The L Word


We look at each other, awkward in a way that we usually aren’t. We aren’t sure who should go first.
“You called.”
“I called.”
The truth is, I’d wrestled with it, turning my phone over and over in my hand like a sorcerer’s stone. Debating. If I should call. Weighing what it means about me, who I am, who I’ve become, if I take advantage of the tender place i live in his life. I chastised myself for being weak, even as I dialed.
He steps through my door frame, backing me inside, and letting it swing shut behind him. He folds me in his arms, holding me tight, and rubbing reassuring circles across my back. Without my permission, I start to cry. 
“Are you okay?” And I know he’s not really asking me, that he’s doing the thing I do, where I ask the question knowing full well the answer, but offering it instead as an opening, a life vest to someone who’s drowning.
“No. No, I’m not. I’m not okay.”
We hug and we sway, my tears dampening his shirt and more than I feel relief, I feel shame. Because I am, I should be, I should have been so many times leading up to this moment, much stronger than I have been.
Eventually, we decamp to the couch, on opposite sides like we’re opponents. 
“I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“Because I’m basically using you. And you’re letting me.”
“I’m a grown man, La. And I’m not stupid. I’m here because this is where I wanna be.”
“I wasn’t-“
“You keep beating yourself up like you’ve manipulated me into my choices, and you’re really giving yourself entirely too much credit. We didn’t make it, but we were friends once.”
“So, why did you call?”
“I saw you were here because social media is the devil. And I was overwhelmed. And lonely.”
“I’ve never heard you say that before.”
“What, that I’m overwhelmed?”
“Well, that too. But that you’re lonely.”
That much is likely true. I learned early what it meant to move through the world alone. And so loneliness is an old acquaintance; not a dear one to be sure, but we are intimately familiar with each other. And while I am not someone who gives myself over to loneliness often, when I do, I tend to weather its visit alone.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you admit to it. You’ve alluded to times in your life when you felt lonely. But never said it aloud. You seem almost proud to not need anyone to alleviate your loneliness.”
“It’s not that-” and he looks at me skeptically before I can finish the thought. “Okay, maybe,” I admit with an uncomfortable laugh. “But mostly because I don’t think my loneliness is anyone else’s responsibility. Seems unfair to ask someone to fix something they didn’t cause.”
“Your feelings aren’t a liability, La.”
“We can agree to disagree.”
“You’re not weak for being lonely.”
“We can agree to disagree.”
He sighs at me. “I’m at least glad you called. But-” he stops himself before he completes his thought.
“Who did you wanna call instead of me?”
“Don’t do this.”
We eye each other wearily, both of us stark still as The Thing hangs between us, neither of us taking our eyes off it or each other, willing the other to touch it, and hoping like hell they won’t. He breaks first with a sigh.
“You have people in your life that give a fuck, La. You don’t have to be alone.”
“I’m fine alone.”
“I know you are. Truly. But knowing that you can be doesn’t mean you have to be.”
“I never want to be one of those people so incapable of being alone that I’d have a placeholder instead of a partner. Or so pitiful that I call someone I haven’t seen in awhile to come give me a hug when they’re in town because I’m too in my own head.”
“You’re not pathetic, La. You’re human.”
“We can agree to disagree.”
He gives up on me as silence settles over us before he opens his arms up to me, and I fall into them gratefully. He wraps us around each other like we used to, and kisses my head, tracing absentminded circles on my back, signing his name when he thinks I’m not paying attention. 
“You want some sushi?”
“You wanna watch Die Hard?”
“I’ll order.”
“Thank you.”
“It’s just sushi.”
“It’s not just sushi.”
“I love you too.”
I turn my back to him, pretending to look for the movie. I feel rubbed raw and exposed. I feel weak and pathetic, running to him because I couldn’t stand to be with myself. I berate myself for using him, for knowing why, for not being stronger.
I’m glad he’s here.  

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