I found out I got accepted in to the Reykjavík International Film Festival’s Talent Lab while sitting in a Coffee Time in Scarborough, Ontario, waiting for my boss’ BMW to get a trailer hitch put on. It was June, it was hot, I was hungover. I had gone through a breakup earlier in the year and was deep in my get fit/love yourself/move on with your life phase. I was eating a croissant, which counts as getting EMOTIONALLY fit. September seems really far away.
Time passes. I drive the newly trailer hitched BMW from Toronto to Los Angeles with one of my best friends and two of my boss’ dogs. We eat Mexican food in Iowa, take Polaroids of the Grand Canyon, judge Las Vegas hard. I cry a lot (I always cry a lot). We arrive in West Hollywood to rainbow coloured book shelves. One of the dogs bark at Theon Greyjoy who is minding his own business on the sidewalk in front of a cafe. I meet with the boy who broke my heart a million years ago and silently forgive him. I feel capitol F free.
I get on the plane to Iceland sitting next to my best lady, who also got in the Talent Lab (#dreamteam). I furiously scribble in my journal as we fly over the Atlantic. I write of this new freedom feeling, astonished by it. I write of how loving myself is enough. I make a list of the places I want to go, the things I want to achieve, my bucket list adventures. Manifestation is amplified when it’s done 30 000 feet up. We land as the sun rises, a quick skip through duty free for future fuel and then to our cozy garage air bnb. Sleep.
Our first day in Iceland. Crepes for breakfast. Walk down a rainbow road. I accidentally buy a three hundred dollar sweater, not realizing the currency exchange. Figure out the currency exchange. Panic. Buy nothing else. Everything is SO expensive. See a sign for Happy Hour. YES PLEASE. The Apotek Hotel. Looking back, I remember that sign as if it were crystal clear. I feel something tugging me in to the space – thirst, maybe. Destiny, probably. Regardless, we go in. And everything changes.
Not right away of course. The lounge was full so we sit at the bar. His eyes notice me then, but I don’t know, not seeing. I order gin with strawberries and sriracha. I take a photo of the cocktail list to send to my Tasha. A table opens up, right by the window. We sit in it, giggling over the fact that we were in friggen Iceland, over the gin, over the hope of getting the travel grant to do the talent lab (we don’t). She notices the boys looking at us. I can’t tell where she points, still not seeing. The table next to us becomes free and the boys take their spot. She raises an eyebrow, see. Ah. I do.
My best lady goes to the bathroom. I sit at the table for a moment and try to play on my phone. No wireless, no luck. I fear the paralysis that takes over my body when I don’t have my phone to look at, as if I no longer remember how to just sit with my thoughts. I pull out the Film Festival Guide. I hear a British voice ask:
“Is that the Geek’s Guide to Iceland?”
A rush of air goes through me. I feel flustered, but totally comfortable. I feel exposed.
Excuse me? He repeats the question.
“No, it’s for a film festival. And I’m actually very cool, thankyouverymuch.”
The words tumble out of me. I am shocked that this human has seen through me. I’m wearing a hat, a leather jacket – don’t I LOOK cool? I’m trying so hard to be cool! How does he know I’m just an overly anxious mess-of-a-human pretending at #adulting?!
He smiles, warm and friendly. We start talking. And talking. His friend sits there, quietly.
My friend comes charging back to the table. She knows that I hate being spoken to by strangers, especially strange men. I usually clam up. She’ll tell them politely to leave, less politely if necessary. I don’t make eye contact with her when she returns as I continue talking to him. I can almost hear her wheels turning. She sits down and starts to smile as she watches our diagonal conversation. I’m sure she exchanged a look with his friend. They pull their table next to ours. We order another round. We all start talking.
A few hours pass. We’re hungry now. There’s a restaurant here so we decide to grab a table. They’re full till 10, too late. We try to figure out how to meet up. The logistics are hard with foreign cellphones and no wifi. The maitre d realizes it’s us that want a table. He’s smoked a few ciggies outside with my friend so moves us up the list, the first bit of magic for the evening. We take the table, the boys head to their hotel to check in. They’re just here for the night. We don’t know if they’ll come back.
Of course they do. We end up ordering the seven course Icelandic tasting menu. We bond over puffin (delicious but strange black meat). We have deep, beautiful conversations. We share our darkness, we share our light. We shed tears, we shed truths. We get kicked out. How is it 2 am? We’re saved by the duty free wine back at our place. We leave. He links his arm in mine. We stop to write a letter to Icelandic Santa (he never writes back). We get back to our place. We drink wine. We read their tarot. It looks promising for them. It’s what his friend needed to hear. She says to the friend to join her for a smoke. He says he doesn’t smoke. Again with the eyebrow raise. Again with the understanding. We are left alone. We talk. He asks me why I’m scared to look into his eyes when I speak. I wonder who this man is that calls me on my shit. He asks me to look into his eyes for one minute. I remember a New York Times article that says if you do that you’ll fall in love. Deep breath. We look into each others eyes. We don’t talk. Time passes. He kisses me, a gentle, thoughtful kiss. We talk more – about energy and auras and orange roses. Our friends return. We all talk more. It’s 7 am. We have a horseback riding excursion in a couple hours. They have a flight to catch. A long hug goodbye. Long. I don’t want tonight to end. We look up to see my friend filming us on her phone.
“I’m going to play this at your wedding.”
They leave. We barely sleep and when we do we wake, hungover. Do you know that Icelandic water smells like rotten eggs due to a high level of sulfur? A horrifying fact to discover on an hour and half of sleep. We try our best to stay awake on the bus. We fail. We try our best not to barf on the two hour horseback ride. We succeed (thankfully). We arrive back in the city around 7 pm that night. There’s a pizza place near our house – we go there instead of home because we must eat at least SOMETHING today. There’s wifi (a real victory – hello instagram!). We get a message from our air bnb host: someone delivered you flowers.
Orange roses. Seven long stemmed orange roses.
They’re from him of course, though it took my brain a while to process this. He skipped the Blue Lagoon to find them for me. It was a Sunday, he could only find one florist. He arrives. The shop is closed. In fact, it hasn’t opened yet. At all. Grand opening next week. He charms them into letting him in. They don’t have any flowers. Look around, they say. Wrapping, vases, ribbon, cards. No flowers.
“I need orange roses,” he says.
“We have no flowers yet,” they reply.
The woman takes him to the back fridge to prove her point and finds a few lilies. You can have these, she offers. He points behind them. Can I have those instead? Seven long-stemmed orange roses. The woman’s jaw drops. Where did those come from? How did they get there?
A week later he flew back to Iceland to take me on our first date.
A year later, one year TODAY, I wake up next to him each morning.
Happy Anniversary, Neil Rogers. I adore you.