Some days you wake up destined for grandeur. Some days you can sense the hope and opportunity in the day ahead as you soar out of bed ready to win at life. This was not that day. On this particular day, the traffic seemed louder than usual on the street below my 3rd floor apartment, and the sun was too bright for its own good. I felt assaulted by the light streaming into my eyes. The empty bottle of wine I had consumed the night before was on the night stand, poised on a collage of red circular wine stains; it was Saturday. My Saturday routine to date was a lack luster mix of a trip to my neighborhood coffee shop, a walk to the book store for a new book, a stop by the wine store for new wine, and then home to read the book and drink the wine.
Having arrived at the coffee shop, coffee in hand I made my way to the back corner table. The sound of laughter and friendly banter invaded the space around me, so I quickly pulled out my laptop and put on my headphones. This was my preferred reality. My universe must have been particularly interesting that morning because I failed to notice that a man had approached my table. I couldn’t say how long he had been standing there, but when I realized his presence and looked up, his lips were moving in what I imagined to be mid conversation. Flustered, I quickly removed my head phones only to discover no words or sounds were coming from his mouth, and his lips kept moving. Moments later, he erupted into laughter. It took me a minute to understand his joke.
“Whatever you’re reading must be pretty interesting,” he started.
“It isn’t really,” I replied. “I’m just in my own world.”
“I see that,” he said through laughter. “Are you new here?”
“I am, just moved to the city a few weeks ago,” I replied.
“A transplant eh? Fun. Well, in that case, what are you doing right now? Let me show you around,” he said.
“Oh I can’t really. I was just on my way to the book store,” I said.
“I see, then I will walk you. Just gimme a minute,” and he was off.
I wasn’t exactly sure what had just occurred. Who was this guy and had I just agreed to go off with him? Part of me dreaded the idea of small talk with a stranger. The other part of me was so completely dumbfounded with his obnoxious confidence and presumption that my curiosity was engaged, and I could not help but want to see how this would play out. I watched as he returned to a table a few feet away where another man around the same age was seated. The two men exchanged a quick dialogue and then he was back.
As we walked down the street, he spoke his story. He was a contractor, a college dropout, originally from a small logging town two hours away. Having grown up in a big city, and moved to another big city, he was like no one I had ever met. As I listened to his words, flawed in grammatical errors, I found myself fascinated to some degree, like he was a species I was observing at the zoo. A kilometer or two down the road, a large green space lay to our left, he gestured to it and suggested we cut through, citing a short cut. A few hundred feet from the busy street, the natural order we had abandoned, the skies opened up out of nowhere, and torrential rain exploded from the sky. No transition, no warning, no precursor, just blinding sunlight turned dark skies and abundant rain. My instinct was to find shelter as quickly as possible in the hopes of not getting too wet, but there was nothing more than sparse trees and heavy heaping rain. I was instantly soaked to the bone. In my panic, he stood calm and serene, smiling at the sky and then me. I caught his eye and tried to understand his calm, his complete lack of awareness of the drowning wetness, and then he spoke.
“Dance with me,” he said.
I laughed almost not sure I had heard him correctly, “what?”
His untied steel toe construction boots schlepped towards me until I was in his arms. My heels, stuck in the wet ground, were the metaphor of my moment and then his strong, dirty, grease stained hand was firmly placed on my lower back, and we were dancing in the rain in the middle of a public park. The rain, unobstructed by my disdain, continued to pour down, and we continued to dance.
I’d like to think he wore me down, or perhaps it was the rain, or both, but somehow it all slipped away. I forgot about the pumps I had most certainly ruined by that point. I forgot about the mascara that must have been half way down my face. I forgot about the dry clean only blouse I had selected to wear that day. I thought only about the soft strength of the hand on my back and the curious gaze in the hazel eyes of a stranger that I wanted to kiss. Like the weather could read my thoughts and wanted to break me of my insanity, the rain disappeared as fast as it came, and the sun poured back through the clouds.
“Still planning on the bookstore?” he asked suddenly like nothing had happened, like it had never rained, like we had never danced.
“I suppose not,” I replied having regained the awareness of my appearance.
“Then let’s play hooky,” he replied.
He took me first to buy beer, canned beer. You can buy beer in a can; I had no idea. He then took me to the beach. The beach was rather empty given it was only about 20 degrees Celsius, for which I was grateful, less voyeurs in my hobo looking state. Conspicuously, we drank beer and chatted. He told me about messy, saucy, chicken wing eating contests wearing white t-shirts and described his house that boasted old worn out living room furniture on the lawn. I cringed and laughed in awkward acknowledgement of how different we had lived our lives while simultaneously wanting to know more. We sat side by side facing the water. I fantasized about what it would feel like to have him reach out and place his hand on mine. I fantasized about what we could do, and who we could be. I was in the midst of wondering if his thoughts were in line with mine when he leapt to his feet and grabbed our first two empty beer cans to teach me his favorite childhood game, consisting of hitting empty cans around with sticks.
By the time we finished the 6 pack and the stick game, we had somehow signed that unwritten contract to continue drinking. The afternoon at the beach led to an evening at the pub. At the pub, he continued on with his tales of shooting targets at his cabin, driving motorcycles, and reckless bonfire parties. I was both repulsed and amazed. No part of me felt that I wanted to live that life, and yet it was fascinating. As we sat across from each other in the booth, his eyes lit up in excitement during his storytelling. It was something I never would have noticed initially, but as he slowly entered my day, my thoughts, my fantasies, and my life, I realized he was beautiful. His beauty gave way to a raw untouched desire. I didn’t know what it was, maybe the rain has melted away my common sense and the beer my inhibition, but as we paid the bill to conclude the evening, my mouth opened and words came out.
“Come home with me,” I said.
“How about I just walk you,” he replied, and I forced myself to focus and remain composed, all the while fighting the embarrassment of the stark decline.
“If you say so,” I jokingly replied attempting to defuse the moment. Why had I assumed he was interested? He had not necessarily indicated that was the case.
When we arrived outside my building, we both just stood there face to face for what felt like an eternity. I wanted him to kiss me more than I had ever wanted to be kissed in my life. More than when we had danced. How could he not be thinking the same?
“Just come up,” I tried again and cursed myself as I did. Then to my complete shock and satisfaction, he said OK.
Walking up to the 3rd floor, I could feel my body radiating in desire. I wanted him badly, almost desperately. After his initial hesitation though, I still was not convinced we were on the same page. As I arrived at the door and fumbled with the key in the lock, I felt his hands reach for my waist and make their way up my body to my neck until he spun me around, and we were kissing. There are no words to describe the absolute magnitude of chemistry that exploded from its shell the moment we kissed. We spend the next few hours discovering every inch of each other. Before sleep, he handed me his phone to leave my number and was on his way.
I had heard the term ghosted before but had never had the pleasure of the firsthand experience. I hadn’t quite expected a call necessarily the following day, but 5 days later, I found myself rationalizing with every waking thought why he didn’t call. He lost his phone, or perhaps we were just too different, maybe an alien abduction, or conceivably I should never have slept with him on the first date. I drove myself crazy, and I drank too much wine. Daily, I went to the coffee shop, pathetically hoping to bang into him. I didn’t. The days passed, my neurotic thoughts escalated until one day, I simply stopped. Maybe in truth, this had all been a game to him. A game in which he had won and would continue to win, until I stood up, pressed the stop button and forgot his face.
His face was nearly forgotten around a month later when I entered the coffee shop, now just plainly out of habit and saw the man that had been there with him that day, the man he had left behind at the table to pursue our adventure. Perhaps I should have thought more about it, but without hesitation, I approached him.
“I’m sure you don’t remember me,” I began.
“I do,” he replied, nearly cutting me off. I was unsure if this meant I should be flattered or embarrassed. What stories had they shared after our encounter?
“Oh, alright then, great, well about your friend,” I awkwardly continued.
“About Kevin,” he interrupted.
Kevin, yes! How had I never asked his name? How had I spent a whole day with this guy, slept with him, and never thought to ask his name? My delusion was starting to materialize. It hadn’t been what I thought. If it had, would I not have asked his name?
“Yes, about Kevin. Well, tell him I said hello, and that … well nothing, just tell him I say hello,” I said.
“I can’t,” he replied.
“Well all right then, nice meeting you,” I said, cutting him off in return, my humiliation rising hot to my face.
“I can’t because he died,” he started. “He died that night. He left you, he chose to walk home for whatever reason, and a car hit him. He’s gone. He texted me only minutes before.”
The shock came on hard like the car had hit me as well. I could feel my stomach in my throat. I could feel regret, sorrow, devastation, and true agony. The kind of agony that you instantly know you will always carry. He turned his phone screen to my face and showed me the text. It was too simple, too short, and too awful.
It’s her. She’s the one.
My eyes burned, and I started to run. I ran out of the coffee shop and down the street. My chaos had no route,, but my feet knew theirs. I ran to that park, that greenspace, that first moment. I stopped when I got there and fell to the ground. I had not noticed that his friend had followed me. When I finally looked up, I saw a face as devastated as my own. I saw the face of the only other person in the world who knew my heartbreak. The only other person in the universe who could move forward in this life and share this with me, feel this with me, remember this with me. The only other person who would one day find the good in all the bad, the magic in all the sorrow, the path that Kevin had drawn for us.
That was the day we met. That was the day I met Henry.