I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel
I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor
Illusion never changed
Into something real
I’m wide awake and I can see
The perfect sky is torn
You’re a little late, I’m already torn
In the quiet moments between light and dark when twilight swathes the world in pearlescent magentas swirls within a haze of burnished orange streaked with intense purples, the eye can’t help but be captivated by the magical blessings of Mother Nature in all her moods. These are the most difficult images to capture or recreate through the lens of a camera. They require patience and a technical judgement but they also require a certain aesthetic. It is easier to recreate the perfect sunset by generating images in the early light hours of the day, the trick of the camera fooling the viewer into thinking that it is sunset rather than sunrise. But if you can capture the perfect sunset in all it’s multicolored splendor it is a moment of complete joy.
Occasionally, the sky will be coated in a soft cover of cumulus cloud that rips the sky in half, rendering the horizon separate from the sinking sun. The perfect image is that moment where the sky mother reaches down to tear a hole in the cloud allowing the failing sun’s diffused rays to peak through and reaching for one last longing touch of the earth. That is a moment where you feel the hand of your personal God. That is how I felt when I saw Anastasia Rose Steele.
I first saw her at a registration day. Stood behind her in line and knew from just the curve of her denim clad hips that she was something special, her chocolate hair draped in waves over her shoulders and down her back. She was with her friend, Kate, a tall leggy blonde who already had the requisite jock entourage hanging on her every word. Kate may be a classic beauty but it has always been Ana who takes everyone’s breath away with her quiet dignity and shy smiles. Most of her charm is in the fact that she has no idea how truly beautiful she is.
We had a connection that made me luckier than most guys on the campus. They only got to worship her from afar. I at least had the satisfaction of a friendship forged on the historical relationship of two old army buddies. My father and her stepfather, and believe me, I milked it for everything it was worth, hoping that one day she would actually see me.
And oh, how I wished that she might see me the way I saw her through the lens of my camera.
In truth, I never meant to become some sort of paparazzi-esque stalker in her life but I was sidelined by her ignorance of her own appeal and my inadequacy as a wooer of women. That first photograph was an accident. We had gone for coffee at Hotel Vancouver on the Quay after our last classes. As the sun set over the Columbia River, I had started taking photos of the vibrant play of colors on the water when I asked Ana to step into the frame for perspective. What emerged from those photos was more spectacular than all of the sunsets and landscapes that I had captured over the years. In those few moments of photographic bliss, I had managed to capture the essence of a contemplative Ana as she stared out over the water, gripping her tea. So incredibly beautiful and serene even through all of her self-doubt.
After that day I resolved to find other ways to capture her image. I never had much academic success at school. My adequate grades required hours and hours of intense sweat to keep up. There were only two things I had any God-given talent with. Cars and cameras. I made it my personal project to use my photographic skills to represent the many moods of Miss Anastasia Rose Steele. Ana with her head thrown back in unrestrained laughter as we relaxed in the quad. Contemplative Ana deep in thought as she viewed an exhibition. Playful Ana as she spun uncontrollably on the chain swing at a local playground. Uncharacteristically passionate Ana berating the umpire at a college football game. Studious Ana, her face buried in the pages of a book at the WSU library. Every photograph another part of her puzzle. Every image imprinted on my soul.
I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with her. Maybe it was that first day, standing in that line, watching her beautiful ass as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. I suspect it crept over me with every smile aimed in my direction, every giggle at my dreadful jokes, every moment we spent together cemented in her words when she told me that I was like her personal sun, I warmed her world. I kept hoping that any moment she would see me, really see me and choose me. Hoping that the connection would stop being so damn one-sided. But week after week, month after month my hopes and prayers went unanswered buried under my inability to ask her the question that had been burning on the end of my tongue. When moments presented themselves I was a fool and I lost my nerve. Before too long we had traveled the road from friends to family and that was the beginning of the end of any chance I had to win her heart. She loved me alright, but instead of becoming the love of her life, the object of her affection, the obsession of her heart, I became the brother she never had and I had my heart ripped out by every sisterly touch and glance.
All those nights that I dreamed of her, all those days that I followed her around like a love-sick puppy, all of the favors she called, the movies we watched on her couch, the shared takeout meals on her living room floor, the beers drunk at the bar and the shared car rides to see our Dads at weekends, amounted to nothing more than becoming the little brother she never had. I would imagine that she would arrive into the garage where I worked part time, the place where I did running repairs on her VW beetle at no cost just to know that she was safe, and she would throw her arms around my neck planting a kiss that was more than a sisterly peck on the cheek. I imagined us holding hands on the way home from the bar and her stepping into my arms rather than saying goodnight. I imagined us sharing the news with our Dad’s on one of those trips home where we would tell them that we had finally fallen in love.
Every now and then she would look at me with such strong emotions bubbling behind her eyes that I would think, ‘this is it, she is going to say something’ but she never did. No matter how much I wished her to love me the way I loved her, it never happened. Looking back, I think she wanted to love me that way but she couldn’t make it happen. Not for anyone. Not until him.
Christian Grey appeared in her world and caused an emotional eclipse from the moment he arrived. An eclipse from which I would never emerge. I might have once offered her the warmth of the sun but he became her sun, her moon, her stars, her satellite and as they became so caught up in each other’s orbit that there was no room for anyone else. I tried. To my shame, I tried in an ill-advised move that I will regret to the end of my days. I pretended a confidence I never had and made my play that drunken night at the bar. And even though she was uncharacteristically drunk, she was not so far gone that she couldn’t slap me for making a pass at her.
When she pushed me away I was horrified, not by her rejection but at my own stupidity. Christian wanted to hit me and I would have let him. Hell, if I could have, I would have helped him. But then Ana started throwing up and his attention went to being the man I wasn’t. Protecting and helping her. I stumbled away from them, looking like I was in a drunken haze. In truth, I was suddenly sober. I walked away, around the corner of the building and began throwing up myself. Not because of the drink although that, at least, gave me something to eject. No, I was so completely disgusted with myself that I would have purged with or without the alcohol. And no amount of dry retching that followed could cleanse the dark stain on my soul. I was the worst fucking lowlife that could have ever graced the planet.
To add to my shame, I went home, jumped on my motorbike and rode down the I-5, still legally drunk, in the middle of the night, at high speed. I guess I was hoping to total the bike and myself. I didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as her any more. I was about to play chicken when an SUV with a family drove past me going the other way. It was enough to stop the death wish. I ditched the bike in some trees hoping I would find it the next day and walked three hours to get back to the dorm.
Ana’s painful rejection was nothing compared to the weeks of sleepless nights that followed where I relived my stupidity and her horror over and over again. I very nearly blew my first gallery exhibition because I was so tired and self-destructive. If I could take back that night at the bar I would. Never have I been more disappointed in myself and embarrassed at my actions. We were both drunk but it was no excuse for pushing my tongue down her throat. No excuse for taking advantage of my best friend. I may never forgive myself and I certainly don’t expect her to either. Certainly, Christian has never forgiven me which is why I was so surprised that he bought any of my work at the gallery opening, until I realized he had purchased every photo of Ana, at double the asked price, as long as they were immediately removed from the walls. They were the best work I had ever done and I totally agreed with him. I had objectified not immortalized her. I’ve never been so glad to see a purchase order in all of my life. And in that one noble and heroic move, Christian not only won the girl but he kick-started my career.
But even knowing that, and even after having stuffed everything up so badly, I continued to hope, that in spite of this rapid romance with Christian Grey, she would see those photos and realize that I was the one who loved her most. And that she loved me in return. Even as I delivered the photos to his penthouse, knowing that he saw in them all of the beauty I did, I still hoped that when she saw me again she might have a change of heart. That she might choose me. No amount of dreaming on my part could wish it into being. Illusion never changed into something real.
Now I stood at the wall of windows staring out over Seattle trying to be captivated by the purple hues as twilight became night, just so I didn’t have to look at her pain. It seems I’d been walking in a dream of her for years but now, with the agony of potentially losing her true love; now, I’m wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn. Clouds have streaked across ripping a jagged seam of indigo blue. The same intensity of blue that darkened her haunted expression. I couldn’t look directly at her but I watched her reflection in the windows as she sat by the fire wrapped in a blanket, letting her tea go cold. The desolation evident in her beautiful pale features. She hadn’t shed a tear yet, probably afraid of opening the floodgates on her pain. Blinking my own away, I focused on the sky willing that damn helicopter fly out of the dark, bringing her love home to her.
Once, a couple of years ago, I went to a local shaman to find out what the future might hold. I didn’t really believe but I thought what didn’t hurt might help. He said that I had two great wishes attached to my destiny. As one would rise and be realized the other would diminish and disappear. I walked out of there thinking the guy was a charlatan. Who knew that things would go exactly as he said? Here I am, finally earning thousands of dollars with the sale of each print of my photographs, making more money than I ever imagined and gaining more critical acclaim than I probably deserve. And with each dollar there has been a diminishing return with Ana’s heart. My wish to be the center of her world was never to be realized. So I guess the fortune teller’s right. I should have seen just what was there and not some ridiculous dream of a future that could never be. And even if Christian never returns tonight, even if he has been lost in that damn helicopter forever, she will never be mine.
But I want her to be. I know that I will stay here forever if it means being in her presence, being the one she relies on in the fallout. I will convince myself that I am being a good friend to her in her darkest hour but I will be playing a waiting game, hoping to wear her down until she has no choice but to tell me she can’t cope in this world without me. She will never love me the way she loves him but if I know that then we can find a way to make it work. I will be the one to warm her bed at night, eventually giving her the children she so desperately wants. I will be the one to stand by her side in this life while she waits to meet him in the next and I will be okay with that because I will take a little of Ana. And maybe one day, she might love me. Patience and love on my part might slowly wear her down.
When her mother moved to Georgia she was both relieved and sad. I know that she worried about her mother daily but when Bob came into her life he relieved Ana of the stress that Carla’s vagueries created in her life. However, part of her felt abandoned. In an effort to cheer her up, Kate and I rented a marathon of southern movies: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, Steel Magnolias, To Kill A Mockingbird among others. We tried to make mint juleps and ate too much bad fried chicken but most of all we laughed and cried. Ana’s favorite movie was The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood. Now as I watch the emotion play across her face I wonder if I could be the Shep to her Vivianne. I know she would never love me the way she loves Christian but perhaps in time there might be an understanding and children and that would be enough. Enough to help her forget or move on. Enough for me to feel like the man who protects her heart even when it can never belong to me. It would be enough. Wouldn’t it?
As I caught her reflection once more I felt the chill of those thoughts seep into my bones. I am the worst type of emotional predator, I am cold and I am shamed for even having the thought that she might use me to fill in the gap he has left. What sort of man does this? Waits to capitalize on this family’s pain, on this woman’s despair? I don’t deserve her. I will never deserve her with such faithless thoughts in my heart. Oh, I might convince myself that I am doing the right thing, the altruistic thing. But in the end we would both know that I seized the best of a bad situation for my own sick, masochistic ends. And each minute of that poison running like a river through the veins of our friendship would result in her hating me more and more with each passing year. With every declaration of love in her ears that has not come from his mouth, a little part of her would die.
Our eyes locked in the reflection showing me a flash of horror and as much as I wanted it to be about him, I suspected it was because she could read my mind and was appalled at what she saw. So I stood there feeling the depth of her despair as it grew like a cold, dark, gray cloud shrouding everyone in the room, knowing that my presence was probably more of a reminder to her of everything that she stood to lose if he never returned. For myself, I’m all out of faith that he will return, and more out of faith that I can do anything to ease the pain she might feel as a result of his continued absence.
I could’t look at her any more. Even as my heart continued to want her so badly. So I am torn. I felt exposed by my emotional calculations, my heart bound and broken on the ground at her feet as I consider how much this whole situation is lose lose. If he never came back, Ana and I would both lose everything. If he returned, then I continued to lose what I never had but I would rather live with that pain than live every day of my life seeing hers.
Something about the air in the room shifted suddenly and I sensed a new presence. He was here. Walking into the room, he was quiet,almost unassuming. I caught his contained and measured movement in the reflection before he was seen by the others then he stilled. When I first laid eyes on him at the Heathman I thought he was predatory and arrogant, taking up the space in the room with an expectation that we would all revolve around him. Perhaps he was those things back then. Now I saw a quieter, more graceful self-awareness that was almost unsure of interrupting a party at which he is not expected. For a moment he looked perplexed, as if he didn’t know why the cast of thousands was standing anxiously around the room. As if he had no idea that anyone would care. Then he saw Ana and I saw a man brought to life. The temperature in the room subtly changed as he began to register that they were there for him and his stance altered with that new insight. He was warm, he came around and he was dignified.
Ana stood slowly on Kate’s words, shaking off her trance. Still I couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t bring myself to turn around and watch the happy scene. No matter how much I might want it for her. No matter how much I could see that he was bringing her back to life. The blind tears of hope and relief building behind her eyes shred the remaining parts of my heart.
Looking back out at the night sky, now as dark as my heart, I knew that I would take my leave and our friendship would never be the same again. Perhaps I would put a distance between us as effective as if I no longer existed. The irony is that I am a moth to her flame. There will be no peace for me, no simple answer. Perhaps I will stop hoping in time but even a carefully darned seam on my ripped heart will leave a scar that won’t ever fade. And I will always hate myself for being the man that continues to look for ways to take his place in her life. I will never forgive myself for the plans I started making tonight.
Finally, I turned to face the happy reunion, catching Christian’s eye. There was that initial surprise at my presence, followed by his blatant and well-founded, as it turns out, mistrust of my motives before his eyes widened. He knew. He knew what I was thinking. I held his stare, not blinking, not looking away. It is best he sees so he can protect her from me. His intelligent eyes understood – he and I seemed to speak the same language when it came to Ana. His knowing wouldn’t change anything – not my feelings for her nor my self-loathing – no, his forgiveness would be misplaced. That one look silently yelled volumes at him across the space.
You see, Christian, I was already making plans for my heart and hers. Faithless, opportunistic, heartless plans that could only be enacted if you didn’t come back. I was busy ripping apart my own heart knowing that whether you came or not she would still never love me and still not caring what that might mean. So you see, you’re a little late, I’m already torn.
Torn – Natalie Imbruglia by natalieimbruglia