“I’m telling you now,” His calloused fingertips caressed along the back of my palm as he pulled closer to him. “I am going to kiss you when we get back to the front door of your building…you have between now and then to decide if you want to stop me….”
I didn’t grow up in a household that fed into the idea of soulmates and romance. It was clear from an early age that the machismo attitude carried strongly with my grandfathers — one who had a “family over the fence,” as they sometimes termed it for a mistress with “bastard children.” My other grandfather served in the Navy and had another girl waiting at home before meeting my grandmother and running off with her. My own parents were open to discussing the history of our Asian/Pacific Islander culture, having many examples of men with multiple wives or concubines with marriage held as a legal and financial display of wealth. Love was something that may come later simply from proximity and ease.
The cold, foggy air of that winter night only made me squeeze his hand as we began the walk towards my apartment. Our footsteps clicked from the heels of my boots as my chest swelled with joy and heat. The burn from the whiskey neat still lingered on my lips and tongue as I smiled to myself at this authoritative bossiness. He held a slight smirk to his face, keeping his warm hazel eyes forward, letting the street lights give his red hair and beard an amber glow.
He’s enjoying my silent response… Smug bastard…
In the pool of butterflies in my stomach and the flush of sweat forming on my low back, I barely noticed when we arrived at my apartment building’s front door.
“Thanks for meeting me so late,” His voice seemed to have dropped lower as his gaze held mine. “You’ll plan our date for Wednesday….”
I didn’t finish the sentence. His hands softly cupped my face, pulling me up to meet him. What started as a nice, demure brush of his soft lips spurred me to drop my usual cautious approach and wrap my hands around him. I pushed every ounce of excitement, anxiety, and attraction, the hope of this serendipitous feeling. It was the most intense “first kiss” in a new relationship of my life. Soon, we lost ourselves in a sea of moans, lips, tongue, roaming hands against a cold, foggy night.
“Um…. excuse me….” A timid voice with a soft cough broke us out of our trance.
In the time we’d progressed to making out like teenagers, I’d ended up pressed to the brick wall of the building, blocking the keycard access to the door.
“Oh!” He blushed as we stepped to the side, the red flush still present on his neck. “Sorry about that. Eh-hem.”
The person wouldn’t make eye contact as we stood awkwardly in silence as the buzz of the door signaled their hurry to leave us. He and I took one look at each other as the door clicked shut and started giggling like schoolgirls.
“On that note,” His smile now as wide as his face as he once again stepped toward me. “I’ll head back to my hotel. But text me the details for our next date….”
I nodded with a smile, rocking up to my tiptoes to kiss him again. It would be a few more minutes before we’d gasp for air, smiling and waving goodnight to each other before stumbling off, dazed. We had a few more beautiful dates after that night, each time expressing how both of us didn’t really believe in all the fluffy love stories, and yet here we were, connecting in a way that neither of us had felt before. It was for that fact alone that it stunned me when he told me his project in my area was being canceled, and he’d have to move.
This isn’t happening… Please do not let this be happening…
I had barely made it inside my apartment before I collapsed to my floor sobbing. The inhuman cry that had come from my mouth made me want to believe that I was not actually here, that I’d wake up now. I couldn’t stop the tears, couldn’t catch my breath. My chest burned as though on fire. Instinctively, I clawed at it as if to tear my heart out. I would take that pain over whatever this was.
I had lost before. But nothing had ever cut this deeply.
I don’t want to be here without him. I don’t want a life without him…
He told me he had only one more flight to come back to my city to pick up his stuff and talk about what we wanted to do. His call was to give me time to think it through before he arrived. The entire week before, I sat with excel charts of pros and cons. Lists upon lists of positives and negatives to continuing or not. I had a long-distance relationship just after college. I remembered the feeling of being the most taken single person in the room. The uncertain feelings of not knowing if you and the person you loved were growing together or apart. Not knowing how long you could endure the distance before you cracked, or they did.
Yet here was this person who was not supposed to exist, who felt so perfect for ME.
How could I walk away now knowing he was on this planet?
Every date, every kiss, every minute I had him in my arms flashed through my mind. Those memories made the decision easy, almost unspoken, for me. Of course, I would fight to have a chance with him. I would move tomorrow if he asked. A chance at a lifetime with him was more than enough reward for any risk. I also knew that trying to forget it ever existed would be futile. I could not go back to life before him.
How could I pretend I never felt this way, had never been kissed this way or seen so fully?
I made my choice before his plane even took off — I would say we should have a long-distance relationship.
As we sit across from each other at a restaurant, the air is stifling. The usual banter is more solemn.
“Well, have you thought about what I said?” he asked.
The words poured out of me before I could stop them. Words that conveyed this connection meant the world to me, that “he is someone I want in my life, and I want to take the chance.” I’d never said these words to anyone, never told someone I was falling for them before they told me first. I was telling him I was at the edge of the cliff and let’s jump together…
His eyes were glassy as he took my hand. “You’re right,” he started, “Long-distance would be a bitch. And I’ve done it before. It sounds like we both have…. I don’t want to have what we’ve found turn sour and bitter, and I travel so much… I guess I’m trying to say that no, I don’t think we should try….”
My ears rang, buzzing as though he had boxed them in. My mouth would not budge because the only thought I had in my mind was crawling on my knees to beg him to take it back. Beg him to let me love him. Maybe it was the last shred of dignity that stopped me from fulfilling that image and calling for the check instead. The drive back passed quickly. He parked in the building’s parking garage. I didn’t want to open the door. I didn’t want to move because then it was over. He kissed me, and the tears fell. His lips kissed my tears, my cheeks, and I couldn’t stop the words tumbling out of my mouth.
“Please… give me a chance… Don’t go.”
“Shhh… it’ll be okay… we’ll be okay. Maybe I really saw no one else on my sailboat with me when I retired. Maybe I’m supposed to sail alone… but I know that I have to cut you loose now because I know I will fall in love with you if I don’t…” he said as he held me.
I sobbed into his mouth as he kissed me, urgent and unapologetic as I tried to absorb as much as I could about him. His hands are all over me, grasping, holding, clinging as tightly as I lose us in each other’s kisses. The Master of Time tightened the noose around our throats with each caress. Somehow, he opened my door for me and led me upstairs. I begged him to come inside, to let me make love to him one time so at least I’d have that memory.
“No… I respect you too much for that,” he says, “You deserve the guy who will be around in the morning… and I don’t want that to be our first memory of us making love….”
Then he was gone — with only hope and prayer, I’d find him again… that we’d see each other again.
I’m embarrassed to admit how many times he’d cross my mind as the years passed. My mother tried to tell me I’d dodged a bullet, that he “sounded like a guy who would go running for the hills when things got tough.” I repeated the mantras, the cliche ones you tell yourself to move on.
“If you love something, set it free… what is meant to be is meant to be….”
Life in the meantime took me all over the world, both physically and emotionally, from career changes, loss of family, infertility to Iceland, Honduras, and even South Korea. Seven years passed before social media would haphazardly bring his name across my “You Might Know” list. The jolt of lightning that shot through my spine the day his name flashed before my eyes made my head spin. I double-clicked the profile page, reading the tidbits of life changes from leaving his corporate job to become an author. Sweat formed on the back of my neck as I hovered over the “Add Friend” button.
Should I? Would it be better to just keep him in my memory as this ideal? What if he doesn’t remember me? What if he doesn’t want to hear from me?
In the end, I clicked the button, ultimately realizing that I’d wanted another chance to meet him again. I couldn’t ignore it.
Even if it goes nowhere, if he never responds or anything else, I don’t want to live wondering when Death comes for me if I could say, “Remember the time…” instead of asking, “What if?”