This was a response to the recent Pubski grown too big
The trip was special, in many respects.
I went to my favorite city by bus — a five-hour drive, one way, in a rather constraiting van. I didn't sleep well prior to the early wake, agitated by the prospect of having another splendid birthday experience — an expectation fueled by previous experience.
Having half the daylight hours lost to travel, I nevertheless spent the rest walking the city, excited to see the exaggerated urban features it's so full of: the wide streets busy with cars, the malls, the tall, grand buildings, the massive banks... Even bookshops carry themselves with a certain panache — something confirmed twice within ten minutes of visiting the city center: how about a book store with massive door handles of wrought steel in a twisted scroll?
The first day — the day before my birthday — was exciting from the sights. The first night, spent in a hostel, went by sleepless.
I never felt such intense discomfort in a hostel before, and I still the reasons are unclear. With only a handful of hours of sleep, I got up at 5 AM and, after an hour of disjointed deliberation — further sleep not an option — I decided to seize the moment and go out to see this side of the city so early. Among other things — like witnessing a truly majestic building among the grey Soviet five-storeys — I found a small banknote in the snow, hidden under the snow and the shadows. Though I don't believe in fate or being lucky, this find left a pleasant impression nevertheless.
The walk also helped me realize that I do need more sleep — something I'd proceeded with the soonest.
Waking up once more, this time more into my birthday, I realized just how lonely I was at such a special moment of the year. All the thought process going in the background, I can't tell you what exactly went through my mind, except for the result: there was one person I wanted to share that day with.
She was an old flame, and she was in town. We broke up on a bitter note and didn't patch it well afterwards. That was why I spent a few minutes hesitating to hit "Send": mind was filled with "what if...", but there was nothing after the ellipsis, so "Send" I hit.
She replied within a minute, saying she would, in fact, like to meet. We made arrangements, and I went out to explore the city mostly on foot until the agreed-upon evening meet.
She was excited to see me, and, needless to say, so was I. After catching up on things gone up during our lost touch, we went out for a walk — and things seemed... normal: just like before, expect more mature — and, in hindsight, more distant. I didn't care: I had her back, even for an evening, and right then, that was all I wanted. Didn't care to notice that she wasn't entirely present in the conversation, or that the pendulum swung more often to her topics.
It felt magical. All the things I was aware of that would've prevented us from being close again — her living in a different city, her different status from having a steady job for years while I was only finishing my education, her having a boyfriend that she's "happy" with — were pushed away, into the shadows. I didn't mean for us to get back together, either. Something else was on my mind.
I told her how much she still meant to me; that it was important for me to spend the special day with someone I could trust. Her smile lit up. She hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and said privately: "Happy birthday".
We agreed to meet the next afternoon and spend together the time before I had to drive back.
The night was sleepless again. The discomfort of displacement was almost palpable, but I had nowhere else to go.
I didn't have it in me to go anywhere exciting the next day. All I could afford was to gather my things and move to the nearby pizzeria, to wait for her and try to stuff some food in me — something that proved unexpectedly difficult. We met after her Saturday classes — taught, not attended — were over. She was tired, and to that I wrote off her distance — a stark contrast to fourteen hours ago. We chose the pier, a place more empty and quiet than any option nearby, to walk and chat — the kind of a filler chat that one picks on the day they aren't inclined to share but feel obligated to hold up the conversation, nevertheless. One that would make the other side feel like everything's alright when, in fact, it's not.
Both of us tired and the time until the bus shrinking, we decided to visit a cafe near the bus station. After the meal felt like the time to speak frankly, and I'd decided to ask the important questions.
Her boyfriends didn't know we're meeting — today or the day before — because "he wouldn't approve me meeting with another man". She couldn't find the reason for not telling him regardless — an important point, given that our relationship was an affair to begin with. Her justification to her boyfriend not knowing was that "we're not in bed!", a mistake that we both admitted it was. "I'm my own woman, after all: I can do as I wish". Still not seeing what's right in front of me, I advised her to be frank with her ("hopefully", her words) life-long mate: miscommunication kills trust, and mistrust kills intimacy. "I hope you won't have the idea to talk to him about it, either. I'm happy right now, and I don't want it ruined". It wasn't up to me to decide their relationship or what it's based on. She was relieved to hear that.
"Happy". That word I hear a lot from her. She said it a few times during our couple of days that were another affair: she has a man now, and she's happy. Just about the same words are on her social network page. Like George Carlin said: "Boy, they said it over and over and over — as if to convince themselves!". I don't think she was happy. I think she wanted to be, desperately, because so far, a lot of her life was worry — an element she eventually felt comfortable enough in. She allowed herself to be treated without respect just so she could stay with her previous boyfriend — the one she cheerfully cheated on.
Before the gates of the bus station was our parting point, so we stood there for a couple of minutes, finishing the conversations we've started. She told me she still believed that getting back together, in any fashion, was a bad idea. "Why, then", I asked, "are you here?" "To see an old friend again", she replied, and added, after seeing my confusion: "I think we went into this each with a different purpose".
Her words lifted my willful blindness. I wasn't inclined to believe her interested to begin with, but up until this point, she acted like she was: the same interested looks thrown every so often, the same cunning smile, the same seemingly out-of-place questions about me and mine... It was then that it clicked: she was never interested in me to begin with; she only wanted my affection, my guard down for her, wanted to be accepted... never me.
I was whistling Nightingale / December Song earlier that day; she asked me what that was — I was fiddling with music since back then — and I couldn't find it in me to reply. When the bus went a crossing away from the station, the same song started playing in my headphones, the most appropriate tune right then, and I felt it coming. The wave from within, from the heart, growing upwards. There were not many people near me on the bus, so I closed my eyes and let the tears roll down my cheeks.
Years of my life — years with her and spent thinking of her — went up in smoke in a single moment. The blow was immense, though nothing I hadn't already suspected deep inside. I, too, allowed myself to be mistreated to not be alone anymore — a feeling of not being whole without someone; of not being something without someone. It was all a lie, a pretense to hide the emptiness in someone's heart — and a bad pretense, at that, believed only because the other side agreed to not see the vast divide.
It was the first time I allowed myself to cry in more than a decade, and it felt liberating to be able to do so.
It made me reconsider a lot of things about myself and my life during the five-hour trip back, through the winter dark. The echoes, I suspect, will travel around for some time before things settle: a result not of worry or pain but of sudden clarity about aspects of my perception of the world and myself within it. I'm at peace with what happened, because I finally know the truth.
It was an awful birthday, and it was the best gift she could've given me.
Oh, you are too hot for me
I am too slow for you
You are a vast explosion
And I am the embers
You need the one who slowly burns
And burns to stay alive
And in this way, you will come find me in December...