrap and a lemonade and we fell into talking about the super collider in France or something. It was a postcard kind of day in the city. Even in Hollywood I could smell the ocean on the air, that familiar salty breeze. The sky was delivered of any clouds and the sun smiled pleasantly.
I remembered I said something stupid like, “I just want to have dinner. I’m not looking for sex or anything like that.” “Why not?” She asked. Before thinking I quipped, “I find that there are usually too many crumbs on the table for making love.” I don’t know what made me say that and was expecting her to throw a bowl of kale in my face. A tense couple of seconds went by and then I heard that gorgeous laugh of hers and saw at least a dozen shiny white teeth flash in her mouth before she agreed to go out with me. And the rest was history, sort of.
One afternoon we were having tea by the water and she told me that no matter how old she gets she always wants to be excited to live. She seemed terribly depressed by the notion. About having to live. I’d never seen her like this. Her eyes followed a white sailboat out on the waves and I followed her eyes. I wanted to say something to make her smile. I would have jumped into a lake of fire if it would have made her laugh. “You have the most bewitching eyes,” I told her. “Vaster than this measly ocean. Containing more mystery. Your eyes are the Pacific. I want to drown in them over and over,” I breathlessly confessed.
She looked up and laughed.
A week later she told me she wanted to explore the world, she was tired of this city. We were on the balcony and Wilshire Blvd. was gridlocked, barely emitting a squeak 22 floors down, the mass of brake lights making it glow blood red. It was the first time I pondered how she could afford this condo. I was distracted by the thought and barely caught the tail end of her saying, “The plane leaves on Thursday.”
She told me it was a spiritual quest. That we all must travel through time to find our happiness. She said that it was fun while it lasted.
She told me she would write. That space and time can be conquered in this modern age. They have email in Europe, she joked.
I fell into a dark hole. No light came through. The city lacked its shine. The sky was coffin-gray. To find something so unique, invigorating, and alive and to lose it stung. Everyday at lunch I walked by her old food truck and it reminded me of her so much it made me sick. A new girl had taken her place in the window. I never went back. I ate at a shitty fast food restaurant instead. I’d taken to drinking coffee again even though it made me anxious and talk a lot.
Then one day I received an email and some picture from Paris, and then London and Reykjavik. Pictures of her in front of all the famous sights. Sticking her tongue at in front of Big Ben. Pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower. She wrote that she missed me but was having fun and learning a lot about herself. She smoked hashish in Amsterdam, jumped into a Brussels’s fountain. The letters were full of museums and dance clubs and restaurants. Life was great, she wrote. Work was never mentioned. She would always quote some great author at the end of the letter, as if that made her great.
I don’t know if she’s happy.
Who knows what the truth is. Of if it even matters. If you live a lie everyday won’t it eventually become the truth? Besides, our souls come alive when we project them onto the world, even if it’s a false projection. What good is some dusty thing you keep locked away in the attic?
And really, why should I care? I have my own time traveling to do. She had taught me a good lesson. I toughened up real fast. You have to look out for yourself.
The thing is, in the pictures there was always the same blurry finger in the upper-right corner, a close-up of some man’s fingerprint.
I don’t know if she never noticed this, or just didn’t care.