Philadelphia was a wonderful time of my life. I had just inked a long term book deal with Harper Collins based on my manuscript for the first Songs of the Diamond book. I had been living in Atlanta, but the southern summer heat didn't agree with me and I wanted a change in scenery. Philly existed in a more temperate climate, and I loved the history and architecture of certain parts of the city. I had real money for the first time in my life and decided to splurge on a gorgeous one bedroom apartment in Old City. I even bought an old fashioned typewriter and quill pen set to see if that would lend some authenticity to the creative process for my next book, which ended up turning into The Era of Heartache. Kind of an odd book to produce during such a generally cheerful time of my life, but sometimes things just work out that way. I would take walks around the city during the day, exploring Penn's Landing and Walnut Street. Nights would often be spent on South Street; I was twenty-six at the time, so I wasn't completely out of place among the younger populace of the city. I was in the best shape of my life, had all the confidence in the world, and turned myself into quite the social butterfly. Writing was so easy for my back then. I didn't even have to focus on what was in front of me. My hand was like a faucet that would spew forth fantastical ideas and long, flowing passages of beauty whenever its pen touched paper. At that time I was very much in the habit of writing my first drafts by hand and revising and proofreading as I typed into an easier to deal with format for my editor and publisher. I had more free time than I knew what to do with, and sought out many of life's chemical pleasures. I'm not a big drug user these days, but back then I was willing to try a lot of things. My psychedelic journeys were certainly fun at the time, but there is a time and a place for such things. The one tangible good that came out of my drug use was Victoria.
We crossed paths at a party thrown by Douglas, a literary agent who introduced me to both Harper Collins and LSD. He wasn't actually my literary agent, but he managed to be gregarious enough to read my manuscript and pass it along to the publisher before we had even met face to face. Indeed, Douglas, was one of the major factors that led to my decision to move to Philly. Shortly after I finished the opening parts of The Era of Heartache, Douglas asked me pretty matter-of-factly if I had ever tried psychotropic drugs. At the time I hadn't, and he offered me the opportunity to have some mushrooms and see where it took me. I think he assumed it would enhance my imagination and by extension my writing. His heart was in the right place, but I'm not exactly Hunter S. Thompson, nor do I want to be. Still, this guy gave me my first big break and was the sole reason I was being so lavishly compensated for just being me. He didn't even take a cut out of the contract. Perhaps he expected one, but I was young and ignorant and he never showed any ill will toward me. I indulged him and myself and went along with the idea. Trying to explain an instance of tripping on mushrooms after the fact can be a bit difficult. Your head swims while incomprehensible visions assault your brain. It's quite the experience. I wasn't affected in any deep or meaningful way by the events of that evening, but I enjoyed myself and Douglas' company enough to continue on these sojourns periodically. I traded up from mushrooms to LSD; the synthetic compound offering more sustained and stronger hallucinations. Douglas began to introduce me to his extended circle of friends and invite me to parties.
We didn't drop acid at the party I met Victoria. This was probably for the best; I don't think my true personality shines through as well as it could when I'm under the influence. We were drinking, of course, but it shouldn't be too hard to deduce that being drunk and tripping are two entirely different states of mind. I probably knew between half and two thirds of the people there, and the beginning of the night consisted of a lot of hand shakes and introductions with people whose names I forgot almost immediately. It was a little weird at that stage of my life being introduced by Douglas as the next big thing in the literary world to all of these strangers; Songs of the Diamond hadn't been published yet, and I was just some guy. It was embarrassing to say the least, but I smiled through it.
Victoria's was one of the many faces that passed in front of me early on in the party, but unlike everyone else, she became indelibly burned into my mind. She was a beautiful woman; this was plain to see. Raven hair, long and thick that had a tendency to fall over her face and obscure her left eye. The eye that was visible was a deep forest green, creating a strong sense of mysterious and deeply intriguing dichotomy on her face. Her body was well proportioned; she was no supermodel, but no one in his right mind would ever be embarrassed to be seen with her. When I took her hand I felt a jolt of electricity shoot through my entire body. Instant attraction. The wry smile on her face seemed to indicate her own interest. It didn't even phase me when Douglas called me Tolkien's heir apparent or the next Dickens or something equally ludicrous. But just as we were beginning to get acquainted, Douglas whisked me away to some other corner of the flat to meet even more people whose names didn't matter to me. I could only hear one name in my head. I was determined not to let the night end without reconvening with her.
It was a fantastic night. Douglas was well connected in the literary world and had a full cabinet of expensive and extravagant wines and liquors, none of which he bought with his own money. I spent the rest of the night sipping delectable whiskeys, bourbons and scotches of all shapes, sizes, and ages, while having delightfully pedantic conversations about art, politics, philosophy and past loves. No matter how engrossed I became in whatever verbal tête-à-tête in which I may have been partaking, I always kept one eye searching the house for any signs of Victoria. I would wager that about three hours passed before I saw that unmistakable streak of jet black hair reveal itself from the crowd of revelers. Our eyes met. She winked at me and nodded her head toward the open double doors that led to the balcony on the second floor of Douglas' apartment. As she moved toward the open air, I hastily excused myself from whatever subject I had immediately forgotten the second I caught a glimpse of her, refilled my glass with some devastatingly free Johnny Walker Blue and joined her under the night sky.
We talked for what seemed like hours. She threw some playful jokes about Douglas' embellished introduction. I deflected them with self-deprecating aplomb. We went through the standard relationship starting talking points: childhood memories, towns in which we lived, colleges attended and degrees attained, future plans and so on. She was an intoxicating human being, the physical embodiment of a slow drink of barrel aged whiskey. And she had some tough competition considering the heavenly blue label scotch sitting in the rocks glass in my right hard. I was pleased to see that Douglas had become wise to the goings on of our balcony retreat and turned himself into an impromptu bouncer. He did a hell of a job giving us our privacy. I lit a cigarette, she produced her own and coyly waited for me to provide her with fire. The orange glow of my the flame from my lighter licked and sputtered in the breeze, throwing wild light and shadow over her verdant, sylvan eyes. We smoked and drank and talked, each of us using lulls in the conversation as an opportunity to inch closer to one another.
Eventually, Douglas poked his head through the closed curtain to inform us that the guests were beginning to leave. We followed him back into the house holding hands, said our goodbyes and exchanged pleasantries to mutual friends. We could not bring ourselves to break our grip on each other, perhaps out of fear that we would never touch again if we made the mistake of letting go. She came home with me that night and we made love. It was magic. For the next two years, we were inseparable. She was my best critic and the ultimate support system. I was never a fan of dedication pages in my books, but every novel I wrote in Philadelphia was dedicated to Victoria. Some super fans of mine refer to this as my Victoria Period. Our relationship never actually ended, per se. I made the decision to move to LA and write screenplays. She couldn't bring herself to leave her family, her friends or her job. I said I understood, but inside I was crushed. We haven't talked in over five years. If I couldn't have her, I didn't want to think of her. It was too painful. I took her picture out of the frame that now sits on my desk shortly after I left LA. It reminded me too much of my one regret.