I expected you to be hairier and flabbier, for your stubble to have turned completely grey, or your face to show the time without me. For your jeans to have a hole anywhere but in the familiar place above the left knee, but you looked the same.
Through your clothes, though, I felt how your body had changed, and it steeped our public hug in something magnetic and delinquent. “Finally got that bike fixed. Been playing more tennis, too,” you said. I tried to imagine you serving, volleying or calling out the score—twenty–love—as you walked back from the bar with two beers. You shrugged as you put them down. A kind of question.
After rolling off me, you apologized for coming fast but blamed me for getting you just so worked up. I squeezed my legs together and thought: how did that still feel really good? And you said, “You know it’s been better than that,” stretching your arms over your head and letting your long feet hand off the end of my mattress.
I decided then to let it be a simple, guilty, tangled thing all at once. A one time thing that would finally kill off the feeling that followed me around like a puppy, licking at my heels, pushing me back to you after every break-up.
Then, right then, your new girlfriend called, and we both looked at the phone for what felt like a full minute clicking around before I handed it to you.
You were surprised that I still kept a strip of our photos buried in my underwear drawer. “It’s been two years,” you said. That night when we’d stepped into the booth, the flash went off too soon, and so the first photo was of our waists and thighs. In the bottom one, I peeked out from behind your shoulder. In the middle, we kissed, missing each other’s mouths, then finding them. I studied these photos, searching our faces to see if we were younger versions of the same people or had grown into different people all together.
Years ago, when I was afraid of losing you, I watched a man on the subway pull an old piece of newspaper out of his wallet and thumbed it as I hid my stare behind a book. The date showed that it was almost as old as me, something he’d kept for twenty years. He crumpled the paper suddenly and dropped it onto the seat. At the last minute, as he exited the train, the man grabbed the paper back and took it with him. I never told you about this, but thought about it for days. I worried you wouldn’t understand how sad and scary it must be to hold something so close, to let something hold you.
You said, coming up behind me, “I’ve settled too far into the bad side of thirty since the last time I saw you. I’ve got to stop getting older or you’ll never catch up.” You had always been discouraging about the years between us, separating us with books and music and sometimes even the way our bodies reacted differently to the horrible, euphoric things we put them through. You took my arms and wrapped them around your body. There were two soft patches of hair, like folded wings on either side of your spine. These were new. Maybe we were transforming, and there could be a kind of innocence in that.
I said, “You look alright,” when I meant I still want you, and when I wanted to say that your body always felt right, but the situation felt wrong. You pulled away from me and sat on the bed to put on your clothes and tie your shoes. I let yesterday’s dress fall over my head, examining the buttons to avoid you.
“I want to see you again,” you said. “I’ve missed your face.” On this dress, there’s was inside button acting as an anchor to every outside button. It did the job of thread where thread would be enough. This was probably what reminded me to call you again.
Melissa Swantkowski received an MFA from NYU and is contributor to the humor weblog/journal-site The Murky Fringe.