That first time I’d seen you since the previous summer, you looked a mess. In the brief moment before your eyes found mine, I admired the dark blue flat-front shorts and the off-white linen shirt you wore, the sleeves rolled to your elbows and your sunglasses tucked into the shirt pocket on the right. I spied the shadows under your eyes, the pallor of your usually tan skin, the thinness of your stance. I couldn’t tell from my perspective whether you’d lost weight, but your shoulders were hunched over as you stood leaning against the wall, and my heart squeezed in my chest.
Then your eyes snapped up, as though feeling the inquisitiveness in mine, and the way my heart squeezed was on an entirely different level.
The cautious smile that lit your face did not diminish the intensity of your gaze as you swept your eyes over me. I felt self-conscious and wondered for a moment if I should have freshened up in the airport restroom after all, but that thought was short-lived. You pushed yourself from the wall and walked towards me, and I found myself drifting towards you like a moth towards a flame. The way you slid both arms around me, and the flash of the watch on your wrist I’d given you years ago, reminded me of times I forgot to discard, and I closed my eyes at the familiar feelings of comfort and peace.
“Hi,” you murmured, your breath stirring my hair. Your voice sounded husky from what I knew to be months of whiskey. My heart lodged in my throat.
I squeezed the solidity of you in my arms, shuddering a sigh. I missed you terribly. Even when I thought I didn’t. Even when I think I don’t. You must have understood my unspoken consent, because your arms tightened around me and your embrace became at once unyielding and warm.
Never one to indulge in sentimentality, I plastered a smile on my face when you finally let go.
“I hope you have an excellent coffee shop in mind,” I said, as was appropriate for two people who knew each other intimately but were once again strangers to each other.
You gave a short laugh, amusement clear. “Still the caffeine addict, I see.”
Some things never changed.
Your voice didn’t lose that husky quality until months later, when you called me from atop a snowy mountain, your goggles reflecting the sunlight. Your smile was wide and excited, and I wanted to be there with you in that moment, more than you could ever know.
We held hands on that Sunday as we walked along the streets of Chelsea. The day was sunny and the streets were busy, but we weren’t in a rush and took our time watching the townhouses and windows that passed by us in silence.
You made to pause in front of an old records store. I looked at you as you looked at the hanging sign, and the way your face hardened made my heart ache. You turned away from the memories resolutely, in a way that made me wish I could give you the universe in recompense.
I hastened my steps to match your much longer ones. The laziness of Sunday morning was long gone.
“I miss him too,” I said quietly. I meant it.
You didn’t respond, but you slid an arm around my shoulders and pulled me close to your side, exactly the way I liked, and I wrapped an arm around your waist in return.
This was how we fell, again.
You had seemed uncertain, an unusual sight. When you stood up from the curb, when I drifted over to you from the car with the blood roaring in my ears, when you thrust the single white rose at me, the glimmer of uncertainty around you made me hesitate.
This was serious.
I accepted the flower from you, buried my nose in it to avoid the fierce hope in your eyes. I heard you say hello to my parents and my father’s murmured, “Enjoy your weekend,” my heart fluttered and sank at the same time.
In another place and another time, this would be conspiracy.
“Surprise,” you mumbled, still uncertain, after my parents had gone into the house. You took a step closer and gently plucked the flower from my death grip. I didn’t protest. I couldn’t. When you stepped closer still and wrapped your arms around me, I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, T-.”
That uncertainty lingered, even when I’d recovered from the shock and the seriousness. The uncertainty was around the roguish smile on your face, the teasing that felt too light to be anything but contrived, the bickering that had always seemed natural to us.
Your uncertainty had made me unbalanced. It wasn’t until the second day, in the secrecy of the night, when we were both standing in front of the windows enjoying the skyline, that the serious moment came upon us once again.
“T-,” you’d murmured, simultaneously a question and an affirmation.
I watched from the corner of my eye as you turned from the view and looked at me. From the way your jaw was set, I knew you were determined to make your case. And I knew how good you were at making your case, how I could never say no to you, how I knew where this was going even if you didn’t.
I turned to face you. The blue of your eyes gleamed in the dark, reflecting the light from the skyline outside. Your stare was intense and weighty, as though contemplating a mystery. I waited for you to clearly and unequivocally speak your mind on the topic of us; there was time enough to make up my mind in the space of the next five minutes.
The moment that uncertainty left you was the moment I realized I was in trouble. You fingers wrapped around mine, a gesture that was as natural as breathing to both of us. You swallowed compulsively, your throat working for a moment without any sound escaping.
“I love you,” you said, quietly, fervently, an apology and a promise.
My illusion shattered. Blood roared in my ears. My vision narrowed on you. There was no way - too much history - too many mistakes - too much -
“Be with me.”
Logic was a lost cause even from the beginning.
Some 15 months later, a friend of mine who was visiting me for the weekend pointed out some things I had been vehemently denying.
“It’s like someone shredded your heart, put it in a blender, stomped on it. Someone broke your heart.”
Something along those lines. The sad truth was that I did that all by myself. You didn’t break my heart; if anything, you stitched me back together when I was hurting and loved me even when I couldn’t stand myself. But what I did to you and what we did to us - absolution is still a long way away.
These memories. These moments.
What do I do with them?
Be kind to yourself, you had said.
I think I finally know what you meant.
Something inside of me is still broken. Still breaks. Will always break for you.