They come without notice, we don’t know how, why or from where. They just happen. Like this, out of nowhere. Puff. They're so unexpected that we don’t even have the time so ask “what’s going on?” Sometimes they end up being wonderful stories. Others, beautiful memories. In worst cases, they are just sad coincidences that we want to leave buried, forever, in the deepest blue.
Amsterdam, May 2015. It was one of those girls-only weekends, programmed to the smallest detail to be remembered until the first days of old age, when walking sticks start to replace heels over two inches and earphones give way to that unsexy hearing aids. Addendum: note that it was not a party-hard weekend, but a special weekend (not that those are not special), since it was my wedding gift for my childhood friend, who would go up to the altar in a month. The weather was hot, too hot, even, and I remember, on Sunday, when we left the hotel, that we were happy with all the hours that we still had ahead of us. It was one of those spring days when all adjectives are sparse, which make us want to believe in the existence of something superior. “It’s so good that we’re on the last flight”, we thought. And out we went to discover. After lunch we decided to go to the famous Bloemenmarkt, or Flower Market, a place we both wanted to see. When we were about to arrive, we came across a blond girl carrying a baguette in a wicker basket, wearing a white t-shirt that read “Je Ne Regrette Rien.” If we said anything at the time, it must have been something as random as “now it almost felt as if we were in Paris”, but the conversation went no further. Nor would it have gone, had we not started listening, minutes later - loud and clear, and yet coming out of nowhere, as if it were a church bell - the voice of Édith Piaf, “singing”, in the middle of Amsterdam, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien. I remember looking at my friend as I was watching a hedgehog flying a NASA rocket and thinking, “This can’t be true. I am crazy. I am hearing things.” I felt more comforted when she answered me, with the air of someone who had already been carried away by the power of all those strange coincidences: “Well, if you are crazy, I am crazy too, because Piaf is singing, I am listening, and very well.”
And she was. In the middle of Amsterdam. Or rather, nowhere in Amsterdam, because as fast as it came, it was gone, that is, she felt silent, and within minutes the established French singer lost her voice. It was not a radio. It was not a passing car with loudspeakers announcing a tribute concert to the muse of the chanson française. It was not the soundtrack of the Flower Market. It was not an apartment with a party on acids, where someone lost control of the record player. It was just Piaf, from the heavens. Or so it seemed. And it so strange that, was I alone, I would have thought that I was hallucinating. But fate had not yet fulfilled its role in this score of chance. After a coffee break at a well-known multinational whose green logo attracts any tourist anywhere in the world, we entered a store with the intention of buying lights to decorate a “night garden” that my friend had in mind for her big day. Here, everything happened very quickly. She went up to the first floor, I stayed on the ground floor, lost amidst trinkets, and at one point I inadvertently put my coffee cup on top of something, while waiting and distracting myself with the phone. “I’m ready, I just have to pay”, she shot, determinedly, as she walked down the stairs. “So let’s go”, I replied, and lifted the coffee cup, the damn coffee cup, uncovering the object it was covering. At this point my memory went into denial mode, so I don’t know which one of us exclaimed, louder than it would have been reasonable: “This cannot be true. This cannot be true.” Because the object was neither more or less than a giant hot pink rubber, where it could be read “Je Ne Regrette Rien.” And that I, pressured by that chain of events, found myself in the obligation to acquire because, let’s face it, we spend a good part of our lives waiting for the universe to send us signals and we can all agree this one had (and still has) all the condiments to be one of those. To que question “what did the universe wanted to tell me?”, the answer is heartbreaking: I don’t know. I suspect, and this is just a cheap suspicion, that maybe it was something like “go on, you’re on the right track, don’t regret anything.” Naturally, I never saw the girl with the baguette in the wicker basket. I didn’t even know where that Piaf sound (like church bells, I insist) came from. The eraser is still in my living room. Just in case. No one has ever been able to explain “this” to me. No therapist, no shanti believer, no religious men, or women, who have seen miracles. Nobody. It was something that happened “out of the blue”, and for these things there is no possible justification.
Out of nowhere. Abruptly. For no apparent reason. Fallen from the sky. Suddenly. In an unpredictable way. Without previous warning. Or, “out of the blue”, which as the Cambridge English Dictionary summarizes, is something like this: “if something happens out of the blue, it is completely unexpected.” In its origin, the expression is associated with anything so improbable that it resembles a lightning bolt that suddenly appears from a totally clean and blue sky. English newspaper The Standard wrote, on August 26, 1863: “Murder rises now rises up before us, gaunt and unmitigated, in a circle where all seemed lovely, virtuous, and peaceful. This is verily ‘a bolt out of the blue’ - the lightning flash in a sunny sky.” The Londoner The Spectator reported, on February 22, 1879: ““What is the Times at? Twice this week, the organ of her Majesty’s Government has fired off articles so completely ‘out of the blue’ that it is difficult to believe they are uninspired, which point [sic] to some impending coup d’état or coup de théâtre to be immediately struck in India.” And so it continued, up to the present day, where all natives (and not only) of the English language use this expression to vent about something that escapes reason: “One day, out of the blue, she announced that she was leaving.” This is a classic, a phrase that could be taken from a movie’s dialogue. Footnote: it happened to me. And probably to half the readers of this text.
Since we talk about things that happen “out of the blue”, what examples do we find in our daily lives, near or far from us? About eight months ago, website Bored Panda (a guilty pleasure when we have nothing to do, a fatal danger when we are on the verge of a deadline) shared some of the most unusual and “with no rational explanation” stories that emerged in a platform from Reedit, about sensations that touch that “glitch in the matrix.” An internet user shared this: “My friend Sarah was in a nightclub, drunk off her face, when she got an overwhelming urge to tell a total stranger that her leg hurts (edit: it didn’t). All a bit strange, she ignores it but it doesn’t stop so she walks up to this guy and says, ‘I know this is crazy but I’ve got a huge urge to tell you my leg hurts. I know that’s crazy, again! Sorry!’ But he bursts into tears. Turns out his dad had just died and they made a pact before that if there was an afterlife he would get a message to him saying a totally random phrase, so there could be no mistakes, which they decided was ‘I’ve hurt my leg.’” This testimony is both supernatural and inexplicable but, we believe, for both of the parties involved, the events of that night came of out nowhere, completely “out of the blue.” None of them, we believe, was expecting that to happen, since they didn’t even knew each other. And because nighttime is conducive to unexpected encounters, I remember when a friend was this close to stay at home one night - the boy she was dating at the time, a bon vivant who called her once in a blue moon, decided to change plans at the last minute - and suddenly, without knowing why, she changed her mind, got all dressed up, hair and makeup included, and went out the door to meet her friends - and instead of dancing to that über cool DJ with the idiot who ignored her, as was his prerogative, she ran (literally) into the man of her dreams (this is not an exaggeration), with who she still is today. This was over two years ago.
Time marks the pace of these stories, and impresses them their possible meaning. “Out of the blue”, the English say, when something causes them an inexplicable surprise - which can be good or bad. There are no words that make sense of desolation, and despair, of getting into your house and finding someone you love without life. I know of several people who went through that trauma, who though they were just turning the key to the ending of a normal evening and, after all, they were opening the door to a new, tragic chapter of their lives. “I arrived and she was dead. Like that, out of nowhere.” Nobody told me this ipsis verbis, it’s not something you tell ipsis verbis, but it could have been something like that, because the scare of an unexpected death, of suicide, is the worst definition of “out of the blue.” Nothing compares to that. Nothing. And then there are those things that don’t destroy you but that grind you, like the husband who leaves to buy cigarettes and never comes back, the boss who, on a sunny morning, dismisses us for no apparent reason, the stranger who is super nice to us but that steals us a 20€ bill, the thing is that none of this compares to that mismatch that has no end, someone who decided to leave on his/her own, to a place we don’t have access. The world is full stories like these. Time marks their pace. It’s like finding a phone booth in the middle of the desert, or tripping over a steak with sunny side eggs in a vegan restaurant. It might happen. “Out of the blue”, it might happen. As our grandmothers would say, “that’s when you least expect it.” What? Everything. Two years after my trip to Amsterdam, I left the elevator to the hall that gives access to my house when my eyes came across a gigantic book that, a long time before, I had left in another country, far from here. Accompanying it was a paper that read “I am in Lisbon, in a hotel near the airport, I would like to talk to you.” I ran out of air. I didn't move for a good two minutes. It was totally "out of the blue." The details that link the Dutch capital, the coffee table book, and that note, are pointless for this article. The only thing that mattered (and still does) was this: the universe was right when it made me repeat, in a rather strange way, "Je Ne Regrette Rien."
Originally published on Vogue Portugal October 2020 issue, Into The Blue.