I knew you were bad for me. And what did you expect, you snort, your retort ringing clearly in my head as though you were there holding me while saying it out loud. Tinder is made available for the emotionally unavailable. You know this, my best friend knows this, so by extension, I know this as well. But knowing and feeling are three galaxies apart, a head and a heart, a groin.
Look for me, beads of water collected on my skin, hair slicked back and my own arms pressed against me, holding a towel up while clutching my phone in my hand. This post-shower wet dog look is the common aesthetic, in an age where people meet and match digitally, alone and in their free time. I remember that I don’t remember you, a face I wouldn’t have been able to place even if I tried, and an empty About Me section. Classic dating app red flags. Except for one photo, the winning photo, the photo that made me want to meet you. Grinning from ear to ear, a trophy in hand and unmistakable Muay Thai shorts on. They were red and you looked so alive. I wonder if you have ever felt as close to the sun as you did in that captured moment.
I am blushing as a type this, at my type that has followed such a pattern of predictability. But I argue against myself with clean logic. Heavily invested in the sport of Muay Thai and running out of options on where I could train, perhaps if nothing else, you, could point me in the right direction. I didn’t know you but I already needed you. I made the first move as blunt as an ax.
“I am a lover, not a fighter”
Those were your words. The back and forth banter was not my first rodeo, nor was it a particularly eventful one. Our arrangement was strictly business, training only, with tête-à-tête on the side if we were both amicable. This was decidedly advantageous for me. I wrote you off in my head many times, happy that we had come to some kind of understanding and nothing more, because I didn’t see us connecting on an emotional level. But where our textual game said bad footwork, our in-person chemistry was hitting the pads with perfect accuracy. I was so happy after our first training session. To this day, I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to understand the simple joy I had found, in Muay Thai and in Muay Thai with you.
This continued for weeks, conducting our dance in the ring away from the class cacophony on the mats nearby. I wondered if you worried what they would think, with the sexual tension between us so palpable, it threatened to strip our clothes to nakedness. I fell in love with the tenderness in your gaze when you thought I wasn’t looking, the softness of your mouth frowning at kicks that wouldn’t turn in and the way you erroneously duck your head as you parry a jab. We had a deal to be as uninvolved as possible and every second with you or without you, I was breaking it.
I told you I had feelings for you and you said you carried the same for me too, but that your situation was complicated. That this wasn’t what you wanted. From that moment, you withdrew from me and the pain was like an exhale in winter, sharp and unforgiving. It amazes me how quickly we crumbled, but at the same time, your trump card reason was one I couldn’t deny either. I had to agree that it was best I did not interfere.
I love this song by Jay Chou, called ‘简单爱’. A ballad from the 90s with a steady and catchy but predictable rhythm that gives away the era it was written in, yet that is entirely the point. I think about the lines ‘can love be simple without pain’ and ‘I want you to meet my grandmother in her home’, the silliness of the song’s naiveté and wonder if there is a life out there where we would be granted this reality. The world we create, each time we step in the ring, is a close approximation. Perhaps next time we enter, we whisper to the timer, ‘countdown, indefinitely’.
I love this song by Post Malone, called ‘Psycho’. At the time, it was ‘hot off the charts’ as they usually say and I first heard it in your car. On the surface it’s about video games, watches that cost more than my forearm, ‘diamonds weigh, my teeth are sore’ and injecting the drug, ‘Psycho’, from the game Fallout. Underneath it, Post croons the frantic manner in which you and I chase success in the CBD of Sydney, our inane passion for Muay Thai and the madness that was us trying to meet on different, parallel timelines. Each time I play this song, I’m reminded of the synth-beat and echo that carved a cradle out of your car for me, especially on the night we drove to Wollongong, back and beyond.
I never thought I was drawn to broken people until you came along. I’m still not entirely convinced because I can see so much good in you still. But ‘good’ and ‘good for me’ are also galaxies apart. I can still picture the way we make each other laugh, how relaxed it is, how even we are. And maybe that’s all we ever were. Debit and credit, a perfectly balanced and transactional relationship. I was looking for the padholder of my life and I found you. I guess I was lucky.