Even after I’d already paid my fare and gotten on the train, I think to myself Am I really doing this? But the stops keep passing, and I keep not getting off. For a moment, It all feels so familiar that I forget myself. Like I’m not just going to his place, I’m going back there. He’s expecting me. A bottle of rosé is in the fridge, something is sizzling on the stove, and some story about an asshole from his firm is sitting on the tip of his tongue waiting just for me. This subway car is nothing but a time machine, hurling me back to him.
The thought actually makes me a little dizzy. Well, I suppose that could be the liquor talking (it wasn’t like I was planning on doing this a few short hours ago when I was sober). But when I walked out of that bar I could have sworn he was standing across the street and before I could even process it my heart had taken a flying leap right over the avenue.
Turns out that more than one man in New York City can own a blue hoodie and a pair of dark jeans. So my heart skittered back between the tires of taxis and squeezed back into my chest, leaving me with an empty, haunted feeling. I told everyone I was headed home for the night and snuck to the opposite side of the tracks.
When the train comes to the end of the line, emerging from underground feels like stepping into a dream. The smell of french fries from the Wendy’s on the corner wafts through the thick summer air and smacks me in the face. Something in my stupid brain is telling me to stop in the little bodega for snacks- a diet Dr. Pepper for him, a can of some sickly, syrupy soda for me, and maybe a bag of sour gummy worms for us to share.
But I remind myself that I’m a woman on a mission. I wasn’t here to relive the past, no matter how tempting it was making itself. I don’t even let myself look into the hand-pulled noodle place or through the dark windows of the kitschy coffee shop we used to frequent. Instead, I march up the steps of his building and-
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Buzzzzzzzz.
No turning back now. He would know it was me. I close my eyes tight and say a quiet pray-
He actually buzzed me in. Shit shit shit.
My feet carry me quickly up the steep sets of stairs as I realize that not once in the thirty minute train ride had I gotten this far. What was I going to say to him? How could I explain this? I didn’t have an excuse, not a real one. Hey! I thought I saw you but I didn’t so I ditched my friends, hopped on a train, and came over to ruin your Saturday!
But I reach the top and there he is. Leaning against the frame of the door with his classic one-sided grin on full display.
“What in god’s name are you doing here?” He asks, eyes glittering. I’m too busy taking him in to answer. His hair is mussed, a little shorter than when I saw him last, and he’s wearing a wrinkled white t-shirt that I want to steal and fall asleep in at night. “You know, I can smell the tequila from here.”
“There’s a bar in the village with some… very reasonably priced Margaritas.” I manage. It’s hardly an answer.
“Sounds lethal.” The grin has faded but the shimmer in his eyes hasn’t. Was it pity or fondness? Confusion or excitement? I couldn’t decide. “What are you doing here?”
“I just… I started wondering about you and then I couldn’t stop.” Our eyes lock. Wondering was a loaded word and we both knew it. Wondering what went wrong. Why we weren’t together anymore. What had gone wrong to ruin a year and a half of the blissful, stupid fun we had had together. He looks away first, breaking the spell with a laugh.
“You have a sixth sense, I swear.” He says, shaking his head.
“Wait, what?” I blurt, before thinking better of it. Leave it to him to rattle me after I’ve come all the way here to disrupt his night.
He pushes the door open and beckons me inside. I cross the threshold gently, like one wrong step could cause the whole fantasy to dissolve. But apparently I hadn’t been careful enough, because when I turn the corner all I see are sharpie covered cardboard boxes.
“You’re moving.” My heart sinks. I don’t know what I was expecting out of tonight, but this certainly wasn’t it.
“Chicago.” I don’t say anything, but the disgust must be written all over my face, because he laughs and adds: “It’s actually a promotion, believe it or not. I start on Monday.”
He picks up a beer bottle from the kitchen counter by its neck and takes a sip, shrugging at me like what can you do? I wander deeper into the apartment and he hangs back. This place is packed to the brim with memories. Meals we made, albums we listened to, serious conversations that we started and made excuses not to finish. My eyes drift over to the nubby couch we once spent a snowy day lounging on, watching Star Wars and eating freezer pizza. It doesn’t have any kind of moving stickers on it.
“You’re getting rid of the couch?” He nearly chokes on his drink, chuckling.
“What, do you want it?”
“No.” I say, miserably. I plop down on what used to be my side of it, but it just doesn’t feel right. I sit for a little while anyway, waiting for him to say something, but the moment slips away as it becomes very clear that neither of us are going to make any kind of sweeping declarations.
So this was it. I would never see him on the street, or in a bar, or on a subway track. He would never catch me sitting in the park with the sun in my hair and wonder, just for a moment, if he had made the right choice. A drawn out chapter could finally come to a close. I couldn’t decide how to feel about it. Bitter? Angry? Devastated?
“Remember when we tried to throw a party here?” He says sheepishly. And just like that, whatever I was feeling melts into a fit of laughter.
“That was so doomed.” I bury my face in my hands, trying to hide the heat rising in my cheeks.
“How did we think we were going to fit 50 people in here?” I throw my head back laughing and his shoulders shake from across the room. His studio was as small as it gets. There wasn’t room for an intimate gathering, never mind an entire party. But he had been throwing it just for me- I’d told him offhandedly that I’d always regretted not attending a proper rager in college and he told me we’d just have to have our own. The thought is so perfect, so pure, that I stand back up. This is how I wanted to leave: with a smile.
“I’ll get out of your hair. Let you mourn the death of your first New York apartment by yourself.” I hesitate for a second, wishing he would say one last thing worth holding on to. That me being here to say goodbye to this place felt right, or that he was glad he got to see me one last time before he went, or that he had missed me.
“Come on, I’ll find you a cab.”
And there it was. Another opportunity wasted. For the first time tonight, I remember why I hadn’t come here earlier to try and fix things. It didn’t matter how vulnerable, how open I was with him. I could expose myself completely, rip my heart out and hand it to him and he still wouldn’t be able to reciprocate. He couldn’t admit that he missed me the same way he had never been able to say I love you, too.
“That’s okay. I’ll take the train.” I say with a tight smile. He walks me to the door and hovers next to me for a second. I can tell he wants to reach out but doesn’t know how. I think about punishing him for it, but how could I when that was just his nature? So I close the gap between us myself, leaning in and wrapping my arms neatly around his back. He softens and pulls me in. I take a deep breath, trying to take in as much of the moment as I could.
“We were something,” I whisper, my cheek pressed against his shirt. “Don’t you think so?”
“Yeah. I guess we were.” He mumbles. I’m sure that he’s going to pull away, but instead he kisses the top of my head, ever so gently and for just a beat too long. It feels like an apology for all the things he never could say to me. A confirmation of everything we used to have. A goodbye. I exhale and we both pull away, the need to say anything else put to rest. The door clicks behind me.
As I walked down those stairs and on to the street for the last time, silently saying my goodbyes, a weight I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying lifts itself from off my shoulders. Maybe I hadn’t come here for him. Maybe I had come here for me. Maybe all of this was so I could realize once and for all that I was never going to be the girl he had to hail a cab for.
I was never going to be the girl who followed him out to Chicago.
And I was never going to be the girl who could have been satisfied with an unspoken I love you.
I guess you never know, never know
And if you wanted me you really should’ve showed
And if you never bleed, you’re never gonna grow
And It’s alright now.