Late at night, when all the lights were out, I would sit by my window, watching the world twenty-three stories below and waiting in nervous anticipation for the woman in the building across the alley to appear in the frame of her window. She was a complete stranger, a woman whose name I would never learn and who was nothing but a hollow face on the busy city street, yet I was absolutely arrested by the sight of her; her velvet hair spilling over her shoulders and the curves of her soft body rolling, as though she had been hand carved by God himself.

I knew the moment I first saw her this woman was going to save me.

If I was lucky, she would appear sometime between midnight and 1:30 in the morning. After lighting the petite paper room with the lamp on her bedside table, she’d gradually peel off her clothes, completely oblivious or completely apathetic to me witnessing everything from my perched vantage point. Her skyscraper, rainbow heels were always the first things to go. Afterwards, her neon print dress. She’d then exchange her business wear for a flowing black and white Ramones T-shirt and a pair of plaid, pink and green shorts. After two or three minutes, she’d submerge herself in the sheets of her bed and reach to extinguish the light at her side. As the room would fall into darkness, I’d breathe deeply and return to my bed, satisfied simply by observing this creature’s beauty.

This would occur several nights a week, for the three years I lived on that side of town. This stranger became my muse, and the thought of lying beside her filled my heart with an airy melody. Our romance, although merely a construct of my imagination, would fill me, our love serving as the sole stability in my life. At least, that’s what I always wished for when I would retreat to bed, her image still dancing in my pupils.

I spied her on the street the day before it happened. Nearly choking on my own infatuation, I found myself double-taking to see if it was truly her as she drifted by. She proved to be even more beautiful up close, her dark and sad eyes flickering as though there was a secret buried behind them. Her face was smeared with eyeliner and a mask of perfume, and her round, red lips cradled a smoldering cigarette. She hurried along the street and vanished into the crowd in an instant, the sound of her heels upon the concrete remaining for just a brief instant before also disappearing.

The next night, I watched in horror, as she autographed a carefully scrutinized address to the world, turned out the light on her bedside table one last time, and leapt from the fire escape, cascading to the city streets so far below, as though she were a piece of paper, fluttering in an afternoon breeze.​

As desperately as I wanted to, I knew I couldn’t have saved her.​

And I felt nothing but dread. Only a single series of words echoed through my head that night: how am I going to be saved if my salvation can’t even save itself?

And that’s why I stopped believing in love.

joshua chamberlain is a writer and artist based in los angeles.

joshua chamberlain is a writer and artist based in los angeles.