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Can the Aurora Borealis Cure Heartbreak?

Can the Aurora Borealis Cure Heartbreak?

Moonfall. We have come out for the aurora borealis, flying and driving for hours and hours, and then have to leave the North because of a storm. For the first time, I am forced to the South coast of Iceland, where tourists roam, even in winter. Halldora comes down with us from Reykjavik, replacing one of our group who is so unsettled by talk of witches, blizzards, a rogue polar bear who swam down from the Arctic Sea and whom the authorities have made a half-hearted effort to catch, and roads made of sheer ice that he has fled back to his laptop for safety. I drop Halldora back West that night, and then find myself as I love best: alone, slaloming with a car over mysterious territory.

I've driven long distances in strange places too many times to count, sometimes fueled by magic (in the long deserts of Northern Mexico on an empty tank with Rimousky as a witness), or by magnetism (to the Bushmen waiting for me in the Kalahari after five hours in first gear at 5,000 rpm in deep sand, waiting for the engine to blow up), or by my own mystical musings (across the USA twice without once listening to the radio or stereo, tuned to my own frequencies of spirit and escape and fright), but driving alone bombarded by your thoughts always makes me happiest. Why are you here, you ask, and where are you heading? Whose wind fills your sail? There are one million possibilities, one million blinking circuits beckoning in your brain: choose me, choose this, choose. But how do you know the choices you made were the route to take? And what constitutes a signpost?

The end of a love affair, when desire at any cost has evolved into comforting memory, is always the starkest moment in a life, isn't it? The very end, the cliff you fall over, out of reach of the lover, into tides that pull you to other shores, this is the moment I am always trying to illustrate. For a writer, the challenge is always on this brittle crust between a passion so heated your teeth ache and a memory so crystalline that you look for the frames in other people's minds to show the scars on your lips and spine. Bowie, childishly: "The smell of that chick just put my spine out of place." Her smell is no longer my dominant sense; her memory is now a burnished marble in the mosaic of my fables. But the problem is I cannot leave a good story alone, so I spin it through a kaleidoscope of pains and ecstasies: I hire a model to play her memory. The model is the web's greatest pin-up star, twinkling from 2000 to 2008, and now again in a new edition; this was the time lonely men began the virtual existences that rendered real life hopelessly inadequate. I have dragged a phenomenal story into this netherland of stunted passions, tried to dress it in such a way that these lonely fools (me!) could recognize as a lust of the mind rather than the testicles, and then in the strangest way have dragged this weird fantasy back into the real world by exposing the wreckage of the model's life since she agreed to interpret the love affair. There is now a third version of that affair, and the fourth is the one I am writing as I drive these new paths at the top of the world.

Small symbols jostle to paint this fourth treatment. Jealousy is all it concerns. The Moonfall looms out of the darkness and I screech to a stop to take this picture. The falls are enormous, but the bottom is lit for tourism, and I have a powerful bike light to brighten the foreground for my borealis pictures, if I am fortunate enough to get any. I can light up the ridges of the mountain while keeping my exposure dark enough and quick enough to catch the Moon crouched in the clouds. The lack of snow reveals the mossy crags of the cliff face and the water smashes the length of five football fields from crest to toe. I am alone with my thoughts, and the model's last words to me atop a Mayan temple newly dug out of Guatemala's jungles play in the cinema of my mind: Why can't a life be simply a search for beautiful moments? Why do hatred and habit interrupt our journey between moments of beauty? "Because," replies me, foolish scientist, "The rules of the Universe apply to our minds and to actions, and for every action there is a reaction so love has to have its corresponding hate." She is crushed. Walks in silence down the long-ago steps of Mayan civilization. Steps I am tempted to point out were not meant for nice views but for blood-curdling murder and displays of bestial torture. She marvels at Calakmul and Caracol, historic gems in the jungle, and I ruin it by revealing the violence of Mayan life, why?

The model I cast as the object of my original heartbreak read her lines and spoke them with conviction, happy to be playing an intelligent woman instead of posing as cheesecake. But she found herself defending the object of my broken heart . . .

("No she would not feel this or say this!" Me: "How do you know? I was there!" Model: "Then you heard wrong, no woman would think this way!" Etc.)

. . . and then the model began changing the structures of her own life to become more like this femme fatale she wore as a mask but wished for as a mirror. The model's life was ruined, she admitted, in that good way that lives shatter, and she came looking for the borealis with me to Iceland, too, but missed it and now when we talk on Skype she's got my old pictures of the aurora on her screen. She wonders what kind of future she's got since beauty has ruined her past. And one night, alone in the north sea, in a hot spot of geothermal currents off the coast of Iceland's coldest north, the borealis danced across the sky and added another immutable science to my fable: that only an ongoing sense of wonder, a continuous amazement, could ever stop me from feeling crushed by having thrown away the only thing I wished to love, which was not her, not the person, not the flesh, not the smile and the warmth and the laugh and the caress in the dark, but the story of loving her, each chapter telling how she learned to let herself go and be different from who she thought she was, to give in to her nature, to kill me, to be the wreck in my steps instead of playing it safe and hewing to her lifelong sense of decorum. The aurora and the sky, the Sun and its reflections as moonlight become metaphors for love and despair, rapture and heartbreak, but only if I keep writing my own story, only if I keep trudging out into the ice and the wind to catch Nature at its most wondrously vibrant.

There's that word again: wonder. The repeated exposures led to more details and slightly twisted memories, and the sky like her skin began to taste differently on my tongue, the moonlight like her voice purred a danger disguised as delight, and I keep repeating the tale, with yet another actress to play the first model who is now paralyzed in Poland, barely remembering the last line of my movie: reach out and hold onto the person you imagine you might become and stop worrying about however it was you came to be who you are now.

And this picture, she will see, is just another piece of driftwood too small to float with, but perfect to sink to. Hope, that fatal ballast, is not easily thrown overboard. The faith we had that we "deserved" good lives is a lead weight tied to our shoes, dragging us toward the ocean's floor. I look up and see beautiful things dancing in the lights above the surface. How do I describe it?

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