Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Kiss Goodbye (or Thank You Gustav Klimt)

He arrived at the Seattle airport, stopping in front of the American Airlines skycap. I stepped onto the sidewalk and waited for him to hand me the bag from the trunk of his Mercedes. When he came around to the back of the car, he paused and stared at me as if for the first time.
“You are so beautiful,” then hugged me with the full length of his body. His kiss took my breath and words away. “You had better go, or you will miss your flight to San Francisco.” We both laughed. I could have stayed on the sidewalk at Seattle and forgotten about my trip to California, my visit with my nephew and meeting my freshman year roommate for dinner.
At the top of the Hyatt, San Francisco, watching the fog with my college friend, Debbie, I was happy to have been included in her family gathering. Together we watched the gray against the pinks and orange of the sunset, low like a front moving across the horizon with plans to change the weather. When we had first been shown to our table on the top floor of the sky scraper, the sky had been clear, a beautiful day for tourists to ride cable cars and visit chocolate factories. We were guests in the City of Fog and excited to see it form before us. We drank our cocktails, enjoyed the warm bread, and talked about the beauty in the distance.
San Francisco is broad and spreads to the water. The city filled the vast plate glass window by our table. We were lucky to have had seats with such a spectacular view. The buildings below us glowed with neon signs. The lighted windows opened to our gaze the interior of offices, while glass elevators rose along the exterior of the neighboring structures. The moving landscape entertained us as we waited for our entrees. The streets were filled with traffic and the occasional flashing red lights of emergency vehicles could be seen from the height of our dining perch. Conversations wandered from marathons soon to happen, birthdays which had passed, and friendships that had lasted for 40 years. The warmth of the drinks and the bread, and now the fish and quail, added to the jovial atmosphere. Everyone was happy to have had the opportunity to meet in such a special city. Children had flown in from Dallas and Boston, parents from North Carolina and a friend from Seattle. We had come a long way to sit together and watch the fog.
It had begun simply, hardly noticeable at first, a thick band below the streaked colors of the day’s end. It appeared to lie motionless on the horizon. “Look at the fog. It’s covered Alcatraz.”
Debbie’s youngest daughter’s comment drew our attention to the window. The layer of gray formed a barrier against the distance that no one saw form. It seemed to mysteriously materialize, like a magician’s trick to amaze an audience on opening night. As if waiting for our attention, the fog began to change and grow. It slowly inched forward toward the city from the water. We were able to see it advance. As it moved toward the office buildings from the bay, it blanketed the distance, obscuring the boats and hills that had previously dotted the horizon.
“My goodness. Look how quickly it’s growing.”
Debbie was right. The haze seemed to be closing in on San Francisco, narrowing our field of vision. It had deepened and now reached half way up the first of the city buildings closest to the water. I felt a chill. High up above the lights and the roof tops, with windows closed and temperatures controlled to a comfortable dining setting, I felt the chill of the wet, cold air below. The fog was getting closer. The sun had set, and the lights from the buildings twinkled above the encroaching gray which continually crept toward the Hyatt. The haze now obscured the waterfront and half of the vista which we had so recently enjoyed.
In my mind, I could hear the fog talking, not in the low deep bellows of horns rising from a midst, but in high whispers.
“I am coming. I will be there soon.”
The table conversation died as everyone watched the approaching fog. Soon our entire view became hidden, covered in heavy gray. I could feel the fog around me. I looked at Debbie, her husband, and children to see if it surrounded them too. I could see no midst on the table, no cloud around our chairs, and nothing lurking on our side of the window. The candles were illuminated by batteries, and no smoke emanated from the glowing containers which decorated the table. Every detail from the interior of the dining room was crystal clear, and yet I could feel the fog around me. I smiled, trying to hide my fear that I alone was engulfed. If I remained calm, then perhaps no one else would see my fog.
“I am here now. Relax.”
As the voice of the fog resonated in my ears, I could feel the cool thick air drift into my skull. Like a spray of water from mister, it settled over my synapses. My brain began to slow like a body put into suspended animation. If people conversed around me, I could no longer hear the words. I smiled and nodded my head occasionally just in case anyone looked my way.
My fog saturated brain recalled his kiss. I felt his lips meeting mine, as he held me so tightly that I could not breathe. I had stopped breathing long before the kiss, when I saw him jump out of his car and come around the back to stand before me staring, assessing my body with approval. His hair was the color of the midst that whirled around us, hiding us from the eyes of the other travelers who were departing from Seattle’s airport. We were joined curbside, kissing and holding each other. I had planned to tell him goodbye differently, a kiss on the cheek, a light hug, a farewell appropriate for a couple without a future, one single, one not. The airport fog at had caused the words to evaporate from my brain. I had forgotten the reason I was flying to San Francisco, to get away for a while, to allow my brain to take hold of my unchecked heart. Now in my fog at dinner, I kissed him again and felt his body against mine.
“Would anyone like dessert?” and the waiter passed narrow leather menus to all of the diners. He handed me mine.
My fog was gone. I looked around the table, and no one seemed to have noticed my absence.
I laughed, “No, not for me, thank you. I am completely stuffed.” Almost immediately, three different waiters arrived, serving a slice of warm chocolate cake and singing the birthday song to Debbie’s oldest daughter. I mouthed the words, as I felt the fog creep back into my head. I looked around the table one last time, before I allowed myself to be overcome in the midst of my mind.
I was back in Seattle. Again, I saw him come around the car, stand and stare at my body. I felt him surround me, and I felt the kiss. We kissed again as the vapor whirled in my brain. The fear of being lost in the fog brought back my attention to the table and my friends.
“I am so happy you were able to join us tonight,” and I nodded to Debbie in agreement, beating back the haze for a brief while.
“I can’t imagine any place I would rather be,” I lied to my friend.
When dinner was finished, we took the elevator to the ground floor where I hugged Debbie and her husband, said my goodbyes, and walked down to the sidewalk. The grayness of the night obscured the street lamps, caused the storefront signs to twinkle, and removed the color from the city. San Francisco was fog gray. I followed Stockton to Market Street.
“I am back,” and I heard the voice of the fog as I neared the train station.
Everything was gray; the sidewalk, the stone facades of the buildings, the stairs to the train, his hair, his beautiful thick hair. San Francisco, the City of Fog, had consumed me. The fog would stay within me, as I rode the train through the night, remembering images void of color, blurred of clear lines, washed in my memory. Once again, I was conscious of that kiss. Oh, that kiss goodbye, that kiss in the fog, again and again, memorizing that kiss as the train carried me away from San Francisco to the suburbs and the safety of my nephew’s home.

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