The day I first saw him was the day after Halloween. There were bottles on the kitchen table, black bodypaint smeared all over one of the only two working bathrooms, hungover Irish talking quietly over breakfast. When I snapped open my laptop to upload some photos from the night before, I didn’t expect to see a message from him. It had been weeks since I had let him know that I was near. But there it was. And he wanted to meet me.
The trip to him took me out of the city and into the suburbs, into foreign territory. I felt out of place on those neat streets that looked lived, among the houses that were more or less permanent homes to students and couples and families. I was a visitor and now stepping over the city line, breaking out of the tourist scene and seeing the run-down facades of cell phone shops and local kiosks that would never be worthy of a photograph but which were the backdrop to the daily life of the likes of him – people, who really lived here. I was breaking an invisible barrier by stepping out of the city, and I was surely knocking all of the barriers down violently by coming to see him.
He was cute. Not good looking in an obvious, threatening way but in a pleasant manner. His was a face you could get used to. When he smiled, his teeth showed. He was dressed in simple jeans and a red jacket that I thought collided with the plainness of his face. Later I would learn that he always wore clothes out of his style. But maybe I was wrong and that style was the right one for him… Maybe I was not used to boys like him wearing red.
In my mind I had built us up to be a movie. I imagined slow dancing and hand holding, a soundtrack that would grow louder at just the right moments, magic, madness. He studied film and perhaps I thought that one day he would write a script of our story. I would be played by Natalie Woods; him, James Dean. I hadn’t visited these daydream images in a long while, but when I saw him, I heard an echo of what those dreams had been. I compared the reverie to the reality and accepted it as different, not flawed in the slightest.
We talked about our favourite movies over Mexican food and later sat on his bed watching old episodes of New Girl. When he drove me home, we mostly sat in silence as he played the new Taylor Swift album that I hadn’t heard yet. Even now when State of Grace plays, I can see the headlights rushing against the dark road and the nocturnal city somewhere outside of our windows flashing by.
But maybe I am wrong again… After all, State of Grace is a love song. Our easy, cozy, casual affair was never as much about love as it was about companionship.
I guess we both knew we had an expiry date. I had thought, months before, that maybe we could fall in love one day, but when we were together, we never did. It is far too easy for me to grow attached to people I’ve only known for a few days but with him it was different: easy, effortless, simple. We knew us would be gone as soon as I was, but it didn’t stop us from behaving like a couple for that short while. He took me to a beach outside of the city and let me pay for my half of petrol by treating him to fro-yo. He took me to cheap dinners in exciting, scruffy bars. When we went to the movies, he bought us so many snacks that for the first time in my life I couldn’t finish my food. He made me laugh and thought I was funny, too. He made sure to send me an email if his phone battery died and he couldn’t answer to my late-night texts. We talked a lot.
But we never talked about our fears or doubts. We discussed our separate futures as such, not making a point out of it but accidentally saying “I” instead of “we”. When we talked about hopes and dreams, we talked in conditionals, as if our lives were still a dark path far up ahead, only lit by a few faltering torches; as if saying anything definitive would have molded that moment into the absolute truth to follow. We talked a lot, but now when I think back to it, I wonder if we actually said that much.
This much I know: He liked Sidney Lumet. He never talked about the death of his dad. When he kissed, he was clumsy but eager. He was a terrible driver and once almost made me miss my flight. His laugh often seemed a little bit nervous, but I only found that interesting. He made me feel important and good about myself. Spending time with him was easy, and when he was busy, I spent time alone in coffee shops and vintage markets; or drank cheap wine with my new temporary friends from Ireland and Great Britain and Germany; or discovered the city, step by step, sometimes thinking about him and smiling, sometimes not thinking about him at all.
The last time I saw him was by the train tracks, waving to me after a clumsy kiss good-bye. I waved back, and as our worlds gently moved apart, my heart stayed with me. The night before I had visited his new apartment for the first and the last time. When I left, he was wearing a coat that I’d never seen before. The night before I had noticed the changes in his body; he did boxing now, he said, three times a week. Small pieces of him had already moved away from me, I realised, but the same had happened with me, too. I had been away for months, during which time I had been fired, fallen in love, feared for my life, cried and opened up and laughed till my stomach hurt… I was not the same.
The night before I had sat on an office chair and he on the bed, and while we watched news bloopers and laughed – his loud, unapologetic, strangely girly laughter bursting out every few seconds – I wondered, if maybe we had run out of things to talk about.
We tried e-mailing for a few concise, awkward messages until we didn’t. Right after I left, sat on the train back to the city and lazily eyeing the passing suburbs, I thought we would keep in touch, but as soon as we tried it, I knew we would never be friends again. It wasn’t anything dramatic; we didn’t mutually decide to never speak again. We didn’t have a dramatic falling-out. It just happened. He would never make us into a movie because it was not a story worth telling, barely a story at all, it was merely a scene that was bound to pass. In each other’s lives we played the part of a minor character, someone who gets mentioned in the credits as “Red head girl” or “Boy in bar”. And that was ok. I feel like both of us needed each other in a very undemanding, reciprocated way which rarely occurs in relationships. We were both in that place in our lives where a pleasant, sweet dating experience would boost up our confidence and create happy memories to see us through our future heart breaks.
It was… nice. And somehow that was enough.
So yeah I noticed I hadn’t really written a proper story in ages (well, unless you count the ones in postcards – but those are short ones) and when I was wondering about a topic, this thing from a few years ago immediately came to mind. I hope you enjoyed reading it! While it wasn’t strictly on the theme of travel, it was something that did happen to me while I was travelling. I’d love to hear what you thought – would you like to see more stories like this on the blog?