Sometime in June, 2017
I exited customs and walked through the large sliding doors. I always look around at the crowd at arrivals even when I’m not expecting anyone to get me from the airport. It’s because I always have this slight hope that someone will be there. I’m not even sure who, but just someone. Maybe that’s the romantic in me.
I had my carry-on backpack on my shoulders, purse in hand and looked right through the centre of the crowd and sure enough there you were.
You were two years too late. But there you were, nonetheless. Showing up for me when I no longer needed you to.
You’re here, I said. I can’t believe this.
You were taller than I’d remembered you. Your face was rounder and you looked tired like you hadn’t slept in a few days. Other than that, you were the same. You offered to carry my bag for me. I didn’t know what to say or how to act. I don’t think you did, either. So we talked about how my flight was, and where the gate to the Gatwick Express was, and what you did before coming to the airport. You made jokes and I laughed with a little too much enthusiasm. I felt high and dazed all at once. Not high on you — but on the adrenaline from seeing someone you haven’t in over a year.
We sat on the train into the city side by side, crammed into the small two-person aisle. You pulled out a bottle of beer.
Thought you’d want this, you said.
I smiled and took it. Of course I did. We cracked it open like school kids hiding cigarettes behind the school yard. Of course you brought a beer. We were rarely sober together, were we? But that was all part of the magic. Our magic.
We found the hostel where we were staying. It was cheap, no air conditioning. I wanted to be respectful of your money situation. I didn’t know what your money situation was, but you were coming here to see me, and I didn’t want to make you pay for somewhere expensive. But now I was regretting it — I could feel the sweat sticking to my clothes, constantly wiping at my forehead, many futile attempts to wipe it dry.
We both showered. It felt strange to be in just a towel around you, and yet it wasn’t uncomfortable. I almost wanted you to ravish me then. You would peel off the towel and I’d let it drop to the ground and your fingers would move around my body like navigating a city where you once lived.
But it was too soon for that and we played this dance as you pretended to look away as I changed.
Our bodies had changed. There was flesh where flesh didn’t used to be, rolls, and skin that had shrunk in some parts and expanded in others. I pretended not to notice. So did you. But as we lay there, trying to cool off before heading outside, you apologized to me for your body. As if it was something you had to apologize for. It was softer than before, yes. But it was still you. And I apologized for mine saying I’d been travelling and not watching myself and you laughed and said with such genuineness, you have nothing to apologize for. And I remembered why I’d loved you all those years ago.
Dinner was strange. It was too formal, and I didn’t know what to say to you nor you to I. We ordered two mixed drinks each at once (there was a two for one deal), and we gulfed them down.
Could you feel it too? Could you feel that something was different and that we didn’t have that same chemistry we did before? Or not that the chemistry was gone, but what do you even say to someone you haven’t talked to in a year when there are layers on layers covering what you really need to and want to talk about.
What did we ever used to talk about? What did we ever have in common? The evening went as follows:
You would say something about how the bar was loud and I would agree and then a silence would fall over us immediately after and we’d both turn back to our meals.
How is your food? I would ask. And you would reply that it was good, and then ask how mine was.
And then after a while: Should we go somewhere else? I asked, sensing both our desperation for some kind of movement to propel us out of the stillness of the conversation.
The bar was more our kind of place. (How many nights did we spend drinking in bars? How many nights did we get wasted together in bars?) We sat with two pints in a dark corner of the room and talked more candidly. It was less forced, less like a date between two people who had known each other once but no longer did.
We didn’t sleep together that night because you and I were too drunk and things wouldn’t work. I remembered vaguely kissing you on the bed, your mouth all over me, and then a defeat. But in the morning, I awoke to your arms around my body and I shifted so my head lay against your chest and suddenly things felt different. You were Ben and I was Candace and here we were together like we had been all those years ago. Your lips tasted the same, your skin was just as soft, and your hands grazed my body like it was your own. You made me come in seconds, knowing exactly the spot that got me and when you entered me it felt like home. It all happened so quick. It was passionate but quiet and soft. I realized, in that moment, nothing would ever be the same between us.
And I knew then, that somewhere along the line, I had moved on from you.
I wasn’t sad and I wasn’t happy, but I felt this strange sense of acceptance that I was no longer bound to your energy. I had severed the ties that had kept me to you even oceans apart. If you ask me how I did it I can’t really tell you. In fact, I did all the things you are told to avoid doing if you want to get over someone. I told myself this was real love and I had to keep trying and keep giving it a shot. I ignored all your bad behaviour because I believed so strongly that what we had wasn’t just love but magic. And that kind of feeling doesn’t come around all the time. I told myself you were my one. You were the one my heart would always come back to time and time again. And it did. For three years. Until one day, it just stopped. Maybe I needed to see you again for that to happen, I don’t really know.
We spent that day together that day, wandering around Camden, stumbling into a few bars and drinking afternoon pints. It felt more comfortable, we had things to talk about and the conversation flowed more smoothly (with the help of the beer). We talked about us, a little. I told you why last year was such a mess for me because I came with expectations and ideas of how things would be, and all of them were failed to be met.
So, Ben, you can’t surprise me at the airport after failing to be there every single time before. You can’t show up for me two years too late. At that point, you have exhausted the desire for surprise right out of me. You disappointed me time after time after time again and when you are disappointed that many times in a row, you start to lose any expectations for people in general.
Last week, the new guy I was dating said he couldn’t make our last soccer game because he’d agreed to help a friend move a couch. I felt disappointed (slightly), and not because he had made any promises but just because I wanted to play our last soccer game together and I knew not many people would come. When I got to the field, I was the only one there from my team with three minutes to go before the game. I sat on the grass and began to put on my shoes while listening to music. After a few moments, I looked up and there he was, walking right towards me.
I couldn’t stop myself from grinning and I exclaimed, what the hell, you came! As if he had just done the most goddamn heroic act of a lifetime.
He had known he was coming for the last three hours but had kept me thinking he wouldn’t make it just so he could turn up and surprise me.
The reason I love surprises so much is because it means that the other person wants to see the joy on your face when they reveal the surprise to you. It means they want to make you happy. They want to show up for you.
I couldn’t explain to him how much that one small gesture meant to me, but maybe I would someday.
Was I over you because of him? Or was it really just, as they say, that time had healed my wounds?
I feel so far from that girl who was in love with you now. Even last year, when I was coming to see you there was an anxiousness in my demeanour and a desperation in my feelings for you.
I was once a young girl on a plane going back home from her year abroad where she fell in love with an English boy with tattoos and blue eyes. A girl who felt what it meant to really love and be loved, only to feel the repercussions of loving that hard too quickly.
I went home broken by you, not understanding how love can be so strong and yet fragile. How something can shatter once, and never be put back together. That girl hoped that one day it would. She hoped that this love story would have a different ending, one where you and I stayed a we for a little bit longer.
On my flight back home, I thought about how much travel shaped me. I thought about how every time I leave, I come back with a little bit more of myself.
I looked out the window and saw only white clouds around me. Who knew what my next love story would be, and if it would end with this new guy or with someone who I have yet to meet. Maybe, I thought, my story wasn’t a love one, but it was just my story. And the ending to that one remains even more a mystery.