This is probably the last time I’ll wake up with him, I thought watching the sunrise over the brick buildings on Amsterdam. It was a slow, gradual morning for the sun, just as it was for him. He didn’t move in the past two hours I was awake, other than to squeeze my hand and sigh silently into my neck, grazing his lips so slightly I could barely feel the tenderness on my skin.
I couldn’t sleep; my mind wasn’t interested in being anywhere but in this moment. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I responded to his text message after ignoring them all for over a week. Maybe it was because it was March and still a little cold outside. Or maybe I felt the sting of being lonely a little too deeply, and the thought of a warm body – especially one I knew as well as my own – was comforting. Nevertheless, I found myself waiting in bed, smooth and fragrant in a skimpy I swore he’d never see.
I asked him to call me when he arrived on the Upper West Side instead of ringing my apartment – I didn’t want my roommates to wake. I didn’t really want them to know, just like I was ashamed to tell my friends. And my readers. How could I preach one thing, promise another and then invite the shadow that was haunting me back into my life? Even if it was just for a night, the aftertaste always lingers much longer. And once you try it once, it’s easier to go back for seconds.
When I opened the door, he smiled that same sad grin I’d known for so long and tried so desperately to forget. But there was no wine, no girl’s night out, no one night stand, no anything that could really make me move on. I knew that challenge was up to me, and that I had been delaying the process by believing many wonderful, lofty things that really, I knew would never be. Especially with his hand massaging my back on the 10-step walk to my bedroom. Maybe it’d be like those dreams you wake up thinking about, but then disappear from memory ten hours later. If no one saw him here, then maybe I could pretend it never happened.
But it did. And I didn’t hate it, I sighed as I slowly turned over to face him, trying my best to keep him asleep. He never drifted away easily and I didn’t want him to leave before the alarm made him. I studied his face as I thought about all the space between us. No matter how far we got or how much time we spent together, there was always a gap I couldn’t bridge. Now, we’re lying as close as two can get, and yet, I know I’m still nowhere near his heart. He used to tell me that organ didn’t work for him, and then he said he’d try to make it alive again, and now we’ve just stopped talking about it. Have I settled to being his sex buddy? I wondered, terrified of the truth. I placed my hand on his chest and curled into the nook I used to sleep in nightly and reassured myself: No, you’re just now the backburner. Not the frontrunner. Without making a sound, I let a tear get away, and realized that honestly, being on hold was worse than being used for sex.
He felt my weight against him as I sank into his side and he murmured something inaudible as he kissed my forehead and pulled me closer. I heaved a sigh of total confusion – knowing he would always want to be beside me like this, but never beside me in the ways that mattered. The ones that counted in any book I’d ever read. You’re awake, Tigar? he asked, nibbling at my ear. I nodded to where he could feel it but didn’t slip a word, knowing if I did, I’d say things I’ve said a hundred times. Things that have lost their meaning because nothing has changed. Because nothing will.
We cuddled silently until it was time to start the getting-ready routine – something we mastered in small spaces months before. I snuck him into the bathroom, wishing I lived alone just this once so I wouldn’t have to worry about the shocked faces or the disapproving glances I knew I would get, I knew I’d deserve. As I rinsed his touch off of me, wondering if he’d ever stay with me again, he started rambling about work and the week ahead. He asked me questions so casual you’d think we talked all the time, that we had never broken up, that I hadn’t been attempting to get over him for six months. He asked me about my plans and upcoming events, and I gave him simple answers to match his simplistic attitude that I felt weren’t nothing compared to my conflicting thoughts.
And then I dared to go there: Mr. Possibility- what did I teach you? Did I teach you anything from dating me? I asked with the shower curtain spread open, the water falling across my back. I didn’t care that my face was bare, that my body was exposed and my heart was vulnerable, standing before this man I couldn’t understand.
He didn’t miss a beat and answered: How to love. You taught me how to love, Lindsay. And he left the steamy room just as it was getting hot.
Months after this incident, where I’m dating and rediscovering the city through my lens instead of his, I find myself coming back to that moment. Back to those three words: how to love. For a while, I was convinced if that was the case, I must be a horrible teacher if that was his idea of true love or loving someone. Then I cursed my heart (for the first time ever) for being so unconditional, so understanding, so patient and forgiving. I let myself feel so many extraordinary things that weren’t felt in return, and in the end, I never got the apology, the answers, the anything I really needed.
But I did get a lesson. One very important, overly-dramatic lesson.
I learned there’s no course to study or class to take. There are many tests but never any measure of success. There are many words to write, but no rubric to follow. There are no answers to any of the questions or a correct bubble to fill in. The choices are endless, but the options seem limited. No matter the experience you endure or the hours you put into studying — there will never be a tried-and-true way to know how to love.
Maybe someone can teach you – the best anyone can teach something they’ll never fully comprehend or have the ability to describe. Maybe there are people who are shining examples of how to care for another person, and others who are quite the drastic opposite. Maybe the love is different depending on who wears it and who wears on you – but the thing about love is that it’s just a word until it’s put into action.
I may have taught him how to love but he never could translate it into something that meant something more. Into something that mattered in the ways that are significant. Those three words, where they be I love you or how to love – are meaningless until there are gestures and evidence there to support them.
So if every relationship teaches us something – as I have always believed they do – then that’s Mr. P’s contribution. He’s made me see that love is so much more than words, no matter how often they’re spoken or sincere they can seem. And if he could never show me what they really mean, I know there must be someone out there who can.