February 9, 2015
There is an extreme distinctness about this that feels crazy, a deja vu, a primordial warning ... the tired kind that still hasn't relented after all this time, sighing and flagging the situation, in vain, as dangerous, knowing all the while that I will walk right into it anyhow. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I asked myself what the fuck I was doing, at least 57 times on that drive.
The French back country road wound around and between the trees like a rubber band, slinging us forward into the darkness; the night ominous and vacant, the chill of midnight February air held still - all of our surroundings in a time capsule, frozen at bay. The remnants of what could hardly be classified as a town, scattered and long since abandoned. With no street lamps, the only movement - the stark shadows of tall trees cast in the car’s high beams before us as we crept onward.
“Um,” I leant forward to better see the driver’s GPS from the back seat, squinting in the blackness to make out the directions, and then up towards the eerie abyss in front of us. “It’s saying that the house is just up this road a bit, right?” I bit my lip, glancing nervously at the calm faces of the strangers beside me as the silver four door sedan climbed forward.
A German, an Austrian, an Indonesian and an American. All strangers headed to different places in the name of some common direction, inhabiting the same car, brought together by chance and convenience. I had shared cars with so many strangers before but on this February midnight on this uninhabited, pitch black country road, I wondered again if this was all some elaborate scam to kidnap and eat me. I looked down at my dead phone, pressing the center button repeatedly and willing it to come alive. Dead. I was alone.
I had never met the woman they were delivering me to, and the notion that they were all in on the scheme together crept its way up the back of my throat. Maybe there would be a ritualistic sacrifice and field burning and I’d melt away into a pile of smoke and ashes without anyone knowing where I had disappeared to. I would never be found again.
I thought of Steve, having only left him 8 hours ago in Paris, of his gloved hands on my cheeks, his misty blue eyes, holding tears captive behind a penetrable film of glass, piercing right into mine. I had stood for a long while on the corner of that street in the grey morning, after our goodbye, watching the blue double decker bus that ripped us apart, taking him back to London and leaving me to head south- further into the belly of France. The warm face I had come to know so well disappeared behind black tinted windows as his bus rolled forward, but I could feel his palm pressed against the window looking back out at me, and the tears ran down my wind burned cheeks, freezing against cracked skin as soon as they slipped.
Sometimes you fall in love all at once - reckless and face first. But most of the time, you fall slowly - a collection of moments, a tangle of yarn starting with a simple twist, braided strands weaving together, until you wake to find that you are so completely knotted in one another that there's no foreseeable way to pull back apart. And that’s how it was for me with him. Slowly but inevitably, like the trickling of a downward stream.
The right side of my head, pressed to the cool back seat window, left a foggy halo of condensed haze against the glass. Rolling, French hills raced past us; the cacophony of German, Austrian, and Indonesian language hummed about the car, a swirling buzz, leaving me in a dazed sort of state outside of time. Beyond the glass, the world outside was magic. It was one of those setting skies that seizes you whole instantly. The kind of light that pierces the clouds tangibly, forcing you to resist every urge to reach out and touch it. And you just know that Heaven is looking down upon you in that glow. Someone has to be. The metal windmills, scattered across vacant fields, churned on in its presence and it struck me as odd that we would ever think to harness such forces with something as powerful as that sky so far from our control. I didn’t reach for my camera or my journal. I just sat, inevitably going south as Steve traveled north, watching those three fluorescent vapor trails scorching the sky. Tiny but powerful like rockets blazing on. And I knew wherever he was, he was watching them too.
“I think this is it,” The driver, Phillip, announces as the wheels slow in a steady rumble against the gravel.
Fingers on the door handle, I squinted out into the darkness as the sedan came to a halt, and could just make out the silhouette of two figures aside the road waving, a weak light straining through tall hedges behind them, casting warped, slender, giant-like shadows stretching out towards us against the road. Taking a deep breath, I thank these strange travelers, open the backseat door and get out.
Phillip follows first, exiting the driver side door, making his way to the trunk. Startled, I turn back to the car as the passenger door opens, as well as the remaining backseat door. Exit the German, the Indonesian, and the Austrian. This was it- they were all in on it - this plan to burn me alive. One by one, they each hugged the strange French woman who I was about to spend the next few months of my life with, took my bags from the trunk and gathered round her and her boyfriend like they were saying goodbye to old relatives. (Or Hello to partners in crime.) I thanked them each again, kindly and urgently, willing them to go before this did in fact turn into some ancient deity sacrifice. They seemed hesitant to leave and I wasn’t sure which I was supposed to be more afraid of - my deliverers or my welcomers...