We dated briefly, maybe a few months at most. We had a history together that I could barely retrieve from the fog of my memory. As easily as our times together had slipped from my mind, I knew I had been charmed by him. How he laughed at his own jokes, how he found any excuse to hold my hand, or how he leaned in close when we were talking as if he had the deepest secrets to share. I had liked him, a lot. Though this was a time when liking someone meant nothing more than waiting by lockers and saving seats at lunch. We worked well together, too.
Unlike the desperate and intense relationships I would soon involve myself in, losing so much of myself to fit in with whomever, we simply existed as an innocent and quietly confident pair. But at 17, easy love wasn’t what I wanted. I was too young to have figured it out. So I left him, on the grounds that I needed passion that destroyed me. I needed a heavy, deep, reckless love that would consume me, leaving me in ruins…which I would without a doubt find once entering the real world. He urged me to reconsider, but soon realized it was a lost cause.
There was college and packing and saying goodbye and, inadvertently, he got lost in the hurricane of it all. The afternoons we had spent sprawled out on living room floors and the nights we stayed up until the sun rose were left as nothing more than the dust kicking up in the rear view mirror. I left for college out west without a second glance. I lost his phone number along the way, as if at some point I might have had the intentions to call him…which was merely a lie I used to comfort myself for leaving so coldheartedly.
Perhaps if I had given it the time and attention it deserved, we could have been something. We could have skipped over all the breakups, all the breakdowns, and spent the rest of our days in the comfy niche we had established ten years prior. Instead, we just hung in the balance, another relationship filed under what if we had tried. Or, I guess more fittingly, what if I had tried. We would nod the occasional hellos when one of us was back in town over summer breaks or, once in awhile, I’d catch a glimpse of him at old friends’ gatherings, though never close enough to actually acknowledge one another. We would continue this pattern for the next ten years. Ten years of either a missed opportunity or a blessing in disguise, it was too hard to tell.
After finishing college, I once again shoved my belongings into overstuffed boxes and prepared to move across state borders to escape our small town. I stumbled upon his old written notes and started to toss them towards the trash can. However, I opted to gently place them behind the cover of an old book and pack them away into a box. I wasn’t ready to let go of them. Not yet, anyways. Though I had little contact with most of the people back home in an effort to start anew, I wasn’t yet able to sever all ties. Searching for a clean slate had cost me more relationships than I anticipated, but I quickly realized distance and time were a strong force to be reckoned with at such a young age. It was a price I was willing to pay in order to reinvent myself on my own terms. Years passed and I settled into a new career, new friends, and new adventures that quickly faded into old routines. A relaxed and stable life was a welcomed relief at 26.
Yet, on an otherwise-not-so-significant Thursday, I received a call with an unforgettable voice on the line. The earth below me suddenly felt unsteady and a million memories began scrolling through my mind. He had called to let me know he was close by. He was visiting some family a town over and had heard that I’d moved to this city after graduating. The moment I heard him speak, the homesickness set it. Not so much that I missed him in particular, but that I instantly recalled how simple life had been back when we had last spoken. Had I really been able to move on so conveniently from everything I knew? Could I simply rebuild my foundation, burying deep the people who were once all I had?
I agreed to a casual meeting at a nearby café. It was almost startling how similar he looked to his 16 year old self, though there were subtle hints of where he’d matured. His broad shoulders were now inked with various tattoos marking his transition into adulthood. A beard was now forming where his face had once been smooth. He sat down before me dressed as a young professional instead of wearing the torn-up faded sweatshirt that I used to borrow during chilly homecoming games. I was surprised to fall back into the same state of attraction I once had. No matter how many miles and years I had put between us, some things could not be so easily destroyed.
We occupied a tiny corner table for the next five hours, sharing and rehashing every moment that one of us couldn’t recall or had misplaced from the time we spent together. Hours spent piecing back together all the parts we were missing separately, though together we had a full story, filling in the blanks of the past decade. Had we really just been victims of poor timing? Were we just riding this ride until we were brought together again?
As the shop began to close up, we were yet again standing at that familiar crossroads. I watched him get ready to leave, just as I had done ages before. I contemplated everything I could do or say to have him consider staying, but remained silent. Our roles were now reversed as he drove away, no signs of a break light. I wondered if I made the same mistake, the same choice, now a second time through. I sat on the curb, fingers crossed, hoping that he was more hopeful than I ever was. Praying that he was bolder and more trusting than I could ever be. And, possibly, he would be the one to turn around. The one to point out our faults and reassure us that we could overcome them. Until then, our story remained incomplete. He is, and will be, the dot dot dot. Knowing that we will forever be unfinished is, maybe, comfort enough.