We went everywhere together. Our friends deemed us unbearably adorable, ceaselessly reminding us that we were the stars of some romantic comedy titled “Eric and Emily”. But to me, she was “Emm”, partly because I thought it was cute, and partly because she was always at a loss for a nickname for me. She never liked that name though, and my response to her inevitable displeasure was always a snide remark, usually about her slow subway service in Queens. But it was her watch who kept me on time, and her drive who kept us exploring. Without her, getting up early for a bike run in the dead of winter wouldn’t even be a nightmare, even when we caught the occasional breathtaking sunrise by the water. I wouldn’t call myself a cyclist anymore, but whenever I have a long night, I still try to wake up for those sunrises, if only to capture again their fleeting beauty.
As a practical night owl, I prefer the striking radiance of a cloudy sunset. That’s what brought us together, a love for the calm appreciation that accompanies the act of simply watching the everyday. But it was always her initiative that brought us on adventures, or “journeys”, as she would say, where we would spontaneously venture to some unknown neighborhood and watch the locals like wide-eyed tourists. I’d bring my little camera of course, and sneakily try to take artsy candid shots of bronze statues and water fountains. Whenever she got tired of me filming my stop-motion documentary, she would always poke my ribs, point out some previously unnoticed artsy shot, and tickle my sides to ruin my shot. Her hyperaware self just took it all in: listening to the crackle of fallen leaves under her feet, breathing in the salty musk of a summer beach, and shivering under the rough texture of freshly cut grass. Our trips were her journey into a hypersensitive trance I could only envy.
Her smile was infectious; her laugh only more so. I will never understand how she put up with my snarky, flat witticisms against her upbeat social commentary. Often I felt worn down by chains of frustrating, difficult days wrangling with bizarre bugs and fine-tuning features. Yet she always saw the wondrous novelty of accomplishment, egging me on like an overly enthusiastic parent watching their son walk for the first time. Whenever I looked over on her side of the studio, I would always find her decorating some canvas with colors in a brilliant show of neon orgasms. I was always at a loss when tasked with understanding them, but her art definitely had the same psychedelic effect she had on me. Somehow her work always shined with a piece of her electric personality, a biting optimism that reflected a mysterious past.
She was the creative one, of course. Always on the lookout for the perfect shade of black eyeliner to compliment her classy black skirt, I was just a passenger of her imagination. Racks after racks of half-off, half-used leather jackets only sparked her love of discovery, and to keep me busy, she would try on enough combinations to start her own exotic collection. But stripes everywhere just aren’t my thing. Even worse, her eye for matching never seemed to apply to the two belts I spent months deciding between, even though she had managed to memorize my entire wardrobe. But by that point, I had fallen in love with the dizzying array of bold confidence she exuberated in each look with a hint of devious reservation. Or maybe it just was how her sharp canines met the redness of her curled lips – I don’t quite remember.
It was her who discovered why I always refuse to watch blockbuster action movies – the inevitable romantic subplot would always feel incredibly awkward, never cute. Of course, this meant that she never failed to drag me to every summer chick flick to watch me squirm in shyness, consummating with a wet peck on my cheeks whenever the oblivious, but obsessed guy would commit the cliché gratuitous faux pas and have his heart broken. And those suggestive sessions in bed always left me buried in her hair, questioning my usual preference against coconut-scented products. But she understood that I always end up too emotionally invested, and never stopped me from holding her hand through her favorite emotional rollercoasters. I wonder if it was her clever ploy to bring me out of my emotional shell, to capture the imagination of a little boy with heart-wrenching fairytales.
My favorite moments with her were the nights we would choose a park bench off to the side, and I would quietly admire the softness of her skin as we snuggled together. Sometimes, we would talk about our future, our dreams, or our hopes, synchronizing our experiences through the lessons we learned. Other times, we would directly explore the landscape of our memories, using our stories as lenses into our souls. But I cherish most the times we would lay head-to-head with intertwined arms, our mutual silence drowning away the hectic rumbling of the city that brought us together. The quick glances by busy shadows and drunken parties making their way home tree trunks could never match the intense focus we formed between our eyes. To us, the flickering yellow streetlights were our stars, and the smattering of still-lit office windows were our constellations.
And like every amazing sunset, it had to come to an end. She longed for a taste of the rest of the world, while I could only imagine reliving my own. Sometimes, I still make journeys across the city, drowning under waves of dream pop, armed with my trusty camera to capture the sights again. Every so often a couple will spot me and my camera and ask me to capture their faces on theirs, and as I politely press the shutter with a sad smile, I reflect on our expeditions. But it is only until twilight has faded that I head home, carrying only memories captured through glass lenses. Each new venture is only guided by a longing hope for her arms to lead me to new sights and to wrap me in her warmth once again. But only a fool would expect each sunset to be the same; perhaps her lesson to me was to cherish the beauty of each passing day.