The air was hot and heavy, and my loose-fitted clothes were pasted to my form. My hair, definitely unwashed, still held a touch of spray from the night before, and was now bunched haphazardly into an attempted coif that looked like a neglected shrub. My mouth was probably as arid as the most southernmost plains, being hydrated only by last night’s myriad of mixed vodka cocktails.
I probably shouldn’t have agreed to this, but it began per a friend’s request; out of her (appropriate) worry that I might end another night with an unwanted advancement or without my wallet, or worse. She had begged me to comply, and after some protest I had agreed. Perhaps to try and look more like I was opening my mind. A friend of theirs had been up for the task, purportedly well-versed in protecting the self. He stood in front of me in the boxlike backyard, his long shadow merging with mine in the open sunlight.
Man, those were some good times, and that was a great summer. I wish I’d seen the death card; here was where it would turn like a leaf.
“Are you listening to me?” his voice asked calmly. He was quite a bit taller than me, and I was staring into space and straight into his chest.
I sighed and gazed upwards, squinting into his peaceful gaze. “Yeah, I hear you,” I lied.
“This sort of thing changes you, you know,” he said. “Once you become more aware of what surrounds you, you become more aware of what’s inside of you, too. All those little things you once cared about start to not matter so much.”
“Like what?” I asked, wincing at my throbbing skull.
“Like what clothes you’re going to wear, or what society expects you to be, or what people think of you, or who you’re impressing when you go out. All that starts to not matter. If you’re really serious about this, then it will change you. Believe me.”
I suppose there was something inside of me that wanted to respond in earnest, but all I knew that day was that I didn’t want to be serious. I was twenty-one, solid in my newfound confidence and, with the current exception of my bad hair day and requested non-conforming (how fitting) attire, I liked the way I looked. My response bubbled slowly in the back of my dry throat before finally rising to the surface.
“I’m not the type of person who will just… change,” I blurted out. “I know who I am and I’m happy with the way I am. I don’t need anyone to tell me how to change.”
He just smiled with a sidelong glance, raising his arms into a fighting stance. “You look angry,” he said. “This might be a good opportunity to show you something. Are you right-handed? Here…” He gently took my right wrist into his strong grip, guiding it towards himself but only so that it was slightly ahead of my left hand. “Now, raise them to cover your face. You’ll want to do this in any sort of attack. If someone is coming at you, make sure you put your strongest hand out first.”
He was left-handed, and I right. When each of us put out our better hand they would touch in perfect alliance. Like yin and yang, and equal aptitude for destruction.
Heat rippled in little waves around the August sky, bringing the moment to a boiling point. I looked to his focused whirlpool eyes and all at once I didn’t mind covering my face. I wasn’t ready for all of this yet.
The following spring came quickly, carrying a slew of new projects and attitudes through life’s earth. I spent many nights awake now, sometimes reading through stuff like Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law and toying with ideas concerning my liberty, my prosperity and my self-autonomy. In a way, my head still throbbed, but now it was because it was parting through the middle like a Red Sea bleeding with new ideas. I always wore my hair down now, too.
“I didn’t know you even liked to read,” I said to him, phone held to my ear as I sat cross-legged on my floor, voice low. “I’m impressed that you even know about Bastiat. You never mentioned anything like that before.”
“I try to read every now and then,” he said softly, images of his sheepish green eyes coming to mind. “And, what do you mean ‘you’re impressed’? You’re the one who was the self-proclaimed party animal. The one who said she’d never change.”
“I didn’t change,” I argued. “I just don’t have time for that stuff anymore, with school and work.”
“I’ll admit that it’s hard to square everything away in your life,” he said. “Sometimes I know I’m good at convincing myself that things are a lot easier than what they seem.”
“I dunno. You made everything sound so easy that one day,” I said.
The rain fell like little daggers, near-ice pellets forming in the autumn wind. My hair and outfit were soaked again, though it hardly came to my attention. It was as if I was under the protection of a sturdy umbrella, held up by threads of mirth and contentment. I took a sip of my coffee as we meandered through an open road.
“This coffee is cold now,” he laughed. “We’re bad at checking the weather.”
And as it had become customary by now, steps were taken into my room before hands wandered frantically, touch rippling over heated skin, always reminiscent of that day in the backyard. I held onto him with a profound, earnest readiness.
And one day, after we were done, he became slack and wordless in my arms. I pulled away to look into his eyes, now softened and defenceless. His once strong grip loosened around my arm.
“What is it?” I spoke calmly, fixing my hair and fixed in my speech.
“You’ve changed. You’re more aware of everything now,” he said sadly. He rose to his feet and edged towards the door.
“But, aren’t you too?” I asked, my resolve breaking. For once. It shouldn’t have been a question.
It sort of looked like he shook his head, but he didn’t answer.
I put my right hand, my strongest hand, out first. “Don’t go.”
But he left, into the vast and infinite darkness.