My only real motivation for going to Dallas was that the plane stopped there en route to Vancouver and according to the conditions of my round-the-world fare, it counted as one of my precious stops. I therefore decided to stay a couple of days and make it count. Other than the Texas School Book Depository, a grassy knoll and the ‘X’ marked on the road between, there was little else of interest to me. Accordingly, I justified splurging a little on accommodation so I could just hang out and gather my wits. The Belmont – an ‘historic boutique hotel’ about 5kms out of the city centre – was certainly that with a very laid back tex-mex vibe, beautiful gardens and a boutique-size pool.
The kinds of places I usually stay don’t have pools so my first priority was to break in the new swimsuit I’d bought in New York just a couple of days before. The pool had a perfect view of the Dallas skyline and I had it all to myself. After several leisurely laps, I hopped out and stretched out on the lawn to dry off and write in my journal. That’s when I felt it – for the first time since losing Matthew, I was filled with a peaceful solitude, I was content to be by myself, to own and enjoy the moment. It was like a snowflake – beautiful, fragile and distinct from every moment that had gone before.
I carried the feeling gently back to my room where I decided to celebrate the genuine breakthrough. I completely overdressed in my new black number (also from my NYC mini-spree) and took my snowflake and I for a dinner date at the acclaimed restaurant attached to the hotel. I ordered a cocktail, entrée and main before relaxing into the moment only to realise that the only thing in my soundscape was the conversation at the table next to mine. Two men, gay, though not a couple, spoke at length and with great specificity about the work they were doing to convince gay men to leave their wives and girlfriends to live out and proud lives – the exact circumstance that had so devastated my life and led me to be there in that moment. It wasn’t enough that they were gay – that alone would have placed painful pressure on my still deeply bruised soul – no, they had to be talking about the very thing that had torn me asunder only months prior.
My snowflake would’ve melted anyway but this was like taking a blowtorch to it and I felt welded in place by the excess of heat, unable to move or breath. It was as though some malevolent force was seeking to remind me that I shouldn’t be happy by spelling out the precise reason why. It felt cruel and punishing. I didn’t even have my usual props for dining alone – notebook and novel – all I had was my camera. When I could move again, I took photos of anything and everything including a few selfies progressively showing the migration of mascara from eye to cheek to chin.
“Hi, we saw you over here all by yourself and thought it was just so sad to see such a beautiful lady dining all by herself. We noticed you taking your own photo and wondered if we could take your photo for you?”
I couldn’t speak; I just handed over my camera as though I was being mugged. It somehow made it worse that they were so friendly because they were clearly being puppeteered by some gargantuan cosmic arsehole! In another time, I don’t doubt we would’ve become best of friends but this wasn’t that time. They took my photo with my camera… then with their own! What the fuck??? Were they collecting pictures of victims in the wild to take back to their group? Whatever, I just wanted them to leave, which of course they didn’t. They asked me my name, detected my accent, then asked where I was from. I answered monosyllabically. One of them replied: “Ah Sydney! My first boyfriend was from Sydney!”. In my head I replied snidely “Mine too, want his number?” In reality I think I just squeaked. He continued “And what brings you to Dallas?” “Take a seat boys and I’ll tell ya!” came out as “just a holiday”. They went on, very kindly, to give me a list of places that I should go when all I really wanted was to tell them where to go but the same invisible force that was moving them had bound and gagged me completely.
I can’t imagine how I must have seemed to them but they eventually said their goodbyes and left, waving goodbye through the window from the outside and with that the ties that bound were cut and I felt the full force of the resulting slump. Had I eaten, I could’ve thrown up. Instead I managed to lurch outside where I literally fell in heap and sobbed, alone in the dark.
Somewhere deep in my grief I knew I had to pull it together. Not because someone might see but because the thought of going back to my room alone with nothing but this pain and sorrow was unbearable. To do so would have been to accept defeat and that was not what this trip was about. I told myself to stand up, breath deeply, mop up my face and go have a drink at the bar. Of course I protested and an almighty internal row broke out amongst myself until a compromise was reached – one drink, don’t have to talk to anyone and then I could go back to my room and cry as much as I like knowing that at least I tried.
I ordered a ‘Starry, Starry Night’ cocktail and perched on the balcony to take in the Dallas skyline. The internal battle raged with alternating commands to ‘skull’ and ‘sip’. I was spared the indignity of throwing a drink in my own face by the intervention of the people at the table next to me who took pity by inviting me to join them. Mark and Jerry from Austin restored my faith in Southern hospitality as we talked the night away. They were charming, witty and kind.
In fact, the following night, I met Jerry again on my way back from the Dive-Ins (throughout summer, the hotel project movies on a screen by the pool that you can watch from either the pool or lawn. The film: Casablanca). We headed back to the bar to toast the skyline one last time before we headed our separate ways the following day. The night ended with a kiss from the second boy in my life. Another proverbial snowflake fell and I caught it. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.