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Never, Quite (8 of 90)

Off-handedly I found out that she got married. She met a guy, had a baby, got married and moved into the hill country of Marin County.

I always expected to hear that particular story. Or a version of that story. At least the end of the story.

That didn’t change the sinking feeling I felt in my heart when I heard it. You can’t prepare yourself for that feeling. Even when you know it’s coming.

Finality is funny that way.

***

We always had a strange relationship, she and I. The timing was always just a little bit off, the circumstances never quite.

Not that we didn’t try. In 1998, we would always find a reason to end up in the same place. Which wasn’t hard because the school was very small. Just a few rooms.

We drank coffee during the day. In the evenings, we would occasionally meet for a drink away. Away from everything that made us never quite right.

I remember the day my soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend saw her for the first time. She was walking across the street. She waved, and I waved back.

“That’s her,” said, casually as I could.

There was a long pause.

“That is her,” she said. Staring at me.

***

“I need a guy who is going to just reach over and kiss me,” she said to me one evening in 2000 while we were sitting in her car. “But you know that can’t happen.”

She said this after a long slow hug, an even longer pause with our faces inches from each other and even still after the longest conversation eyes can have.

“This would be good,” I asked her.

“It would be,” she said.

We would have that conversation more than once. We would have it while we sat close to each other in out-of-the-way bars, we would have it while we watched the sun set in the Berkeley Gardens, we would have it while we sat on her couch listening to old jazz music.

We would have it until we couldn’t have it anymore.

***

“I’m dating somebody now. I think you’d like him. He is exactly like you,” she said in 2002 after a long period of silence between us. The kind of silence that began to creep into our relationship when the conversation became too difficult.

“That’s really great,” I told her in the way that you tell someone that something is really great when it isn’t. “Do you even know how much that hurts to hear you say?”

She didn’t.

Although looking back on it, I wonder if I actually heard what she said differently than what she meant. I’ve sought, in the last few years, the patience to hear what people are saying instead of simply listening to the words strung together with imperfect harmony.

For years she’d insisted that she had never considered dating someone like me. A little rough around the edges. Into sports. Loud. Informal. A bit on the redneck side.

To be honest, I never much considered dating someone like her. She was refined, outwardly. Cultured. Reserved. Put together in that beautiful, sensual way that exudes itself with every step she took, every movement she made and every word she spoke. There was not spontaneous, and yet nothing planned.

Yet she broke a long silence to tell me that she was dating someone who was just like me. And she liked it. Enjoyed it. Found a happiness with it.

***

For her birthday in 2005, I read her favorite book – Travels with Charlie – and annotated it. I put memories we’d shared that reminded me of certain passages. I made notes about passages that reminded me of her. I wrote notes that told her of things that related to stories from my life.

I would sit at the bar every night after work, toiling away into the wee hours, making notes. I tried to explain to those who would ask what I was doing, but it felt too personal.

I sent it to her.

She was in New York City. I was in Boston. Our conversations were less frequent now.

When I flew to the City, we met for coffee. She was late. We talked. But not in the way that we had before.

I had never quite reached over and kissed her. She had never quite told me she wanted me to.

Never quite turned into something more permanent.

“That was a strangely personal gift,” she said to me as we were parting ways for the last time.

“Was it,” I said, my body flush with an awkward sadness. “I didn’t mean it to be. I just wanted you to know, I guess. It seemed important that you know.”

She got in a cab, disappearing into the City’s throngs. I stood there on the corner, lost and directionless. I pulled out a cigarette and sat down on a bench.

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