Collyn wears a pea coat on New Year’s. Downtown she dances with her eyes closed singing Journey by herself. I watch the way she captures people, the eyes that sparkled and mouths left breathless in the frosty air. There is no doubt that my town loves her. No doubt they see something absolutely untouchable about the way she holds the corners of her lips, as if the whole world were a car ride with the windows down and her golden hair blowing tangled in the air. The air of my town, so far from her reality, so far from Baton Rouge; seems brighter and clearer for the distance.
Downtown we sit on a bench overlooking the pier; there she says to me
“I just want this- the wind in my hair. I don’t want to be burdened with what people say or think. No one to hold me down. Here I’m free- everyone wants to be new. Everyone wants to go far away. Here it’s as if I can be anything.” So I reply softly as the wind clangs bells on the boats in the pier below us, a song that I knew she would love-
“They weren’t there beneath your stare, and they weren’t stripped till they were bare of any binding from the world outside that room. And they weren’t taken by the hand and lead through fields of naked land, where any preconceived ideas were blown away. So I couldn’t say no.”
“Yes exactly.” She almost jumps from the bench in excitement and passion. “Those words say so much!” I see how she is caught for a moment, lost in some thought, until it fades, or resolves, or moves like her thoughts always do, and she leans her head back on a park bench and keep her hands in the folds of her coat. My eyes drift in the dark to the twinkle of lights down at the bottom of the bluff and water on the other side of the lights.
Quite suddenly and unexpectedly she stands up and begins to walk towards the edge of the bluff. Her steps seem deliberate and purposeful, although I have no idea what she’s doing. She comes to the end of the highest part of the bluff and is still. Out of curiosity I follow behind her.
She stands there silently. At first I don’t get it- I’m antsy and can’t figure out what she’s doing standing so perfectly still on the edge of the bluff. Then, for the first time, I understand. This place I drive by casually every day for work, this place that has become just the background, the setting for my life, is something wonderful to her. As she stands there, I see it. Through her ears- I hear it.
Slowly. The leaves in the trees. They rustle above my head. The ocean line is barely visible beyond the lights, but you and I can feel it’s pulse- the rhythm of the ocean beyond the bluff where we stand. I hear the metal clanging like bells of the sailboats and yachts in the marina. Some harness of rope and steel enveloped in the majesty of the water that beats against itself as if it were made for nothing else but to ring it’s bells in the harbor. I have to stand so still to hear it all- to get lost in the sound. Breathe it in like clear air cut with the bright cold of the night and the sharp, briny smell of the salty, wild water.
She loves me, you know. You can tell by the way she spreads her arms wide and tilts back her head and drinks in the moment.
"Brandon thinks everything is so simple. It IS simple for him. He's kissed so many girls- so many. But when he's kissing me, he's not thinking about that, or forever, or anything. He’s just thinking about how having me makes him the luckiest guy in the world. And it's enough.
But I always have to ask questions. Like how is this working and what does it mean and why and when and to people like Brandon- Life is so simple.Life doesn't have to be so complicated.”
Her words fade off into the air and the wind plays with them like a wild creature that won’t be tamed until finally it chases off the end of her phrases to somewhere deep in the night. Life is so simple, with words that stir all in my head and don’t formulate into respectable sentences in their proper order. Words that don’t have any logic to them at all.
“When you talk about Brandon I feel as though I know him. I feel as though your world is just beyond a screen I have to break through.”
Collyn lifts her hands high in the air and I wish that I could capture the absolute burst of joy that covers her mouth and eyes and hair. Part of me wonders if this is even real- if I am even here and if she isn’t going to blow away any second and become part of the wind. Collyn of anyone could be anywhere or everywhere at once. I become suddenly aware that I am not that way.
“Maybe, maybe that’s how it’s like for me. Being here. Your reality- your water and people and your downtown lights and street artists, it is to me like a screen to break through. Do we make it real for each other?”
This isn’t like the conversations we would have on the phone, late at night spilling our guts, our latest stories, the people we know or places we’ve gone. Something inside me says that this is on a much deeper, a much more vulnerable level than we would be able to put into words. The wind spoke for her almost as much as she spoke. It said all that she couldn’t say with her raspy voice. Her voice is part of the wind and explained by its wild and frivolous dance, shrieking and laughing and holy.
But I could never be the wind. I could never be free, the way she wishes to be free. The way my town makes her feel is never how I would ask to feel. But my words aren’t aided by the wind and laughter, so they stick on my tongue and fight around in my mouth a bit before they come out. I have to restate her thoughts just to grasp at my own.
“You know Collyn, being here- you want to be anything. You want to be free from the opinions of Delia or even Brandon sometimes. All the ‘preconceived ideas’ “
“Yes!” she cried passionately.
“But” nervously I tuck my hair behind my ear and it drapes back in my face again. For a second I take my hands out of my coat and move them around, very unsure and hesitant to say what had been bugging me all night amidst the beauty that she found in everything we saw. “We are community. We are meant, created, purposed not to be independent. The burden of humanity; our awkward, painful, naked selves- it’s what I need. It’s what you need. You need people who know you, who love you even if they don’t make you free. The burden, the pain is a gift.”
She sat there for a second but then shook her head thoughtfully.
“No, the pain isn’t a gift. Pain isn’t good. The pain we inflict on ourselves, the burden is not right.”
“Well, maybe pain isn’t right, but it is a part of loving other people. It is what we are created to experience.”
She sits there a long time and I know she listens. I know Collyn hears me and part of her understands, but part of her wants to stand there free. Part of her soul ties itself to the wind and stands with her arms outstretched and face tilted back on the highest point of the bluff.
I envy her freedom at times like this. I am downright jealous of how beautiful of a picture she makes when she stands there. I know everyone watches her as they walk past and sigh a little, how easy it is to love beautiful Collyn.
Now on the bench I sit and watch the lights on the pier, still beautiful for their reality. And she stands with her arms to the wind and her laugh lost in the romance of the moment with her back toward me and face towards the ocean.