“Where are you going now?” Rachel asked as she leaned over me and delicately applied some warmed wax on my exposed down there. The last time I was flat out on her table was the day before he was supposed to come visit. The day after he called to end it all. The last time she asked that question, I had to hold my breath. Not to offset the pain of the pending tug but to hold back the tears before answering the question with a simple nowhere.
“Alaska,” I confessed. Listen, I was naked from the waist down with one leg in the air. Vulnerability went out the window ten minutes earlier.
“Puhpuh,” she quietly sputtered. It’s a Russian thing. Or a Russian Jewish thing. I’m not sure of the actual translation but I am pretty sure it’s a supersticious gesture to protect against anything going wrong. She makes it only when I’m talking about something intimately hopeful.
A half hour later, with my down there properly prepped for potential exposure, I got dressed and rifled through my purse for the tip. As I extended a crinkled twenty dollar bill, Rachel pulled me in for a hug. She told me to be good. In her warm motherly embrace, she whispered in my ear - I just want you to be happy.
The next day I headed to the airport. Two planes and 5,000 miles later, I stepped out into the Anchorage terminal. I was hesitant. I was scared. I didn’t have any expectations but I had plenty of concerns. So I walked slowly. I leisurely stopped off in the bathroom to apply lipstick and tinker with my barrette. I strolled toward baggage claim as though I was window shopping in a mall. Ooh, a moose t-shirt. Cute.
He was there. Right where he was the last time I visited. Comfortably leaning against a pillar just beyond the immediate clutter of eager friends and parents waiting to greet their guests. I felt awkward. I wanted to run to him, but my legs kept scissoring at the assumed pace of casual indifference. I wanted to passionately kiss him, but my mouth parted only enough to exchange something polite and appropriate. I thought through my actions the same way I thought through the ballroom dance lessons I took a few years ago. A class where I spent the better part of the sessions watching the floor boards pass beneath my feet as I counted the steps and clumsily collided with other couples.
The next few days were nothing I expected but everything I needed. I finally understood what I was looking to get out of this journey. He finally shared thoughts and uncertainties he’d been silently tossing around. And at the end of a draining conversation, I leaned my back against the door frame of his kitchen and slid down to the floor. My body, my head and my heart were spent. I had nothing left. Not even the energy to remain standing.
There are details to everything. Like how we sprawled out with breakfast and the Sunday New York Times. Or meandered a path that edged the inlet and neighbored the airport. There were conversations and gestures and interactions. But those details are intimate. They are between me and him, not me and you. The most I can say is things are more settled but no more defined. I think I’m okay with it. Or at least I’m okay with it right now. I couldn’t have said that a few hours ago when I was curled up on my sofa with the phone pressed to my ear listening to Leslie talk me down from tears.
It’s funny the way love works. It makes you both hesitant and vulnerable. You try to wrap words and meaning around it to diminish the sense of absent control. But in the end, it’s just like the Waltz or Foxtrot - it only really works when you stop thinking and just let it go. When I got to the end of that ballroom class, I wasn’t entering any contests but I was confidently gliding across the room. With my chin high and my body in position, I let the music move me. Not the thoughts in my head. Not the steps in the chart. I just let go. I’m not letting go. Not yet. I’m still thinking it through and figuring it out. I’m still watching my steps and counting out the pace. I’m hesitant and uncertain as I stumble forward. Maybe over time, everything will just click and the thoughts will fall away. Or maybe not. Either way, for the time being, counting the steps will just have to do.