It Involves Pen and Paper
Day 1,951ishIt’s funny how I’m not afraid. Ryan had such a terrifying power over me when we were in school. I felt real fear then. He had the ability to hurt me, to wrap his hand around my heart and squeeze until I doubled over and couldn’t breathe. I don’t feel that vulnerability as I walk to his house a few minutes before six o’clock. I don’t feel a docile calm either. I feel a surrounding force field of reassuring strength, with just enough anticipation humming inside it.
He greets me at the door, having let go of the anger I had heard earlier on the phone. We make meaningless small talk as he leads me through his house to the deck built onto the back. The wood is painted dark brown, built up to six feet off of the ground, with a quaint, matching awning above our heads. Sometimes Ryan would spend the night in a sleeping bag out here in the summertime, and I would come over to whisper bedtime stories and “I love you”s before he fell asleep. Another hundred memories are a part of the backdrop we can view from here, amid the lush landscape and colorful blossoms in his backyard.
He offers me a patio chair, almost formally, and he sits on another, facing me.
“So. Who was the guy?” he asks.
“Ha! The guy you were making out with on your couch last night.”
“Ah! I was not making out with him!”
“You mean the giant, matriculating him/you blob wasn’t the two of you making out?”
“No. No it was not. We weren’t kissing. I was facing the movie. If we had been kissing how would I have seen you at the window?”
“Well,” his mouth lifts in one corner, and he lowers his voice to a teasing tone. “I, for one, know that you sometimes open your eyes while you’re kissing.”
I break eye contact with him to steal a very important glance at my own hands in my lap, and then around the yard. Anywhere but back at him.
“Remember? Sometimes I’d open my eyes to find you looking at me, then I’d give you a bewildered look and we’d both start laughing. But I liked it… because then I got to see your sparkly eyes.”
His voice has lowered to the tone of an intimate song as he finishes the memory, and he’s leaning forward, focusing on my eyes until they can’t help but rest back on his.
Then I’m sure I see the memory of last night reinsert itself into the forefront of his mind. He sits up straight again, runs a hand through his hair and asks, “So who is he?”
I tell him.
He seems to like the information. “It’s him? Oh man! I thought it was someone you met at college, which, by the way, I’ve predicted all along. But him?” he shakes his head, almost laughing at himself. He grows serious again and says, “I could totally take him.”
So, he’s happy to know who he’s up against. Happy to have inside information. The confidence he gleans from knowing who I’m dating, and the implications of his comment light that familiar fire in me.
“Ryan! Why am I even answering your questions? Yes, I’m dating him. No, we weren’t making out, but we very well could’ve been and the last person I would have to explain myself to, is you! Now, if you don’t mind, it’s my turn to ask the questions around here. Why did you come last night?”
He looks out over the lawn, the trees, out into the setting sun for just a moment and then he looks right into my eyes and leans close again, a commitment to tell it to me straight regardless of the outcome.
“I turned in my mission papers,” he says. “I could get my call anytime now.”
“You’re kidding me! Oh, Ryan that’s--”. I light up with so much surprise and long awaited happiness, but words fail me. It doesn’t matter, because he waves the congratulations and the praise away and continues.
“I came to your house last night because…” his blue eyes bore into me without fear or shame or hesitation, “Because I wanted to ask you to write to me. I wanted to ask you to wait for me.”
Well, it’s clear what’s happened. I’ve entered an alternate universe. My eyes grow as wide as they’ve ever been, and I try to decipher what is clearly a foreign language he’s speaking.
“W-w-wait?” I ask.
“Yeah. You know, wait. Like in no ring on the left hand, red exes on two, twelve month calendars, elevator music gently playing in the background with an operator’s voice breaking in once in awhile to tell you she’s sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience?”
I don’t think I’ve blinked for awhile… and my mouth seems to be interminably hanging open. Ryan waves a hand in front of my face with caution, testing for brain activity.
Now I blink rapidly, lower my eye brows and angle my best hearing ear toward him, silently asking him to repeat himself.
He intentionally raises his voice to a comedic, unsure, higher pitch. “Mayyyybe just the writing. It involves pen, paper, and hopefully an… occasional… encouraging… sentiment?”
His mix of easy confidence and admitted vulnerability disarm me and I allow a reluctant smile to soften my features. It’s a smile that says, “You’re funny, but ohhh the nerve of you.” I stand up, turn my back to him and walk over to lean on the railing of the deck.
“This is so like you,” I say, “to just come strutting back into my life.”
He walks up next to me, watching me, reading me like he could always do so well in the beginning. He places his hand over mine with just the right amount of caution. “I wasn’t aware that I ever left your life,” he says, and the nerve endings in my hand remind me that he never really did.
Then he removes his hand and exhales, blowing the air out over the backyard. “Besides,” he says, “I wouldn’t say I managed to ‘strut’ back. I didn’t strut home from your house last night after seeing you in the window.”
My head whips toward him too quickly, and I sound a little too gratified when I ask, “What did you think when you saw that?”
“Like I said, I thought you met some guy at college already. I thought I’d lost you.” This, he says while looking at me, but then his eyes fall to his feet and he kicks at the wood beneath them. “I gotta admit, when I got back to the solitude of my room, I might have even shed a tear or two- something I swore I’d never do. I was like, ‘What’s this wet stuff coming out of my eyes?’” He elbows me playfully and I smile, without sympathy. He says, “So… yeah, thanks for taking my man card from me.”
I laugh. “Oh you did? You shed a tear or two huh?” I add my casual confession. “Yeah, I’ve shed a couple tears over you too. They now refer to them as Millsite Reservoir.” I call up thoughts of what our local reservoir looks like right now, water bursting over the spillway with the force that could kill.
“I know,” he says, “I know. I did some things that need to be forgiven, but come on. They’re not unforgiveable, are they?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Listen, I’m not going to give you a speech because you know I’m good at speeches and I know you’re good at rebuffing them. Just let me take you out next time you come home…. and… make it soon, would you?”
From the time I saw his silhouette in my window last night until now, there was never even a fraction of a second when I would’ve said no.