“Are you nervous?” he asks as I pull back from his arms and take in a smile that is even better than I remember—a smile so winsome and white that six months later I catch myself pulling up his profile in the middle of a work day, just to look at his face and to feel my heart flutter.
We are standing on a sidewalk in front of a house on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of October. In the back of the house is a yard with a garden, tall slender firs, and a patio hot tub. But I don’t know any of this as I stand on the sidewalk, soaking up sun and coming up with an answer. I only know that I’m here, toe-to-toe with a human who I met on a beach in the middle of March.
“I don’t think so,” I say, wondering where the question has come from, wondering if perhaps he is nervous himself.
“You haven’t breathed since you got here,” he says with a laugh. “You gotta breathe, girl.”
I don’t realize it then, but this will become a thing with us. He’ll tease me about breathing for weeks and months after. I’ll get a little self-conscious each time that we meet. At first I’ll struggle to breathe deeply without yawning or laughing. Then I’ll stand close beside him pressed up to his chest and inhale until air fills the depths of my lungs. We will breathe there together like it is the most sacred act that two humans could share.
But first, we will go and drink tea.
“How much time do you have?” he asks as I draw circles on the sidewalk with the toe of my sandal, still trying to take a deep breath.
My eyes meet his gaze. “An hour or two.”
It isn’t much time. I think he’d like more. But I don’t yet know what I’m willing to give.
“Are you a chai tea kinda girl?”
“I could do that,” I say.
“Then just let me change real quick.” He turns for the house. “Do you want to come in?”
I think that I don’t, but I say that I do.
It is tranquil and clean, full of natural light and pictures of trees. In the front is an alcove with a ceramic Buddha and candles, and to the side is a room with a sleek leather couch and a plush black bed for the big black dog who is sitting at my feet.
The man offers me a bottle of pineapple kombucha, then goes to the bedroom and shuts the door. I stand in the kitchen and pop off the cap.
It’s been almost two weeks since I first got the voicemail that led to the reunion on the sidewalk outside. The timing was not what my heart would have planned and my head is still spinning from the last man who hurt me, but after all of the effort that went into this meeting, how could I just let it go?
I’d dialed his number on a Thursday morning from the polka-dot couch outside my therapist’s office. I did not want to work. I did not want to go to therapy. I did not really want to keep processing pain. But I did want to see if the man would pick up.
“Hello Amanda. It’s so good to hear your voice. How are you?”
It would never be a question of what, but of how, always a matter of the moment at hand. I said something about busy. Something about work. Something about now I’m in tech and still figuring it out.
He said something about traveling. Something about Italy. Something about visions and knowing that someday we’d cross paths.
“Would you believe me if I told you that you’ve been on my mind ever since the day that we met? Would you believe that I think of you each time I go back? That I’ve hoped I would see you as I walked down the shore?”
This is a question I’ve played on repeat from that day until now, and it’s something I’ll ponder for weeks and months after. Would I believe him? Would I accept what he said? And if I did, what difference would the truth really make?
I think of that here in this kitchen as I sip my kombucha with my nerves all on edge. In the back of my mind I’m remembering this story—remembering that this man has been thinking about me for months. But I’m also remembering another story. The one where men can’t be trusted and they just want one thing, the one where they lie and they use you to get what they want. It’s a story I’ve been told since before I knew men, and I wonder how often that story is true.
He comes back wearing shorts and a bright yellow t-shirt. We get in his car and buckle our belts, but before we take off, he turns and looks at me.
“I need you to promise me something,” he says, not a hint of tease in his shiny brown eyes. “Promise you’ll tell me if you ever feel uncomfortable.”
It is as serious as he will ever be about anything.
“It’s really important to me. Okay?”
I nod. We put on our shades and pull out of the driveway.
On our next date we go for sushi in Palo Alto. I think we’re going for pizza at the place just next door, and am disappointed when I find out we aren’t. He orders rolls and rice, a whole plate of ginger, and gluten-free soy sauce. He doesn’t drink sake or eat sashimi, turns up his nose at my seaweed salad, then gives me a hard time for not sharing. He tells me a story about a cousin who knocked up a girl. I think it is not going well and will likely end soon.
But then I watch as the man interacts with the staff. I see him see them, really see them, and I see them see back. It feels like he’s more of a cousin than a customer as they slide plate after plate, and share updates on life. I feel like I’m meeting a family, like I’m lucky to be with him, and I realize that eating isn’t just about food.
Later that evening, we walk hand-in-hand down California Avenue a quarter past dark. We pass an ice cream shop and run into a man called Ron who is just shy of 60 and peddling pamphlets about legislation.
“How long have you two been together?” he asks. We look at each other, but neither of us speaks.
“Oh!” says Ron. “Is this a first date?”
“Sort of,” I tell him. The man next to me smiles.
“How’d you meet?” he asks us. “On one of those apps?”
“Actually, no” I say, and I tell Ron the story—our story—a story that keeps going when I think it’s about to end.
“And then she waited three days to call me back” says the man who I’m not sure I like, but also can’t seem to leave.
“Boy, you’re lucky she called you back at all,” says Ron. He laughs, and I laugh, and even the man gives us one of those smiles of his.
We drive back to campus so that I can catch the last bus to Oakland. The man pulls up to the curb and gets out of his car to give me a hug. I am jitters and nerves, though I don’t know why. I am sure I’m not breathing and I’m sure that he sees.
We stand close for a while and I start to calm down, then dart for the bus so I won’t be late.
On the ride home, I think about Ron and the man and the story we share. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m eager to see.