Once I walked into a public radio station in Pasadena and my entire world shifted as if I had stepped onto a pair of small, tectonic plates. The floor parted and I was thrust towards a sparkly-eyed woman posing as a receptionist behind a front desk. She was wearing a sweater and her hair rested on it like golden leaves on a field of summer grass.
I was so distracted by her, I almost gave her the organic juice I was hired to deliver to someone else in her office. After she paged the correct recipient, I bid her goodbye in what I thought was a casual kind of way.
A week later, I drove back to the front desk and asked for her phone number. She wrote it down on a yellow, sticky note and when I told her mine she said, “Stephen Phillips! Yes!” as if I had won a prize.
It was the space between the exclamation points that made me fall for her. The unsubtle path by which they wove their way through her entire body and imprinted themselves upon her cheekbones.
The following week, when I picked her up in one of the many neighborhoods of Los Angeles, she greeted me with a smile that would make a golden retriever question its occupation. She laughed when I complimented her and twirled around her tiny apartment looking for her keys. The awakened world, so it seemed, was reason enough for her to exist. With her as my admission ticket, I needed only hold on with the lightest of touch to find what lay ahead.
Sitting next to her in the theater off Sunset, watching the performance and then looking away to find her dark, piercing eyes beneath a veil of stage light, I intuitively realized I had come face-to-face with a woman who is open to the layered mystery that love brings. She who is familiar with swinging her heart’s door and stopping it so that it stays that way. One who, in the incoming night, throws open the windows of her soul with such abandon that you wake and turn to see her silhouette through the edges of the trees. You turn to find out where the light has landed.
I held on to those pieces of light long after the comedy show was over. I held them all the way back to her white-washed drive and potted plants like stepping stones. When I kissed her, I cradled her head should any more secrets spill out and into my jacket pocket.
Who was this woman without any bridge to cross? Who was she that cast a spell of kindness, that opened a door I need only walk through?
She told me in broadcast messages over the ensuing weeks. She spoke in Morse code rhythms under street lamps and in small cafes, her hands and elbows waving me forward like a traffic controller. As I saw more of her, her explanation points became prominent, consistent, easy to recognize. They became highlighted words I longed to bookmark within the novel of my life.
I realized, as she inched her face closer and closer, sometimes in public areas, sometimes by bodies of water, sometimes—I would come to adore—sitting on a bar stool like a queen avoiding her responsibilities, that I had never encountered something like this before in all my travels. I had never met someone who only blocked my path if she wanted to be kissed.
She kissed me like the plane was falling, and the ship was sinking, and the world was ending. There was urgency behind it, and presence. All this, and all I tried to do was rise and pay the bill.
I kept walking through. I walked with her alongside the river basin and the burgeoning streets of downtown Los Angeles. I walked with her to galleries where she blossomed into a child, and movie theaters where I saw the child start to grow. All the while, like a play without intermission, the door remained open and the curtain never closed.
Six weeks later, when she returned one of my voicemails, her plane having landed in New York, her mind preparing for play rehearsals while she wrapped her body in layers to combat the spring freeze, she said, “Of course I’m emotionally available. Is there another way to be? Besides, I only am because you are. You’re the one who brings it out of me.”
And there, in an instant, I had part of the answer.
I was open, too, I thought to myself as her plane flew back and forth between the two cities. it’s just that she overwhelmed me with such force I never thought to wonder about the impact I’d had on her.
When her New York play was over and we continued seeing each other, and we kept the lights on the porches of each other’s hearts for as long as it took to journey to the other, I knew that I had stumbled across more than just a tiny, earthbound tremor. Just as I experienced the quake that thrust me toward her in Pasadena, so now I carried that same disturbance every time I laid my eyes upon her.
I wanted to tell her that I could not shake her. I had seen enough of the world and she had won me over without changing an ounce of her being.
These were the thoughts I had as I prepared to see her perform that humid, summer evening. I had yet to see her on stage and I was to drive to the theater and celebrate with her after the show.
Then, she called me as she was leaving her apartment and asked to postpone our date. I could see the dry lightning in the distance. The show would go on, she said, but could we get together the following night instead?
Weeks later, when she moved on for good, she thanked me for being patient with her and sweet to her and I wondered if she could sense my invisible pair of outstretched arms. There is a kind of beauty in something that lets you in so quickly and shuts you out with the same precision.
Because of my encounter with her, I now understand that we are only as open as those we let inside. Somehow she sensed a like-mindedness in me, a twin pureness. There was a safe space to reveal secrets because they would be received and honored, not tossed away.
Somehow she trusted me with her heart from the very beginning of those timeless tremors.
I wonder, if I see her again in Los Angeles, if she will recognize in me a changed man who was her own doing and no one else’s.
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