She will never forget the first time she saw the ocean.
She had flown before.
Not as high as she thought she had, looking back, but it was so far from her usual sadness that it had felt just like happiness. Even in secret, it was better to fly with someone than to be up there all alone. But she had been floating on the empty winds of borrowed love and stolen time, winds that never carry far or long. So as with most things that aren’t meant to fly, eventually she fell.
Down down down she went…
And as she did, she swore she’d never fly again. Her days in the sky were over.
The little bird hit the ground hard, and in many, many pieces.
One Saturday in October, some time after her fall, she had plans to celebrate a friend’s birthday. So she gathered up her pieces as she had learned to do, into some semblance of her former self, and she did her best to go about her day with a smile on. Even if she couldn’t manage a smile, a day without tears was a success.
After dropping her baby bird at a friend’s to spend the night, she headed into the deep dark heart of her city. She loved and hated this city. So many memories – some sweet, some bitter, pretty much all of which she was now determined to erase from her mind. That was the hardest part for this now flightless bird, choosing to live down here with the rest of them, to walk, to crawl.
It was hardest to accept that she would probably never trust her way back up there again, back up into the clouds with that feeling of the air rushing past her; that feeling of looking down and not being afraid at all because from way up there, everything was too small to hurt.
Down here, everything was just so much bigger than she was.
But she was down here, on the ground, holding her pieces in, and so she took baby steps towards the party. Mostly she just wanted to go home and curl up in the safe nest she had built for herself, the one where she could be alone with the thoughts she didn’t even want to remember.
A pacifying form of torture.
She called, her friend buzzed her in, and as she rode the elevator up up up, she couldn’t help but laugh to herself at the almost offensive parody of flying she was experiencing. No matter how many floors up, she still couldn’t be any lower.
No clouds, no expansive breathtaking view, just a lurch in her belly as the box climbed higher and higher. But instead of caving to forfeit, she walked out at the bell’s queue and knocked on the door.
She wouldn’t be staying long.
As soon as the door opened and she took that irrevocable first step inside, she immediately wished she hadn’t. She was swallowed up in a room full of unfamiliar faces, most with masks on, some which should’ve had, and a storm of discomfort thundered around inside the broken bird.
She didn’t want to be here.
She didn’t want to pretend to be whole, to pretend her wings weren’t tattered.
She didn’t want this.
And then, in an instant, everything changed.
The first step in was the worst – regret.
Second step – loneliness, the kind that seeps in even when you’re surrounded.
And then, the third step…
The little bird looked up and saw blue.
She had seen that blue before, or thought she had anyways. High above the earth when she used to fly, she used to catch glimpses of an ocean. This ocean was tricky to the bird, since she felt like it was inside her instead of out. She had somehow always known that the sole purpose of flying was to find this sea. And here he was, down here on the ground with her, in this room full of strangers that had suddenly gone silent. It hardly made sense. And this man, the one with the ocean in his eyes, he saw her too.
In that one moment, that split second of a third step through a doorway, without a word, they had already spoken more than they’d ever need or be able to say.
Out of shyness and unsure recognition, they turned away from one another, the sea and the bird. The room grew loud again as she held her pieces in even tighter and resumed conversation with the rest of the mask-wearing crowd. Small talk draped in not-quite-lies to seem more impressive – the usual party tricks. It bored her. All she wanted was to find him. She knew him, she knew she knew him, but not the way she thought she did. It was true he was a familiar face from years before, but this was more than that. She had felt the breeze off of him. She had heard the crashing of him against the rocks in that first look, and already she craved more.
As quickly as she could, she made her way to him. This was not her usual tactic. Normally she waited to be approached, to know she was wanted. But this time, she wanted him too much. When the conversation around her finally broke enough for her to escape it, she followed the draw and let it pull her right up next to him, not too close, but close enough to feel him feel her. Nervous bird, broken wings, so afraid of the longing she already had for this stranger. Her guard went up in a flash and she insulted him. First words out of her mouth to the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen, and she insulted him.
He didn’t react to her words the way she immediately worried he would, but instead he lit up from the inside and actually laughed. With a raised eyebrow, embarrassed and impressed, she introduced herself, and he himself.
And the chaos around them faded to grey…
They talked for hours – sharing stories, sharing ideas, sharing dreams, sharing music…
She told him about her baby bird, and he listened. They both had plenty to say and it seemed they couldn’t get the words out fast enough, desperate to give and know all there was about each other. She sensed something familiar between them. She knew quickly and inexplicably that he had also flown before, and that he too had hit the ground hard.
She noticed him holding in his own pieces, even though he tried to hide this from her, and her quiet heart ached to do this for him – to give him rest, to hold him tightly and safely enough that he didn’t have to do it alone anymore. She knew better than anyone that you can’t spread your wings and fly if you are keeping them tucked in, folded around you, trying to keep the rest of you from falling out. She knew this better than anyone. And she realized then that all she wanted was to fly far far far away with him.
After a trip outside to breathe, the air crisp and toxic, they returned to their private haven away from the rest.
She folded her tiny fingers into his bigger ones and the flames already between them kept them both warm.
She felt a fluttering inside her, the waking feeling of a heart she had thought would never beat again for anyone.
But this time, it beat to an entirely new song.
As they continued talking, his familiar yet unfamiliar face became all she could see. It felt like the only face she had ever seen.
He was perfect.
He was broken and perfect and she could see the waves rolling inside him through those eyes and she knew she would never forget this night, this man, his hands, his voice.
They had stepped out one more time to be alone. A last effort for the little bird to know for sure if the ocean recognized her too, if he had felt the flames dancing between their fingertips.
In a moment not unlike the one they first looked into each other, they turned in towards one another and met in the middle.
The tentative hopeful flames she had felt between their fingers earlier erupted into a roaring brave blaze and they were swept away.
She was his, he was hers, and in a heartbeat they had become a lifetime.
She knew they would teach each other to fly again and that they would soar higher than either of them had ever been before. She knew that after this night, neither of them would let the other fall, and they would never set foot on the ground again.