A story about forest fires and flowers.
Ariel was nothing like other girls. This doesn’t mean she was better nor was she worse, she was just different. Maybe it’s also some sort of truth that she was the only girl who ever existed, and I’m pretty sure that’s a truth in any kind of universe I can imagine. When I was younger, and I mean, about the age where you fall in love for the first time and you break up some weeks later and it’s been three years but the idea of that person still does something to your stomach, I realised that I tend to idealise people. I create a distance that turns me into an admirer for their intelligence, their charisma, their way of being something. Really always they were unreachable and perfect, and I was nearly obsessive about them. Obsessive as in, I would stay awake until late at night to read every boring article they ever wrote or I’d rather sit in the backseat of the most boring thing you could compete at and quite possibly win ever, just to see them move, than actually enjoy the evening with things I actually liked.
Ariel was different, not just because if she was being compared to a night sky she’d be a blank space between the swan and the lyre – something spotted by people but so dark and refusing to be seen that you are constantly wondering if it exists after all – but because of how she made me feel. Next to Ariel, I never felt small. She was beautiful but not like the other girls I ever looked at with flowers in my brain. She never gave me the “flower” feeling. Like said blank space she just pretended to exist and it was up to me to figure out the validity of her pretence. What I aim to say is, Ariel was never the type of girl that wore my lumberjack shirts in the morning – like Nora, with whom I drank way too much coffee for one summer in Canada – or that you could take to prom, because I swear she’d ruin it. And this is exactly what I liked about her – and me: I always saw her just the way she was, and it was what made me fall so hard eventually.
It’s like my body stumbled in darkness and it bumped into her, and together we laughed really hard while we jumped off a cliff we knew we wouldn’t survive. To be honest, I think I was madly in love with her long before we were even born. I think I always knew, it just took me some years and a bunch of misplaced people to realise it. When I found Ariel, I wasn’t looking for a home or a place to stay or someone to hold my hand during the funeral of my most beloved friend in the world, my small dog named Copper. By the time I met her, I was already a piece of art and complete in myself, and I got used to holding my own hand in those nights when I slept alone in my small apartment in the eleventh floor in the big city, because a girl named Ivy didn’t quite find it manly enough to cry about Copper’s death three nights in a row (little did she know that Copper was not only the sweetest creature in the entire world, but I also owe her my life from when she saved me from an attacker when I was seven, who beat her up so badly she lost sight on one eye, and yet she kept licking my hands and my face and she was the one whose little heart was beating next to mine whenever I felt particularly lonely. And you can get this lonely in the big city, I can’t even describe it. Copper was my closest soul and that girl Ivy just didn’t get it. I’m not even mad. Well, I was a little bit when I kicked her out of my apartment at 5am, but I’m not now, she just didn’t know.) So, I’ve been there, and I found that I am fairly well without somebody’s hand to hold. I was so done with dating women and also my four month long period of being into guys. (Which might have never stopped, it just didn’t really last.)
When I met Ariel, I was 6 years old. Yes, really. I know it sounds like there was half of a life between us, but there really wasn’t. Well. Not technically. When I was six, I went on vacation with my parents. As a little boy who preferred the TV and his audio books over any kind of human interaction, I really suffered from having to spend five days in the mountains, going fucking camping. Which meant, all nature, no electricity, which meant my only companions were the trees and I had to move my body and be outside, it was just unbearable. Especially because we went together with our neighbours and their obnoxious rats of kids, twins with really ugly sweaters. They bullied me for the entire week, and I was sick and tired of it and cried every night in my sleep, and I pretended to be dead when mum was trying to wake me up, so hard I almost believed it myself. All I wanted to be was invisible, and left alone. One morning I sneaked out to the lake, sitting by the side of it and putting my legs in the water and cried. I had cramps from crying and almost threw up and felt really miserable, when I noticed someone watching. It was her. And she said the magical words. “I have my Gameboy with me, I can share it if it makes you happy.” We became secret friends and she fascinated me because she was so different from me. She was only eight herself, but she already knew about the world, you know? In a weird way, she knew. And one morning, when I was sneaking out to the lake again for our secret all-day-long Gameboy and apple juice sessions until my belly felt all bubbly and the sun went down, well that one day, she just didn’t show up anymore. I was sad and cried a fair bit but you know, you get over your first heartbreak so easily when you’re this young.
I met Ariel for a second time during high school, when I pretended to hang with the cool kids. They were smoking spliffs which they handed around and I just pretended to smoke and eventually just imitated their behaviour. She turned up one day in the small garage of Dan’s father when he hosted a little party. I was 16 at the time, and I didn’t recognise her at first. She had long hair and her bangs fell into her eyes. She was tall and dressed in all black. She didn’t drink anything but talked to all the cool boys. When she left, she looked at me for the first time, and for a heartbeat second our eyes recognised each other’s. For a second, we knew. And then she was gone, on the back of a motor cycle. Her presence was still in the room and that night, when I fell asleep, I swear I whispered her name. But you know about these people you know you’ll never meet again, right? You lock them in the back of your head, until they are gone. And when I finally dropped the cool boys and started to smoke spliffs for real two years later and started writing, I fell in love with Emily, whom I had met during a reading, and after her with Anne, who had incredibly blue eyes and made me write loads of cheesy love poems, and I loved girls from afar and from up close. This is what I meant when I said, Ariel was different, because even when I was with these girls, they were goddesses to me, and I considered myself the luckiest guy around for them to love me. Like I actually felt unworthy of their love. Not Ariel, though. We loved each other the same way we hated each other. There wasn’t a single day that I questioned her love any more than I was sure I deserved her hate. We met as equals. But here’s the thing. The third time I met Ariel was also the last time, but I have to be honest here, this third time extends over a span of months.
It was a night a few weeks after Copper’s death. The nights get especially cold when your flat has lost this touch of… life, I guess? What it was lacking, could be broken down to: Life. Copper’s been gone and I blocked out everyone around me. I slept horribly, I stopped eating, I drank too much coffee and spent the nights awake writing manically onto bad paper. I started wearing my hair in a ponytail because it grew so long and I didn’t care to cut it. I tried sleeping during the days, when it was bright and noisy outside and I could feel the city breathe around me, because it silenced anxiety as good as it could. And then I started working night shifts in a place called The Haven, which was some sort of bridge restaurant right across a very busy motorway. At night I felt so inspired by the lights slowing fading in the distance, and by the people who brought a certain atmosphere with them when they ate dinner there at 2am, with their car parked outside, just taking a break from their trip to one of the beautiful places: the ocean, the next big city, their family. We served really bad coffee but decent food. All in all, it was an alright place to be. Not exactly where I had imagined myself when I lay in bed with Anne-with-the-blue-eyes and a joint, when I thought of myself as a young, reckless writer, only at the doorstep of his exciting, wild and iridescent life.
I wondered if it can still be wild and iridescent at this point.
So, a few weeks after Copper had passed away, I was working my night shift in The Haven and I was on my cigarette break – one of way too many – when a woman passed me by on her way to the restaurant. She was about my height, very long dark brown hair and for a faint moment she reminded me of Ariel. So, so much. But I had given up to see her ever again, so I finished my cigarette – slowly, because I tried to seize time during those cigarette breaks – and went up the stairs into the restaurant. My job was to clean the tables and make sure everyone was provided with our really bad coffee. When I approached the woman, I realised she didn’t have anything to drink in front of her, so I stopped with a mini version of the Eiffel tower in plates balancing on my left arm, and I asked “Mam?” She didn’t react and on second glance I noticed she was wearing headphones. And that’s it, she just sat there, and she just listened to music. When my shift had ended and I had changed back into my pair of ripped jeans and a black t-shirt that I had already worn for weeks because I also felt incapable of washing clothes or buying new ones, I saw her sit there still. The clock had turned 5am, and she was still sitting there, her back against the backrest, her eyes fixed on the highway, and some inner drive made me slip into the sofa opposite to her.
She had fallen asleep.
I sat across this asleep girl for a while, her long dark hair surrounded by a black hood, her mp3-player that had slowly slipped through her fingers, and her pack of almost empty cigarettes in front of her. When the first sun rays fell across her face, she woke up and she looked at me. Her green eyes were burning. They were literally afire and she just looked at me and I knew I had found Ariel, one last time. I just moved my head into the direction of the exit, and she nodded, grabbed her cigarettes and backpack, and followed me. When we came home, I offered her the bed. I brewed fresh coffee for me and I left for a morning walk. When I returned, I brought freshly baked baguettes with me and I found her smoking on the balcony, just sitting there on the ground, looking down into the city with its reddish morning sky, her black kajal smudgy. I sat down next to her, broke one of the baguettes in half and handed it to her, while she gave me her cigarette. I inhaled, and together we sat there and had our version of “breakfast on the balcony”.
Without looking at me, Ariel reached for my hand, and before I realised it, the tears ran down my face. She just sat there, and I was six again and she was eight and in a way my body was expecting her to share her Gameboy with me one last time.
From that moment on, Ariel and I were inseparable. It’s not like we decided to spend time together, we never exchanged phone numbers – hell, I don’t even think she owned one. We never talked about her moving in, but all of a sudden, we slept next to each other every night. We never touched each other in any way that wouldn’t have been just as appropriate with a sibling, until we got really drunk when I had a night off and we went dancing to a club somewhere in the corner of the city where I usually wouldn’t go, where the girls wore nothing but a smile and the drinks were strong. And right there in the middle of the dancefloor, Ariel put her hands around my face and she kissed me, and then she backed off, and she looked at me with miracles in her eyes, and I pulled her closer and I kissed her, again and again and again and again and again, and when she was that lost star that’s so well hidden between the Swan and the Lyre, it’s safe to say I found her that night. We were awake until late afternoon, and under the satisfying taste of promise in the air we fell asleep.
Ariel’s light wasn’t in fact light, but more of a dark greyish shade, she was burning, but she wasn’t something you could just spot with your eye. She never had a bitter aftertaste like the other girls, it’s more like the second you left the room you were in with her, she becomes a mystery so fragile you’re uncertain whether it ever really happened. Until you return, and her green eyes let you know that it, in fact, happened. And she, in fact, existed.
It’s beautiful, you know, looking at people with flowers in your brain, it makes them shine and outstanding and it’s a bit of a miracle in itself how someone can become this untouchable once you’ve fallen for them. But flowers, they are way too soft to stay. They flourish and they amaze you when they’re in full bloom and you’re thinking, how could I ever forget the way this beautiful thing smelled and looked and felt when I held it so carefully and loved it so deeply from afar? But then winter comes, and all the flowers die, and when there’s spring again, they’re gone. They don’t stay, they’re only temporary. You can barely remember a flower from last year in a new spring. They’ve lost their magic, their shine, their exceptionality.
But forest fires.
God, you cannot forget forest fires. They’re burning everything they touch and they will sure burn you to the ground. And you might think, a forest fire person is nothing but pain but it really isn’t, because they’re beautiful. There’s a gigantic forest with high trees and they’re illuminated by smoke that looks like an intense Bengal fire and seconds before you suffocate, the last thing you’re thinking, is: how glad I am I experienced this spectacle.
And you might be saved afterwards, and everybody pities you for having been through this. They ask you: Don’t you regret what happened? Don’t you wish you could turn back time? Don’t you regret not staying with the flowers instead?
It’s because they’ve never met Ariel. They are not to blame. They‘ve never known what it’s like to love someone like her. She’s everywhere, especially when she’s gone from your world. And she stays. In every dusty corner of your head, and heart, and soul, and spirit. A piece of her is in anything you do.
So, no forest fire burns forever, and I do not even think a human body is capable of enduring this.
When I came home from another night shift and all I found was a half-smoked cigarette in the ash tray and my black hat returned to its place, I knew she was gone and I knew I wouldn’t see her again.
But she was a Bengal fire, and I’ll always reminisce how it looked like, and how my lungs filled with smoke and remembered her, even thirty years later, as I’m writing this while a flower waits for me to marry her.