The strange night began with routine familiarity. We sat on your natural fiber beige cotton couch, two friends watching a movie for the umpteenth time. The black and brown Yorkie, your most trusted companion, created a buffer between us. We cracked jokes, recapped our days, and offered advice to one another. As the evening crept towards midnight, you unexpectedly tossed a powerful combination of words into the air.
“I don’t understand how the perfect person could be sitting in front of us and we fail to see it.”
Your remark was paradoxical to the suspenseful thriller blaring in the background and contradictory to earlier conversations.
“What are you talking about?” I asked nonchalantly while stroking the tiny dog’s fur.
You replied with sonorous silence. The hopeful nervousness pouring out of your dilated brown eyes guided me to the crux of your message. As you stared at me with a boyish smirk, I zeroed in on the face that for months greeted me as we crossed paths in the hallway, knocked on my door regularly to borrow random kitchen appliances, brought me unheard of snacks, and asked for help when you were locked out of your apartment. Yet, in that minute, it was if I saw it, you, for the first time.
Just as your unspoken words digested into the silent conversation, the cute little fur ball scurried away and you inched closer. While you transitioned, the energy in the room converted from a solid friendship to something unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and less secure.
I wished you didn’t. I wanted nothing more than for the ignored movie to finish so I could walk across the hall and be free from the uneasy atmosphere you produced. But you did. And because you did, I panicked.
“Sometimes people just don’t feel the same way as the other person does,” I whispered.
The moment the words left my lips, the smirk on your face disappeared. The hope in your eyes morphed into defeat, and you retreated to the space you once occupied. A few minutes later, you yawned, sending another message my way. We said goodnight and went our separate ways.
Now that you’re gone, I’ve found the courage to tell you what you already know—I lied to you on that night. I felt exactly the same way you did.
I remember giddily telling my closest friends and mom (yes, mom) about how you’d bring me cookies and ice cream at midnight, how you’d knock on my door just for a hug, and the lengthiness of our late night conversations. When they accused me of liking you, mom included (yes, mom), I told more lies. I said I didn’t. I said you weren’t my type. I called you awkward and clingy. Accused you of being materialistic and tactless. In reality, you were the charming, energetic, and passionate guy next door pursuing the complex, confused boy from across the hall.
Despite my false confession that halted your advance, our friendship continued to blossom. But I think we both understood that our friendship wasn’t strictly platonic. Underlying our interaction was a tenacious romantic and sexual tension that I know we both felt. I am sure, because that type of friction only exists if two forces create it. We created it. And although we would never speak about it, the universe frequently added commentary. Our nosy gossip queen neighbor never missed an opportunity to plan our future, and at every party or club we attended, it appeared as if we were convincing new and old friends that we too were just friends.
Then that other strange night happened. As I jogged up the steps after a workout that ran too late, our paths crossed, just as it typically did. But this time you were not alone. You were with him. You introduced us to one another. I shook his hand, then glanced at you, but you looked away. The manner in which his name escaped your lips provided enough context for me to understand exactly who he was.
Not long thereafter, you confirmed what I knew. As you proclaimed that you finally found The One, I feigned happiness for you. I jumped, hollered, and cheered while on the inside my heart was shattering. I did it to myself. I handed you over on a diamond platter to someone else who played my role in what should have been our story.
Things got serious between you two. You moved away and bought more animals. Although we remained in contact, we both knew that our friendship would change. It did. It disintegrated into nothingness. While I question whether it was the best decision, it certainly was the easiest.
So why’d I do it? Why’d I lie? Why, despite me knowing just as much as you did that we could have been good together, did I cheat myself and you out of the opportunity to be?
Fear. Time. Unsureness.
I was not prepared to invest the time and energy needed to make us work. I was enjoying freedom, picking up the pieces, and rejuvenating after a recently failed romantic affair left me stressed out and oh-so exhausted. I was busy rediscovering all the quirks, interests, and talents that made me me after losing my identity in the presence of another. I was neither ready nor prepared to be one half of a we no matter how right it felt.
When I look back on that night, I am fully aware that you were the right person, who uttered the right words to the right person at the wrong time.