My voicemail had gone unanswered. Two emails without responses. It was a quick question: "Will you be there on Tuesday? I have a couple questions about the process. And it would be nice to see a friendly face." Friendly used as an understatement. The answer was yes or no; it wasn't an invitation or obligation. He would be there or he wouldn't. I just wanted to know. Not a big deal. I sent him a sarcastic email mid-weekend intended to make him roll his eyes at my logic. It, too, went unanswered.
There were dinner plans he missed and a late entrance and an engaged conversation in the hallway that left me no space to ask and no hello and finished with a quick exit. An oh-shit lightbulb-moment must have gone off when he walked out of the building - he replied to my mid-weekend sarcastic email as soon as he got out of the car. Friendly and funny, of course. But it was too late and the wrong email, buddy. This time I didn't reply.
I went on Tuesday. Found my way, shook some hands, sat down among the chairs. I hoped he wasn't there. I was fuming and didn't want to hide it and didn't want to let it out. Ten minutes in, he appeared in the doorway, surveying the room. Spotted. He sat down beside me and draped his arm over the back of my chair. He leaned over to whisper hello, and I felt the eyes of the entire room on us.
I put on my best behavior. Smiled when he introduced me, laughed at his jokes, drank the glass of water he put in my hand. No one knew but him. The straightness of my back, the way I wouldn't let my eyes meet his, how I left when everyone else did.
The next evening, I passed him without saying anything on the way to the bathroom. It wasn't the time or the place, and I could not figure out how rationally or irrationally angry I was. When I walked out of the bathroom, he was standing there waiting for me. "How are you doing?" he wanted to know. "Fine," I replied, trying to sound fine. He waited for my eyes to meet his. They did. "Why are you angry with me?" It was the most direct thing he had ever said to me about us. I didn't know how to respond.
"It's just been a long day."
"Good long or bad long?" He wasn't sure where I was going with that and neither was I.
He held my eyes. We had about thirty second before our break was over and we had to be back. "I am angry with you." It flew out and landed between us. I didn't know what to do with it. He picked it up gently, keeping his eyes on mine. "Do you want to tell me why you're angry?" Not then I didn't. Not in that hallway under those lights in less than thirty seconds. I shook my head no. It was anything but graceful. "I trust you'll let me know when you're ready, right?" I nodded my head yes. He waited until I broke eye contact and walked towards the door before he moved at all.
When our night finally ended, he walked over to where I stood with my friends and asked if he could walk me to my car. I said I still had to collect my things and my friends said no he could not and he said he would come with me. I nodded.
We walked in silence as I gathered up my things. Quiet, comfortable silence. The kind of silence that didn't make me feel crazy or irrational. The kind of silence we usually had when we weren't talking about big dreams or bickering like middle school boys and girls. The lights were still florescent and harsh but I felt a bit softer.
"We're friends. And I know I have high expectations, but." I started awkwardly and ended awkwardly, but somewhere in the middle I told him that I was upset he had blown me off so much in the week prior. "We're a bit odd," I told him in almost those exact words, "and it gets tough sometimes." He listened intently, agreed whole-heartedly, and apologized sincerely. Although I expected nothing less, it gave me the security the past couple of weeks had stolen.
He walked me to my car in the cold February night air. The stars so clear above and I bounced down the sidewalk with the good news I could finally tell him. When we got to my car, he pulled me towards him and wrapped me up in a hug. We stood there together just long enough, in the cold, February night air.
In the Februarys that have past since then, and since he disappeared quickly and slowly from my life, I often forget about that night. The confusion, hurt, anger, adrenaline. To buzz from something intangible. To react to something that doesn't have a name. It wasn't the unreturned phone call. It wasn't the email that went without reply. It was the yes and the no all rolled up into one. It was the hallway brush-off and the ability to make my eyes meet his. All rolled up into one. I didn't know how to unravel it, so I unraveled instead.
To know to expect more but to not get it. To never know how much you'll get. Friends or formality. Depending on, depending on. To know you couldn't feel this way alone. And yet, it appears you are.
It's him waiting for me outside the bathroom door that I remember now. The direct question, the insistence on walking me to my car, the apology, the validation. It's the cold, February night air and the bright stars that I remember now. It's the long hug on the street corner in the dark.
Those things were there, and tonight, they are what I remember.