That Final Date After the Last One
A Happily-Never-After Story
It was always going to be here on this swing bench that we would meet again. Maybe only because I had always pictured us sitting together here again that I knew exactly where and how the day’s events would unfold.
I had dreamt of this day since our last date. A whole twenty-three years ago.
But there we were again and I watched you get out of your car, take one look at me and begin to take your long, slow strides towards me. You offered a casual wave of acknowledgment and a forced smile, but your eyes wouldn’t meet mine.
Obviously, we were not entirely free from the old shadows yet. The last time didn’t end well. Maybe this one would.
The black cat that was rubbing itself against my feet had grudgingly padded off into the grass at your approach but not far enough that it could not eavesdrop.
“Hello,” you said when you finally reached the verandah.
“Hey,” I replied, moving to the right to offer you a seat. It was only when you sat down as if you were just resuming your place beside me did I realise I had felt your absence all this while.
I wondered then if that was the only distance we would bridge that day.
“It’s good to see you,” I smiled at you. You turned towards me and by chance and accident, our eyes met. I knew you wanted to pull away. I always did too, except I never could. But then you smiled back at me and seemed almost uninhibited, gentle, friendly.
And I remembered what being eighteen felt like.
The black cat had started a private game in the grass. We stared at it, maybe in a bid to distract us from the silence between us. Once, we used to cherish these moments of quiet comfort. We could sit all day just holding hands or laying together as if all we needed was intertwined fingers and bodies close together to maintain a perfect balance to our world.
Without those small touches here and there now, the outside silence was just way too loud.
I started to ask about your new place and you laughed in disbelief, “I don’t even want to know how you know all these things about me.”
“Well, I’ve kept tabs on you. Facebook, Twitter, you know…”
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure about coming to meet you today,” you said quietly. I had known your insistence, your rage and your impatience, and those times had always been devastating and left me desperate for reconciliation. But it was always when you were quiet that I came undone.
“Afraid you’ll fall in love with me again?” I teased.
“Afraid that you will.”
“Been there, done that.” I laughed it off. “You should try it some time.”
“I have.” I caught a flicker in your stoic demeanour. “Too many times.”
For just a few seconds, you wavered. Enough to open the portal through which emerged the young man I knew and fell in love with. As if the pixels that you were made of had dissolved and came back together to form the you from before. I watched you then and saw a faltering smile, a thin veil of tears, the falling away of masks that we put on daily for the stage of life.
Maybe no regrets were ever shouldered alone.
This day had always been destined, was what I had both acknowledged and rejected. But did I ever really believe that? As if God had time or care enough to write up a complete scene of how one episode in life should begin to play. Oh no, we create our own mess the way we like them to be and then we assign God or the Devil accordingly to affirm our plans and hidden motives.
I still wonder which of the two had a hand in that day.
Maybe it is only when we have a very specific set of conditions in place that we’re able to sway outcomes in any one direction. It’s not God or the Devil. It’s hormones and situations, disposition and the human condition. What matters is whether it rained or not, our filtered vision, heightened senses, pheromones, the right song played at the right time, heartbeats.
And only when we get a right combination of these at any given time do things turn out perfectly against other odds.
You leaned back against the swing and clasped your hands behind your head for support. I fought the urge to lean in on you.
In the many versions of this story that I had dreamt about, I had told you how often I had wanted to call you to just hear your voice again. That I always kept a lookout for you in bistros, the supermarket, whenever my car stopped at a red traffic light. I had simply said what I needed to say: “I’ve missed you.” You had admitted that you thought about me all the time. That you continued to look out for me in the city, at the parks, in your dreams. You had simply said what you needed to say: “I’ve missed you.” We had sat together holding hands like we used to and the silence would be quiet again. We had cried together for the lost years and the forgotten memories. I had held your face in my palms the same way I used to and not let go. You had held my hand and I would know you would never let go again.
I would touch your cheek and tell you that I was happy you’ve got a life without me. You would kiss me on mine and say the same. We would hold each other tenderly and know that that was enough.
Instead, I asked you about your family, your new job in that swanky architectural firm, whether you still fish, if you still drink Campari Soda, did you ever build that doll’s house you were always going to, your children. You asked about my parents, if I ever succeeded at quitting coffee and cigarettes, how I survived my days as a stay-at-home-mum, if my cat was still alive, did I still believe in peace on earth, and if I was still writing sappy love stories.
We talked briefly across space and time, weaving between memories that were shaped and formed across decades, and occasionally meeting at an intersection where we could laugh for a bit and remember for a moment why it was our paths could have been interwoven as intricately as they once had.
In that way, we were still the same as each other, constantly ripped outside of every here and now to look behind us and far away ahead, but never in the present where we had each other. We were never good at that.
Not when we were 18, not when we were 27, and not now when we’re 50.
I almost forgot that we couldn’t just hit the reset button or to press ‘play’ to resume the story we left behind, or whatever was left of it.
“So what are we really doing here?” you had asked gently.
“Shh,” I said. “Just be quiet for a moment.”
You sighed and turned your gaze back on the stray cat still lurking in the grass. “Okay, I’ll admit it; It’s really good to see you again too.”
“Really good?” I had grinned.
“Yeah, really good,” you faltered. “Good enough that I don’t think we should do this again.”
I heard what you said, as if it made any difference at all.
As if the lost years would melt away for us to have a chance to redeem ourselves. As if a new door would open where we could leave our obligations behind truly and freely. As if we could ever rewrite twenty-three full years of rebuilding our lives without each other, lives remarkably and wonderfully filled with love, children, adventures and memories that excluded the other.
And as if, if we could, we actually would.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”
~ Rumi ~
This story was first published on P.S. I Love You.