I've been in limbo for the last two weeks. It was over, I knew it was over, I think he knew it was over, but I had to see him again. I had to see if there was anything left, if there was anything to salvage. I needed to feel him, to breathe him in, to let our bodies fill in the gaps where where our minds and our resolve failed. Our chaste, fully-clothed bodies, holding each other under the glare of a 100-watt bulb, and even then, I knew. I knew as he held me, as I softly scratched his back, as he kissed me and then just as suddenly pulled away. "How was your date the other night?" he asked, again, because I had told him I couldn't see him Saturday night, because I was seeing "a friend." Originally I had stubbornly stuck to my story: "A friend, I'm seeing a friend," no gender, no names. But when he kept asking, ribbing me as if it gave him a perverse delight, I finally said, "Fine. It was fine."
"Why do you keep asking me that?" I said when he asked me this time, and burrowed further into his neck. Our words and our actions almost always at odds; the further apart we grow, the closer I cling.
"It's ok," he said, chuckling, "you can see who you want. You're not tied to me."
"I know," I murmured coyly, trying to match his playful tone. But though he had said you, his statement had more than an air of reciprocity, and so I said, "Have you been going on any dates?"
"No," he said after half a second of hesitation. He's lying, I thought. But I was too. No one willing to concede, both of us still playing our roles. The ultimate farce.
He brought up sex again, because talking about it is all we can do. As if by force of repetition I will eventually be convinced by his argument. The same reasons: it changes things, he's not ready, if anything were to happen... Then he says, "Well let me ask you something. Have you ever had casual sex?"
At first I'm frozen, shocked by the question. But we are both adults here. Surely he has to know? I blink once, twice. "Yes," I say. My tone implies an of course, and I fight to keep my shoulders from creeping upwards in a shrug.
"Really?" he says, and I am surprised that he is so surprised, though I suppose after all this I shouldn't be. "I never would have thought..." he says. "I mean...you're so reserved and shy." When he says this it hits me viscerally, and I realize: he doesn't know me at all. He doesn't have the least idea who I am. And worse: he doesn't even care enough to find out. "Reserved and shy" is a snap judgment made in the first few minutes of meeting someone. It's a shortcut; a way for extroverts to classify something they don't understand. It's not a person. It's not me. And it has absolutely nothing at all to do with sex. He might as well have said, You're so tall, I never would have expected you to like sushi. I am baffled. He is baffled. "Huh," he says to himself thoughtfully. "Huh."
I knew it was over, too, at the bar, as we sat debating politics, his purported opinions so extreme, so illogical that I wondered if he was baiting me. We argued, talked loudly, interrupted each other, and I thought, reserved and shy? But I like a good debate, like being forced to present my thoughts in a logical way, and so I was having fun. Any guy that's right for me would like this, I thought, would like that I have my own opinions and can argue them logically and convincingly, but he just seemed frustrated. "But how can you even think that?" he said incredulously. "Well, let me try to explain it to you," I said, but he wouldn't listen, or didn't care. After that, our faces flushed, our pulses racing, we should have gone home and torn each other's clothes off, but of course we didn't. Instead he said, "I'll start your car for you," which is really just a nicer way of saying, Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
The next day I didn't hear anything from him; not a word, not a text. The first time we had gone a whole day without talking since we had met, and I knew it was really over. I knew that it had to be, that it was for the best, that it just wasn't working, but knowing that still couldn't stop the awful, dull pain in my chest. I went to work, went home, hung out with friends, but all I could think was, if I knew I only had fifteen minutes left to live, I would have no one to call. Those melodramatic, imagined scenarios: your plane is going down, a meteor is crashing to Earth, you're being held hostage. That one last phone call. Who do you call? They would find my hand a shriveled claw clutching my cell phone, frozen in the act of scrolling again and again through my contacts list, because there is no one person I would want to talk to during my last few minutes on Earth. I am not anyone's someone, and no one is mine. That makes me the saddest of all. I imagine an apocalyptic phone tree for the lonely and unloved: everyone should be able to call someone, even if it is just a stranger's voice on the other end. An end of the world hotline? (Note to self: look into this.)
I woke up today knowing that we would have to talk eventually. Say it out loud, rip off that band-aid. I would send him a text. So, I would say. Or, Well. Or, Well?
When I was little I was absolutely incapable of removing a band-aid in one try, instead spending hours sucking air through my teeth as I loosened it bit by painful bit. Now, as an adult, I routinely rip strips of hot wax from intimate areas, knowing that if I hesitate even a little, the results will be much more painful, and ultimately unsuccessful. If you do it right, it hurts, but it's over quickly. It's for your own good. It's what they always tell you, but I didn't realize when I was little they might actually be right. The easy way, the hard way, and the stubborn way. "They" can tell you all they want which is best, but sometimes you just have to figure it out for yourself.
After I had all but given up hope, but before I could decide on my approach, my phone beeped. Hey u, he said. Four little letters. Hey u.
Hey, I responded, and though I should know better, suddenly I'm five years old, tugging on that damn band-aid again.