Four Years Later
His hair feels longer than it used to be. Even when it used to be longer than it is now, it was short-lived and trendy. Now his hair falls over his eyes in a way that shows he doesn’t want to pay for a haircut, that there is less function in cutting hair that simply sits on a head. He is less vain. Even though his argyle sweater matches his brown, urban-like shoes and dark wash jeans. His hands are still boxy and his jaw still sharp. He talks about himself less in an air of confidence and more in an air of professional perspective – his art is what he does, not what he is. He considers himself a work in progress. He used to think he was atop an Earth, with the sun shining bright on his every talent. Perhaps a few good years of critique have done this to him. But he still looks the same – at me. He doesn’t even wish to critique or minimize me. He sees through me, past me. I’m barely here. Maybe this is why I never believed what he said, standing at my door at 2am. He was past his curfew and risked harsh consequence trying to talk me into some understanding about his affection for me. The affection he never verbalized. He just looked through me. Not into me. Back then he pioneered the man bag and he wore tee-shirts under zip-up sweaters with flip-flops. Mid-winter. I loved his hands then and how they looked like they were meant to cut wood and shape clay. He was an artist before he knew it, when he’d sketch Howard Roark and play with the idea of illustration. He always found the words before anyone else could – on paper he was a genius and in conversation a champion. I remember hating him sometimes; he was so completely prepared to know answers. He asked the questions that most people wish they could follow-up. My greatest fear was that he’d realize how brilliant I wasn’t. Realizing that he never thought I was brilliant to start. He just had me there to sing new songs to in his little car and my smiling face to anticipate at the end of his clever anecdotes. I was an accessory to his self-obsession, nodding and coddling. But I never hated it the way his closest did. I never wished he’d stop talking about himself, about the sun inside of him, about his point of view. It all fascinated me, the way it still does. His best friend once asked if I ever just wanted to tell him to shut up. I told her no. It surprised her, astonished me. Maybe I was too easy for him to admire and compliment. I was won and sold. I then knew my luck in having his attention was miles short of my hope to win his affection. He begged at my doorstep. For me to see, to understand, to believe. In affection. It was simply his addiction to my complimentary nature. My humble hands resting in my lap sitting in the passenger seat while he banged the percussion and watched me watching him. He still sees me seeing him. He weighs less than he should and plays with his hair instrumentally. I can’t stop looking at him being this him. The one I know but don’t know at all. Because I never knew him – the dancing, the singing, the group fun. He was never a single soul. Yet here he sits, driven by his craft, practically suffocating himself to get it right. He used to be lazy. Maybe he still is, but his nature doesn’t allow me to see. Because he cares more about his work and less about his image. And all I can see is what he’s doing. The way I never used to see. All I heard were the words and all I got was the act. But now he’s creating something he cares about and while he knows I’m watching, wondering; he doesn’t care. He doesn’t mean to impress. He means to be. Something more than what he woke up this morning as. And I can’t stop wishing he was this when I was 17. When he was 18. I remember how he danced, like a background Jet in West Side Story, waving his hands cheerfully and kicking his feet in a defiant way. He never seemed to feel pressure, he seemed so free. The way he does now, but back then he had parents to report to. A curfew. Several obligations as a son and Christian. Now he’s his own Christian with his own ventures. He’s accomplished and employed. He’s pursuing something he loves – he buys used children’s books. He’s fermented in all these ways I imagined he would. I’m wishing I hadn’t allowed this mug of coffee and cup of tea. Because I know he’s never looked back or analyzed why I closed the door and let him become someone to see every six months. He’s never told people stories about me, about what I meant. I meant more than he told. He told too late. I’d already given up and couldn’t carry his baggage at the time. The baggage of being quiet and unintroduced by his side. I wanted to be important. I wanted to be right for him, the him that he proclaimed to be: on top of the world, untouched by tragedy. But I wasn’t anything of the sort. I admitted my size, my insignificance, my painful upbringing. I would watch him lay with his black cat and know that inside there was a loving, affectionate creature. Someone deeper. He pet the feline with a kind of reciprocation; he loved having it there to keep him warm. Baggy purred. Maybe when he was a kid, his cat companion would run away or meow in contest. It’d give him the signs that he was going about it the wrong way, that he needed to approach their encounters differently. Eventually, he became skilled in the art of handling his dingy old cat. He learned. I should have given him another chance. To learn how to handle me. To learn to know how not to tell me nothing bad had ever happened to him. Eventually, he would have gone about me the right way. But that’s not a useful thought, sitting here across from him four years later.