by Ian Johnson
You touch down in seven days. I looked at your itinerary, and all of a sudden there was a digital clock with red numbers counting down in my head, the kind you see at movie theaters in the weeks before a big release. Saturday at one-fifty-two. I’ll be there. Can’t wait.
To be honest, though, I was a little surprised to hear from you. When I first saw your name in my inbox I thought your account had been hacked, and it was one of those wacky mass emails. I’m even more surprised that you chose me to be the one to pick you up at the airport. We never talked about what would happen when you returned, and we haven’t exactly been communicating while you’ve been away. That doesn’t mean I’m not still super crazy excited to see you. It’s just a little curious, that’s all.
Forget I said that. You reached out. We’re communicating again. We’re picking up right where we left off, and that’s all that matters. I know you’re excited to see me too, and not only because I’ll be the one putting you up for a spell while you find your feet again.
Ever since I got your email I can’t stop reliving the past. It’s like I’m a bottle of juice, and your email shook up everything that had settled on the bottom. But there’s not much to shake up.
We barely had a few weeks before you left, which means I’ve missed you like ten times as long as we were ever together.
Anyway, just wanted to let you know I got your email and yes yes yes please come and stay with me as long as you need to.
So I just wrote you, but as soon as I hit send I realized I had a lot more to say. It’s like hearing from you woke up a sleeping chamber of my heart, and now I’m beating full speed again, the blood returning to places that had started to crinkle and dry up. There’s a word for that, when blood can’t reach a part of the body.
Do you remember our first date? We’d been trying and waiting for weeks to carve out a block of time to be alone. Much longer than that for me. I’d been waiting even when you were still officially with him.
I wanted to touch you as we walked to my car, just because I finally could, but I didn’t. I drove us to the cemetery. When I backed out, I put my hand behind your headrest, and for several seconds my face was inches away from your face. I would’ve driven the whole way in reverse if I could’ve. On the way there you crossed your legs in my direction. There was zero small talk. Nary a mention of the weather or what we majored in or anything inane that ‘normal’ couples might talk about on first dates. I don’t even think we said hello when we first saw each other. We just looked at each other and smiled.
We parked a little ways away from the cemetery gates and had to walk. I remember traffic was busy, and I was glad it was busy because people in their cars would see us walking. You ever play that game where you see two people together and you try to guess their relationship? Siblings? A couple? Just friends? I remember wondering what people driving by would guess about us.
The cemetery was organized into sections. As we snaked along the paths I remarked how life is all about organization. From the time we’re kids we’re organized into grades and classrooms and teams and lines, then as we get older we’re organized into frats and occupations and places of recreation and bonds of marriages. We stand in line and sit in rows. That’s life. Even in death we’re lined up very neatly, everyone’s feet pointing the same way.
‘How would life be possible otherwise?’ you said. ‘Organization prevents chaos.’
‘But too much organization makes us squares.’
We paused to read some of the tombstones. I said if I were to ever write a novel I’d go to an old cemetery to get the names for my characters. I wanted you to ask me what I’d write a novel about, but you didn’t.
We kept walking, passing a clan of deer grazing on the grass. ‘I’m pretty sure I was a deer in another life,’ you said.
‘Did you enjoy your life as a deer?’ I asked.
‘Very much.’ You were convincing, as if you actually remembered living as a deer.
We walked as far into the cemetery as we could, to one of the few outdoor spots in the city where you really have to listen to hear the traffic. We were very much alone, which was weird. It’s pretty rare I get to be alone with someone away from the hustle of the city. And you and I had never been alone, in the city or anywhere else.
I had to pee so I jogged to a patch of trees and went. It was a nervous pee. I peed for so long I was afraid you’d think something was wrong, or that you’d get bored and head off somewhere. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure you were still there. You faced away from me, patiently staring at a few ducks.
It was May. I remember because my birthday’s at the end of the month, and my plan was to know you well enough by then to invite you to come celebrate with my friends. I wanted to invite you and then have you be the one who went home with me afterwards.
We were bathing in bright yellow, but it was still a little cold. We both wore sweatshirts and jackets. You stuck your hands in your pockets when we walked.
In the hopeful weeks before our date I rehearsed conversations with you in my head. I’d lie in bed and imagine you were beside me. Then silently I’d tell you things. So once we started talking for real it was almost deja vu, because everything we talked about I’d already told you in my mind. And then in the cemetery I told you (for real) how I’d imagined telling you how I’d imagined telling you I had imaginary conversations with you. You giggled and said you needed to think about this for a second.
We talked about our previous relationships. You told me how you were engaged once. You said you were the one to break it off. You said yes because it’s what he wanted you to say.
That was wrong, and you realized it was wrong, and it was better to leave him and hurt him than stay with him out of obligation.
We talked about our first kisses. I told you my first kiss was at an eighth grade dance. It was memorable only in that it was unmemorable. I led my girlfriend at the time into the middle of the throng. A couple of the chaperones had Superman vision, so while I was kissing her I kept one eye open in case one happened to descend upon us. There’s nothing more embarrassing at a dance than when a chaperone separates people making out. They put their hands between your stomachs as if prying open elevator doors. Anyway on top of chaperone surveillance, I also had to worry about my technique. This was my first kiss so I wanted to get it right. Lip pressure, tongue usage, hand placement, speed of approach. All that required the utmost focus. I focused so much on the chaperones and my technique that I didn’t have any room to enjoy the kiss. I can’t even remember it. I only remember that it happened.
You told me your first kiss was in the library with your friend Annie. It was very simple how it happened. You were freshmen in high school. You and Annie were talking about kissing, and, after sharing a few sincere giggles, giggles with subtle undertones, you guys decided it would be nice to kiss each other. So you did.
‘You guys probably weren’t thinking about chaperones or form,’ I said.
And then you kissed again, and every so often for a few months you and Annie would make out in a quiet part of the library. But then Annie kissed a guy and you eventually did, too, and so you and Annie stopped kissing each other. You’re not a lesbian, and you’ve never had sex with a woman, but still the most wonderful physical connection you’ve ever had with someone was with Annie for those few months. I asked you why you thought that was.
You said, ‘Because I could never be friends with a man the way I was friends with Annie.’
I felt a little stab when you said that, like no matter how hard I tried the best I could hope for was runnerup. Not that I was jostling for a spot on your alltime list. It’s just that sometimes you can’t help but think that way.
All our talk about kissing got me thinking about when I’d kiss you. Not yet. I’d waited months just to be alone with you. I could wait a little longer to kiss you. And speaking of waiting, I’ve got seven, okay, six and two-thirds more days until you get back. I’ve been scanning the news, looking for articles about potential transit worker strikes or active volcanos, anything that might (literally or figuratively) erupt and prevent you from returning on time. Remember that big volcano that blew up in Iceland and all the airports got shut down for days? Still, you’ll get back one way or another, and it feels good to be able to look forward to something.
Is there anything you want waiting for you at the airport? (Besides me, of course!) How about a cream cheese bagel for the car ride back?
Five days until you arrive. It’s strange and not strange to be thinking about you so much again. I cruised numbly through most of the months you were away, thinking about you but not thinking about how I was thinking of you. Time was passing, but time felt arbitrary. When I got your email everything snapped back to life, including time. I kept pushing time down the road, and now it’s all crunched up and I have to sift through it all before you get here.
You’re six hours ahead over there. When I think of you I imagine you in the future. It feels like I’m a step or two behind, like you’re always aware of something I can’t quite see yet.
I’ve picked out what I’m going to wear to the airport. Kind of a silly thing to do, I know. You’ll be jet-lagged and probably just be wanting a hug and a hot tea, but I want your first image of me to be positive. I want you to be immediately reminded of the man you left, and that starts with how I look. I’ll probably get a haircut too. Despite any and all preparations, I’ll probably still run towards you like a red-eyed college kid running towards the taco truck, but you might see me and think, Well, at least he dressed well.
So I’m definitely excited, but honestly I’m wondering too whether we’ll be able to pick up where we left off. I don’t remember being this confused and antsy about you before. It’s probably just the anticipation. It’s been months, after all.
Yesterday after I wrote you I actually drove to the cemetery to walk the route we took, just to be reminded of you. Why do you think we chose a cemetery to host our first date?
When we got back to my apartment I gave you a tour. I played real estate agent. I talked about the quirks of the hot water faucet in the shower, where and when the sunlight was best for plants, the cardboard I fit into the window when it was windy to keep it from rattling. I was talking because I was nervous. I went pee again. The stream was so loud hitting the water I was sure everyone in the building could hear it. I was sure this time my piss was so long you’d be gone by the time I washed my hands and flipped off the light. But when I returned you were still there, sitting on my living room floor and looking at my books. I sat across from you. We shifted so we were facing each other.
We started talking about kissing again. We talked quietly, as if people were listening through the walls, as if our voices might crumble a Jenga tower or a castle of playing cards. You told me you kissed with your eyes open.
I asked why.
‘Trust,’ you said without hesitation, offering no further explanation.
I asked you if you trusted someone enough to kiss him, why did you need to keep your eyes open.
It’s a trust thing, you repeated, declining to elaborate.
I put my hands on your knees, palms up, and you put your hands on my hands. We stayed like that for a while, alternating eye contact with looking somewhere over each other’s shoulders. There really is only so much emotional stimulation a human being can handle at one time. Sometimes you just have to stare blankly over the shoulder or else your head will start to melt.
Everything felt so electric. I was surprised our hair wasn’t going Einstein on us. I put my thumb on your cheek and ran it over your ear to brush the hair back. Your hair was already behind your ear, there was nothing to brush back, but brushing a finger over the ear is intimate even if someone is bald.
The moment was quietly unfolding. There was a course of action, perfectly situated between rushing and dawdling, and we were on it. Everything that was going to happen was happening. I don’t know if I believe in destiny, but if destiny ever went to trial I’d volunteer the moment as evidence.
I looked at your lips. You were looking at mine. We leaned forward and held at five or six inches distance. Both our lips parted slightly. This is how you know for sure someone wants to kiss you. This was why we looked at each other’s lips. To see the invitation that our slightly parted lips implied.
Fantasy was collapsing into reality. Weeks of anticipation dissolving into something unmistakably true. We made first contact and then stopped, my top lip kind of in between your lips. It was like someone hit pause, to allow our minds to process the rush of activity from our nerve endings. We were breathing through the nose because our oral passageways were occupied. Although it’s possible we weren’t breathing at all, that with our lips coupled we no longer had any other needs, not even oxygen. Your eyes were open, probably. I think mine were closed. Finally our lips moved a little and found new positioning. Another pause, but shorter, and then our lips parted fully to let our tongues meet. I brought my hand to the side of your neck. The curve between my forefinger and thumb was right beneath your ear. Then we pulled back to that five or six inch distance, stared at each other for a second, and then kissed again.
You were naked from the waist up when I got up to use the bathroom one more time. I have no idea how my bladder kept refilling. Each pee seemed longer than the last.
I can still see you in the moment when I exited the bathroom. You were sitting on your heels. Your jeans were dark, especially in contrast to the creamy white of your lower back. Your hands were fists and tucked under your chin. You were either cold or self-conscious or both. You were looking back and up at me, so very vulnerable.
We lay on my bed and touched each other, pausing when we needed to. The pace was still perfect, but I was nonetheless overwhelmed; I was limp. It was not a cruel limpness. It was only a delayed nonlimpness. Beyond a brief spike of panic, I was not concerned at all. I rolled on top of you and rubbed it against you while we breathed into each other’s faces. My right hand controlled the rubbing, which meant all my weight was on my left elbow. Very quickly my left shoulder began to burn. I wasn’t exactly in sex shape. The burn spread down my left flank, as if overweight caterpillars were mountaineering up my ribs, but I didn’t want to move because I was just starting to balloon. I didn’t want to plop down on you like a pancake either. So I just let it burn and kept on.
When I was halfway there, I kind of wiggled it in, hoping it would fortify the rest of the way once inside. It did, quickly and wonderfully, but all that rubbing had taken me from one extreme to the other. I didn’t dare move. A few thrusts and it would’ve been over. Instead I let you trace your fingertips along my neck and back until the tingle subsided. Then we found a rhythm.
Your eventual orgasm was at once satisfying and disappointing. Satisfying because you came with me inside you. Your face flushed a full red, your back arched, you squirmed and gasped and quivered. You released. Disappointing because in the moment it happened I was no longer there. You stopped looking at me. You tilted your whole head to the side and your eyes went distant. And then your eyes closed. You couldn’t close your eyes to kiss, but you could close them to come. The incongruity disturbed me. Then it was over, the blood drained slowly from your cheeks, and you looked at me again.
Hello again, you. I want to keep writing you about it, our dates, our weeks together, even though you were half the story and already know everything. If we can relive it here, if we can resurrect all those feelings that hibernated when you went away, the whole six month absence will dissolve the second you get back, as brief as a hiccup. I never had enough time with you, and now all I want to do is kill it until I get you back. One of life’s infinite ironies and paradoxes.
The second time we hung out you were more nervous than I was. We didn’t go the cemetery or anywhere else. You just came over with your book, sat at my kitchen table with a glass of water, and started reading. I wanted to read too but couldn’t concentrate on the words. You and me together was already kind of make-believe, in a way. So I asked to draw you, as if to document the moment. You closed your book and said sure, although I’m not sure you really wanted to be drawn.
‘It’s okay,’ I said quickly. ‘We can just read. Really,’ I added.
‘No, go ahead,’ you said. ‘It just makes me self-conscious, is all.’
You turned the chair so your back was against the wall. I got my colored pencils and a sketch pad from the bookshelf. I told you to find a comfortable position. I made a few experimental strokes, then got going. In a few moments my pencils were making seismograph noises on the paper. The refrigerator hummed.
Your face kept flushing.
I felt rushed, torn between wanting to do a good job and not wanting to keep you in a selfconscious state for too long. I don’t think I drew you very well that first time. Your upper body looked like a bodybuilder’s and I gave your legs weird proportions. But somehow I managed to capture your expression. The hint of sadness, the shades of curiosity, the insecurities in search of inspiration. I got all that. I still have that drawing. I keep it in a folder with my bills. Every time I pay them I pause for ten seconds and admire you. Sometimes I’ll pull out the sketch and admire you some more. I’m proud of the way I captured your expression. It’s proof I really saw you.
You came over again a couple nights later. I wanted you to come over every day but you were busy packing for your trip and you said you had some issues to take care of with your, ahem, roommate.
The next time I drew you I drew you nude.
You sat in my kitchen chair again, legs to the side, reading your book.
I wanted you to look at me, but reading was the only way you could manage the self-consciousness, you said.
I was Leonardo in Titanic, drawing you like that.
Every few minutes you blushed.
You were still super self-conscious even with your book, so to make you feel better I got naked while I drew you. You could look at me and guess what part of you I was drawing.
The fourth time we hung out we did yoga together. I’d never done yoga but it seemed to be a part of your life so I was willing to try it. I wanted to impress you. We were doing some side pose when your hip popped. You remember that? You said you didn’t normally do that pose but you wanted to impress me too! I know it sucks to get hurt, but sometimes I can’t help being thankful that your hip popped. Whenever you have a long day over there, walking and sightseeing and doing whatever you’re doing, I kind of hope your hip flares up, just a little, so that you think of a time when we were together.
Do you remember all this as well as I do? I doubt it. Traveling is a new experience, and new experiences need room in your memory. I understand if I get kicked out a little.
Time is eating me alive right now. If I’m not at the airport when you get there, blame time. Tell the police I’ve been strangled by time, asphyxiated by anticipation. Tell ‘em I just couldn’t stand the wait. It’s surprising and not surprising how much I’m looking forward to seeing you. We weren’t even anything official before you left. But that’s probably why I’m so anxious. Everything was left unresolved, unfinished. Although when I consider further I can’t think of anything we still had to resolve. We were always so perfectly there with each other, don’t you think?
I can’t help wondering if I’d be this crazy hyper about your arrival if you hadn’t asked to stay with me when you got back, if you hadn’t emailed me out of the blue. I can’t help thinking that if you hadn’t emailed me, I might not have even remembered you were coming back. It’s as if your email gives me permission to feel all these things about you I wouldn’t have otherwise felt. Did I even miss you all that much while you were away? What am I saying? Of course I did.
Thanks for sending me the picture. It was crazy to see you, even if just on a screen. Admittedly it was kind of dissonant. You looked like you, but you didn’t look like you. Travelling changes people, I guess. I worry you’ll come back someone different, that your expression will be different than the one I captured in my drawing. That’d be okay, that’s what travelling is for, right? To help you grow and stuff. But what if you’ve grown so much you’ve outgrown me? What if we were only right for each other in that brief interval before you left?
I’ve been looking at flights and hostels and sample itineraries. If you come back and you’re way different, if we’re no longer there with each other, I might have to go travel for six months, do some growing myself, so that when I get back we can relate again.
Kidding, but still, what does it say that I’m starting to think that way? I wish you’d emailed me just one day before your arrival. I could handle a day of waiting. Not sure I’ll survive the week.
One Earth twist until you get here. That’s crazy, that what I’m doing is basically waiting for the Earth to rotate.
In high school I always wanted to break seven minutes in the mile but never could. I thought about that this evening as I walked past the fitness center in my building. I thought I might never have this kind of energy ever again, given how crazy giddy I am about you returning. So I changed and got on the treadmill and set the pace for six-thirty. Did it with ease. Take that, high school gym teacher whose name I can’t remember! Crazy thing is I’m still just as energetic as I was before.
Less than an intercontinental flight’s worth of time until I see you, give or take, depending on wind speed, turbulence, the arc of your flight, the directions from the control tower, pilot error, runway and gate availability, crowdedness of cabin, speed of passport processing, rate of moving walkways, et cetera et cetera. It really is a miracle anyone gets anywhere.
You’re in the air. That delay was brutal. You guys must’ve sat on the tarmac for two hours. If the flight tracker website crashes, you can blame me. I’m hitting refresh every half-second.
I assume your phone is on airplane mode, which means you won’t read this until you land. I can picture you in your seat as the plane taxies to a waiting jetway. You turn your phone on and read these words, knowing that I’m waiting for you.
See you very soon!
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t show up at the airport. I’d be confused as fuck about it myself, if I were you. I did, after all, spend all week preparing. Truth is, I did show up. I was there. I was there two hours early. I sat by the baggage carousels, following your flight on the tracker.
I’ve always enjoyed airports, the throngs of people coming and going, the organized chaos, the crossing of frontiers. I’ve always enjoyed traveling myself, even though I haven’t done much. I more like the idea of traveling than I do the real thing, I guess.
When I couldn’t sit still anymore I got up and started walking. I imagined the moment I’d see you, the moment when you’d be real. I imagined us leaning in for a kiss. Your eyes are closed. You smell a little bit like stale plane air. You taste like mint mixed with metallic peanuts. Your eyes are a little red and wet, maybe because of the long day but maybe because you’re so happy to see me too. I imagined it and it all felt so real. It made me stop walking, that’s how real it was. Standing there on the concourse, right next to a Sbarro, I started to trip, thinking about you being real and not real. If reality and imagination are both processed in the mind, how do we tell the difference? Is there a difference? Who can tell? How do you tell? I got a little nauseous. I almost got hit by one of those electric people-moving carts. My vision burned at the edges.
At this moment, right as I was really starting to wile out, still standing by the Sbarro, I wondered why I was throwing so much energy your way. You were an hour out, maybe even less, maybe even starting your descent.
I started thinking about the emails I’d sent you. I pulled out my phone and reread them. I walked slowly up the concourse, head down in my phone, peeking up every ten seconds to make sure I didn’t bump into anyone, and I reread all I’d thought it was necessary to tell you.
I left a lot out. I didn’t mention, for instance, in my summary of our time together, how you were still living with your ex when we started dating. Your roommate. Him. I skipped over the little lies I was constantly catching you in. They were never big enough to confront you over, but little lies over time can become a big deal. The bigger a deal they became, the more I forced myself to forget about them. By the time you emailed me last week, I had forgotten about them. So you see it’s not like I purposefully didn’t mention all this stuff. It was more like I didn’t even remember it myself. But then all of a sudden in the airport it all came flooding back.
Do you remember on our first date when he suddenly showed up? He’d driven through the whole cemetery, all the way to the back, just to find us. I didn’t even know cars could fit on those small paths. It’s bizarre now to acknowledge that this happened. You’d said he didn’t even know we were going to be hanging out, much less be in the cemetery. But there he was, hanging out of his window as if ordering at a drive-thru, shaming us, calling me an asshole and you a slut. I thought we were going to fight, me and him. I should’ve just let you go home with him then. More bizarre is to think of how later that day he showed up on my street. At the end of that first date, after I walked you to your car, I decided to walk around and get some air. I strolled up the sidewalk, probably whistling I was so happy. I mean, we’d just made love. You and me. I’d been inside you. I’d forgotten or managed to ignore how he’d crashed the cemetery on us.
Lovemaking will do that. Anyway, at the first intersection from my building, I saw him. He was in his car, looking absolutely frantic. His energy was contagious, even from twenty feet away, and I was quickly frantic too. I could only think he was out looking for you, but how did he even know what street I lived on? The one thing I’d asked you to do was not tell him where I lived, yet there he was, stopping and starting, scanning the parallel parked cars, looking for yours. It was enough to make me hide behind a car until I saw his taillights disappear. Thankfully he didn’t see me. Thankfully you’d already left. What would he have done if you’d still been there?
I hate that you dated him. You gave me your reasons, but it still annoys me. That’s something else I managed to forget about our time together, how often you talked about him. The few times I ever saw him I’d look at him and think, “Wow, I’ve shared a woman with that guy. My penis has been in the same pussy as his penis.” Did your face flush as red with him as it did with me? Did you trust him enough to close your eyes when he kissed you? I should’ve called you up and ended it right there, the second I saw him invading my street. I did call you. I asked how he knew my street. You told me it must’ve slipped out, where I lived. You said you wanted to get together again and that he wouldn’t come chasing me anymore, you would make sure of it. So we met up again, and I sketched you and the intimacy was revived.
You swore things were over with him. You said it didn’t matter if you were still living with him. Once you moved out you’d never see him again. I believed you. So I forgot about him.
I know why you wanted to be with me. I understand now why you were willing to throw yourself at me for a few weeks before you left the country for six months. You wanted a place to come back to. In six months you’d fly back here and have nowhere to go. That’s how smart you were. You knew months in advance that you’d need somewhere to stay, and you recruited me because I was willing to love you. You could email me a week before your return, hint that you were looking for somewhere to stay, and you knew I’d offer you my place.
But I couldn’t let that happen, not once I’d realized all this, which is why, once your flight landed, I hid. I found a column in the baggage area and surreptitiously watched you descend the escalator, scanning the waiting crowd. I watched you take out your phone and tap out a message. My pocket vibrated a second later. Hey! where r u? Or some bullshit like that. I’m right behind you, I thought, but I didn’t text back.
I understand it’s possible I’m all wrong about this, that you weren’t using me. On the one hand, if what we had wasn’t real, if we didn’t truly connect, then I know nothing. But on the other hand I understand now how well you manipulate people, and it’s very feasible that I was just another crumb you used, a crumb you would casually sweep away when the time came. But can the black and white overlap? Could you have intended to use me but felt a true connection nonetheless? There was only one way to find out. And we did find out. You already know what you did next. I didn’t see any of it because I was afraid you’d spot me. I walked up to the departures hall to wait. While I waited I stared at the big board. Every time a flight landed LANDED would pop up in green where the red ETA had been. Your flight was no longer on the arrivals side. I checked out the imminent departures, thinking about what you must’ve felt when you stood in the very same spot six months earlier. I doubt you were thinking of me then.
My phone buzzed several more times. I’ve got my bags. Can’t wait to see you! I read all your texts but didn’t respond. Then you called and left a voicemail. I almost cried when I heard your voice. I wanted to run right to you and hug you and kiss you and tell you welcome back. I didn’t. Every thirty minutes or so I dared venture back to the baggage area to see if you were still there. I took you in at distance, your faint figure sitting crosslegged in the leather and steel waiting chairs. My heart would race, and I couldn’t help smiling a little.
Then your texts and calls stopped. It was time to leave. I stopped for a coffee and a pack of mints on the way out.
I drove to his house and parked a block away, under some trees. It was evening now, and I welcomed the dark. I sucked the mints one by one, never biting into them. I can be patient. If I can wait a week for you, I can wait sixty seconds for a mint to dissolve unbitten. I stared at his house and thought about how you’d once lived there. With him. It was where you told him you loved him, where you cooked him dinner, where you made him feel like you made me feel. The house you left to come visit me.
A little while later his car pulled into the driveway. He got out of the driver’s seat and went to the trunk to help you with your bags. He was being so courteous, doing everything he could to remind you of how subservient to your every need he’d be if only you would take him back. It made me sick. I didn’t want to think it was how I would’ve been behaving.
I watched you guys walk in together. I considered honking. I considered pulling up behind you, rolling down the window and calling him an asshole and you a slut.
He was trying to carry all your bags up the front porch steps at the same time. He doesn’t realize how pathetic he looks when he tries to compensate like that. He should’ve let you carry one of your own bags. You need someone better than that, someone who challenges you, someone who will call you out on your bullshit, as I’m doing now.
But you blew your chance with me the second you called him to come pick you up. I wish you wouldn’t have. I had a plan. I wanted to see what you would do. What you’d do when I didn’t show. What you did is call him. If you were really done with him, if you’d really sworn him off like you’d sworn to me you did, you wouldn’t have called him. You should’ve gone to a hotel. There’s a nice Marriott right down the road from the airport. Or even to another friend. Once I was certain you weren’t going to call him, I would’ve returned your texts and messages. You could’ve come home with me then. I would’ve told you that I was so excited about your return that I mixed up the date of your arrival. I would’ve said I thought you meant a.m. instead of p.m. That was why I wasn’t at the airport, I would’ve told you. You might not have believed me. No, you definitely wouldn’t have believed me because you had ten pages of emails proving I knew exactly when you were coming, but you would’ve played along anyway. You would’ve said I was silly for mixing up the flight info. You would’ve laughed it off and given me a playful kiss. You would’ve pretended to believe me, or called me out on my own bullshit, if you’d had nowhere else to go. But instead you went back to him, back to your old life, and it’s like you never went away.
Ian Johnson teaches basketball in Pittsburgh, PA. His work has been featured in Across The Margin, Rind Literary Magazine, and The Penman Review.