This is a story in three parts. This is the first part, though not the begininng…
I know I have a choice. I can sit in this parking lot, inhaling the strange amalgamation of curry and maple syrup courtesy of the Ethiopian restaurant in front of me and the smell the air in the south holds right before it rains. I can stay in this rental car, running my hands through my hair root to tip, unconsciously ruining the curls my hometown hair stylist spent so long fashioning, and not go in. I can call my QQ back and tell her I am too chicken shit to take the advice I’ve been giving all my loved ones for so long; mourn, deal and be done. Or, I can take a deep breath and pretend that I don’t feel like I am gonna vomit all over my open toe flats, and just walk in the door.
I’m out of the car like a shot, hustling to the door before I can convince myself to go meet my best friend at a gay club downtown like I’d planned to do before this little detour. I weave my way through the throngs of brown sugar skinned men who have spilled out of the Ethiopian spot, smoking sweet cloves and talking in low voices. One of them catches my arm as I walk by, and I am so completely lost in my own neurosis that I jump straight out of my skin and back in again.
“I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean to scare you, but you were about to hurt yourself,” he tells me gesturing down at a pothole three feet wide and just as many deep that I’d been completely oblivious to. Jesus. I was this close to busting my face open on the concrete. That would have a great first impression after all this time.
I murmur a thank you and start back towards the door before he stops me again with a shout from behind.
“Hey!” I turn. “It won’t be so bad. You look beautiful!”
I smile what is probably the most grateful smile I have ever smiled in my whole damn life, sending up a little bit of thanks to God for kind words spoken by strangers.
Walking up the stairs to the front door, I am immediately taken aback by how much this bar is like him, would be a place he would like to hang out. I smile a little bit, my nervousness only slightly abated by familiarity with some part of him he must still be after all these years.
I open the door with more strength than I really feel, and I see The Great Houdini before I even realize I was looking. He’s perched atop a stool in the middle of the bar, a glass and a beer in front of him, smiling at me like the first time I ever knocked on his front door.
“Hi,” he says, hanging back a bit, waiting to read my mood, as usual. I want to say something witty or mean or funny to break the weight of this reunion. And I’ve got nothing.
He hugs me, his hands firm and familiar with the curves of the back he used to travel with his fingertips for hours. And though we’ve changed, the years making us almost strangers, there is a connection there, unsevered, that has bridged us from We Back Then to Us Right Now.
We sit and talk, cautiously at first, but before we find the natural rhythm of volley we used to enjoy, the proverbial boat easing from a hard rock, to a tranquil float.
At one point, hours and many drinks later, not drunk but definitely less tense, I throw my head back and laugh, full and genuine, a laugh I haven’t heard escape my lips in years, having long since sought to quench any remnant of me as I was back then. With him.
I want to be healed.
For good, this time.