I knew it was the last time we would be together only moments after being together.
That late night walk from your apartment to 6th Avenue was dark and rainy and quiet. I remember stepping off that first curb somewhere along West 3rd, the drop feeling longer than expected, jolting me a bit as my foot finally landed on the wet storm drain. I thought about hailing a cab right on MacDougal but kept walking instead.
I don’t remember where or when I stopped walking, only that the air and water and pavement and streetlights felt good against the dullness. And that the cab ride along the Hudson River felt over in a flash, as if I hadn’t come from anywhere, gone anywhere. I walked up to my own apartment, wondering how I was going to face you at work only days later.
I wanted to want your kind of kindness. Your gentleness. After all these years, I’ve kept the few cards you gave me. It was a short chapter between us, but I know that your words were honest and real and yours, and very likely ones I will never see – in just your way – again. Thank you for them, and for the brief respite from my aloneness.
There were promising moments. Like when we went to see “Cats” on Broadway and could not understand the thread of the damn thing. Do you remember how we tried not to laugh, leaning into each other’s faces, shushing, gasping, hands holding tight and cheeks touching? I hadn’t laughed that hard in so, so long. I couldn’t wait to be alone with you.
And I remember later that night, when you strummed your guitar for me and sang a little. I can still see your long, muscular leg tucked under your knee, your early gray hair in the soft light of a distant lamp in your cozy apartment.
Your voice was so sweet.
If you think of me at all, your face might still render that look of confusion on the day you broke it off just a few days later, doing for me what I was going to do. You were so nervous. Full of “ums” and “uhs,” knee bouncing under the table while we waited for our quesadillas. I let you take your time with it out of respect, but I knew. Had seen it coming. Our friends had told me your ex was still in the picture. Not in the shadows, but very present, asking a lot questions, wondering who I was, whether it was serious, even circling your apartment for a look at me.
It sounded like a bit much to me, in all honesty. I didn’t tell you this at the time, but I wondered if the baby on the way, the one you had to go back to her for, was actually the truth from her. But of course, I couldn’t say that.
I could only say, “Ok.” Which blew your head back a little.
I know you’re surprised that you didn’t hurt me. That nothing, not my hope or my ego, broke over the chips and salsa when you delivered the news that you had to go back to your pregnant ex-girlfriend. Please forgive me for what may have looked like…nonchalance. I promise you, there were no layers underneath my simple response. There was no hidden resentment that I’d later share with friends, no attempt at stoicism, no indignation or even a need to understand what had gone wrong.
And there was no grief over what might have been.
There was only the dullness. The knowing that some small spark lit by curiosity and desire had been…extinguished. That our togethering hadn’t fed that fragile flame. That in being with you, when I walked away, I felt a little more alone.
You should know that I don’t fall in love easily. I don’t fall in like easily. I don’t go out with boys just to fill the empty spaces. And attention is not my thing. Nevertheless, my in-betweens can sometimes be brutal. As long and quiet and dim as a February day. It took some time for me to see you and be seen by you, and I knew that when it was done, it would take some time to see anyone else, and be seen again. And I was right.
Thank you for interrupting one of the more painful in-betweens, J. I hope that your baby was born safely into this crazy world, that you’re all thriving and healthy.
You’re brave and you’re tender. I hope that at the very least, I was that in return.
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