retracing steps.

“Tell me how you two got together!” Such a simple request, the politest and most typical of girlfriendly queries, and yet it hit me heavily, blankly, like a Trivial Pursuit card about some event from the 1970s you’ve never even heard of. And it does all seem so absurd and unlikely and hazy in my head. How do you manage to tell a concise, chronological story about something that’s more like a mix of related but vastly different fireworks going off in your heart than real events that occurred? How can you possibly lay it all out in an orderly fashion? This thing that didn’t really “happen” per se, but more washed over you. It’s hard to retrace your steps when you look back and the path itself has changed, like so many Hogwarts staircases.

So when you can’t write or think very coherently, you just list the things you do know, Bella Swan style.

I had a crush on him for a while. A reluctant, painful kind of a crush that I tried to grasp and claw and excuse my way out of. The kind that grows very steadily despite your best efforts, like blocking out the sunrise over the Atlantic with your fist until it spills over the edge and lights up everything, or like cupping your hand over an errant dandelion only to turn the corner to see a whole alley ablaze with them.

The scattered fragments of how I almost botched the whole thing go like this: I barely remember being introduced. Likely I was in the middle of telling a story about myself, and VERY briefly halted to just say “hinicetomeetyou.” Then out one night, I vaguely remember Jackee saying hi to him or something, and in response to my “Who’s that?” saying “You know him, remember? You met him at the same time I did!” There was also the time I walked up to him legitimately just wanting to ask a question about a song he was playing and express a polite greeting, and walked away curious about him, or at least about that twinkling, open smile that he has. I believe the next time I saw him, I sat perfectly agreeable and affable on the other side of Jackee from him and chatted just as nice as you please, internally becoming more terrified every moment to say out loud what the drinks eventually forced out in a low whisper: I feel like an idiot because I am totally crushing on him right now and it’s pointless. “Why is it pointless?” she hissed. Because I don’t want to date and because everything’s perfect without stupid boys and stupid exhausting relationships and because almost 100% of the time for me they’ve been negative interruptions in the rest of a good life, and most of all, because he’s a musician. And I just absolutely cannot. Silence on that front for some weeks made me think I was off the hook, until I laid eyes on him again and wanted to hide, or laugh, or both, or maybe fall into a crevice in the ground. On Easter, Jackee gingerly reopened the topic: “See that’s why I really think you and he would get along.” And I renewed my protest: he’s probably great, but my life is already great, and eventually, even if not this week or this year, he would bring sorrow. And finally, tired of the feelings-you-can’t-help-followed-by-a-week-of-self-loathing cycle, I remember the last chance I gave myself to Not Acknowledge This Crush, saying I will probably run into him tonight, and I’ll see, there’s nothing there anyway, and this can all go away. Silently trusting he would do or say something to make the crush evaporate (mention politics? mention sports? mention craft beer?), or that it would simply not be there…another lost interest to throw on the heap of the world’s lost interests. But there he was, as calm and mannerly and demure as ever, but very cruelly drawing me in with a tractor beam that not even Obi Wan could shut down. All my dismissive bravado shriveled instantly and I think that’s the moment where I knew I was done fighting whatever the rest of the bacteria in my body who get a vote and are apparently steering this ship wanted me to know. I stared at him along the bar. He looked up, smiled, and waved. I gave a defeated little wave back and continued to stare in anguish most of the night, because I am a delightful joy to be around and that is the appropriate response to realizing you can’t get rid of your feelings for somebody. I think I finally told my other closest friends about it that week, who ranged from sweetly encouraging to having no time at all for my overthinking nonsense (“Just let yourself have a crush and CHILL OUT”), and despite trying to chill out I started to feel like maybe I should at least try to push it to a resolution so I could just get rejected and it would be over and I could stop obsessing about it. I invited him to a small gathering, and he showed up, and it was suddenly true for me what was true for Mary Hatch — “She lights up like a firefly whenever you’re around.” We bonded over the 90s and honesty and cats and faith and Self and good cheese and new recipes, and we’ve rarely been parted since, and it’s equally nice whether we’re out tackling the neighborhood’s cocktail menus together or just wrangling a dinner out of random leftovers on a Tuesday night with Morella between us. He’s cheerful and helpful every day by default, and endures the most ridiculous of obstacles and delays and whines with a store of patience bigger than the sea, he’s talented and cool, and so far he’s even heroically managed to not sit around and watch me do chores from the comfort of the couch after an exhausting workday and evening and baby bedtime, not even once. I can think of a million other things to say about him but for the moment I’ll keep them to myself and close up this ramshackle story about how I’m glad I was wrong, and how I fell in love, kicking and screaming, in springtime, in the middle of my thirties. The end.

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