Words surfaced here and there, but I shook them off. I didn’t want to hit that story lurking there, that not-so-old wound.
Last year at this time I was madly in love with a former hippie who still liked Phish, and I made fun of his band obsession every chance I got. Damn, we’d kid and laugh. Inside jokes, Flight of the Conchords. On one of our first dates he wasn’t eating much so I asked him if he had an eating disorder. He cracked up, saying no, he was getting over the flu.
Shy but affectionate, he had long, dark hair.
He dressed like a rocker, with a collection of expensive jeans and hoodies. We’ll call him Ryan.
Tall and lean, Ryan had a wide chest, narrow hips and a flat stomach. I loved his hands. I even loved his goofy dog. Ryan was quiet and reserved. It was hard to tell what he was feeling, but if I wanted to know, I just flat-out asked, “What the hell are you thinking?” And he’d tell me, in a few short words.
Last New Year’s Eve, we hung out at my efficiency apartment, half-watching TV. Mostly, we watched each other. When he was next to me on the crummy couch, I felt safe. Calm.
I’ve always been a worrier, but with him there was never a question. I wanted him there. Just me, him, two pints of ice cream, a movie, the cats and a teeny tiny room. Us. We didn’t go out much. We didn’t rage on the town. Sometimes we’d hit a club or go out for fish but mostly we stayed in watching movies, touching and laughing and curling up on the bed again. Our world.
We hung out nonstop until one night last April.
We were on a date.
He was driving. He looked at the road and stated, “I got into the University of Montana.”
I looked at him, smiling. “That’s great,” I said.
Then it started to sink in. “I’m happy for you,” I said. My eyes filled up.
Silence. Back near my apartment, we sat in the car. Clothes rustled as we shifted nervously. The tension made me twitch.
“What are you going to do?” I finally asked him.
“I’m going,” he announced flatly. “Just like that, no conversation, you’re going?” I said, getting out of the car.
Ryan sped away. Inside my apartment, I had a flashback. I envisioned the day when my Dad left my Mom. It all felt so similar — the silence, then the shock. I had no warning and then, suddenly, my whole world was gone.
With Ryan, I felt the same way. I knew he was applying to schools, but I didn’t know he was dead-set on leaving. Suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t in the picture.
That was followed by weeks of hashing it out, many tears, endless words that went nowhere. I was torn. I knew he wanted to leave Cincinnati. He wanted to stay together until he left. I refused.
And after countless painful talks, I realized this:
He didn’t want to stay, and he didn’t want me to go with him. And I knew that if it were right, geography wouldn’t be an issue and the two people would make it happen. A hard truth.
We broke up. We got back together. We cut it off completely. I haven’t spoken to him since. By our last conversation, I didn’t know when or where or if he was going. I found out when someone posted Facebook pictures of his going-away party. I saw these pictures minutes before I had to meet the band July for Kings to interview them. I cried, washed my face, suited up and showed up. These things never have good timing.
It seemed ridiculous. In one moment, what had seemed like the right match turned into something nonexistent? He said he loved me, but when it came down to it, he wanted to leave. Alone.
Tonight, I sit in a coffee shop. While I write, in the background, Nina Simone sings, “The sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday.” Across from me, a woman stops knitting to listen. She breathes in, grinning, eyes shut tight. Then she looks at me, her smile turning bright and wide. Utter joy.
“It’s a good song, isn’t it?” I ask her. She laughs, nodding. “Yeah!” Sometimes, all we have are these moments — a good tune, a child learning a karate move for the first time, the morning a yellow rose opens. To me, these simple beauties are all moments of love, in the strangest of forms.
Unlike the movies, real love can be tricky. But I remember last New Year’s when we watched the ball drop in between mad, gorgeous, new touch, when we discovered a new cheek, hand, neck, eyelid, chest and lips. I remember his soft laugh, his cool socks, the way his long hair was always a mess, half-wet and tied back loosely.
Sometimes there is no explanation, life lesson or revelation involved other than this — when I watched him sleep, I knew deep down that someday he wouldn’t be there, but I thought, Right here, right now, this is just right.
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