SIDE NOTE: Back in high school I used to text my girlfriends ‘143’ as a secret code that meant ‘I’ (1 letter) ‘love’ (4 letters) ‘you’ (3 letters). Day 143. Did anyone else ever do that?
Boy Meets Girl Again
It wasn’t me who reached out to her again. I hadn’t even seen her since we broke up. After five years of having successfully avoided ever running into her and resisting the urge to contact her, she ran into my mother at a TJ Maxx. I remember my mother telling me the story when she got home that day, and my heart hurting again. I felt a slow, sinking depression in my heart remembering everything again, realizing how close we had been to each other all this time. She told me that she was there in the houseware section, that she was seeing someone for a while now, and that they were thinking of moving in together sometime in the future. I’m surprised I caught all that, because what I really remember is a loud, low, persistent buzzing in my ear. The truth is I knew she was dating someone; we weren’t friends on social media but I would look her name up every now and then just to see her face again. She took all the photos when we were together, and she took them with her when she left. I didn’t know the extent to how serious they were, and quite frankly I didn’t want to know. I felt nothing but pain when my mother shared her information with me. I don’t think she really understood that. I had dated so many girls since, seemed so enthusiastic and eager with each one, been able to create a normal life with healthy romances. For a few days I tried to continue on with a feigned indifference. I had to convince myself that nothing in my world had changed just because I could no longer live in a limbo where I knew nothing of Beautiful’s life after me. But one evening I received a message from a nameless number. I recognized the number immediately. After all these years she still had the same number, and I could still recite it by heart. She said how long it had been since we’d seen each other, and wanted to know how I was, and let me know she saw my mother the other day, and wondered if we could meet up sometime.
I wanted to throw my phone into a river or a bonfire. I honestly did not want to read that or deal with the situation. I had no idea why she wanted to meet all of a sudden or what I was expected to say or do. It took me a day to reply. There was a very significant part of me that wanted nothing to do with this. I had been trying, with little but still some success, to move on and live a life without Beautiful. The life that she had been building with someone else. I didn’t want to hear about her happiness. I did not want to know what kind of man I should have been, could have been. I on the other hand had nothing to show for the years we spent apart, to justify the hurt and the pain. I had left a string of broken romances and equal opportunity injuries between myself and other women. I was no longer the romantically idealistic teacher she once loved. I could never be her friend, not after everything that had happened between us. I had no delusions about being able to live that lie.
And yet there was still that romantic in me. There was still that part of my heart and soul that yearned and cried for a second chance. Was waiting for the second half of our story, the part in the film where the lovers reunited. I had seen it happen before to lesser men and with lesser loves. After all this time, after all this skepticism and cynicism, I wanted to believe in soulmates and stories. But I wouldn’t try and steal her. I couldn’t do that again. I had no intentions, hopes, or designs to come between her and him. Of that at least I was sure and of that at least I could show I was different, better, bigger than the man I was before.
I decided to agree to meet.
We met at a small coffee shop halfway between both our houses. I had on a v-neck sweater and her favorite blazer, black jeans and leather boots. An extra spray of the same cologne I had been wearing all these years. I saw her first. She was sitting at a table outside, focused on a coloring book. I didn’t mean to sneak up on her but I guess I was just too quiet because when I sat down at her table she jumped a little. It was adorable. There were no hugs or kisses. But I could have sworn I saw a familiar shine in her eye. The small talk was generic and forgettable. But then it started to rain. The inside of the shop was too small and too crowded to accommodate us, so we decided to move to a bigger location near the highway. We left in separate cars. As I was walking to mine, I passed a group of teenagers who were hanging around outside the shop. One of them, completely out of the blue and honestly at random, told me I looked good, better than what they usually saw go to this place. I told him, honestly and plainly, ‘when the love of your life asks to meet after five years, you make sure to look your best’. I had no idea what was in store.
We tried to continue on in the new location with the same small talk one would have asked of a long-lost acquaintance or at best a casual friend. We were both of us too afraid to reach out first, reach out further. Inevitably the conversation turned to the circumstances that led to our meeting, and of course she shared she saw my mother, and of course I shared she told me of what she was doing and how she was doing. So it was out there now. Her relationship. They met online. After her own series of bad experiences she met someone who was kind and gentle and shared her interests. New interests. Different interests. They were hikers and bikers and campers and outdoorsy people now. They had been dating for a couple years now, and she was practically part of the family. His sister was a good friend of hers, and her mother had even hired her to create invitation cards for the family’s graduation party. She was happy.
I wanted to be happy for her. I honestly did. I wanted to find some shred of joy. I thought that loving someone meant you loved their happiness. I was struck with a selfish side of love, I could not find joy in what she had found in another. I unburdened myself of the weight and told her a terrible thing. I told her I still cared about her, that there was still always a part of my heart that had its home in her, and that as much as I could try, I would never be able to nor want to be happy for her being with someone else. I was tired and weak and hurt. I had no energy or strength to put up an act. Just being that close to her again, seeing her, smelling her, hearing her, I thought I would have been invigorated. I was instead drained. I needed her to tell me why I was here, sitting next to her, after five years of nothing. I told her she would not be able to find a friend in me, I had left that a long time ago, and I loved her too deeply to ever go back. I told her I was glad that she was happy, and that was true. I never wished any sadness or hurt on her. But that I found no joy in having to listen to it or know too much. If she wanted to know how I was, or wanted me to know how she was, she had accomplished that, and whatever she needed from me she had gotten. I needed to be saved from the pain and torment of more of her words. She wanted to know why it was so difficult for me to share. I told her I still remembered the night I came to her work. I still remember every word I wrote in the letter. I remember every cold minute I spent waiting outside. I told her that even still, as much as I tried, I had never really fully moved on, and like a dog on a leash I could only ever go so far each time. I had never given up hope, and though it was a slow and steady and persistent bleeding, I had grown accustomed to the pain. I didn’t need this moment to rip the knife out.
I honestly, and this is so important, I honestly never wanted or intended or designed for anything to happen between us. This was her world now, her chance, her happiness. I gave up my claim when she wanted nothing to do with me. She asked to move closer. She asked to feel my arms around her again. She was the one who needed to stay there. I held her in my arms for the remainder of our time together. She held tightly, and I tried my hardest not to read into everything. My hopeful romantic mind saw too much possibility in this. If I was a lesser man, I would have kissed her. Told her to run away with me. Told her we were meant to be. But I had grown over time. I told her my love was only mine to bear. That she was happy now, and that was what mattered. I kissed her, yes, but only on the forehead, as I had done so many times before, and only when we parted, like so many times before. I knew we were done as she drove away in that empty parking lot, but in the deepest most hurt and pained parts of my heart, I still hoped.
It was raining the night she showed up at my door again. It was a little after a month since meeting up at the coffee shop. I could see the little drops of rainfall reflected in the light on my porch as she stood there, alone, tears in her eyes, fearful and unsure, to tell me it was over. I didn’t know what to do or how to process all this. For a moment we were just standing there, frozen, two people unsure of how to proceed. We stood on opposite sides of the door, the cold and the rain and the dark behind her, and the warmth and comfort of home behind me. We stared at each other, not knowing how to move. Finally, I stepped aside, put my arm around her back, and let her in.
We spoke together until the sun came up. She told me how whenever they fought, she was thinking of me. How she told him we had met up, how angry he had gotten, and how scared she now was. She told me that she needed to see me again because she needed to know if there was ever still a possibility between us. If I still felt the same. That she had read the letter years ago, but was too afraid to do anything because she was afraid of being hurt again. She told me she had tried to convince herself to move on, but that it was still me, had always been me. She said all the sweet and wonderful and longing things I had almost closed the door on. I was still so afraid. I couldn’t believe the situation I had found myself in. I spent countless sleepless nights staring at the sky thinking and wondering about this moment, and now it was right in front of me. She said everything I had hoped and wanted her to say. As the sun came up, I had to decide what new world we would be a part of.
The first two weeks were just trying to catch up. To bridge five years in ten days, it took many sleepless nights, many visits that lasted until early the next morning. Innocent, sweet, loving, and tender discussion in each other’s arms. Sometimes I wouldn’t even listen, just feel the vibration of her voice with my head as I rested on her lap. I just wanted to hold her tight, to remind myself that this was real. Not in any lifetime had I given my hope any possibility of turning into a reality. I was afraid and excited and wary of how desperately I needed this.
I thought, when I finally decided to share the news with my family and friends, they would help assuage my fears. I wanted their giddy cries of excitement and delight to spur me on with confidence and resolve. But they too were wary. Was this too soon, was this some sort of mistake, had I done something. I didn’t want the dissolution of a three year relationship on my head, nor did I want the new void it had created to be the only thing for me to fill. A temporary space. No one desperately, maddeningly, pleadingly wanted this more than me, but still also no one was as afraid of it all as me. I just needed the strength, the resolve, the commitment to convince me to let go if it all and allow myself to be this happy once more.
We had every intention of taking it slow. She had just had to deal with the stress of social media and informing her family and friends that she had broken up with her boyfriend. She didn’t want to then add that we were planning on seeing each other again. I respected her space and was there to comfort and console her when her family and friends doubted her intentions or her judgement. She told me her best friend knew of their problems and could immediately understand but that the others needed more explanation. Then there was the drama of him furiously and constantly pleading everyone they knew to convince her she was making a mistake, was acting rash, and was being manipulated into not being able to make her own decisions. I said nothing, did nothing, asked for nothing. I only comforted her when she came to me and reacted to what she was willing to share.
Slow didn’t last very long. Our first date was a comfortable and casual affair of brunch and a leisurely walk in the cold winter air around our park. She showed me one of her new favorite toys, an Instax Polaroid camera, and she took the first in a series of captured moments of our new romance. I was standing at the register paying for our meal. I took her back to my place and I surprised her with a Christmas present. Our first every Christmas together I gave her the fluffiest, softest, most luxurious white bathrobe. She told me when we met up again that her mother had accidentally mixed it in with some colored laundry and that it was ruined, so our very first Christmas back together, I gave her a brand new purple robe. Our second ever captured moment was her wearing it. She looked like an adorable eskimo, with her bright red face wrapped up in the robe’s hood. I had picked her up at 10am and had her back by three in the afternoon. It was simple, casual, and the pace we needed.
As luck would have it though, very soon after my family left for a week’s vacation to Las Vegas. I had the house to myself and invited her over. The first night was just dinner and some late night conversation. We had found no trouble at all going back to those nights where we could talk until three or four in the morning. But by the second day, she was staying over. She taught me how to make ricotta cheese and we made homemade ravioli. We ate at midnight because it took so long and we were starving but we had the time of our lives laughing and moving our hands together and dancing around each other in the kitchen once more. She loved to tease me during this time too. Blowing on the back of my neck, nibbling on my ear, lingering over my body when we slept. The first time we made love again was an accident, way before we thought it would have happened. She was on top of me, loving the sensation of running her bare skin against me, my harried attempts at self-control in the face of pure lustful temptation. When it happened we both froze for a moment, but we knew we were just delaying what we wanted because we thought it was the sensible thing to do. We made passionate, eager, aggressive love to each other. I had missed every sensation, every scent, every taste, every sound.
I was ready for this. I couldn’t deny my heart any longer and gave into the maddening euphoria. She was mine once more and I would never let her go. I knew the pain and folly of indecision and ingratitude, and I would never again commit its sins. I was resolved to love her and cherish her. I would be the protector of her heart and her memories. I shared with her everything of the past five years. Everything I was proud of, but more importantly everything I wasn’t. I wanted her to know the real me, the me who had spent five years in repentance, building a home that hopefully one day she would choose to want to live in once more. Meanwhile, she was showing me the new woman she had become. She had this confidence and purpose she never had in college. She was assertive and resolute. She had hobbies and interests outside of our own and she loved them and grew them into beautiful parts of her life and I fell in love with a brand new person all over again.
For once we were going on dates that she wanted to organize, with itineraries she had planned all on her own, doing activities near and dear to her. She took me snowboarding for my very first time and was very patient and understanding and encouraging as I continued to fall. Honestly the snow was soft and my pride was hurt more than my body, but she was there to nurse both. She took me to her favorite local hiking trail and we stopped on a rocky outcrop that overlooked a beautiful lake. I loved breathing in the fresh air and having her close to me and the seclusion and quiet of it all. Most of all I loved telling her much she had grown and how proud I was and how amazing she always was and had become even more of.
I never let go of my old rules or lost my old rhythm. Still surprising her with visits and gifts. I had to find a new florist because my old favorite had unfortunately gone out of business. But I very quickly built up the same rapport with my new provider as I did with the old. I was there often enough again after all. I was there to celebrate when she got her maternity leave position. I was there to cheer her on when she signed up for graduate school. I was there to encourage her, motivate her, comfort her as the classes and work wore on. I was there when family issues came up. I was there to give her mother flowers on Mother’s Day, give her grandmother oranges on Chinese New Year, help her father unload supplies for their store, was there with them when they had to say goodbye to her younger brother as he left for Australia. I was there with an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, a heart to give, and hands full of fried chicken or roses or candies or chocolates or warmth.
For Valentine’s I decided to recreate our Philadelphia trip from college. It started on Saturday night, after I finished at work. I rushed home, changed, grabbed my bag, and went to pick Beautiful up. The sun was beginning to set and we had a beautiful backdrop of sky as we went down to Philly. Our first stop would be Pho Ha to warm ourselves up. What Beautiful didn’t know was that I had secretly brought along seven individually wrapped long-stem roses that I would surprise her with along our journey. We had our delicious pho, and while she was in the restroom (I can always count on her tiny bladder) I rushed to the car, took out one of the roses, and in very hurried broken English explained to my waiter that I wanted him to bring out the rose and present it to her when I asked for the check. She had no idea. Afterwards she told me that as the waiter approached with the check and the rose she thought it was sweet that our waiter had a date and was probably on his way out after giving us the bill. When he handed the rose to her instead and the restaurant started clapping I have never seen her face so red with embarrassment. It sounds almost cruel but that alone was so totally worth it. It was adorable and sweet and it went off without a hitch and I loved her. Afterwards we checked in to the Hilton Penn’s Landing (highly recommended, the only waterfront hotel in Philly with a great view and excellent location) where, once again, unbeknownst to her I had already coordinated with the concierge to have another rose presented to her upon check in. That was two so far. I had her put the room key in and enter first. This way she could see that I had also arranged for the petals of a dozen roses to be scattered across the room. A trail of petals led from the door to the bed where there were more arranged in a giant heart on the bedsheets. The bathroom was also adorned with petals around the sink and the bathtub. We didn’t linger too long in the room (yet) as I wanted to take her to a new attraction very seasonally appropriate, the Waterfront Winterfest right across the street. Firepits, little private mini-cabins, spiked hot chocolate, an ice rink and a giant Christmas tree, we snuggled against a fireplace with hot cocoa and listened to the music from the rink. I stroked her hair and kept her warm in my embrace. After a bit we walked to Market Street to pick up some cheesesteaks (we were big on the midnight snack thing). In case you didn’t already expect it, I of course had planned this part of the itinerary as well so another rose was waiting there for her. Three, not counting the petals in the room. We went back, I opened a bottle of champagne I had chilling in the fridge, and we feasted on cheesesteaks and chocolate strawberries that I had brought from home. We toasted to our love, laughed, and exchanged gifts. She gave me romantic scratcher cards, playing on my love of gambling and assorted amorous activities of a rather adult nature. I had bought her a book, Totto-Chan the Little Girl at the Window, about a young girl who goes to a very unique school, and I was going to read her a chapter each night on the phone or in person. That night we had incredible, passionate, loving sex on a bed of roses. I held her against me and we made ourselves inseparable. I fell asleep inside her with her clinging to my arms, her head buried in my chest.
The next morning we had breakfast at the Franklin Fountain. Warm apple cider and apple pie with ice cream. I told her to ask for the ‘Beautiful special’ and it came with another rose. I had woken up an hour before her and ran to every spot we were going to hit that day. After breakfast we went shopping for chocolates and candies at Shaw’s Candies. Another ‘Beautiful special’, another rose. Took a picture in front of the LOVE statue in Philly. It was freezing that day and her cheeks were so red. Nearby was Reading Terminal Market where we walked, browsed, perused wares, and had our lunch. No need for a big plan here, there’s a florist in the market so I simply purchased a rose on the spot for her. There are so many different vendors all with their own style and specialty. We visited the Magic Gardens, just like in college, and when Beautiful got her ticket, there was a rose that came along with it too. The Magic Gardens is a giant indoor outdoor mural project started by a local Philly artist using bits of recycled materials. Glass bottles, broken tiles, bike wheels, all of these are valid mediums for what has become a living artwork, slowly growing and spreading beyond the borders of the artist’s work space, which is a modest indoor studio and an outdoor exhibit. We ended the night at the same place we went to so long ago when we could only afford one brat for the two of us, a romantic Valentine’s dinner at Brauhaus Schmitz, a wonderfully authentic and lively German restaurant and bierhaus with an excellent array of cured meats, sausages, and of course, beer. And you know a rose came for her when the bill came for me.
I loved planning that weekend. One night and one day in Philly and we were able to do so much, share so much between us and our love. I believed I had truly made her happy that weekend. And I thought it would last.
We went to Cabo together as well. It was both our first time in Mexico and her first time at an all-inclusive. I had been able to secure three free nights thanks to my job. It was a beautiful resort with incredible food and our room had a balcony overlooking the resort’s pool, over the beach, and straight out into the ocean. During the morning we’d enjoy breakfast on the balcony and during day we’d swim and drink and eat and at night we would walk along the beach barefoot before heading back to the room to make love. We went on adventures together, driving ATVs across the dessert and on the beach and through small dunes and hill tracks. We zip-lined across canyons hundreds of feet in the air screaming at the top of our lungs and encouraging each other to be brave and grab life and enjoy every moment.
We made plans. We told ourselves that this was our forever. I wrote letters to her again. This time she started writing back. We started collecting new memorabilia. Instax photos. We were rebuilding and then on top of that we were already creating the scaffolding of newer and greater additions. I let myself see things I had been blinding myself to. I saw our family growing up in the house we built together. I saw a long and beautiful life. I saw her hopes and dreams manifest. I saw mine take shape and light and life once more. I saw the gloriously brilliant beginning, the painful yet necessary middle, and the justly deserved reward of an end. I talked to her of forever and of love and of hope and family and marriage and home and destiny. I promised to marry her every morning and every night. We spoke of finding a place together, our finances, our plans. I captured the poetry in her heartbeat and translated it into words and actions of love. You could see it, that bliss, that happiness, that madness, when we were together. We reconnected with old friends from college. I once again opened myself up to the possibilities and promises I could have only ever held for Beautiful and myself. I said things about love, silly, stupid, hopeful things I only ever could have believed in when I was with Beautiful. I stripped away the scars and the bandages, exposing the raw, open, bleeding heart I had triaged over the years, parsing away the parts that no longer worked without her. As quickly and as intensely as possible I went back to the beating exposed nerve. I forgot about all reserve. I surrendered my foresight. I wanted to find once more, to prove it still existed, the bleeding heart romantic. Years fell off like dried withered skin. I scraped till I saw red. Through it all, through everything, through every failure, we had built ourselves up to this moment.
I never asked for any of this.
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