Separated From the Earth
I spend two weeks in the Alps in a small village called Chamonix that prides itself on its fleet of giant snowcapped mountains, ice climbing locals, and a niche culture for writers gathering for a workshop. I am getting over someone by being here, a man named David who was on house arrest when we met. He had a penthouse in Miami. He could only leave between seven in the morning and seven at night. He never saw my house, which was fine since I was living with my parents after another bad break-up that left me homeless. The drive to Miami was nice, as it made me forget my troubles back in Boca, the hour-long trek over bridges and waterways, how leaving and arriving felt so good because I was in control of it. I told David I wouldn’t be able to talk while I was in France.
I walk the rue du Lyret on the first night and recognize Lexi from her picture online. She’s sitting outside a café and tells me to join her and Katie, another workshop participant. I sit down and wait for Katie to return. When she comes back she says hello to me like we’ve known each other for years, like I’ve spent many nights waiting for her to come back and to me. We walk around for a while taking artsy pictures of the famous Mont Blanc and telling each other about all the things we wish to accomplish while being here. Everyone just wants to write, every day, for hours on end, and to leave here feeling better than they feel right now.
The first week I think I am in love with a poet. He is slight in his build and can often be found staring into the distance. When I try to talk to him he either responds with something completely unrelated he was knocking around in his head or ignores me completely, which only drives my passion. He reads a poem about giving a boy a blowjob, I turn my attention to Katie. She rolls her own cigarettes, and we share them on walks to workshop. I like to watch her tiny fingers, the movement of her hands as she picks a filter out of the plastic bag, finds a place for it, wraps up the smoke and passes it to me. It takes her two and a half glasses of Pinot Noir to get drunk. She tells me she’s bisexual, and I tell her I might be too. Her husband’s name is Andres and he wasn’t happy about her coming to Mont Blac.
At the end of the first week Katie asks me to go with her and Lexi to Milan. Rich is driving, she says. We’re leaving at 3:00pm. She begs. She knows I won’t go. We’ve theoretically known each other for an eternity, so she understands my fear of such a chaotic interlude. She says we can stay in bed and watch Netflix. But we can do that here, I say. She goes on the trip and I spend all weekend hiking, eating crepes, reading recommended essays, thinking of her. I imagine us climbing up to the Chalet de Floria, drinking lemonade and pondering the vista. The whole city could be ours. It’s good to live inside a fantasy, I tell myself as I roast vegetables for dinner. It’s good to have a consistent delusion in your mind. Katie messages me when they return and asks me to meet her for coffee. She’s wearing a green dress when I see her. She looks like she’s been crying.
Paragliders fly over us the morning we meet up. They float carelessly with such wonder. Katie tells me she’s leaving with Rich when it’s all over. I light a cigarette and tell her I’m going to go paragliding before it all ends.
It’s someone’s birthday in the middle of the week and we all go out to the only bar in town, the Jekyll. I hit on the poet again to no avail and leave the party early, wishing the birthday girl many blessings and much love to come. I take her picture by the l’Arve and wish it were Katie I was photographing. Katie and Rich were not at the bar, and I imagine them in his hotel room, Katie asleep while Rich plays guitar, tunes the instrument across his naked lap, the outside world rests in a window and seems so far, so separate from their own world inside. Katie and Rich are becoming one person, the most sickening thought, that one could mesh and meld with another; the ultimate delusion. I walk home along the river, the long way back to my hostel. I look up at the space where paragliders fly during the day, the emptiness of the air they fill, how their twirling and spinning seems to make everything better with brightly colored parachutes. Orange arches, yellow bodies, red helmets.
I think that maybe I do not love Katie because I want so many things about her to change. Maybe what I really want is to be able to ask for what I want. I wonder if anyone will ever love me the way I seem to fall in love with everyone I meet.
I decide to paraglide on my last day on the mountain. When my feet leave the earth, I remember that I will die someday, possibly now if something goes awry—the wind, the weight unevenly distributed, my heart failing because of shock. The town is so small from up high, such a small thing, and I’m almost done with it, with all these people here. When I land on the grass, other paragliders drop down all around me. They fly and fall and land. We all walk through town to get home, to where we are staying. The high is over by the time we make it through our doors.
Brittany Ackerman is a writer from Riverdale, New York. She earned her BA in English from Indiana University and graduated from Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. She teaches Critical Studies at AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Hollywood, California. She was the 2017 Nonfiction Award Winner for Red Hen Press, as well as the AWP Intro Journals Project Award Nominee in 2015. Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Review, No Tokens, Hobart, Cosmonauts Ave, Fiction Southeast, and more. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her forthcoming collection of essays entitled The Perpetual Motion Machine to be released by Red Hen Press in the fall of 2018.