(the end of December 2016)

I remember Daniel telling me about “circumlocution” a year ago as we discussed his knowledge of both Spanish and Arabic. “I’m not fluent, but I could carry on a conversation just by finding different words to explain things more circularly,” he tells me, his voice excited.

I look up at the walls of the Alhambra as we trod into to the palace with wide eyes. It is another cold day, but the immense, powerful beauty of the palace only seems to smolder more richly in comparison to the chill grey air. We are part of a ragtag group of English-speaking tourists with neon orange earbuds dangling from our ears following an exotic Spanish accent through the gates of the Alhambra.

The palace is beyond words. The gardens stretch out in the cold air, high above the surrounding city. Orange trees are heavy, tendrils of vine caress broad trellises, and bushes of jasmine glow in the shadow of the walls. Palm trees rise gracefully, lit from behind by snowy mountains. I am absolutely mesmerized, trying to keep sight of my family while simultaneously drinking deep from the beauty of the fountains, arches, and stairways.

With each step, I find myself more and more intoxicated. Soon we come across the first of hundreds of arches, carved exquisitely, opening out into the sky. I am finally here, walking through the reality behind the pictures I used to hunger over.

Time is cast away in this palace. I take as many pictures as I can, but soon I find myself too deeply bewitched to do anything but go through the motions. Drowning in the perfect, time-worn beauty of it all, I click away on my camera as seconds still and sounds grow distant and dim. I am alone with my heartbeat and a vortex of green tiles, turquoise streaks, pale, twining arches, and thick, fluid Arabic words carved across expanses of wall.

I feel numb in the presence of all this intricacy. My bones ache and my head pounds vaguely as we finally rest for a few minutes outside. I am exhausted somehow, fatigued by my own volatile reactions to the halls of paradise.

The spell is briefly broken, however, as we are waiting in line to see the Golden Hall. I overhear Daniel talking about leaving early tomorrow, my heart puncturing. Tomorrow? What? But we need one more day together. I thought we had one more day together. My heart darkens and I feel myself retreat inwards, slinking down from nirvana into churning condensation. I don’t know what to say.

It is with this sudden heaviness that I walk into the Golden Hall. There have only been a few moments in my life when I’ve tasted perfection – one “bewitching hour” in the Masai Mara, a campfire in the wilderness, a moment of solitude above turquoise waters and underneath white seabirds. This moment of perfection is so strong that my angst towards Daniel’s upcoming departure is lifted, and I breathe into the footsteps of the ancient, the petrichor of the Divine.

“They said that true symmetry and perfection only come from Allah,” the Spanish accent says breathlessly from the orange earbuds. The falling sun fills the ivory hall with with golden rays. The carvings that cover the walls are more fine and intricate than anything I have ever seen. I am lost in wonder. The room glows as the sun trails farther down the sky, the world nothing but the walls of this golden hall.

On the way home, sitting in the dark blue interior of the bus, I am tired. Daniel is leaving. The chords of that painful reality strum across my mind in a chorus of bitter irony. I didn’t go back in September. We got to see each other, true, but he’s leaving now. He’ll be gone again, in the blink of an eye, in one sinking of the sun. 

Everything feels difficult now, like it’s turning to stone. The beauty of the Alhambra has devastated me, stripped me of thoughts and feelings and words. The anguish over Daniel leaving tomorrow seizes me where the glory of the palace has left me vulnerable. Gold fades way to blue, palace walls to dark plastic windows, and sun into tears. Petrichor. 

I don’t say goodbye to Daniel. I go to bed. In the morning, he is gone with the sunrise. Too late, all I can do is scramble together a Facebook message telling him that I love him, that I miss him, that I will see him in the next corner of the world where our paths meet again.

True perfection can only come from the touch of heaven. 

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