As I write this, I am sitting on the very top of a mountain, five-thousand miles high. Not lonely, but alone; feeling the brassy sunlight inside my clothes, whipping around with the wind. There is nothing unstable about my perch, and this without a rope or equipment, with just myself, and barely within sight, one person at the foot of the mountain.
He is looking up at me, squinting, shading his eyes from the sun, a bit sleepy still but thoroughly smiling; even at this height I can see that for sure. I wave downwards, pantomime a hug. He pantomimes one back, and we are both laughing – silent, because sound will not carry this far – but we can see each other, heads tilted back and grinning.
There are eight hours always in between him and me: my night courts his morning, my morning touches his dusk, my dusk sinks into his night. Every day, these days, holds two meanings for me, as I glance at my digital watch set eight hours ahead while he inspects his pocketwatch set eight hours behind. Two times, two places, a third of eighths to come full circle. Karawynn once thanked me for being the person who brought her Shae; I must thank her for being the person who brought me Tony.
Tony lives in Finland, although he is not Finnish, but Irish, and speaks fluent German and Dutch in addition to an incredibly charming Dublin-infused English. I first heard his voice while at work, stuck in a dingy box of a room cornered inside the copier room. My intercom line rang, I picked up: “Cashier’s Office.”
“Halsted, there’s a call for you on the first line.”
I knew who it was. When the phone rings at the circulation desk, it also rings in the cashier’s office, and the phone has caller ID on it. I peeked, and saw OUTSIDE CALL which always means Chad on his cell-phone. Smiling, I hung up the intercom with one finger and picked up the first line.
My smiling turned into delighted laughter as I realized my mistake, and in that, my surprise. It was a short call – I can’t even imagine how much that will cost him – but I laughed and laughed because here was Tony, I could hear him finally, talking so quickly and lamenting that he really had nothing to say in the first place but it was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever received.
Frequent, lengthy emails from Tony arrive in my inbox, are immediately filtered into a separate folder, and Homer Simpson exclaims, “Oooooh! The mail is here!” If I’m by the computer, I hop into my chair and settle in for a good read. ICQ provides a shorter, faster means of pantomime, and we’ve settled into that routine well by now. I get stories every day, stories of every shape and colour, sometimes funny, always thoughtful and precise, so clear I can see all the imagery and pretend I am in the midst of it.
It’s these times I wish I had paid more attention to my prose skills, because I feel so frumpy beside Tony, who complains of the same thing of course, thus completing another circle. Round and round we go.
There are people I am close to who became so close through false starts, confusion, misinterpretation, hesitation, even antagonism. And then there are those who just became, while my back was turned, and filled a gap I hadn’t even noticed. It happens exactly when I am guarding myself the most, afraid to let anyone else in because when I do, it’s completely … and I have crumbled when some of them stayed a while and then disappeared.
I am reminded of someone in particular whom I befriended, and then was forced to un-friend altogether because his partner accused him of cheating on her with me. She went through his mail archive and decided that our familiarity, our fondness for one another was somehow adulterous and wrong. I know now it wasn’t wrong because Chad never objected, or felt cheated on, or did anything but be pleased for me that I had found a friend.
Paranoid that I am, I was completely relieved to “meet” Tony’s partner through email, and she assured me that no, this wasn’t wrong, this was in fact wonderful and good and she approved. Chad was a bit more skeptical; he was the one to pick up the shards of Halsted after the last time, and he also knows I trust with my heart first, then my head. But still, he is pleased for me, in his guarded way, ever on the ready to scoop up the broken bits and help me reassemble again.
For a few brief hours on the mountain we can carry on like this, throwing each other gestures and expressions, soaking in the presence of each other. And then it is time for him to make his climb, and for me to make my descent. More smiles, although these are tinged bittersweet, and waving, enthusiastic waving, arms and faces promising to meet again. Arms and faces promising, someday, to meet in between.