I am tired- weary, really- worn down by scaling mountains of work and managing my bad decisions. So when he calls me and says he’s in town and coming over and cooking, I know he only does so because he knows I don’t have the energy to debate the fact that he’s telling me instead of asking me.
He shows up at my door a short time later, short enough to let me know he’s been hanging around my neighborhood awhile. He breezes in loaded down with grocery bags and smelling like the cologne I once bought him just because back when we were trying to be We. He smiles at me, that bright, disarming smile I love and he says my name like a song he feared he’d forgotten the melody to.
I smile, taken by the ways I can at once feel drawn to him and yet completely disconnected. I don’t say a word.
Because I am exhausted, he sits me on my couch with a glass of wine and he invades my kitchen, clattering and clanging my stainless steel and cast iron in an effort to make me the buttery chicken dish I love with the creamy risotto. We talk as easily as we ever did, filling each other in on what’s been happening since the last time we saw each other; the work dramas and triumphs, the trips and the concerts, the dates- both significant and insignificant- we’ve both been on since we imploded. We settle in to have dinner on my living room floor because I can’t seem to commit to a coffee table, a thing I mention offhandedly. He pointedly tells me I can’t seem to commit to anything and I keep myself from telling him I’d since been ready to commit, just not to him. Cause I’m a grownup, or whatever.
We eat, refilling wine glasses and wiping food from each other’s faces and it’s easy and fun as it always was. But I’m cautious. And he knows me, so he knows it.
“Why aren’t we together, La?”
I swallow a spoonful of risotto before I answer, “Because you’re an asshole.” And he laughs, but I mean it.
“I know I fucked it up for us.”
“Yes. Yes you did.”
“But you gotta admit us running into each other this way after all this time gotta be serendipitous.”
“If you can spell serendipitous, I will agree.”
“Who’s the asshole now?”
We laugh and change the subject, but he’s not going to let me off that easy. He never does.
Long after we’ve finished first and seconds and have resorted to scraping the remnants of our meal straight out of the pots and pans, he fixes his eyes on me.
“I’m not so bad at taking care of you.”
“I don’t need that.”
“You haven’t been sleeping.” He’s got me there. If I had my druthers, I’d lie and say it’s work or something equally as vague and noncommittal but the dark rings hanging like rain clouds underneath my eyes give me away.
“I never asked you to take care of me.”
“I know. I offered.”
“But not for the right reasons.”
We’ve had this conversation a thousand times before. And though I am quite adept with words, I can never seem to get him to understand that his intentions behind wanting to take care of me are far more important than actually doing it.
He talks some more and I’m listening, really I am, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve already made up my mind, and he more than anyone should know the difficulty of changing my mind once I’ve thought something through and made moves.
“You need someone in your corner.”
“I have people in my corner.”
“Do you really? Who takes care of you the way you do them? Who is strong for you? Who drops everything for you when you need them? Who looks for you when you’re lost?”
“But isn’t that partially my fault?”
This too is a truth I am forcing myself to be more forthcoming about; that I am prideful. That I am bullheaded. That I do not, cannot seem to ask people to fill the gaps that I myself cannot cover. That I feel shame for needing, wanting help. That I feel like a failure for not being able to tend to myself and everyone else too. And that I am just as much to blame for being the sole proprietor of The Emotional State of La as the people who have failed me.
“Listen to me,” I tell him, as gently as I know how. “We were doomed from the beginning.” We burst into that uneasy laughter of relief and uncertainty that generally fills the room when you’ve acknowledged the elephant in it.
“There’s too much fire here. Too much fight. We are a hundred knockdown, drag out arguments waiting to happen and I just need some peace. More than I need to be taken care of. I need someone that’s going to bring me some peace.”
I can see that he hasn’t gotten it yet. That his mind is trying to run and jump ahead of what I’m saying, trying to figure out the best way to convince me I’m wrong.
“Here’s the thing,” I say, interrupting him as he goes say something, no doubt completely contrary to everything I’m saying.
“I don’t doubt that you want to take care of me. I don’t doubt that you could. Or that we make sense. But here’s what you never got about me; I don’t need to be conquered. I don’t need you to take care of me because you like the idea of being the man that got to me, that broke me. You’re not ready to be responsible for what it means to break me open. You just really want to be the man that does.”
And finally he gets it. The thing I realized long ago, that I’ve been trying to tell him for ages. The thing that made me hang back when he wanted more, the thing that made me run in the other direction when I wanted more. He’d been looking for a challenge; I’d been looking for shelter.
“Ok,” he says to the top of my head as he tucks me under his arm. “Ok. I’m listening.”
We sit like that for awhile, still and silent, digesting the fact that this, once and for all, is probably, finally, It.
“I do want you to sleep though,” he tells me, his voice soft and kind. “So,” he says as he pulls the blanket I keep on the back of the couch down over us, “we’re gonna sleep. And then in the morning I’m gonna leave and I’m gonna respect what you’ve said. But right now, we’re gonna sleep.”
He reaches over and turns off the light, settling us together the way we always seem to fit together, and kisses the top of my hair.
“Goodnight, Road Runner,” he says, and we both giggle at the inside joke.
I fall asleep almost instantly for the first time in a long time, as though I am in a safe place.