She rang from the lobby. That’s what we did in those days – found a phone, dialed, waited for someone to answer.
You met her downstairs a few moments later. The wind whipped around while she talked, I don’t know if you heard her words, or if you heard just the words and not the meaning, or if you heard the meaning but not her heart.
I’m not even sure what she said – that was never clear, the details are murky.
She might have said something like, “What are you doing right now?” And, given the time of night, you may not have known how to answer.
Or maybe she asked you out for a drink, to talk, and you said you couldn’t.
Maybe she dove right in, trying to tell you why she needed to see you. Did she know why she needed to see you? Did you?
She might not have known what to say, but she was trying so hard to say it.
Maybe you heard anxiety and felt a weight getting heavier. Maybe you turned and walked back upstairs, feeling that you had handled it well. Maybe you gave her a hug after she talked, but she could tell you didn’t mean it.
We never knew these things. What we did all know:
You weren’t the one who forced her to kiss you in the elevator. You weren’t the one who cornered her on a trail in the woods. You weren’t the one who held her down and kept her from leaving one night. You weren’t the one who lied about where you were on Thanksgiving, and then lied about lying.
You were consistent, she had told us all. You were the one who listened over coffee, the one who talked about ideas and dreams, the one who looked in her eyes without fear. You were the one who almost convinced her to go back to school. You were the one who awkwardly held out your hand the first time you met her, and she took it.
We had high hopes.
But that night in the storm you weren’t really listening, you couldn’t have heard her – not past the wind and the incoming rain, not through her chattering teeth, not through your own fears that she would be the one who would want too much, the one who might leave unexpectedly, the one who would see your vulnerabilities and laugh in your face.
Maybe the wind was a good excuse.
You listened (or appeared to), and she spoke (or tried to), and then there was “Goodnight,” and then there was walking away, and then there was sleep (for one of you, at least). And the next day she was gone.
That’s all we ever knew.
I wonder where you are now. Maybe writing copy in San Francisco, or teaching history in Jersey, or ghostwriting books for famous people, floating invisibly in coffee shops and libraries.
Maybe you’re in the same town she is and don’t even know it.
I imagine her on a Greyhound bus headed for New Orleans or Tucson, somewhere with sun.
I imagine her on a highway, thumb out, being picked up by someone like you; or on a train, following the Hudson River, or the Columbia Gorge.
I imagine her on a plane, flying into the clouds and then above the clouds, eyes out the window, weightless at last.