"Hi, really, are you ok?," he asked again the next day. I ignored it.
"Ok, so I really wasn't just saying hi back then," he admitted the day after that. I ignored it.
"I'm really sorry. Please stop being mad, please. I think about you all the time and I didn't know what I was doing. I don't think of you that way at all. Don't be mad anymore. Please?," he pleaded again. "And yeah, I get you're into someone else now," he finally added.
He apologized again and we changed subjects, the farther from it the better. Still, I suppose the man knew what he was doing. How Capricorn of him to take it slowly but surely, building each little block carefully. Planting the seed and waiting till I remembered everything I'd tried to forget. Later he suggested we should catch up, in person. I laughed. "In person?," I repeated. "So you can freak out again? When is that - like a year from now?."
It seemed an impossibility that this man who could drive my temper into a loss of reason, who'd disappeared at such a forlorn time in my life was suddenly here, at my door. But even that had happened with argument, he'd ended up coming back from a work trip after I flipped my hair and told him to forget it.
He looked as ever, blue-eyed and pale. He'd lost weight but acted as usual, crotchety and older than his years. He'd started running, he said and watching what he ate after he realized he had the diet of a ten year old.
"I must've been eating 3 lbs of cheese a week or something, oi.. don't even ask me how much work this BS takes," he said loosely referring to his slighter frame. I didn't blink, "I liked you even when you were heavier, but who cares about my opinion, right?"
Some things hadn't changed, we both still worked at the same places, he still wrote for a living and we were both still single. I think anyone would at least say this had the makings of an utterly romantic story, maybe so for people much less damaged than either one of us. So as he went on being droll and funny, I watched him quietly. He was nervous, appropriately so. I was always more than a little unpredictable with him.
I wondered if this was the patter that got him somewhere with other women. The kind of quietly intelligent, reserved but funny talk that never exposes anyone and takes forever to get to the point. How safe this all is I thought, then promptly told him I'd rather he kissed me.
His eyes widened even more before he leaned over gingerly. I smiled to myself, he hates this and I knew it. He had never been able to reconcile my sensibility with how I looked, my calm and inescapable reason vs my unabashed kitten-likeness or my measured thoughtfulness vs my moving liquidly through the room. I'd decided long ago being a paradox was not a problem. Or if it was, it wasn't mine.
Which he tried to resist with such panicked charm, "Oh NO, bad idea. Seriously, I won't be able to stop. I can't. You know Penis, he'll just ignore me." Yes, despite years of this back and forth, we had a pet name for it. Penis had solid allegiance to me, having turn-coated years before. I kissed the huge hands that covered mine, once on each knuckle. "No, he'll stop as long as I ask him to, remember he follows me? Besides the bed's bigger and you can stay as far away from me as you like at one end." Poor long lost Capricorn.
We laid facing each other and in desperation he told me that he musn't do more than this. I shook my head earnestly, "Of course not, no, no, NO. Bad idea." while I lazily twined a thigh around his. "I have to.." he breathed laboriously, "I have to prove to you that I'm not going anywhere, I have to prove myself to you. That I can be around." I froze slightly.
Was he saying what I thought he was saying? I looked at him gently as he added, “because I want this to be a regular thing.” I nodded, it was a few years too late but I’d thought then as I did now, that it was all we could manage. Manage to believe as possible at least. He watched our hands against the light above us locking fingers and looked aghast at my smile. "Stop that," he ordered.
We stayed in bed for a while, still fully clothed and talking a little excitedly. It dawned on us we could actually maybe get this going, whatever it was. "You sure you don't have a boyfriend?,"he asked double checking. I shrugged, "I told you, I don't really have relationships. Anymore."
He looked at me a little angrily,"That's a bit of a fucked up policy." I closed my eyes briefly and opened to see his trained on me, I smiled softly, "Not a policy. Just a fact. It just didn't really happen, not that way." We both went quiet at this. It's what brought us to each other, wasn't it? And apparently, as sad it is to say, it's what kept him coming back and my being unable to really forget him. We were veterans of the same damn war. Just we each seemed to react differently to finding we had more than that in common.
I'd read somewhere that Elizabeth Gilbert once had a monk tell her to never give anyone anything they weren't emotionally ready for, that otherwise they'd have no choice but to hate you. She wrote how this initially seemed cynical to her, yet years later, after many mishaps of what she thought was joyful giving, she'd found this to be true; inadvertently her offerings had robbed the very people she tried to help of the gifts hidden in their problems.
It was the same with him. I'd arrived at a time when he was nowhere near prepared for any kind of connection, and was thereby duly punished.
"What are you saying then? You don't believe in relationships, or what?," he questioned me rapidly, still visibly upset.
I breathed, "I do. I do believe in it. But look at you, you're frightened of me. I'm not," I paused waiting for the right words to fall from the ceiling above us, "I don't like manipulating people into relationships. I'm not..I'm someone who's there it seems for other people, but I'm either too honest or too brave, or too something. You know. You know my history. It makes me good for those things, but not as such, exactly right. It seems."
"Because you're Batman?," he teased, trying to keep it light. I nodded, "Yep, because Gotham needs me." But he didn't drop it, arguing the very position he just weeks before himself occupied, "I don't think you should say that. You can't say it doesn't happen to you, or you don't have them. That's just not right. I take exception to that."
"I said, anymore. It doesn't happen anymore. I didn't say I didn't want it.," I corrected him. "Besides WHY are you telling me this when YOU said you'd rather be alone in air conditioning?"
"That's different, that was me reacting to that whole douche bag business,"he pointed out, "you can't give up."
I thought I might cry, this particular subject with this particular person was just too near everything. He had been there, three years ago, witness to my fragility. In regular life, I never come across as that. Not with most people, especially not with men. My usual role was that of the serendipitous stranger, there to embody some critical kindness that needed to be done, say or write the right words that would've never arrived otherwise, sometimes I'm just a wave to carry someone thru the next bit or even in silence, a moment of protection or kindness.
So now, here he was calling me up on the question I loathed answering the most. "I'm not giving up, I'm just stating what is. You shouldn't be so angry about it, I'm not. Remember, you left too. There really aren't any mistakes, for the very longest time I wish you never left but that's what was right for you then so there are no regrets and there are things to learn from it.," this was all I would say, or could say, even if there was too much subtext already.
I tried to convince him he didn't want to know, that it wasn't something I held against him. Saying that just guaranteed his insistence, "No, I want to know, I want to know what this lesson is you learned. I really, really do."
I bit my lip but the man asked, "Right, so lesson one, never give anyone anything they're not ready for, and you certainly weren't. And two, as much as possible, never let someone occupy your mind, who won't occupy your life and really be there. Those are the things I learned from that time with then without you."
He looked incensed with himself, "That just makes me feel like the lowest piece of shit ever. I have no idea why you're even speaking to me, again I'm sorry. Really."
"Look," I shrugged, "you wanted to know so I told you. No blame, no rehash. You're here now. I'm wary yes, of course. But people leave all the time, and you can't stop them. You can't make it about you, even if it feels that way." I said it so matter-of-factly and spent more time studying his fingers because well, I couldn't change the past and neither could he.
He held my head in his hands to look at me so seriously it worried me. He kissed me soundly, "I have to prove this to you. I really have to. I'm not going anywhere."