It was another day lost to a fading sky. Colors along the horizon hung in the air, dissolving into clouds. The sky turned as blue as the ocean and they became two dark things, quiet in the night. Two dark things magnificent in their endlessness. There was always something special about sunsets and the vanishing colors they held. It made me crave a love as colorful and boundless as the sky. There was a stirring feeling in the pit of my stomach, like a wind up toy waiting to run to someone. Someone it loved. It was the person who appeared in your mind while watching the sunset fade. If you were lucky, maybe they were right there next to you. Or maybe, beyond the veil of colors, sunsets made us think of someone else in another moment, in another time. I knew one thing for sure as the sun was setting. He was from somewhere else, somewhere else entirely.
I gripped my hands around the steering wheel, turning them back and forth. It was time to choose one of the three roads to take. Malibu, Laurel, or Coldwater Canyon. I visualized each route, how they all curved differently in the California sun, but at night were hidden away. They were full of windy corners and memories of different lives for me, especially at night. These roads could all make you feel a little bit lost, and how memories of people could do the same. There were people who could make you feel as though no time had passed since you last spoke, and then there were people who you couldn’t place in time, or didn’t want to anymore. I had driven to see certain people on these roads repeatedly, even if now they were just people I once knew. People who were actually just blips on my timeline but at the time were my entire world.
I had to pick a route before time ran out. I had to think about where in time each one could take me. Back through Malibu Canyon to the summer of my first love, drowned out with ocean waves and sounds coming from a music studio. Across town, Laurel Canyon would always feel like 1976 and nights lost to the hills. That canyon was so much of my life, but that was a different story entirely. Coldwater Canyon took me back to my early twenties, driving to the city for morning meetings and curing my hangovers with the smell of overpriced coffee trapped in a plastic lid. The roads spit you right out in the luxury of it all, in front of estates behind high locked gates and their impeccable landscapes. Lush, thick hedges bordering each house like the crust on a piece of bread.
I made my way through Coldwater Canyon but without the burnt coffee. At the top of the hills just before the descent, I passed a mansion where I attended a birthday party complete with a full bar and petting zoo. It was a bizarre celebration for a grown woman, but I wasn’t complaining about drinking a strong Moscow Mule and petting a sloth. I passed another house where a punk band lived. There was expensive, modern leather furniture meticulously placed and empty Jack Daniels bottles displayed like GRAMMYs. After one night out at Bardot, we threw all the patio furniture into the swimming pool, for no reason at all. Another night that felt so wild and free but one I barely remembered until I saw the house on the road. I was unaware of where the nights of my past could really take me before I knew the secrets of the canyons. Some nights were quiet, but never boring. Most of all, they were ridiculous and free, like a drive through the canyon in someone’s dad’s Mercedes convertible they borrowed. With my head tilted back into the red leather seat staring up into the stars, I felt as though they could devour me. Speeding through the darkness of the night, only a blur of red lights I prayed would turn green as we approached them.
The sea of red taillights was to be expected of everybody going somewhere on this road. They were all important people behind tinted windows in expensive, shiny cars with a certain reckless way people drive in them. There were men driving in dark suits outlined against the evening light as a shadow of a person, heading to places unknown. A vintage silver Porsche 911 purred to a stop behind me. Smoke billowed from the car window up and away into the air. I could hear “Gimme Shelter,” booming from its stereo and that same haunting melody that cried out for a release. I knew where he was headed next. I knew because I knew time travel was real and the way you got there was by driving through any one of the canyons in Los Angeles at sunset. Yes, you read that correctly. This was the main reason for choosing which canyon to drive carefully. This was why I was constantly flooded by things I didn’t always want to remember, and had to be careful not to revisit. It was the truest test of what your mind thought about, but what your heart could not give up. I rubbed my eyes underneath my sunglasses. The music had stopped. By the time I glanced back in my review mirror, he was gone.
It first happened to me one unsuspecting night, as I was heading to the Laugh Factory. Coldwater Canyon brought me back in time to a night selling merch in the booth for a friend’s band playing at The Roxy. It was a bizarre, unreal feeling that should have brought on immense panic. Terrified I was about to start living in my own personal Groundhog Day, I walked to the bar and ordered my 23 going on 33 year-old self a RedBull vodka. I stirred the cold dark gold liquid around, watching the same night I had already lived unfold again. The buzz started to kick in and I knew this was something else. For some reason it was a night none of my other friends were there, just me working in the booth. Maybe it was better this way. I couldn’t hurt their futures I already knew about. I could never, and would never be able to explain it to anyone anyway. Until that moment when he walked through the crowd and asked for my name.
The crowd parted and there he was, his green eyes illuminated by the hazy orange glow from the stage. It was the strangest part of the night, because it was a moment where I met the person I knew would fall so dangerously in love with, before anything had happened. The moment we had first met, but before I knew the mystery that awaited our story. It was the moment where you locked eyes with someone and you just wanted them to instantly be a part of your world. It was a moment worthy of time travel.
Now I was through the canyon, back to him. This time I wasn’t sure at what point in our relationship it was. I pulled up and the gate lurched open. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him. Real or in another dimension.
He looked the same, like he hadn’t aged at all. He looked the same because he was a time traveler, too. A very seasoned one who could not only go back in time, but forward, building up an incredible memory. It was a particular way of making you feel nervous because you didn’t remember certain things—stories, conversations, with the same vivid recognizance as he did. It was a way that made you question if you even remembered what the color blue looked like if it wasn’t for the sky. His passion for art, music, history, and collection of books lining his walls was that of someone who lived in another century. It was like falling down the rabbit hole through his own personal Wonderland. A David Hockney painting encased in a frame only you could touch. Despite his collections, his prized possession was a book he kept of all the Polaroid photos he had taken, some of which even dated back to 1776. I had the feeling I had been here before, but at what cost? This was the problem with loving someone who could travel through time, too. It played a funny trick on your mind, a game of roulette in a smoky casino with the colors spinning around the wheel, blurring into one. He could erase himself and my memories by changing certain things in the past, altogether. But for some reason, these were memories he left alone.
He had given me a silver locket from Chrome Hearts to remember him by. He said there were only two in the world, and he had the other half. I used this to gauge what time he’d come from to see me, but sometimes it was impossibly wild to tell. He had only ever explained time travel to me once. In the canyon your body hit the perfect centrifugal force, and a beam of light at sunset disintegrated you. It reminded me of a fuzzy black and white television. Instead of remaining in the lost airwaves, it shot you into outer space, into the abyss of the galaxy. There you were, momentarily floating in a silent, dark mass. The galaxy was full of other dimensions, but the dimensions were spread like glitter, sparking every second like the blue light in a socket before you plugged something in. In our reality, the outlet will always spark, but it isn’t always seen. Sometimes we see the spark and sometimes we don’t. We just have to be willing to look for magic in the first place.
Time travel was exhausting on the human body for a number of reasons. Going from gravity to zero gravity. Moving faster than the speed of light. For the body to absorb the stress, gray hair would appear and eyes would change colors entirely. One time I woke up and my eyes were brown for a day. Another day I had a temporary British accent I attributed to a night in Laurel Canyon with members of a band from Liverpool. There was no limit to the physical effects on your body, despite the mental ones. Traveling through time felt like spinning and floating in an ocean of darkness, a darkness so close you could reach out and touch anything in the universe, even a star. This was why it was so dangerous. I could have caused a supernova itself. The celestial starlet.
I stepped onto the deck of the back patio. The house served as a music studio and had two swimming pools, which was quite appropriate for being above the Sunset Strip. The water looked cold as it swished around in the winter sun. He taught me that the way water looked was also an indicator of being in the past, present, or future. Water in the future had a certain iridescence to it, the way a bubble looks floating in the air. Its reflection showed us people we didn’t always want to see. Pools of ourselves we didn’t want to jump into. The water was blue and clear, but I was in someone else’s dream. I heard music from the speakers inside. Tom Petty. Wildflowers. I knew I had been here before.
How could someone look at you and make you feel as though you had just met them, but remembered everything about them? It made no sense. He smiled and snapped a picture of me. My eyes saw stars from the flash. I knew this photo would be going in the book, maybe it was even already there. He could play with my timeline because he owned the photos that proved I was here or there, or not there yet. As he added the photo to the book, there I was already in the pages–at the Laurel Canyon house party of 1976, the Malibu Canyon party of 1982, and now on this day. All places I had traveled in time to be with him. The stirring feeling was back. I wanted him to be obsessed with watching me as with the apparating film. Preciously kept in a darkroom waiting to develop into something slowly and then altogether at once. A worshiped, cherished goddess of madness and muse, despite the dangers of loving someone who could never really be with you. I still wanted to be the one in the photos people pointed at and uttered, “Who’s that girl?”
“That’s the girl.” His eyes fluttered and a strand of his hair turned gray.
“She’s right outside on the deck.”
I’d look in and smile.
Some people you just love and you can’t really explain why.