Open & Honest – Epilogue
It’s so easy to work in vignettes, moments captured as close to perfectly as possible. Then one moment begins bleeding into another, her presence the one consistent factor. Time loses all meaning, the days pooling into a blissful smear. And when the stark blankness of my life without her reappears underneath, I begin to wonder how we had run out ink.
“So,” I open, “why are we here?”
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“I mean, why are we having breakfast, now? What’s the purpose of doing this?”
I watch her. I can see her struggling. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t have the words. She can’t really say.
“Well, I guess… Where do you want to go from here?”
I find the question funny. I think I’ve been clear. I want her. I want a relationship. I want her in my life. I want her to spend nights, to find comfort in me, to be able to talk to me. I want her to tell me what she wants. And here she is asking me what I want, as if she hasn’t listened.
I smile. I know I won’t get the answers I want today, or possibly ever. I know that I’m just going to suggest doing something and find that she’s incapable of including me in her life the same way I’m trying to include her in mine.
And yet as I sit there, trying to answer, blathering repetitively to fill the wordless void at the table, waiting for her to show me that I’m worth her time and effort, I feel certain she won’t. We’ll hang out a few more times; it’ll be my doing. And then, if she doesn’t realize it or try, we’ll stop, and our paths will only intertwine by happenstance.
“It was good to see you,” she says as we hug and part ways.
“Take care,” I reply. I smile and swallow my disappointment. And I wonder if she truly thinks that went ok.
It’s never as easy as I think.
The initial sense of relief fades as quickly as it seemed to appear, a tidal wave that washes over me and recedes, leaving a barren, grit-filled waste in its destructive wake. I wasn’t sleeping well when she was missing; now that she’s gone I’m not sleeping at all. I’m collapsing for an hour here or there, sleepwalking through my days, the voices in my head, the anxieties and fears, ruling every quiet moment.
My words have spiraled out of control. I keep starting and stopping this epilogue, trying to reflect how the relief of the moment has turned into lost disappointment and wondering what happened, why did it end like this, was it the right decision.
I tried very hard to take a careful approach to talking about this relationship. I wanted to do it justice, respect privacy, and avoid offending her, me, the other players involved. I wanted to catalog the beauty, the pain, the joy, and the strange moments in between. I wanted to show my flaws, our incompatibilities, as well as the successes, so I could look back on this and see where things went right and where they went wrong. Perhaps I could even communicate to her the way I saw things, even when I wasn’t comfortable saying it. Obviously, I couldn’t communicate them during, the fear of ending things prematurely ruling every moment of silence.
Ultimately, the aftermath has made me realize that my problem wasn’t with the situation. I surprised myself with how often I felt comfortable with a prospectively open relationship; I also doubt I ever experienced the effects of it being so. Rather, my issue was the lack of talking. We spoke initially. We talked about past relationships, the whys and hows, what we wanted, what we expected. We were born under a time limit; I knew we’d come to an end, so I had no fear.
That time limit disappeared with my dreams of New Zealand. I didn’t mourn my dreams because she was there to fill the void. That’s when I began to fear. Despite my trepidation, something changed: she called me; she sent me messages; she picked me up from the airport; she asked about my schedule. We spent hours, days, weeks together with few breaks. It came as a surprise, an extremely pleasant one, one I didn’t want to end.
I clammed up. I didn’t want to define the relationship and risk it disappearing or ask about what had changed or where we were going. I was at once elated and afraid. I was comfortable avoiding the important conversations, letting things be, hoping they lasted as long as they could.
And then it changed again. I couldn’t ask or talk to her because I was still hopeful of the status quo. I couldn’t delve into the details because I couldn’t find her, because the few times we were together I wanted to relish the moment. Why she wasn’t talking to me was still a mystery. After all, she had no reason to fear an end; she had defined the relationship in the beginning. It was her honesty and up front words that made it possible for me to chase the rabbit into my own personal wonderland.
Now the moments left to catalog are awkward and strange: our breakfast to see where things are going, where she doesn’t give me answers; the moments alone, where I lie awake in bed, my eyelids too heavy to keep open and my mind swirling with emotions that won’t let me sleep; an evening in the park where I feel the spark and chemistry still there, barely floating above the simmering lovesickness in my stomach.
As we go to part ways in the parking lot, we flirt and play, excited by the evening. She reaches out and touches my arm, my stomach. Her eyes flash to mine and I want nothing more than to push her against the car and kiss her. But I can’t. Not until she speaks to me. Not until things are different. More likely not ever.
What’s normal supposed to feel like?
At first, the queasiness is there constantly. I have to force myself to eat most days. I’m too stubborn to let myself starve, and eat well I do.
“I can’t imagine you eating poorly,” she had told me before the evening in the park.
I go through the motions, replaying conversations, wondering if I misread the signs, if I could’ve or should’ve done something differently. I meet other women, intelligent, beautiful, interesting, and all I can think about is her. I try drafting letters, notes, but words fail me. I don’t want to do the talking for us anymore. I want to know what she thinks, what she wants.
Then one morning I wake up feeling rested. I wonder if it’s over.
I sit in the diner, the sun rising slowly behind me, and putz around on the internet when a photo of her smiling face appears on-screen. I feel my heart leap into my throat, my stomach drop. I shove my food away and stare at the screen, appetite lost, and I realize it’s true: I’m not ok; not yet.
As I scroll away from the picture hoping the painful sensation in my chest will go away. But it doesn’t. It lingers. It burns. It leaves my soul in tatters, flapping in stale breeze of the diner air conditioner.
By lunchtime, the pain is gone. That evening I talk with friends about her. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, but it feels ok. The words come out differently, less jumbled. I don’t feel the same glut of emotion as I had previously. I sleep well that night.
I help a friend move. I visit a friend’s new brewery. I go hiking and biking and visiting with a variety of people I haven’t seen in ages. I hang out with a beautiful, intelligent, interesting woman. We chat and enjoy each other’s company. It’s not until after that I realize I didn’t think of her.
I study her as we sit there. We chat playfully, excitement about our separate lives eliciting smiles and laughter. It’s not the same as it was. It never will be. And that’s good.
As the conversation wanes, I directly ask her the questions to which I want answers. For the most part, she doesn’t have them.
“I didn’t know it was bothering you so much,” she says.
“How could you?” I laugh, at once amused and annoyed by my stupidity. “It’s not like I was telling you.”
For two weeks, I’ve sifted through my jumbled thoughts, reordered my head, and delved into the pit of swirling emotion left in our wake. There’s no roiling boil, no queasiness, no anger left. I still find her beautiful and wonderful and fascinating, but the longing isn’t the same anymore.
I say little compared to the lengths at which I’ve written and rehearsed. I pare down the message to one simple idea: we can’t be friends if you can’t talk to me.
As we leave, I ask her to message me the next day, to check in and finalize plans for the weekend. As I walk home, I call a friend, I trade texts with another girl, I think about work and plans moving forward. At home, I do laundry, I read, I clean up a bit, and then I go to crawl into bed.
My phone goes off as I lie down. It’s a message from her. I smile, reply, and set the phone aside.
That night, I dream of other things.