“Take a chance,” you say over the background hum of a bustling bar.
“After a certain point, I have to learn my lesson,” I counter as I curl onto my side and tug at a stray thread dangling off the pillowcase.
“Yeah, I get that. But the past isn’t necessarily an indicator of the future.”
“Uh-huh,” I tentatively offer.
“I love you.” The sentiment feels like the period to a run-on sentence spanning four long years
“Thanks.” It’s all I have left to give.
I don’t sleep after hanging up the phone. Instead I stare at the ceiling and study a ridge running from the window to the wall. I scissor my legs back and forth to heat the sheets. I get up and pad to the kitchen where, in the dark of night, I lean my hips against the counter and slowly sip a glass of water. It doesn’t matter that I am not thirsty.
A few days later, someone else warns me not to be guarded. She doesn’t have a point of reference or distinct reason to suggest I be open-minded. “If you stay this way too long, it’ll become permanent,” she adds. In my head I see a child making a silly face only to have it freeze in that pose, her nose pug-like without the help of fingers or tape.
So I ignore the facts and take a chance, though I do so with caution. My gestures are easily classified as loving, but I never dare utter the actual word. Maybe it’s because I know what to expect. Maybe it is because I can time your silence, your inaction, down to the second. After four weeks of giving only to get nothing, I realize I am too tired to still play this game.
“I’m not coming up for your performance,” I write in an email. “I would have rather said this over the phone but my calls repeatedly go unanswered and unreturned.”
It takes a day for you to respond. “If I could have one person there, it’d be you,” you explain when you finally ring. “But, I don’t know, maybe it’d be better to have a weekend away, just the two of us, without distractions.”
“Yeah, sure,” I say as I squint at the muted television and try to decipher the words.
When I hang up the phone, there is no sour taste in my mouth, no knots in my stomach. I know you will never propose a weekend. And I know I won’t either. But at least I know I’m not guarded or controlled by fear. At the very least, I know I am not you. And maybe in the end, knowing that is enough.