“Are you nervous?” he asked as I pulled back from his arms and took in a smile that was even better than I remembered—a smile so winsome and white that six months later I caught 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 were standing on a sidewalk in front of a house on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of October. In the back of the house was a yard with a garden, tall firs, and a patio hot tub. But I didn’t know any of this as I stood on the sidewalk, soaking up sun and coming up with an answer. I only knew I was there, toe-to-toe with a human I met on a beach in the middle of March.
“I don’t think so,” I said, wondering where the question has come from, wondering if perhaps he was nervous himself.
“You haven’t breathed since you got here,” he said with a laugh. “You gotta breathe, girl.”
I didn’t know 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 deep 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 asked as I drew circles on the sidewalk with the toe of my sandal, still trying to take a deep breath.
My eyes met his. “An hour or two.”
It wasn’t much time. I thought he’d like more. But I didn’t yet know what I was willing to give.
“Are you a chai tea kinda girl?”
“I could do that,” I said.
“Then just let me change real quick.” He turned for the house. “Do you want to come in?”
I thought that I didn’t, but I said that I do.
It was tranquil and clean, full of natural light and pictures of trees. In the front was an alcove with a Buddha statue and candles. To the side was a room with a sleek leather couch and a plush navy bed for the big black dog who sat at my feet.
The man offered me a bottle of pineapple kombucha, then went to the bedroom and shut the door. I stood in the kitchen and popped off the cap.
It had been almost two weeks since I first got his voicemail. The timing was not what my heart would have planned and my head was 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 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 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 to that beach? I know it sounds crazy, but I hoped I would see you as I walked down the shore.”
This was a question that I’d played on repeat from that day until now, and it’s something I’ll ponder long after. Would I believe him? Would I accept what he said? And if I did, what difference did the truth really make?
I thought of that as I stood in the kitchen sipping my kombucha with my nerves all on edge. In the back of my mind I remembered this story—remembered that this man has been thinking about me for months. But I also remembered 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 still wonder how often that story is true.
He came back wearing shorts and a soft yellow shirt. He locked up the house and we got in his car, but before we took off, he turned and looked at me.
“I need you to promise me something,” he said, not a hint of tease in his shiny brown eyes. “Promise you’ll tell me if you ever feel uncomfortable. Like, right in the that moment, I need you to tell me.”
It was as serious as he would ever be about anything.
“It’s really important to me. Okay?”
I nodded. We buckled our belts and pulled out of the driveway.
On our next date we went for sushi in Palo Alto. I thought we were going for pizza at the place next door, and was disappointed when I found out we weren’t. He ordered rolls and rice, a whole plate of ginger, and gluten-free soy sauce. He doesn’t drink sake or eat sashimi, turned up his nose at my seaweed salad, then gave me a hard time for not sharing. He told me a story about a buddy who knocked a girl up. I thought it was not going well and would likely end soon.
But then I watched as the man interacted with the staff. I saw him see them, really see them, and I saw them see back. He felt like more of a cousin than a customer as they slid plate after plate and shared updates on life. I felt lucky to be there, lucky to be with him, and I realized that eating isn’t just about food.
Later that evening, we walked hand-in-hand down California Avenue a quarter past dark. We passed an ice cream shop and ran into a man called Ron who was just shy of 60 and peddling pamphlets about some legislation.
“How long have you two been together?” he asked. We looked at each other, but neither of us said anything.
“Oh!” said Ron. “Is this a first date?”
“Sort of,” I told him. The man next to me smiled.
“How’d you all meet?” Ron asked us. “On one of those apps?”
“Actually, no” I said, and I told him 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” said the man who I was not sure I liked, but who I also couldn’t seem to leave alone.
“Boy, you’re lucky she called you back at all,” said Ron. He laughed, and I laughed, and even the man gave us one of those smiles of his.
We drove back to campus so that I can could the last. The man pulled up to the curb and got out of his car to give me a hug. I was jitters and nerves, though I didn’t know why. I’m sure I wasn’t breathing and I’m sure that he noticed.
We stood close for a while and I started to calm down, then darted for the bus so I wouldn’t be late.
On the ride home, I thought about Ron and the man and the story we share. I couldn’t know where it was going, but I was eager to see.