Safe

Being sequestered inside (if you aren’t an asshole living in a city full of assholes) has brought a particular kind of familiar stranger back into my life. There’s a range. Some are old friends, some are old work. But my favorites the ones that think maybe I was the one that got away.

I don’t believe in the one that got away, really. Not that I’ve never worried in the moment that there might be some great loss if this thing we were doing- whatever it was – were to end. But rather that there is no one who’s left me or that I’ve walked away from that time gave me anything other than clarity around all the reasons why I probably shouldn’t have been there and certainly shouldn’t have stayed.

But this pandemic has people feeling wistful and introspective, and I have found a few people wandering to my proverbial door, wondering.

We’re on hour four of our conversation, having started on the phone, switched to video and back again. It’s free flowing and easy the way it is when two charming people who don’t really know each other but know enough are thrown together, aided by absence, bourbon (me) and scotch (him).

He’s been fine. Perfectly fine. And only fine. And that’s fine. But he’s wondering a thing I have long since put behind me so I can’t quite relate. Somehow, we turn off the avenue of our easy banter and down a dark side street of all the reasons he thinks we never quite made it. And more than a few of those carcasses he lays at my feet.

And maybe he’s right. I don’t know.
But I do know it doesn’t matter to me.
Not the way that it does to him.

“Do you think any of what I said could be true?” He’s done the thing where he’s tried to read me but it’s all projections and machinations, to pretend at us having been closer than we were, as though reciting to me some unknowable truth I must not have been aware of will draw us- me, really- closer.

I consider it, because sometimes it’s worth considering outside perspectives, even when they’re dumb. Just to kick the tires.

“No. I don’t discount they were true for you. I’m just unfamiliar with the person you’ve described. I’d venture to say that the people that know me best would be unfamiliar, too.”

He says a few things that sound like rebuttal, but they don’t quite register for me.

“That’s fair,” I say. “Not necessarily true. But fair.”
“That’s all you have to say?” I think for a minute.
“Yes.”
“Wow. You’ve gone and gotten sensitive on me.” I realize that he’s mistaken my unwillingness to argue my counterpoint, to meet his bluster with either refutation or soothing, as me being hurt into silence. I could explain that age has lessened the urge to argue where nothing will change. I could say that I do not weaponize my silence any more than I weaponize my words, and I don’t waste either in a space where I am not seen. Or that I don’t expend the energy to engage where the outcome doesn’t really matter.

“Nah,” I tell him. “I didn’t get sensitive. I got safe. And realized I’m loved in a ton of places by a lot of people who don’t feel the need to run down all the things they think I did to not earn a relationship with them.”

“No, that’s not what I-“
“No, it’s okay. It’s not an accusation. Just an observation. If nothing else, it was probably a super good summary of why we never made it. Now we both know.”

He says some stuff and I make some non-committal sounds, and he promises to keep in touch, and I know we’ll never speak again. He gets off the phone and goes back to wherever he reappeared from, and I go back to where I am safe.

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