November was the month of bitterness and sweetness. I sat in an aircraft that lifted me off the American grounds of Bloomington into that sleepless city of Seattle.
The air was chilly. I lost count of the times I cursed the winter air. I don’t think I ever forgave it for the bites it gave my fair skin.
Winter really is overrated. Damn Hollywood and the radio songs. Fluffy snow is a lie, just like the cake.
But that was two weeks later. What happened in Seattle was the fish market where the fishmongers danced and sung like what people do best in Oliver the musical whenever someone buys a fish. It was a dull windy morning that day and as we merged with the crowd, I saw a sea of photographers with impatient cameras held up high, waiting for the missing buyers.
Finally, someone bought a crab. Merry chorus of jolly deep male voices. Cameras celebrated the occasion in flashes of white. The only thing missing was the champagne.
Further down the market, traders from Arab, Spain, Japan, Jamaica and many more nations decorated the dirty cobblestone floors with sugar and spice and everything nice. There were stalls of quaint jeweleries, duct tape wallets, spicy pasta, pottery, plants, honey sticks, wind chimes, and shrimps. Restaurants here and there. The food was expensive but no begger would die hungry here. The people were too nice to begin with.
Of the Seattle Fish Market, the first Starbucks (it’s just the fame), the Experiment Music Project (where I bought my first Bob Marley t-shirt), Seattle Space Needle (like KL Towers that has an Oreo for the head), restaurants of lobsters and crabs, souvenir shops, Christmas parades and candlelight trees and late night rendezvous down the chilly streets and overhead bridges, Seattle was everything I envisioned in a romantic little American seaside town.
I’ve never watched the movie before.
I bought a jade shell choker. I couldn’t resist it. Especially after knowing he thought it was beautiful. We bought some pasta and spices for his mother. I always liked that woman.
The sun mellowed quickly by six. Just like the movies, the winter birds flew southwest over our heads against the deep orange skies, as all of us headed towards his mother’s fiance’s apartment. The apartment was fancy with many oriental ornaments and paintings. Modernity was the theme. As the fiance answered the machine outside the large wooden door to let us in, right there and then, I envied his success and wished to emulate it one fine day.
The mother was a pretty blond woman. She aged very well. Then again, I remember him mentioning her glory as Miss Teen Alaska once upon a time. That very thought made me worry about my growing process. Would I look as good when I turn well over 50 like she did? Tuning into the moment, I tried to help out as much as I thought a son’s girlfriend should, doing much kitchen work as our friends lingered around, setting the dinner table and chatting his younger brother up. She seemed very pleased with my stirring of the soup of turkey leftovers. I secretly wondered if this was a hint of what was in store for me when I become more than a girlfriend.
His brother was an incredibly lanky fellow. An aspiring doctor, he was scarily healthy enough to lecture his grandmother on what to maintain for her diet. In fact, he was the only person I knew in the States to like warm water to go along with dinner. Introverted and calm with a well of knowledge in fields that intrigued me, he was very different from his outgoing brother. I felt embarrassed to know how dangerously attracted I was getting towards him.
“Did you know that the human body has 206 bones?” He inquired.
“I think I heard that somewhere before,” I replied, amused.
While waiting for dinner to be ready, we went into a conversation on the four essential human needs: Need for security, need for novelty, need for community, and the need for isolation. He found it very interesting as he never thought of the human needs that way.
You’re a novelty, I mused in silence.
The fiance then had a brilliant idea: We should freeze ourselves on the rooftop while we enjoy the sunset. We all thought it should be a worthwhile trip especially since his ridiculously posh apartment faces the sea and all its shipping glory.
And it was. The dark orange glow spread across the horizon in stunning yellow and red into the twilight zone. Wisp of grey white clouds gave layers of depth to the nostalgic sky, reflecting every bit of sunset that was left for the next few minutes. Against the stunning hue of purple and gold on the panoramic sky, ships swayed gently and bobbed lightly on the dark waters next to the port. We stood in awe, shivering, and cold in our jackets and hoods, trying to capture every single elusive color in the faulty cameras of our minds.
“I wish I have my camera,” I lamented.
“Nah, I don’t think any photograph can capture a scene just as it is, compared to a memory. I try to enjoy the moment just as it is,” his brother replied.
“Heh, I don’t trust my memory much.”
But he was right. Right now, only my memory does justice to that magnificent blend of kaleidescope.
“Is this your first Thanksgiving dinner?” Their neighbor asked with a smile.
“Yeah,” our friend chuckled.
“Wow, it must be very exciting for you then.”
It was. It was not so much about the delicious turkey or the disgustingly sweet pecan apple pie or the steaming warm mash potatoes, but the very presence of these warm folks gave me a sense of calmness I haven’t felt in a long time.
It felt like family.
And he was there, smiling and joking and having his parents and family friends talking to us like older siblings we never had.
Something I never had.
After clearing the dishes and wine glasses, we gathered in the living room, drunk with food coma as we sank into lazy stupor in the plush leather sofas. The telly was on with channels nobody watched. On and off, I engaged the brother next to me in a conversation on what I thought to be topics of interest. The man I loved was falling asleep by the moment and I knew, under the warm thermal blanket, he was content.
Here he was, in the living room of a place he could call home. He tried to give me the same feeling of welcome and hugged me, pulling me close to his chest. Out of embarrassment, I withdrew and sat upright a few times, regardless of the presence of our cuddling friends right next to him, before resigning in slight reluctance. I didn’t know why; neither did he.
Weeks later, after the breakup, I woke up to see thin layers of overnight whiteness covering the grass and streets outside my window. It didn’t cheer me up like I thought it would. Nostalgia hit me over and over again like the snowball fights we would never have. I could still picture myself exclaiming to him with the exuberance of a little girl who was seeing snow for the very first time, while attempting to catch every single snowflake with the buds of her outstretched tongue.
I watched the falling snow that I would not build a snowman with for a long time. My heart then admitted something unsettling: I never really knew how to stay happy, for I never really tried.
And he did. He taught me love.