Since I could always remember, I was the one to play it safe. I put myself first, and no one was ever worth the risk.
I’ve had chances in my life, now and then, few and far between, but chances nevertheless. Whether it was a straight out confession or a chance to go out with someone, I’ve turned them down, or made the least of it, with awkward conversations and harried goodbyes. None of my attempts at building a feeling ever worked.
It just never felt right.
My friends coerced me, time and again, to get into online dating or to just play around. Your life is too boring, they’d rationalize.
Yes. I can see that it is boring, but maybe it’s the boring I need. Boring was what would finally help me understand what it was I was risking by not taking any chances.
And then I met her. To be sure, it wasn’t ceremonious or life changing. The first time I saw her in class I didn’t even give her a second glance. We talked and became friends, she may have laughed at some of my half-hearted attempts at a joke.
We bumped into each other at school events, laughed and talked nervously. She asked me about me, and I asked her about her. Against my will, I felt something more than friendship.
Days passed with her and things started to make sense. I talked more to her, taking long walks. The two of us arrived at group meetings earlier and left later. She waited for me to grab my stuff after drama rehearsals. I had never eaten breakfast over the semester, not even once. Until her. Because all of the sudden I started eating breakfast just to catch a glimpse of her.
We would study together and I looked over sometimes, to catch any expression whatsoever on her face, but there was none.
And still, things just felt right.
And then she told me one day that she was afraid. This wasn’t heading in a direction she was comfortable with.
I asked her what she meant. She said that this has happened before, a lot of times. She screwed everything up, and lost otherwise good friends. I asked her what she meant but she stopped replying me.
It was a deeply unsettling day.
I would eventually write her a long letter, asking her a single question. There is no in-between for me, I wrote specifically, so are you in or are you out? I read it three times, though I’m someone who hardly rereads what I write. I thought long and hard about crushing it up and throwing it away, but somehow stopped short of it.
I met her at a lift lobby to return her some money that I owed her. Under the coins was the letter.
She asked me about the letter later, about what I meant, the kind of agenda I was trying to push. My heart sank and floated all at once. I was certain at that moment that the letter was a mistake. Feelings like these should never be explained through words. Yet, I so desperately needed an explanation.
She didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no either. But silence hardly meant consent. I took this as a no, and went about establishing distance. I ate with old friends, left campus more often. I stopped texting her every night. I needed to understand exactly what was going on. Being with her didn’t make that easier.
I spent my days in prolonged misery, not because I hated her, but because I hated myself.
And then one day she asked if I was free to walk. I said yes without even thinking twice.
You don’t have to follow me, I can walk alone as well. She replied.
No, I’ll be there.
The distance I attempted to build melted away when I was with her. Just like that. As she ate breakfast I observed the way she ate. I walked beside her to the bus stop and felt a sense of wholeness that was hard to explain. She told me about herself, and I told her about myself. It was like how it always was, before I went about thinking too much.
I reached the edge of a path that led into the jungle. She said she forgot her insect repellent and I laughed.
Mosquitoes won’t bite when you’re on the move, I told her.
Then we’d better always be on the move, she replied.
Through a trail in the jungle I walked, thinking about how simple things could be, but how massively complicated they turn out to become.
Through the thick I stumbled, with her telling me just how much she loved to walk in the cool of the morning. How nobody loved it anymore and it was such a pity.
No, I quite like it as well, I corrected her.
She smiled at me. You’re lucky then.
The path in the jungle led to a huge clearing. A quarry emerged along with brilliant sunlight.
I stood there beside her, the still water immediate, and the depth of it spectacular. I could sense that she was smiling.
I’ve been thinking about your letter, she suddenly said. The scenery was beautifully silent.
I dared not turn to look at her.
You asked me if I was in or out, she continued.
I turned to look at her.
And at that moment, before she said her next words, I understood everything. I understood why I never believed in fleeting encounters or casual romances. It suddenly made sense why all my other friends could never convince me to go down that path. Because I always believed, believed that something great was worth time and patience. Seeing her happy would always be enough. Even if she said that she was out I would have left her with grace, in the knowledge that life isn’t about half-assed encounters.
A large part of me prepared myself for the worst, because perhaps the worst is all I’d ever known.
But then the tiniest part of me, the part that would wake up early to catch a glimpse of her during breakfast, that part of me held on to the sincerest of hopes that she might just be in.
Because if she was in, then I’d sure as hell be in as well.