The Coldest Winter by Naomi Loud
January 13th, 2009
I woke up on a bench, holding my purse tight to my chest, and my backpack between my legs. At least I had my pillow from home to rest my head upon. It was freezing in the Heathrow airport. I kept my winter jacket zipped up and wrapped my scarf around my face as I slept. I opened my eyes and looked at the time. I cringed, realizing I was only on hour three of a fourteen-hour layover heading to Suvarnabhumi airport, Thailand.
I had turned twenty back in August, barely an adult. I was finally on my own, leaving behind parents in denial and their good intentions. I was moving away from messy childhood memories, and from the darkness that had plagued me until now.
I was free from it all; I was my own puppeteer, heading to Pattaya Thailand to become a scuba instructor. I felt fate pushing me forward, thrusting me into a world full of light and full of love. Or so I thought. I was running and running fast. Unaware that the vast expanse of darkness I was running from existed within me.
I first met Sawyer my first shift waitressing at Pistol back in July 2008. Pistol was a hole in the wall where they served cheap beer and sandwiches. It had a somewhat disjointed James Bond theme. The sandwiches were named after the movies and the TV above the bar – always on mute – played James Bond movies on a loop. Aside from that, the bar had more of a grunge feel to it, and the staff sported no dress code. They showed up for work wearing whatever they wanted. It was love at first sight; at last, I had found my people.
I noticed Sawyer as soon as he walked into the bar. He was wearing a baseball cap with the visor flipped upwards, black-rimmed glasses, a white t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, black jeans and tattoos down his arms. He looked like he had materialized from my teenage wet dreams. He introduced himself and his girlfriend, Annie, as they both leaned at the bar for a quick pint on their way home.
Sawyer was in a reggae band with his best friend Kip, who also worked at Pistol. They had moved from Calgary to Montreal a few years back to pursue their music careers. They now lived side by side in the same building complex.
“Oh, you guys are in a band?” I said sarcastically, using air quotes as I said band. I didn’t believe that two white dudes from Calgary could possibly have a legit reggae band. They laughed and told me to listen to their Myspace page and decide for myself.
The next morning, I sat outside my apartment door stealing the neighbour’s wifi, while I tried to find their band page. I was shocked to realize they were actually good and added both Kip and Sawyer on Facebook. I crushed on Sawyer’s profile pictures knowing full well he had a live-in girlfriend of almost four years.
But by winter the status quo had been changed and on December 23rd, I woke up gasping for air. My eyes still glued shut by a Guinness induced coma. My subconscious tugged at the edge of my mind, eager to remind me of my night out. “We kissed.” I let out with a croak. Sawyer and I had kissed, and I was set to leave for Thailand in less than three weeks.
The memories of our first kiss were blurry. I replayed them on a loop to keep them intact – in order for it to feel real. Through the boozie haze, I recalled images of Sawyer and I sitting across the table from one another. Our eyes full of liquor and sexual tension. I grew bolder under the influence and played footsie with his crotch under the table. His loaded smile could vaporize me, like a puff of smoke, I disappeared under his stare. I replayed the memories in sequence. Relishing the build-up towards our first kiss almost more than the kiss itself.
The kiss. The touch of his cold hands under my winter jacket as he pushed me against the wall. I was still young enough to feel like his touch, a man’s touch, meant everything and was everything. Still, a guilty pang slit through my gut thinking about Annie.
That morning, I tried to apologize to Sawyer, feeling sheepish about my behaviour. After all, I was the one to blame. Surely, I had thrown myself at him, knowing our time together was coming to an end. He assured me there was nothing to apologize for. We had made the decision together and we were both better off for it.
In the following weeks, we plotted to see each other as much as we could before I had to leave him. The first time he came over to my sister’s apartment, we locked ourselves in my room. I put on “808’s and Heartbreak” by Kanye West on repeat and sat next to him on my bed. He scoffed but said nothing as I rested my legs over his, my back to the wall. Sawyer was a musician and loved to tease me about my music choices, no song was ever good enough for his ear. He assured me he would teach me what “good music” was one day and I sighed as he leaned over to kiss me.
Instead, that afternoon, Sawyer taught me the difference between sex and love. I wanted to melt into his very core and stay there forever. I made sure to savour every touch and every kiss. I felt robbed by my own drunken memories. Our first kiss was now more like a sketch than a photograph in my head. I ached for his attention, his affection. Sleeping with him felt right and eased my guilt of being labeled a home-wrecker. I had no fighting chance. I was now Sawyer’s slave, his disciple, and a ticket out of his own mundane existence. Yes, technically, he was still with his girlfriend, but I was leaving in a week.
Sawyer had reassured me, telling me he needed to show me how much he cared, how much I meant to him. He said he wouldn’t have cheated on Annie if I wasn’t leaving. “I would never do that to her but this is different,” he told me. I would have slept with him no matter the situation, but I didn’t tell him that. When he left that day, I ran back to my room and fell into bed, Sawyer’s smell still lingering on my pillows.
When d-day finally came, I sat on the edge of my bed alongside Sawyer as he handed me a tattered book from his bag. It was thin and compact with the corner of the cover page torn off with age. He told me he had found the book in a hostel in Thailand and had kept it with him throughout his travels. He told me to keep it. It was mine now, to keep it safe while it was my turn to travel alone to South-East Asia. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was leaving him behind. I didn’t even know when I would be coming back. I cursed the universe, wondering why I had met Sawyer mere months before leaving the country.
I cried in Sawyer’s arms as we stood beside my sister’s idling car. He told me he loved me for the very first time, and I promised him I would come back “now that someone loves me.” I watched him turn away and start down the street as I cried. My tears felt beautiful, even poetic, as I waved him a final goodbye.
Later that day, as I sat waiting for my flight to board, I fished out his book and traced the fragile corners with my fingers. Slowly, I opened it and discovered he had left me a note inside. I had to swallow my heart back down into my chest as I reeled from the romance of it all. I memorized it, his words heavy with wisdom. Imploring me to wander the earth and explore as much as I possibly could. After all, he wrote, we were all children of the earth.
I had split myself in half when the plane had taken off back in Montreal. My other half now lived inside of someone else and his name was Sawyer. Our love was true love, I knew this because he told me. I believed him with every part of me, even the parts of myself I hardly understood. Sawyer was older, fourteen years my senior. Still, he told me he never loved like this before. Sawyer was my first love, and this he always would be. Whether the love was in fact real that I could not say. But at that time, between us both, it was real and that’s what mattered. Every single moment spent with Sawyer was like a prayer answered, and I longed for the day we could be real.
Back at the Heathrow airport, I was in a state of limbo. Wandering the halls thinking of Sawyer, still feverish from his last words to me. “I love you.” I listened to “808’s and Heartbreak,” only to be reminded of us locked inside my sweltering room weeks earlier. Memories of the coldest winter, when we kissed on icy sidewalks drunk on Guinness and lust. The winter I fell in love.
About the Author:
Naomi (Noams) Loud is a writer from Montreal, Canada. She is currently working on her first memoir Hello from Bordeaux. If not writing or thinking about writing, Naomi spends the rest of her time buying too many books and daydreaming about the ocean.