by: Tara Ruttenberg
1. moments misinterpreted
‘my bed smells like you,’ i texted you a week ago, our blissful weekend together still warm in my memory.
“is that good or bad?” you responded, a little joke to keep it light, always.
my winking smiley face emoticon said it all.
“we’re in this undefined relationship,” you confessed unabashedly to my friend you just met, hopped-up on Red Bull and tipsy from the night. “but she’s leaving soon. it’s sad, isn’t it?” you held my knee for moral support and laughed. i smiled, a little embarrassed at the volume of your voice, but reassured that i wasn’t alone in feeling. my heart was all like ‘awww.’
“i’m really gonna miss you,” you had told me earlier that afternoon between bites of Bull Taco breakfast burrito.
“i know, i’m gonna miss you, too,” i said. we had been spending hours and days and nights together for weeks now, soaking it all up. “we don’t have to think about it yet. we still have some time.”
we had two weeks.
we ate our chips and guac in a few long moments of uncharacteristic silence before changing the subject and going to Best Buy.
“i really like you,” you said later that night, transparent eyes centimeters from mine. “what’s gonna happen when you leave?”
i wasn’t expecting that question. we’d done well to be living in our moments, enjoying each other’s presence, not getting attached. i had been taking cues from you, this whole modern-dating-USA thing new to me, foreign feeling. if we were in Costa Rica, we’d be living together with a dog by now. not so in the real world where people take things slow, i learned.
“let’s just have fun and not try and make this something it’s not,” you had said six weeks ago.
sure, i thought. that’s safe enough for me, too.
i listened as you listed your priorities, your rationale for not getting emotionally involved – family, surfing, friends, work, and then everything else, including dating. you didn’t want to have to text someone every day. i lied and said that was fine with me. i wasn’t looking for anything serious with you either. how could i be? i was leaving soon, anyway; gone before you know it, another friend to stay in touch with on facebook. because that’s what this is, right? friends. anything else would just be too inconvenient.
so apparently it wasn’t the right moment to tell you i was in love with you. and it wasn’t the right moment to tell you that i felt it in the parking lot when you hugged me goodbye after you took me to surf at Blacks. it wasn’t the right moment to tell you that i felt it when you kissed me on the cliffs in the new moon after i allowed myself to be atypically vulnerable to you at the Padres game we weren’t watching, the hours drifting by as you talked about relationships of power and systems of oppression, name-dropping Foucault as my jaw dropped in awe, our parallel universe where time stood still as we sat surrounded by people who don’t get it.
it wasn’t the right moment to tell you that i felt it every time you reached for my hand or kissed me goodbye, walking to your truck after sleeping and not sleeping on borrowed air mattresses in other people’s spare bedrooms. it wasn’t the right time to tell you that i felt you feel it, too. when you took me to the airport and said you’ll be missing me. and kissed me goodbye like you meant it. when you were nervous showing me where you grew up, driving fast up the mountain to impress an adrenaline junkie like me. it wasn’t the right moment to tell you i felt that, too.
“what do you want to happen when i leave?” i asked, handing back the baton, trading heavy for light again.
you said you didn’t know. that you felt conflicted now and that this is what you were trying to prevent when we had our ‘let’s keep it simple’ conversation a few weeks back.
“we can skype…” i offered, knowing we probably wouldn’t. you started snoring on my chest as i stared up at the ceiling, wishing it wouldn’t hurt.
two days later, i cooked you dinner for your birthday. we talked about your priorities again.
“but you’re my friend, and you surf, so…” now you seemed unsure where i fit in your comfortable scheme of things. i was grateful you had given me some time, for all that we shared and how special it felt to know you; honored that you had been texting me every day because you wanted to, not because you felt like you had to.
'you’re a breath of fresh air,' i told you once. you’d say things i’ve thought in my mind forever that i’d never expressed to another living soul. you spoke my language. i sometimes wondered if i created you, a figment of my imagination gifting me with your perfect blue-eyed presence in all its dark, human imperfection. childlike, we told bedtime stories and invented sing-a-longs we’d be embarrassed to share in other company.
you’d let me in for a second, feeling safe. you’d close up again, insecure. i liked that. i felt like myself in all of my dimensions and wanted to share them with you in exchange for yours. i wanted to explore. it felt warm. and comfortable. and real.
your sense of humor felt like home. your intellect appealed to my sexuality. my heart went along for the ride.
your birthday texts started just after midnight, your ex-girlfriend among the first to wish you well. you didn’t want to talk about her. i didn’t let it go. i told you i valued honesty and openness in relationships and that i just wanted to understand.
“relationship? you’re leaving in ten days.” you turned toward the edge of the air mattress, away from me. i kissed the back of your neck in vain.
i wrapped my leg around you, trying to climb over the wall you built in that insurmountable instant.
“i like your legs,” you said. “they’re my favorite.” i let it go, probably a second after it was already too late.
i wrote you a birthday haiku you hated kindly. you kissed me goodbye and left for work. i wiped away a few tears you’d never see. that was Wednesday morning.
it’s Friday now, my morning headache predictable, escape by wine my Halloween poison of choice. i thought it would help me forget you hadn’t called, and probably wouldn’t.
my bed smells like you. unsure whether that was good or bad now, i rolled over, squinting into the uninvited sunlight at the window.
an hour later, i peeled myself off the air mattress, stripped the bed and washed the sheets, my hands, my heart, of you.
i never found the right time to tell you.
so i guess you'll never know.
i love you.
…you had me at Foucault.
so this is what free love feels like. maybe in my version of it, anyway. sometimes it feels a lot more like free pain, if you ask me. but at least it's real. and honest. and maybe that's the point of this top 5 list after all. when i started writing it, i wasn't sure it even had a point (vulnerabilities exposed, frozen in time - for what?). but now that we've reached the end, it seems the openness in sharing, the rawness in authenticity, the subjective truth in real-life story, are what resonate most. when you can feel your heart through my heart. my words in the infinite abyss of cyberland finding a home in you and your story.
the funny part about this last one, though, is that i still cry when i read it. even when i know it isn't true. even when i know he actually didn't dump me. and the four days i didn't hear from him were a mercury-retrograde mix-up of missed texts and moments misinterpreted. even when i know i created that story in my head and it isn't even real, it still makes me cry when i read it. how can it be that i got so attached to the idea and the feeling of being dumped, that even after being un-dumped and really and truly loved instead, that the story i feel is the one that isn't real?
we ascribe meaning to our experiences, to the cycles of connection, vulnerability, love, pain, letting go, healing, learning, re-creating and starting anew. our stories give life to those feelings, the lingering memories fingerprints in our hearts, minds, shaping where we go and who we let in and why. we share our truths and we feel our pain and others recognize it and feel it, too. because that's what this humanness is all about: being, feeling, sharing, healing.
falling in free-love, getting dumped in free-pain. we can feel that, so we know it's real.
or maybe, in the end, they're all just stories in our head.