If you're going to be in the neighborhood, you should come over for dinner. I'm going to grill up some tuna steaks with garlic lemon butter, texted the man who broke my heart.
I hesitated; I fidgeted; I weighed the pros, and then the cons. And then, finally, I made up a very small lie. I need to go to Target at some point anyway, so I could probably stop by, I said. Though I never did make it to Target, I managed to arrive at his apartment just late enough that he was sure I wasn't coming (he later told me). Dinner was ready when I got there. "Make the salad dressing?" he asked me, and with that, I fell into my old familiar role of maker of the vinaigrette. I reached for the ingredients--the dijon mustard I had bought for just such an occasion was still there, in the fridge--and silently dressed the salad. We didn't talk much, at first, and when he passed by me in the small kitchen I sensed, rather than saw, his hands instinctively reach out to caress me, and then just as quickly pull back.
As we ate I started up a stream of chatter, filling him in on the highs and mostly lows of my job search, and of my impending departure from Mythaca, to parts, at that time, still unknown. He said he still wanted to move out west, was trying to move to Colorado, hopefully in September. He had gone to visit a friend out there, and described four feet of snow and eighty degree weather, and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. He said it was amazing. After dinner we retired to his balcony, overlooking scenic views of the Norwood parking lot and its accompanying bank of garages. I shivered briefly. "Cold?" he asked, reaching out a finger and hesitantly touching my arm. "No, I'm ok," I said.
"I was just going to watch a movie tonight and go to bed," he said. "Do you want to watch a movie?"
"Ok," I said.
We started the movie at opposite ends of his couch, with miles of space between us. But when he leaned down and laid his head in my lap, it felt right; so right that my fingers immediately went to his hair. "Your stomach is gurgly," he said, a few minutes later.
"It's probably because you're pushing on it," I said.
"Here," he said, turning me and then nestling himself around me--two spoons watching tv--and that also felt right. Then, when he kissed me, that felt right too. "Stay with me tonight," he whispered.
"I should go home," I said.
"Please, just stay with me."
"Because...I want to talk to you."
"About...things. About us."
"Ok," I said. "Start talking."
He sighed. "I'm...so, here's the thing. I don't fall for girls, ok? That's just...that's not what I do. But...I fell for you. And now exactly what I was afraid of is happening, and you're leaving in a month. And I don't know what to do." I didn't know either. There wasn't an answer, and so we both were silent.
"And I was drinking a lot then," he continued. "Too much. But I've stopped, and I'm even going to the gym almost every day, now. And...I'm sorry. I'm sorry for hurting you."
"Don't flatter yourself," I replied automatically, because I wasn't ready to make myself vulnerable to him.
"Oh, uh, no, I mean...of course not," he replied, flustered. I had thrown him. Good. "But still," he continued, "I am. I'm sorry for pushing you away."
I sat with that knowledge for a few minutes. "Why didn't you call me?" I asked.
"I did. I left you a voicemail and I sent you texts. You never replied."
"You called me in the middle of the night," I said.
"It was 12:30," he said.
"It was 1:30," I said. "Anyway, you called once and sent two texts, and one was a throwaway."
"'I have your earrings?' What am I supposed to do with that? Anyway, if you had called just once when it wasn't the middle of the night, I would have answered."
"You would have?"
"Yeah. It just seems like...you didn't try very hard."
"Well, I thought you hated me."
"That's true," I said nodding, "I did. I really did."
"So, why did you call me yesterday?" he asked.
"Oh, um, because I needed your lease renewal," I said with a hint of a smile. Busted.
"You could have called Kevin."
"Oh, that? Simple alphabetical order," I said slyly. "You were just first on the list."
"Well, I was really happy to hear from you," he said.
"I guess, really...I was tired of being angry. All of a sudden I kept seeing you everywhere, and I hated that it felt so awful. I just wanted to be able to look back and not be angry, you know?"
"That makes sense, I guess," he said.
"When you guys came in my office a week ago, I felt ambushed. I don't know if you could tell, but I was really flustered, and the whole thing was so awkward and terrible. I mean, I don't know what you must have thought when you left. You must have thought I was a complete bitch."
"No, not at all. Actually," he said, grinning now, "all I said to Kevin when we left was, 'Damn, she looked good in that skirt.'"
I laughed and silently thanked the gods of long legs for their powers of distraction in the face of bad hair days.
"You know, my sister hates you," I told him. "She really hates you. She doesn't tend to give second chances."
"There's probably quite a few people who read your blog who aren't very fond of me either, huh?" he added.
"Oh, yeah," I said, just then remembering that that I had at one point mentioned to him the existence of a blog (and of his presence on it), though without giving away any identifying details. "Yeah, that's true too."
And that was pretty much it. We talked, we kissed, we finished watching the movie, we went to bed. And as I tossed and turned, as usual mostly sleepless in a strange bed, whenever I accidentally woke him up, he would sleepily mumble, "Hi babe," each time sounding surprised and happy to find me there. A dozen times that night, whenever our moments of consciousness overlapped, "Hi babe," he would say, each time sounding as delighted to see me as the first.
"I'm really glad you came over last night," he told me in the morning.
"I am too," I said, and I meant it.
And here is where we are: something seems different this time around, if only the fact that I know I am leaving Mythaca in a month, and he is probably leaving a couple months after that, and there is nothing to be done about any of it. Maybe if we didn't have the timeline I would be more hesitant, more vulnerable to getting hurt again, but as it stands, I am in no danger of emotional slaughter, this time. I am good. I am content. I will also probably be increasingly sad, the closer I get to leaving, but this time it will be the bittersweet sadness of unrealized potential, constrained by geographical forces largely beyond our control, rather than the bitterness of a broken heart fueled by gnawing pangs of "What if?" I have been asking myself "what if?" for months now, and now I finally have an answer: it still won't work out. And that's ok. In another world, another time, another place, I think, maybe, I could love him. I think maybe he could love me. Or, it's equally likely that we would find out we're completely incompatible and every little thing about him would drive me insane. In another world we might have had the time and the space to figure these things out. But in this world, all we have is right now.
"About those earrings," I said to him in the morning. "Do you still have them?"
"They're in there, somewhere," he said, motioning to his nightstand, but making no move to retrieve them. "But anyway, it will give me a good excuse to see you again. That is, if you want to see me again," he said, almost shyly. I nodded. "Ok," I said.
And that's where I am. I am ok. At best I feel good about it, at worst I feel neutral. I definitely don't feel bad about what happened, and you shouldn't either. And I won't be made to feel bad about it, so if that's what you had in mind, you can just forget about it.
Basically, what I'm saying is, I am good. How are you?