Sunday, April 8, 2012

To Lean In

It's strange the way things can get stuck in your head. Like when you wake up and there's a song running through your mind, or an image of somewhere you've been that crowds in at the periphery of your vision, or a phrase that you latch onto and keep repeating over and over and over. Sometimes it's all three and when that happens, you might be lost.

I keep thinking about the last time I saw you. It was the kind of day that you remember for a long time; one that you have to make a choice about: either you over analyze it and and you wonder what all of those nice moments will mean or do mean or don't mean and you drive yourself crazy, or it's one that you just enjoy.

I realized pretty quickly that it was not a day that I could afford to lose to thoughts that were anything but "this is lovely" and the like. I'd asked you weeks before for some time, and you gave it to me. The coming through alone was enough for me; that we had such a peaceful, caring day on top of it was almost more that I could deal with. Days like that make the parting at the end doubly hard.

I spent much of the morning expecting you to text me and tell me you weren't going to make it, and when you sat down beside me outside the restaurant, my heart was in my throat. It's not as if this was new for us - we've shared many meals together and many drinks together and we will share many more of each. Maybe it was that you'd been here for 2 days already and that I was seeing you so much more often than usual that it felt like we were approaching normalcy, and that was scary. I don't mean normal and boring, I mean normal and a life together and Sundays together and living in the same city. There is not a doubt in my mind that if we did... And that is scary, to be that sure.

We stood at the bar and drank while we waited for a table. I felt weird; we felt weird; suddenly I was wondering if it had all been in my head. When I said something about it you told me that we were cool and took another sip. I could smell the mint from your toothpick because we were standing so close, and I kept trying to convince myself that it wouldn't be that hard to just lean in. But something felt off and I hesitated, and then the hostess called your name.

After the waitress took our order we settled into well-worn patterns of banter and laughter, tenderness and knowing looks. I put your bandana on for a joke and the smell of smoke from the bar still clung to it; I remembered standing inches from you as you sat on the ledge, hands in your pockets, hunched from the cold. I'd stepped forward slightly so that your foot would hit my calf as you swung your leg back and forth, and now, I stretched my legs under the table to meet yours.

After a while it was time to get out of there, and you winked at me like you always do as we stood up and put on our coats. We made our way outside and turned east to go the the park, my arm immediately going through yours. The zipper on your jacket pocket was open and scraped my knuckles as we walked; my boots made a solid thump on the sidewalk. We stopped just inside the park to listen to a jazz trio play, perching on the low iron railing. The sun had brought everyone out, and we baby-watched and dog petted and talked here and there. For the first time I didn't think about touching you, I just did, as if there was no question about it.

We ended up sitting on a bench as the sun descended, my arm still in yours, and I had to lean in to you because the sun wasn't as warm as we'd thought. With my chin on your shoulder I looked past the back of your neck and watched bikers and runners and families on the road. When I turned my head my forehead was nestled underneath your jaw and your stubble was catching my hair and my eyes fell on the pulse in your neck. It was going crazy. I wondered if you were thinking about kissing me like I was thinking about kissing you, if you were regretting not doing it sooner, if you were wondering would I be ok with it. I stopped looking at your pulse - I'd never seen you that fragile, that vulnerable - and I looked away and lowered my head onto your shoulder. We stayed like that for a while without talking, and I could not have asked for anything more.

"We're losing the light," you said, and I said, "yeah." I asked if you were cold and you told me you were fucking freezing.

"Do you want to walk?"

"No. I'm good right here." It was then that I thought, maybe I was right after all.

We did walk, eventually, and I knew that even if it took us an hour to get out of the park, we were on the last legs of our time together. We meandered about and talked to some tourists when we stopped at the bridge. I loved just watching you walk, your curiosity and your boy's instinct to jump on things and climb things, your hands in your pockets and your easy gait. When I'd put my hand through your arm you'd squeeze it tight to your side.

We came out at Columbus Circle and sat down so you could figure out where you were supposed to go for dinner. As we sat there I started to separate: I took my arm from yours, I sat so that I wasn't touching you, I stopped looking at you. We'd been thisclose all day and now it seemed like we'd be stuck in this limbo forever. Maybe it just wasn't right: every time we stopped walking I stood close, and yet neither of us had the courage to lean in and touch their lips to the other's. I hated myself for putting importance on how one tiny thing hadn't happened, when we'd had one of the best days I'd had in a long time. I unwrapped your bandana from my neck and chastised myself as the wind whipped inside the collar of my coat; this was the day I had wanted, and that was enough.

You stood and tossed your toothpick to the ground. We walked to the subway entrance and hugged. When we pulled away you kept your hands on my arms, so I kept mine on yours, too.

"I'll see you soon. I don't know when the next time will be..."

"I know." I tried my hardest to look ok, to sound ok, to be ok.

"But I will see you." And then, you raised your chin slightly, and started to lean in. You pulled me toward you, and our lips met. There was still mint lingering on yours and your stubble was just barely feelable and we hardly moved. But there we were, a year and god knows how many missed moments later, leaning in.