An Isolated Encounter Of Learning To Love Again

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It hits when you least expect it. It’s that same place you always go, every Wednesday at three o’clock. You know everybody there, and everybody knows you – until that day. It seems like an ordinary day, and a fairly good ordinary day: a good night’s rest, good friends and family, good food, the whole nine yards. Life is calm, serene, peaceful. You are content, save for a few scars on your heart as you readjust your life to the new knowledge that someone you care about deeply doesn’t feel the same way about you…at least, not anymore.

You’re learning to live with this new space in your heart, the still-stinging hole that – although ripe with beautiful, wonderful, and much-needed lessons – is still just that: a big, gaping wound inside the most delicate part of you. Maybe it shocks you because you don’t feel ready, or you weren’t expecting it, or you weren’t expecting somebody like that – not for you, not now. But either way there it is, smack in the middle of your ordinarily lovely Wednesday, blindsiding you and ripping you free from the dull ache of your loss.  So when it hits, it hits like a freight train.

It, in reality, is just a person. A perfectly normal looking person, doing their perfectly normal job on a perfectly normal day. You probably look like a perfectly normal person to them, too – or at least, you hope to God you do. Because when this stranger begins directing you about your usual business, it feels like someone has let loose an entire colony of butterflies in your stomach.

You’ve had crushes before, obviously, and then some. Heck, the hole in your heart is a result of a “failed” and then some. But you’ve forgotten what this feels like: the pounding heart, eyes that want to track their every move but duck away the minute they see you, dull ringing in the ears, and a tongue that has suddenly lost all ability to function coherently.

You take a breath.  It’s just some ordinary, run-of-the-mill attraction, in the middle of your ordinary day. Nothing to be worked up over. You’ve dealt with this before, and you can do it again. You are a big girl now, after all. Remember that hole in your heart? Even this arbitrary slap of lust can’t silence it completely. It’s still there, familiarly aching, but, you realize as you go through the motions of social politeness, this feels familiar too, in a much more distant way. This feeling reminds you of being in the fourth grade, when your teacher sat you beside that boy you liked – for purely aesthetic reasons; a little while later he turned out to be a jerk and you stopped trying to play with him on the playground – and you got so nervous when he asked your name that you dropped your book on your foot. He had dark hair and blue eyes so clear that it made that combo your type forevermore. But you first felt that feeling with that long-ago classmate ten years ago, and, come to think of it, you haven’t felt it ever again since then…until now.

So yes, just some ordinary, run-of-the-mill attraction. You even smile fondly at the memory of your twitterpated nine-year-old self. The ache of your pain is there, still, but another ache has joined in, one you haven’t felt in some time that you definitely didn’t experience at nine years old. It flutters, gently, in the center of your lower abdomen, its rare blend of liquefied warmth, traveling pleasantly downward, reminding you that you are no longer a girl, but a woman. It has been long missing from your life, until that moment. It surprises you, like spotting an old friend on a street corner. How odd, that this stranger should be the one to reawaken this long dormant part of you, doing so kindly, wordlessly, without consequence. If for this, only, you are grateful.

You go about your usual business. You pretend not to notice him staring at you for the rest of the afternoon. You get in the car after the fact and try to make sense of what the off-kilter beating of your heart means.

He’s there again. And again. After a week and a half it becomes clear that he is now a new fixture in your routine. The attraction does not wane. You begin to learn to live with it – sorta. You still feel like an awkward schoolgirl at first, but eventually you learn your way around your nervous hang-ups and begin to converse with him the way you do everybody else. Despite your initial terror, conversation flows easily. You feel connected to him, as a person, not just as an attractive member of the opposite sex.

You learn your senses of humor are the same; your ideas of a relaxing weekend sound heavenly to the other. Something in his essence, unencumbered by anything tangible, feels safe, warm, trustworthy. You learn your way around his shy streak, and he quickly learns that you’ll giggle at just about anything goofy, resulting in his doing an Irish jig at random. You laugh hysterically, and his smile ignites some hopeful part of you long dormant. Others begin to take notice. You can’t bring yourself to care.

He still looks at you, every time. It may be your imagination, but it appears to be increasing. You’re unsure of what the whispered I hope so in the back of your mind means. The thought unconsciously directed at him after three weeks of feeling his brown eyes on you is less subtle: You are everything I kept hoping he would become and never did.

You find arbitrary reasons to talk to each other throughout the day. What begin as brief one-liners quickly expand into twenty minute discussions of anything and everything: pets, your families, odd things that happened to you that week, food, movies, books, school, work – anything. Your tastes are beautifully similar, but not identical. You throw each other on occasion. Things that made others run appear to entice him further. He talks to you any chance he gets, and you find yourself cursing the fact that you don’t have all the liberties he does in changing locations to initiate conversation.

The watching becomes a shared activity. There is smiling involved; slightly awkward smiling, but still. Everybody and their mother notices now; even people that don’t work there. You still don’t care. He doesn’t appear to either; a new sensation that feels rare and wonderful. You begin to see other sides of each other: tired, distracted, wounded, and even – so it appears – jealous when random patrons make passes at you. It changes nothing for you (He looks rather adorable with uncombed hair, and you’ve always preferred glasses to contacts). It doesn’t appear to affect him – he laughs lovingly the first time he sees the clumsy goof behind the mild-mannered academic. There is no sign of a girlfriend anywhere. You have never been so happy to know you don’t have a boyfriend or someone breathing down your neck for a date. This feels good, void of ego and mind games and insecurities.

The week one of your best friends finds him on Facebook and links you his profile is the week he touches you for the first time. A hand on the small of your back to steady you burns to the bone. That week – seemingly by chance – you find out it is against company policy to actively engage patrons via social media. You stalk him anyway…only once. Your conversations are deeper and more frequent than ever. Every time he looks at you, you feel beautiful. You wish there was some way to thank him for this.

The following week you learn he is returning to school. Just as it feels like your heart is going to crack, he assures you – nine times – that this is temporary: he’ll be back by the new year full-time, and he’ll still be in sporadically before then. He repeats the same sentiment on this last day, proclaiming he’ll see you the minute winter break begins. That night, you go home and add him on Facebook, expecting nothing – it could cost him his job – but hoping desperately.

He accepts you on Wednesday afternoon, two minutes before three o’clock.

In the lull, things are blurry. By that Friday you already miss the sound of his voice, his insights. After less than three months you miss him more than others you’ve known for years. You fight the urge to wall up when the sight of a photo is enough to make your heart jump. You struggle to hold onto your memories without turning him into somebody else. You try not to project into the future, although you can’t forget the way his hand on your back felt, and you wonder, sometimes, if he’d let you touch him

But above all, you are grateful. Because, if anything, he helped your heart heal from a pain you though you might never recover from. He showed you new aspects of what you want in a man. He made you feel beautiful simply by being you. Because he noticed when you were down and asked if you were okay. Because he showed you some wonderful books. Because he helped to reawaken your courage. And, because you’ve heard that the Universe never uses one without providing for them, too, you realize that you have also given him many gifts. And that’s generally amazing.

(Deep down, you know: when you silence the fear and ask for the truth, you hear this is the start of something beautiful.) TC Mark

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