As the plane rose higher, the sun poked its brilliant face out from behind the clouds and sparkled on the water far, far below.
I love flying. There’s nothing more fascinating and awe inspiring to me than to be floating above the world, on my way to some new adventure. I fight for that window seat like an excited child, so that I can watch the magic unfold. I know that flying isn’t really magic—like everything, it has a very practical and logical basis which allows us to traverse oceans and mountain tops as if we’re strolling down to the corner shop for milk and the newspaper of a Sunday morning.
But like everything practical and logical, although it may not be magic, it is magical—and I try hard not to forget that.
The best test for how truly magical something is, is how quickly it reveals the important things; and this day in the air, the revelations came thick and fast.
I was shaken from my quiet reverie by a wave of bone-rattling turbulence. A part of me loves these bumps in the road—perhaps it’s the adrenaline, or the reminder that we truly are rushing through the air, despite the otherwise silky smooth glide upwards. Another part of me—the human part—immediately panics.
As generally not a panic-stricken person, these episodes come as quite a shock and I find myself examining my behaviour as if it’s happening to someone else, and the abnormality of my reaction only heightens my “flight” response (pun intended).
This time my thoughts turned, directly, to a past love.
Things between us ended, many times, and also never really did. The moment we locked eyes in a crowded room almost a decade ago, something inside me slipped quietly in to place. I can almost hear Lady Fate whispering “Ah, there you are”, through a knowing smile.
Since that day, we’ve crashed together just as often and just as hard as we’ve ripped ourselves, and each other, apart. It’s always been complicated, frustrated, strained, beautiful, ugly and real, all at once. After the last time we walked away, I truly thought we were done, and I can’t remember ever being sadder.
And yet, only days before I flung myself through the sky in a giant tin can, we’d come together again—the kind of carnal, animal, godly union most of us read Cosmo magazines and “How to Blow Him Away” listicles hoping to achieve.
We ripped at each others skin trying to tear way the layers that kept our spirits from caressing one another.
I was overcome by the effortlessness with which we made the kind of love that was stripped of pretense, and driven by some invisible cosmic engine. Our essences—something aside from but intrinsically part of the people we knew—poured out from some unknown edge and took over our bodies. Waves of exhaustion that seemed insurmountable were overshadowed by boundless energy activated by a sweeping glance, a curious trailing finger over bare chest, a stare that lasted moments too long—again, and again, and again. Chemical, but far more than chemistry; mechanical and automatic, but otherworldly.
We’d done this dance a thousand times, a thousand years ago.
Of course, all the glossy pages of sex tips involving ice cubes, and beautiful women sensuously biting in to strawberries can’t give us what the Universe and some serendipity can deliver straight in to our laps when we least expect it. It’s odd, the way the most precious things appear to us in the most mundane ways—across the bar, at a friend’s wedding—in a smokey room 10 years earlier, lounging on a deck chair sipping cheap beer and staring at you.
Given everything that had transpired between the two of us, and all the true, deep heartbreak it had brought, I expected the regretful thoughts to begin running behind my eyelids as I closed them against the sounds of rattling bags and nervous passengers.
Why had I let myself go to him, again, when I knew how this would end? Why had I gone back, ever? Why had I let him go? Why hadn’t I been better, loved better, fought longer? Why had I stayed?
Instead, only one phrase arrived and refused to budge:
“I’m so glad I got to love you.”
Flashes of our last night together: a handful of scratches down my back. The desperate, violent depth of his mouth crashing against mine. The scent of red wine, cigarettes and shaving cream on my pillow the next morning; another trigger that would throw me off course and back to that bed in years to come. Tiny bruises on my collarbone telling stories of fierce wanting.
Each memory was infused with a dichotomous sense of purity and honest reality. This wasn’t a Sandra Bullock movie. There were no scented candles or well articulated love confessions under rainy streetlights. And, despite the real love that practically flooded the bed, there was also no picket fence and Labrador joyfully bounding around with giddy children in the perfectly manicured backyard in our future.
And for the first time, I realised I didn’t need any of those things.
Every time we tried to take this creature that was us, and contain it in the definition of a traditional relationship, we were forced to stand back and watch it break free and break us in the process. Conversely, when we set the creature free—when we neither denied its existence, nor did we try and tame it to eat from our hands and do tricks like a circus poodle—it grew lustrous and bold, and we achieved ecstasy.
I didn’t need promises that we both knew no one could truly keep. I didn’t need the approval we knew we would never get from those I cared for. I didn’t even need the understanding I’d always fought so hard to garner—for someone to see us the way I did.
I realised I’d never needed them, and if these were my last moments I would be satisfied.
While the primal part of my mind got a quick, hot taste of its own mortality and ran around flipping alarm switches, it was stopped in its tracks by an unexpected sense of peace and gratitude.
I knew only a few things for sure: I loved this man in the corners and crevices of my soul that had lain dark and dormant before him, I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t, and I couldn’t have him. None of this was new, but had—for as long as we’d known—seemed like an impasse.
This day, it was freedom.
I found you. We found what others spend their whole lives simply tasting on the winds. The picket fences and the scented candles could come later with some other soul—perhaps simply my own, but right now I was free. In those moments, naked and true with you, I’d seen past the veil, past death and supernovas. It was just us, dancing in the dark.
See, we can love someone or we can possess them, but very rarely can we do both—and never can we control or dictate those loves that have been predestined, decided long ago to be true regardless of whether that suits us or not.
We do, however, get a choice.
We can walk away from those loves if we truly wish; if we can muster the strength it takes to defy The Weaver, for this lifetime at least.
We can choose to fence them in, and watch them wither away for the time we have them.
Or, we can see the magic behind the mundane, and bow down to it.
And so as the turbulence cleared, and the nervous excitement of the crowded plane settled in to nonchalance, I allowed my heart to fall to its knees.
Author: Erin Lawson
Image: Agnes Cecil