Waking Up

She hadn’t wanted to be loved carefully, only well.
Kate Morton, The Distant Hours 
It was around late January when we reconnected. We were trying for months to set up a time to meet but plans weren't working, our schedules were too heavy, and I think we were both a little scared. Things were always relaxation and easy with you and that was terrifying. The last time I saw you there was a bit of awkwardness; you were with someone and so was I and we didn't know how to handle all of that. We were never anything but we were always almost something. Let's just grab a coffee, you said. Nothing more. Apparently I have a thing for visiting past almost-but-not-quite flames but I guess you did, too. Both of us like familiarity and reminders that there is some stability in this shaky world.

We met up for the first time in a few years, the rain hitting the pavement as we noticed one another. It was a year since I last saw you and you looked the same; a goofy smile and dark eyes and that dumb hat you refuse to take off. Our words danced nervously around each other, it felt a lot different than it did a year ago when a few heated words were exchanged. Even though I knew you well, you still made me the most nervous I've ever been. It wasn't that kind of nervous I experienced a year ago - the kind where someone is debating on whether you're the choice for them or not, but the kind of nervous where this could be the worst or best decision anyone has ever made. 

For the rest of the evening we hopped from cafe to cafe. It seemed funny to sit across from you in multiple places in one night when the last time I saw you was a year ago at a bad party with too much wine and not enough chatter. We talked for hours and even though I don't remember what was said, I do remember what I felt. It was soft and sweet and it reminded me of when we met for the first time a few years prior. You weren't just a single breath of fresh air, you were just all encompassing. You were the person that lit up a room, you were the person that everyone loved, you were the person that poured your heart into everything and everyone. People felt lucky to stand near you, hoping to get some of that light on themselves.

Coffee in January turned into drinks in March and dinner at your apartment in April. You were making dinner and I was curled up on the couch falling asleep to you humming the Friends theme song. Even after all this time, you can't believe I haven't seen it yet. I just remember feeling at home with you. I was at ease, you made me calm. You were familiar and I needed familiar. I needed someone that knew me. The old me. The one that felt like she wasn't just someone that wasn't so easily cast aside. The one that made me feel the best kind of nervous.

You brought me pasta and we drank whiskey and laughed until it was dark. You critiqued my lack of spontaneity, knowing that I'm stubborn and would prove you wrong. Soon enough, we were on a train to the city. It was late when we left - closer to my bedtime than yours. We can wait until the morning, you said. But I like to prove points and I was wearing a black dress and red lips and felt like tasting freedom for a change. Sometimes you get so used to the ebb and flow of life you forget what it means to make spur of the moment decisions. I was never someone who entered someone's life and shook things up for the better. But that night, on a train going nowhere specific, you were that person for me like you were all those years before. 

We spent the night wandering around like teens, your hand perfectly placed on the small of my back.  Even now, looking back, everything that we were or weren't or were trying to be was leading up to that moment. Your dimples and my flushed face paired perfectly together. Every time I stepped out into the real world - into the world of love and loss and hurt and struggle - it seemed like we were on the verge of something great. We spent the the train ride in the earliest hours of the morning watching the sun rise. My eyes were heavy from the lack of sleep, but I felt content. I remember easing into you and you resting your hand on my thigh, your fingers making figure eights on my tights. I think about that moment - that touch - a lot. It felt like muscle memory; something I've learned and grown to know like the back of my hand. It's something that I can still feel as if it was the very first time. Sometimes I retrace it myself just to see if it has the same impact. It doesn't.

Real life wasn't very kind to us. We weren't ready for each other, I don't think we will ever be ready for each other. I was off to school and you were off to do that job. We know each other but we are both too frightened to step further. For months it seemed as if I was in and out of sleep, wondering when I would be ready. I'm not one to get over people quickly - it is kind of my thing. I like to listen to sad music and romanticize loss far too much. But I tried to go back to the old me. I went back to familiar habits, like listening to music while having a bath every Sunday and dates with my friends and wearing dresses for no real occasion. I stopped caring, I stopped searching for things in other people, I stopped letting the echoes of words from someone that didn't love me properly hinder I had on myself. I was tired of letting the ghost of another person stop me from being who I was.

I have the same reoccurring dream about you every few months. It usually follows the same plot and I am able to picture everything so vividly. We're at your apartment, I'm staring out of your 17th-floor window watching the trains pass and you're a few feet away. It's dark. I can't see much but the streetlights and the dimly lit train windows. I can see a clock that is illuminated in one of the trains, the hands of time moving quickly - so fast that I can't keep track of the time. I start feeling anxious and panic. I don't see your face but I hear your voice telling me to go. You never wanted me to stay stagnant, you didn't want me to wait around for anything or anyone. You knew I needed space to run. You knew I couldn't be smothered and clung to. You knew the moment that someone else did that, I would completely shut down, and you were right.
Back then, I didn't think it was much of anything - just two people that kept returning to one another, regardless of whatever was going on in our personal lives. Not friends, not lovers, but something in between. I used to think that you were fun and cool and charming and goofy, but you wouldn't be someone I would write about. I knew you well, but I wouldn't write about you - just in case I made whatever it was that we had too real. If it's real that means that it happened, and that means that you would be gone.

But here I am, writing about you at 2 am on a rainy Thursday morning, months and months and months after getting on a train to anywhere with your hand on my thigh. For a long time, I was sleeping. I was waiting on someone, or waiting for things to get better, or trying to pretend bad things weren't happening. But it was with you and your dark eyes and your goofy grin and your hand resting on my thigh to remind me that I can be someone that shakes things up, that can get on a train at quarter to twelve and go anywhere, that I am alive and young and have a lot of love to give. 

Back when love was something foreign and untouched I took it, and you, for granted. I'm sure you feel the same way about me. Almost is one of the saddest words in the world and that's what we were. We are always going to be known as something that almost happened. What we were is frozen in time - a period of my life that I truly loved, but don't wish to change the clocks backwards to go back to, nor wish to speed ahead and see what happens. I've learned that love is delicate and intricate - it can only bend and be mended so much until it breaks. But now I know how it weaves its way through people, tying them together a red string. Sometimes there aren't happy endings, but there will always be trains headed to the city if you need to get away. Sometimes, all it takes is the weight of a hand on a thigh to wake you up and make that clock tick again.

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