When he sees her again, it’s like no time has passed.
She looks the same. “Of course she does,” he can’t help but think, “Why would time do me a favor and have her age?”
He hadn’t expected to see her at the event. Forget that it’s not her kind of thing, but the event is also a 3,000 mile trip for her. Not the sort of thing one just decides to attend last minute. No, her attendance at the event – his event – means that she had to RSVP; that she had to buy an outfit and shoes and a plane ticket. Means that she had to take time off of work and then travel. And he remembers how much she hates flying.
He feels frozen in time. He can’t move, and he needs to move because if he doesn’t, she’s going to spot him. Then he’ll have to be polite and make small talk with her. And that just might kill him.
Why had he sent her the invite anyway?
He must be a glutton for punishment, he decides, because she’s here looking flawless and he was just starting to think that he was getting over her.
But with the way his heart is thumping in his chest and the way his vision is tunneling out at the edges, he’s either drunk, high, or not over her.
He’s going to put his money on that last one.
And then it’s too late for him to do anything because she’s turned around and spotted him. And now she’s smiling shyly in his direction and nodding her acknowledgment of making eye contact.
He finds that his feet are carrying him in her direction. That he’s effectively meeting her halfway – which is new to him because she used to be so stubborn that he had to always go all the way when it came to her. Maybe she’s changed.
Is it too much to hope that he’s maybe grown a spine since he last saw her?
And he’s starting to think that maybe he’s not as hopelessly in love with her as he once was when she speaks, and what she says comes out on a breath, and her perfume wraps itself around her, and he has to remind himself what a bitch she was when she took his heart from him, stuck it in her stupid juice blender, and then passed him back what was left with a “I’m so sorry about this, but it’s what’s right for both of us.”
“Hi,” she says.
That’s it. Just “hi” and he’s already so far gone he knows he’s not going to sleep for a few days.
“Hey,” he says, “how have you…what are you…um…?”
Great. Now he sounds like an idiot.
She laughs quietly under her breath and tucks a piece of her hair that’s fallen in her face behind her ear.
“Yeah, I um, got your invitation and thought that I owed you my support for this…” here she gestures at the hall where his fundraiser is being held. “I remembered you talking about this great cause and after I sort of got over whatever happened between us, I decided that we were adult enough to support one another.”
He hears what she’s saying. Really he does, but “whatever happened between us?” Is she serious? Does she not remember the blender-heart thing?
“Um, yeah…that’s – thanks – it uh, means a lot.” It comes out and tastes bitter on his tongue.
She looks grateful that he’s accepted her…whatever it is that she just gave him.
“Yeah. And it looks like you’re doing great.”
He only nods. That’s all he can do because he knows that if he opens his mouth he’s going to start shouting at her and that would effectively ruin the party.
“Well, I have to get back…” It’s a lame excuse, but it’s all he’s got. He finds that he can’t be around her very much longer.
She looks somewhat relieved and disappointed. “OK.”
He tries very hard to make it look like he’s not running away from her. He doesn’t think he succeeds.
It’s not until later, when the party is winding down, that he runs into her again. After their first encounter he had rushed to find his best friend. They had disappeared into an empty room so that he could shout, curse, and pace.
“Dude, this is your time for closure. You need to pull yourself together and give her a piece of your mind. You need to say what you’ve always wanted to say to her, and then you need to let her go. Because dude,” his best friend grabs his shoulders and shakes him a little, “you’re not even together anymore and she’s killing you. Get it together.”
And with that ringing in his ears, he steps into her path as she’s on her way out the door.
She jumps a little, and her eyes go wide with surprise. And he realizes a little too late that he probably should have checked out his appearance in the mirror before coming up to her. He’s sure his hair is standing on end, that his tie is crooked and that he probably has a crazed look in his eyes.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
She nods her head, and he thinks that maybe she looks a little nervous.
Good. She should be nervous.
But as he leads her into that same empty room that had witnessed his anger all those hours ago, he finds that he just has one question for her:
“Why did you leave?”
She stares at him a long time before she finally opens her mouth and answers him:
“Because I needed too.”
Whatever it is that he had been expecting, it was not that.
“What kind of answer is that?” His anger is bubbling up again, along with the picture of his blender-heart.
She shakes her head. “It’s not an answer. It’s an excuse. I really wasn’t sure why I left until I got to the West Coast, and started that job. And then I realized that I had left because I just wasn’t happy on the East Coast. I don’t know if it was you, or me, or my job here, or this city or our friends or what, but I was so unhappy. I did my best to hide it from you, to keep you safe from it, but I started to see that whatever was making me unhappy was rubbing off on you and I couldn’t watch you turn sour. I think I loved you too much too let that happen.”
“So you just broke my heart instead and left without any warning? You thought that wouldn’t make me unhappy?”
She sighs, and he can see tears starting to shine in her eyes. “I thought you were stronger than me. I thought that you would hate me enough for that to propel you into the future. I realize now, and after some really intense therapy, that I handled it really…badly…and that you should hate me for what I did to you. Because I think that I became that girl I have always hated: the girl that took a really great guy and ruined him.”
He looks at her. “Are you happy now?”
She shrugs. “Not right this moment, no.” She gives him a watery smile, “But I love the West Coast. And I love my job. And the people I’ve met are really great. So yes, in the big picture sense, I am happier than I was here.”
He’s silent. He can’t figure out if this is what’s going to help him get over her or not. “So…” She waits for him to pull his thoughts together. “Did you ever figure out what was making you so unhappy here on the East Coast?”
“It wasn’t you, if that’s what you’re wondering,” she says. “It was my job. It was sucking the life out of me. And looking back, you were probably the best part about the East Coast…” He cuts her off, “But I wasn’t enough.”
“No!” she says it loudly and quickly. “No! You were enough. I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t a whole person. I was pretending to be this person who could work corporate and wear high heels and drink with “the girls” every weekend. But after I got this email from a friend of mine on the West Coast, asking for my help with a personal problem…I realized that the woman looking back in the mirror wasn’t entirely…me. And that scared the crap out of me. It scared me so much that I just started running. And…”
She trails off. And he realizes that it’s because he’s shaking his head at her.
“I wish you had told me all this before you left,” he whispers. “I wish you had been honest with me before you broke me in half. I almost didn’t survive you leaving. I almost lost my job because of the depression that set in. I thought it was something I had done. I mean, you just left, no reason, and then you didn’t pick up the phone or answer my texts or emails. Radio silence from you and then you just show up here. Unannounced. And lay all this on me. I mean, what am I supposed to do with this information now?”
She looks at him for a long time before speaking. “I’m sorry. You’re right. It was unfair and wrong of me, what I did. It wasn’t your fault. It was all me. You have every right to hate me. And you should. You’re a good man. You deserve better than what I can give you. And I know that you’re strong enough to move past me. You will. And you’ll make some girl really happy. Because you made me happy for a long time. And you should know that you did nothing wrong. It’s all on me.”
And he finds that he can’t look at her anymore because what she’s saying is what he should want to hear. And yet it’s not. He finds that he wants to hear that she’s coming back to the East Coast; to their home; to him.
But her comments sound final. It sounds like she’s finally leaving and shutting the door quietly behind her. This girl who came into his world like a whirlwind, and is leaving like a tornado – everything behind her in ruins.
“I am sorry,” and then he hears her moving away from him, opening the door, and then shutting it behind her.
He sinks to the floor.
The door opens again and footsteps approach. It isn’t her, he knows that, yet a part of him still hopes….
“Come on dude,” says his friend. “She told me what happened. Let’s get you home.”
And he lets his best friend carry him home and support his weight because it suddenly feels like too much for him to carry alone.
And then he tunes back in to what his friend is saying as they cross into the elevator, “…and we’ll order some food, and play video games – or we can watch a movie – but nothing sappy, OK? I can’t take sappy right now because you, my friend, are an emotional mess, and you don’t need that kind of drama right now. And we can just drink until you fall asleep.”
The doors close behind them.
“Thanks man,” he says quietly.
“Hey,” his friend says, squeezing his shoulder, “what are friends for?”