Monday, January 14, 2013
On the morning of your 18th birthday...
It will happen like this.
The Chamber of Halves sits in the hills over Tularosa, hidden in the clouds. The white adobe towers are all you see, punching through like fists. There’s a clock on the largest tower, and every hour a deep, thundering bell shakes butterflies out of the palm trees.
She arrives at the Chamber of Halves early with her friends and family. You arrive later.
There are two entrances to the Chamber of Halves. Two different driveways, two turnoffs from two different freeways. You take one. Your half takes the other.
There are thirty-six steps up to the oak doors, but it feels like three hundred. A man waits at the top, and he tells you two things.
Her name, and the number of the room where you will go to meet her.
For a second your heart hovers motionless. That’s when it hits you.
Her name is pretty, she is real. And you have forty-five minutes and twenty seconds left before you see her.
Inside, the carpet is deep, purple, and velvety.
But forty-five minutes is nothing compared to eighteen years. In forty-five minutes, you can count the number of times you breathe. You count down.
Then the bell tolls and the time is gone. So is your stomach. You left it in the car, or at home. When you stand, your knees tremble.
The others—your family, your friends—they wait outside. You will see your half for the first time alone.
But alone will never mean the same thing again. You will hardly use the word, and it will vanish.
The hallways are plush with purple carpet, velvety. Lined with paintings of sunsets and seashores. Empty. You walk and sink at the same time.
The door is teak, probably a hundred years old. There are two names on it. Yours is one. Hers is the other—your half. Now you can feel her, how close she is. You take one last breath.
The door is heavy and difficult to push open.
From inside the room, cool air wafts over you. An ancient smell, like old books in a library. It has hit you already, but like all life-changing events, the emotions seep in slowly.
The door takes forever to swing open. When you see a person standing inside the room, your heart stops.
At first, you can do nothing but stare at her. She is not what you expected. Taller, brunette instead of blonde, blue eyed instead of hazel. At first, your stomach tightens and you worry it’s all wrong. All a mistake, that she’s not your half.
But the two of you continue to stare at each other, and it dawns on you that she is the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen. She is perfect.
She is your half.
You step forward and gaze into her eyes. They glitter. She says your name first, as if checking. You say hers. Then both of you laugh, and you can’t stop.
You hug, because it seems right; she is your best friend. But she feels different, divine, her skin charged. Just touching her makes you short of breath, and her smell reminds you of a dream, a fantasy. Desire weaves its way through your brain.
It’s as if she has been there for you your whole life, longer. She is your destiny, she is your half.
You brought a gift, a necklace, but you drop it on the floor. And you lean in to kiss her.
On your eighteenth birthday, her fingers lock with yours, and you leave the room together. It’s a different kind of movement, weightless, like swimming. Your fingertips buzz, and your skin swells with euphoria. She makes you nervous, like all things that are too good to be true.
Somewhere outside, your friends are waiting. So are hers, but you’ve completely forgotten. Your mind fixates on the girl next to you. You hardly speak, and you feel her heartbeat through her hand—like a butterfly’s wings.
A creek gurgles below the Chamber of Halves. Warm stones bask in the sunlit shallows, where mist steams off and glitters like diamonds. Moist flowers perfume the morning air. Cherry trees blossom along the edges and shelter patches of grass wide enough for two people—for you and your half.
You wander across a footbridge, and the sun winks through sycamore trees. But you’re tense. So is she. You pause in the dappled shade of a trellis and collapse hopelessly into each other’s arms. You can’t resist the spell. She catches your eye, and the rush makes you dizzy.
And then it becomes clear. You and she are two halves of the same soul. Forever, you will want to jump across into each other’s bodies. Forever, the desire will haunt you.
You see it in her eyes too—desperation.
Some time later, your families find you, and a lump forms in your throat when you imagine you must ride home in different cars. The thought hurts. You feel her go tense also. But you are halves. You are eighteen, and you will never be alone again.
You ride home with her family. She sits in the middle, pressed against you. Her friends are different around her, uncertain.
Gradually, time thaws. The day passes. There’s a marriage ceremony, a banquet, and then come the parties. They go on for days. You drink and dance, always with your half. You catch each other’s eye like you share a secret.
And when everyone else is too tired to keep going, you stay up all night.
Because time is precious.
The mornings are the strangest. You wake up feverish, sweaty, confused. It’s not your room. There’s a balcony, open glass doors. Sheer curtains drift up in a salty breeze like wisps of smoke. Near your feet, sunlight strikes the folds of a tangled comforter—it’s pink for God’s sake.
But you are not alone.
A girl shifts next to you and props herself up, a mess of tousled hair and big bright eyes. And your heart goes into free-fall. Because up until now, you were certain she was a dream.
Blood pumps into your arm and swells it painfully, because it’s been pinned under her body the entire night. Your skin is glued to hers. She catches your eye, and your heart flutters. Hers too. You make each other dizzy.
After your eighteenth birthday, an addiction ravages your blood. Like infancy, you remember little of the first months, only erratic surges of ecstasy and withdrawal. You memorize each other—and the stimulation scalds your nerves.
But you never truly touch. The desire haunts you continuously. And you suspect its unique, erotic, forbidden. Together, you relish the secret.
You rarely go to school. Your friends change. They’re cardboard cutouts now, exactly like you. The same age, the same level of infatuation with their half. The constant, chemical high of new halves dictates this.
You are now an eighteen-year-old.
And everything that happened before is as distant and forgotten as if had happened in your mother’s womb.
This is the honeymoon stage.