The phone rings while I’m somewhere between sleeping and waking; I’m not asleep enough to sleep through the ring, but I am asleep enough to be confused by it.
I reach for it blindly in the dark, mumbling a hello into my pillow.
“You know what I was thinking?”
His voice is so clear and so crisp he could be in my bedroom and not in another city. I recognize it immediately, but I’m still a bit thrown by it not being who I expected it to be.
“When we first met, we’d stay up for hours talking. Til the sun came up. But not even when we first met. We were always that way. Why don’t we do that anymore?”
“Because up until a couple months ago we weren’t speaking?”
“Besides,” I say, finally flipping myself over so I’m not face down in my pillow, “that was back when we thought there would be an us.”
“I fucked that up, didn’t I?”
“I do miss it though. The way it was in the beginning.”
And isn’t this the way it always goes? The beginning is all laughs and long talks, unfolding the layers of each other gently. Deep, suffocating gulps of one another, each conversation new and exciting and intoxicating, sunrise be damned. The beginning is when you talk constantly. When you flirt shamelessly. When you listen.
And then comes everything else.
“You could have that again. Just gotta find someone new. Start a new beginning.”
“Is that what you’ve been doing?”
“I’m not answering that.”
This too is par for the course; slick questions smothered in slow, simmering jealousy that’s bubbling over the edge, knowing good and well he’s the one who left the pot unattended.
“How was last week?”
“It was-” and for a split second I think about lying. I think about slipping into the comfort of my armor and being the girl I was in the beginning. All joking and aloof, a thing he couldn’t put his hands on, but he couldn’t help but try. But, I’m tired. I just don’t have it in me.
“It was awful,” I admit on a hard exhale, listening to it cool the temperature of our conversation.
“Tell me about it.”
“Nawl, Im good.”
“No, you’re not. Tell me about it. Open open open.”
I can’t help but laugh at this too one of our long standing jokes; him standing outside my emotions asking me to open up like the lady in the holiday Marshall’s commercial.
I tell him. I tell him everything. Everything that has happened, everything I’ve done, every good and stupid thing, every heartbreak, sizable or small. I tell him. And, as usual, he listens in his patient, attentive way. He makes me laugh when he should. He shuts up when he should. He knows what to say.
I kinda hate him.
“Was that so bad?” He asks once I’ve stopped rambling neurotically.
“So?!” We laugh, the tension easing a bit.
“I miss that laugh.”
“My laugh is obnoxious.”
“Well, yeah. But it’s genuine.”
“I miss talking to you all night.”
“I miss you.”
He tells me this, partly because it’s true, and partly because he knows how “I miss you” undoes me. And that’s what he’s aiming for. What he’s always been aiming for if we’re honest; me being undone.
And isn’t this too part of the oft repeated cycle? I have a knack for finding men incapable of missing me until I’m gone, and only comfortable with saying so once I’ve detached in an effort to get me to check back in. I’ve done this so many times that I know how it goes.
“You only miss me because I’m gone.”
“Isn’t that generally how missing works?”
“Not if you’re smarter with someone than you were with me.”
The irony here of course is that now that I can clearly see this thing I do, this cycle I repeat, this person I choose, I cannot FOR THE LIFE OF ME figure out how to stop doing it.
“Let’s stay up.”
“I’ve gotta work in the morning. And you do too.”
“Stay up with me. Talk to me. I can’t talk to anyone else the way I can with you.”
“If it was that valuable, why’d you ruin it?”
“Because I’m stupid.”
“Well, on that we can agree.”
“Meh. I’ve been called worse by better.”
“Quit being so stubborn.”
I knew we’d get here, just as sure as I know the sky is blue and whiskey is awesome. I knew it when we randomly ran into each other after months of not speaking. I knew it when he smiled at me and kissed the top of my head goodbye. I knew it when the texts became more frequent, more probing, more insistent. I knew it when I dug in my heels and refused to let him in, that he’d just as stubbornly refuse to retreat.
And here we are.
“Let’s stay up all night.”
“You had months when you coulda been, shoulda been up talking to me. And you fucked it up.”
“I know. Let me make it up to you.”
“No. You shouldn’t have fucked it up to begin with.”
“You can’t write people off the first time they fuck up, La.”
“Oh, yes I can,” I say indignantly. But underneath it, I flinch. It’s a criticism I’ve gotten acquainted with, but haven’t really done anything about.
“Let me at least tell you about Pops’ surgery.”
“Wow, that’s emotionally manipulative as hell.”
“I’m a desperate man.”
“How is he?”
I can hear him nestle deeper into the covers of his bed in his city, and he dives into a rundown of his father, a big teddy bear of a man, being, well, a man. Somewhere around him flirting with the nurse while high on pain meds I laugh, and after that I’m as good as gone.
We don’t notice the hours pass, but somewhere around 4:30 we both notice the time.
“Jesus, it’s late.”
“I gotta at least catch a nap.”
“We did it.”
“Stayed up all night.”
“We’ll both regret it in the morning.”
“I doubt that.”
We lapse into silence for the first time in hours, sleepiness and guardedness overtaking us.
“Thank you,” he says to me gently, and I know why he’s really thanking me but I’m too nice to say.
“I also miss falling asleep next to you.”
“Of course you do. You’re a man and I was usually half naked.”
“I ain’t gone lie, that helped,” he laughs. “But mostly I miss you throwing your leg up on me. Falling asleep midsentence. Pulling you back in when you got too far away.”
Kinda like he’s trying to do with this conversation.
“I’m gonna go to sleep.”
“Ok. I’ll call you in the morning and make sure up.”
“That’s not necessary.”
“I wasn’t asking. I was telling.” And once again he’s all swagger and self assuredness and I hate that it’s attractive on him.
I put my dying phone on the charger and roll over to the other side of the bed with a sigh.
My life is full of men who want to fix things they didn’t ever have to break.