“I’m so glad I’ll be in the rainforest soon. I need to get out of this city. I mean, it’s fun, but nothing feels real, you know? I miss feeling real.”
I hurried my words out before anyone else showed up. You were the only one allowed to see my fragility. I didn’t trust anyone else to understand.
You nodded sympathetically. You understood the havoc this city could wreak on a person’s peace of mind.
“I got you something,” you said, and slid me a box.
Inside was a locket, with the words “Je t’aime petite. Courage.”
My eyes welled with tears.
“I’m a bit nervous about going,” I confessed.
“It’s only three months. You’ll have the time of your life, and be back before you know it.”
Only three months. At the break-neck speed my life had been changing, three months seemed like an eternity. But in the grand scheme of things, it was no time at all.
“Thank you,” I said, fiddling with the clasp. “It’s perfect.”
The following week I flew to Ecuador, rode a rickety bus through the Andes and let a mule carry me to the ecological reserve I’d be volunteering at. I was ages away from anything that connected us.
The rainforest was stunning. I felt like I was walking through a fairytale, misty and mysterious. It felt good to breathe. To relax. To be disconnected from all that unnecessary Montreal drama.
But sometimes, it got lonely. I grew nostalgic for human connection, for intimate conversations. I wondered how that was something I could so cavalierly leave behind.
At a peak moment of isolation, I hiked to a stream to watch the water cutting through the greenery.
I was exactly where I wanted to be, but all I could feel was my solitude.
I didn’t want to cry about it, but my tear ducts wouldn’t listen.
The locket weighed on my chest. I unclasped it and read your words, just barely blurring together through my tears.
Je t’aime petite. Courage.
Ecuador was a wild ride, a crazy high punctuated by moments of loneliness and aggressive machismo that wore at my soul. I drifted aimlessly, and 90% of the time I loved my life more dearly than I’d ever loved anything.
But when I didn’t, I had a talisman that reminded me that I was loved, that someone out there had faith in me.
Through that I found my courage.
I wore the necklace back to Montreal, letting it fall into the basket with my shoes and wallet at the airport.
Three months can be a long time. Friendships I’d thought were solid had fizzled away, a moment in time that couldn’t be recaptured.
I felt out of place in the city. I was still wandering in my mind. Leaving again became my focus. I worked jobs that made me feel dead inside to save enough for another great escape.
You and I spoke less. There were no more teary texts, no more rants about the disappointing men in our lives. That had been a phase, one I was okay with letting go of.
Because through the silence, our love lived in the background. The few times we met up, conversation flowed as though no time had passed. And when we weren’t speaking, I still had that necklace to remind me of you, of a friendship too solid to be eroded by time or distance.
Until I lost it.
I don’t know where or how… It was somewhere between moving to New Brunswick, or cuccooning with my parents for a winter, or bouncing around Italy, or getting resettled in Prague. I drifted too much to keep track of anything. One day I thought of you, brought my hand to my neck, and realized it was gone.
Life went on. Life was good. Until it wasn’t anymore, and I was back in Montreal feeling stuck, trying to convince myself that things weren’t terrible.
I was getting caught in a whirlpool of dangerous thoughts, fighting to stay afloat. This wasn’t where I wanted to be, I refused to let myself be there, but I got stuck anyways. Dark thoughts are like quicksand. One misstep, and they’ll drag you under.
One day, at my parents’ place, my sister came downstairs with the locket you’d given me. She’d found it packed up in a box somewhere. I slipped it around my neck, thinking that it had come at a perfect time.
I was more right that I realized. A couple of days later, I found out about a friend’s death. As I worked and slept and breathed with grief pulsing at the back of my mind, I wrapped the chain around my fingers, trying not to fade into the darkness.
Courage. Courage. Courage.
I’d like to think that I’m enough of a minimalist to not need a talisman, but goddamn, it felt good to have something to cling to.
A couple of months later, I moved again, this time to Taiwan. I kept the necklace on despite the annoyance of having to take it off for three different security checks. Even though relocating was practically a routine for me at that point, it still took a bit of courage.
I clung to it desperately for the first couple of weeks, while I was still feeling so down that picking myself was starting to look impossible, regardless of where I was.
I needed your love, and your courage. Though at that point, courage meant simply waking up and going through the motions.
When you’re down, a minute can feel like a decade. A couple of weeks can feel like an eternity.
It certainly felt like a lifetime had passed, though it was closer to a month. I was wild camping at some hot springs with new friends, and I felt peaceful. All the screaming in my head had been silenced.
I’d forgotten how good that felt.
I took my clothes of to get into the river. Against my habits, I took the locket off too. The inside was beginning to rust, and I wanted to keep it around.
When I put the clothes in my bag, I saw that the locket was missing.
I imagined someone finding it in the rocks. Hopefully it would be someone who needed some courage, and could actually read the words inside it. I could only imagine the perfect serendipity of someone findingt it in a time of desperation. I was almost glad it had been misplaced. Maybe I didn’t need it anymore. The fact that I was still breathing, still chasing adventure, should have been enough inspiration to get through whatever turbulent times were to come.
But the shimmering silver caught my eye, and I looped the chain around my pinky, folding it carefully in my shirt that I immediately placed in my bag.
Perhaps there were people out there who needed it more than me, but I was going to be selfish and keep this bit of courage to myself.
Or so I thought.
Because when I got home and unfolded the shirt, the locket was gone. I emptied my bag. Nothing.
I’d been so careful, and I’d still lost it.
At another time, that would have devastated me. I would have read way too much into it. But just then, I felt okay.
You’d given me enough courage over the years. It was time to start generating it.