“How did you manage to get away tonight?” I wondered aloud. Although I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer, I somehow wanted, needed to fill the void I felt was there. Behind my back, my thumbs found their way to each other for an intense game of thumb of war, while inside of my black six-inch stiletto pumps, my toes fought against each other in what I assumed was nervous excitement. Either that or fear. Awaiting his answer, our eyes danced. They danced the dance of long-lost lovers, of two stars who’ve been waiting for the other just so they can twinkle. I broke our timeless gaze in a bashful effort to eliminate my question from the love-stricken air, but before I could kick myself hard enough, he said, “I told her that I had unfinished business.” Before I knew it, and before I could resist him, he’d positioned himself inches away from my face and all the self-control I’d practiced on the way over to our agreed meeting place immediately parachuted out of the 32nd floor, curtain-shielded window, and I threw myself at the man I’d been daydreaming about for the last 22 years. The man who, in this very moment was placing his surprisingly still soft, heart-shaped lips on the side of my face. He had taken his love from me and ran away like a child. He was the man I told myself to forget about, and I’d been doing a great job, too, I swear. After enough rebounds and countless meaningless love affairs, I finally came to terms with the fact that he would be gone from my life and I learned to both live with and accept those terms. Then three years ago, at 2:36am, I received an e-mail notification from an address that seemed unfamiliar to me, but as soon as I opened it, the first word, maybe even the first letter revealed the identity of my first true, and only, love. At the time, I lived in a four bedroom brownstone on the Upper East Side, and needless to say, I had plenty of room. Yet, the oxygen that kept me alive, kept me from veering over into the darkness, began to slowly choke me. It began to take away the life I’d been given, the life I worked so hard to maintain. While I hyperventilated in my custom-made leather office chair, tears cascaded down my blank, blotchy face in what seemed like a single-file line; one tear at a time, as if not to interrupt the others. As if not to interrupt the parade of salty tears that would soon rush out of my sockets. Not knowing where to go or where to sit, I grabbed my laptop and ran to the smallest corner I could find. Still not understanding and knowing why, that night, my dark little corner helped me find peace and solace within myself. It helped me find the words I didn’t know I had. The strength I’d kept hidden in my walk-in closet. I spent four hours on the floor in my terry cloth bathrobe, reading and re-reading the one sentence he mustered up after not having communicated with me for 19years. I fought myself over whether or not it was enough, whether I should respond, how comfortable we were with one another. Finally, at a point of rage and anger, I quieted my inner, smarter self and swiftly responded at 6:57am by saying, “this is a joke, right?”
Now here he is, standing before me in pressed, fitted khakis, a Banana Republic long-sleeved striped button up with the top few buttons undone, oak wood brown loafers, and a smirk that could possibly shatter the earth; or maybe just me. His cologne wafted throughout the room and it made my body come alive in ways I wasn’t quite comfortable with. I mentally begged him to break the silence, seeing as how our emotions brought us together in a haphazard embrace, leaving us dazed and speechless. It seemed like everything at the time, but now I wanted answers. I wanted more than what his beauty could offer me, something I once held in the palm of my hand; his honesty. Like a shaken bottle of unopened soda, my anger filled me to the brim and began to overflow into what was supposed to be a lover’s reunion; what was supposed to be a wordless and thoughtless rendezvous that would be controlled by the love that kept us frozen in time. Like a puppy who’d perfected a trick over time, after all these years, he still held the same expression that made me wonder what was going through his mind. Before frustrations arose from not being born a mind-reading telepathic mutant, he finally spoke and ended the thread of thoughts littering the corners of my mind.
“You make a man wish he’d stayed to watch you not age a single day since the last time I looked into those beautiful eyes.”
Swooning immediately, I fought the urge to both run into his arms again, naked this time, and forgive him for leaving me broken in half while he picked up the pieces of his life. I wanted to make him suffer just a little bit longer, so I chuckled an “oh, please” chuckle and created more space between the two of us. The closer he was, the less leverage I had in all of this. Making my voice rise barely above a whisper, I calmly stated, “You make a girl wish she’d sent that e-mail to spam.”
Clearly shocked, but not moved, he filled in the gap between us, looked down to the Glass Mosaic tile built into the living room floor, and told me that I didn’t mean what I’d just said. No longer caring about the little things we call feelings or “saving face,” I broke my cool, nonchalant demeanor and gave way to my pain. I slapped his hand away from my face and spat out, “Don’t you dare tell me how to feel or what I mean. You left and then you get married? Fuck you! What’d she have to do, drag you down the aisle? Or was I the problem? I don’t even know why I came here and I don’t know why I allowed us to have meaningless sporadic conversations for the last three years.”
Breathing heavily and scowling, I walked over to the glass-top dining room table and grabbed my mauve croc skin envelope clutch, trimmed with gold metal edges. To be honest, I felt stupid. I was supposed to be mature and strategic about the whole thing, but after my award-winning performance, I’m pretty sure I’ve made myself out to be a complete fool. I wished to retract my words, but at the same time, I held myself back from doing an encore, except this time I’d yell directly into his face so he could feel the agony that’s consumed me all the years that’ve gone by. Instead, I graciously walked to the door, half hoping that he’d stop me; hoping that he’d fight for me.
“Annabelle, in the time that we were together it wouldn’t have worked.” I stopped dead in my tracks and assessed the self-assured, faux factual statement that came out of his mouth. Although I know it couldn’t have, I didn’t like admitting that to myself. I didn’t like the fact that he’d acquiesced his true emotions to sensibility and logic, when I could barely hold it together. Trying to regain the poise, cool facade I maintained earlier, I stalled by moving my clutch from its warm spot under the nook of my arm to clinging onto it with my freshly polished fingernails; four fingers up front and my thumb keeping it all together in the back. Killing the ten seconds I needed to recuperate, I questioned him by saying, “Oh and now it’s supposed to work? I’m sure your wife wouldn’t mind that.” I felt very confident and able to take down the world, until he sent the competition I was participating in alone, straight to hell.
“My wife and I are separated, Annabelle. I’m not saying that it’ll work this time around because of that, but I don’t want you throwing it in my face or taking it into account.” Actually afraid of what he’d just said, I took a step back and enlarged my glassy eyes. I didn’t know how to respond or even how to feel. Although our desultory emails over the last three years have been a light shade of beige instead a fiery, sultry red, I figured that someone would share information like that before awkwardly reuniting a few years later.
He continued by saying, “I mean, how long will we continue to play these games? Why do you always need an explanation for everything? You’re here, I’m here; shouldn’t that be the only thing that matters?” No longer being able to withstand eye contact, I dropped my eyes low and thought of every possible reason as to why I should grab my things and walk out of that room, but I couldn’t. My heart wouldn’t allow me to. So I didn’t. Henry came close to me and put his arms around me and at that point, I knew I could no longer resist him.
“This doesn’t mean anything,” I said wistfully hoping to hang onto any dignity I had left. His boisterous laugh filled the room and I felt my heart smile. Forcing me to laugh, I admitted that I missed hearing his laugh. I told him that I missed the way it always made me want to laugh even if I didn’t think anything was funny. I looked up at him and kissed him softly.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. I responded with a chuckle that turned into a snort and said, “When have you ever known me to turn down food?”
Henry put his arm around me and buried his face into my neck, causing me to drop my head onto his shoulder naturally.
“I’m glad you still snort. Gives off the illusion that time hasn’t passed at all.” He looked into my eyes awaiting my agreement, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t satisfy him again. This had all been too easy for him.
I swallowed my hesitance, sighed softly and said, “Except time has passed. A lot of it. We can’t do this Henry. If you want me, you have to figure out how to get me.”
His brows furrowed in confusion, probably going over the last few minutes, trying to figure out where we went wrong. I’d never tell him that the mentioning of time had allowed me to regain my sensibility, but it had. We were once children in love and he left me in the middle of it. How was I to know I was that same girl? Time had made me a woman, and perhaps I wasn’t prepared to know what time created out of him. I kissed his cheek and inhaled his essence. My bravery had reached its limit, so I walked away from him slowly without any eye contact whatsoever.
“At least eat me with, Annabelle. We can figure this out.”
Having already reached the door, I turned to him and said, “Not like this, Henry. Figure things out with your wife.”
I took one last look at him and walked out just as he yelled my name one last time. A tear slid down my face, but I wiped it away quickly. In this moment, the only thing that I would allow to prosper was the victory I felt. Nothing more, nothing less.