By Alan Semrow
It had been at least a year since we’d last seen each other—you met me at a time when I was younger and vacant, vulnerable. And emotionally unavailable. I want you to know that I was here for it the night we reunited—out of happenstance, out of my persistence to maybe make it up to you in some way.
Do you remember the night we met my boss and coworker for dinner at the Mexican restaurant? When I told you it was a nice place and you said you promised not to wear your hoodie and sweatpants. It was small things like that that made me thankful to have that moment in time with you. After hanging with them (and after, while you were in the bathroom, they’d given you a ten-star approval rating), you drove my car back to my apartment because I’d had too many margaritas. We only realized it on the freeway, when I turned the music down and identified the weird rumbling noise—you were driving in the wrong gear. We burst out laughing. “If that just killed my new car, you owe me a new one.”
You said that wouldn’t be the case.
That night, we had sex on my Serta air mattress (you had a similar one back at your apartment). While you were inside of me you kept saying that thing that makes me feel something to this day (“You feel so good.”). Anyone could say those simple words, but you gave them the meaning.
I thought about you all that time after we ended—after that night when we stood out in the courtyard sharing what I presumed to be our last cigarette together. Before I walked off, we kissed on the mouth.
Up until now, my mind flutters back to you—it’s never really stopped.
When I saw that you were in town, I said what I did to you because Monica told me I’d regret it if I didn’t. That night, I got ready at her place. We shared some wine and I told her why meeting you again after all this time was so significant to me. On my way out, I almost hugged her goodbye, before reminding myself that, although things were all well in the world right now, she was still my coworker, I’d see her the next day at the office, and she hated hugs.
Exile in Guyville played on the way to your hotel. I passed spots that I used to pass while driving to your place. I looked forward to those drives—that night you took me for pizza, the night we caught the drag show, the night we spent at your friends’—dog-sitting, doing bad things to each other, watching your weird Netflix shows, listening to all that music you liked so much—the stuff I still have on my iPod. Whenever one of those songs comes on, it pulls me back.
Parts of me thinks we could have had it all, but timing is a real bitch.
Upon my arrival, you texted to say you were on your way down to the lobby. I stood in front of the gold elevator doors and watched the numbers above ding, ding, ding. My stomach was lit. And then the final ding. And the doors. You had that tiny smirk on, the one that used to make me wonder if I could actually trust that you weren’t going to hurt me (like the one who came before you), but now made me swoon.
You hugged me. You looked and smelled the same—for that, I was grateful.
Things were going well today.
We’d kept in very sporadic contact since the last time—the little pokes over the course of that year, the pokes that served to not even check in and see how the other was doing. Mostly, I think it all just served to say that we still floated through each other’s minds, all this time and, now, all these miles away from each other. You bought the book and sent me a picture of it in your hands the day it arrived in your mailbox—a brief chat ensued. But I wanted to tell you more.
Tonight, you were in town for a work conference. You’d leave and fly back tomorrow night.
Walking through the lobby, you asked if I still smoked cigarettes. I said, yes, sadly. You told me some story about how you’d managed to quit for a few months but were back on it. Then we went outside to share one. This was weird, wasn’t it? That something in me felt it so incredibly necessary to revisit things—just for the night, just to see, just to set things right—maybe? Or maybe there’s no question at all as to why I felt it such a great idea. Maybe it’s one of the smarter things I’ve done.
Your rental for the week was a minivan. As we approached it on that chilled night, I laughed. You used to drive me around in that tiny little car of yours. Now, we sat a fucking Dodge Caravan like soccer mommies. You drove from your hotel, back to that bar you used to frequent—the one where we met your friends and I got to see a side of you that I hadn’t yet. We left them to go find trouble as a duo.
We walked in and Ed and Dan ran over. They introduced themselves to me, though we’d met a few times before—if they only knew what we’d done while dog-sitting at their place that weekend.
Mike bought us a shot of Fireball and you told them all the things that I’d been wanting to ask you, but didn’t know how to. How did you like your new city? Your new dog? Your new job? Your new life? Did you miss your old life? Your old friends? Your family?
You stood from your stool to put that song on the jukebox. I bopped my head and mouthed the words and asked you about the latest record by that band you like so much.
It’s poppier, isn’t it? But not really a bad thing.
We stepped out to the enclosed patio. You were starting to get a little tipsy and I think I was, too. It was cute when you got like that—giggly, talkative, full of random anecdotes. We lit cigarettes and you started telling me that you had this idea for a book, that you’d always wanted to write one, but didn’t know how. I leaned in closer and said, “Tell me more.” And you did. I wish I still recalled the details. All I recall is it being a story—one big metaphor for what was happening in our world right now. As you went on and on and on, I think my face, it grew redder and redder and redder, my eyes, shinier and shiner and shiner. I said, “That’s the hottest thing I’ve ever heard,” similar to that thing you once told me when you saw my book collection for the first time (“That’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen.”).
I grabbed your face and we made out in that enclosed patio.
You didn’t care what anyone thought of you. You judged no one. You befriended people you liked, of all ages and sizes—with no pretense. You were weird and you were real. And you held my hand that one night at the theater during that special showing of Casino—you held my hand for all three hours of it.
You looked down at your feet and back at me and said, “So, how late are you planning on staying out tonight? Or, are you going to drive home? Or, to your friend’s? Or…?”
This was our moment.
“Well,” I told you. “I brought a change of clothes tonight. It’s in my backpack.”
The little grin on your face told me that you knew exactly what I meant and that you were absolutely okay with that—with us maybe doing something we shouldn’t do.
Ed and Dan bid us farewell. In that empty bar, they said, “Behave, boys.” We plopped back into the Caravan. You turned the engine, but before you backed out, I touched your hand and said, “Wait.” And I bent over to kiss you. “God, I missed this.”
In the elevator up to the hotel, you said, “I still have that book you lent me.”
It was the Amy Hempel collection. I was well-aware. For a bit after that night in the courtyard, I resented you for getting it. Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that there was no reason to be angry at all. We’d had our time and it’s important that we did.
As the elevator doors opened, I said, “I know you have the book. I wanted you to keep it. You also have my Sophie’s Choice DVD.” I touched your shoulder and stepped out to our floor.
In the room, we discussed Don DeLillo. You said you didn’t like White Noise. I told you that it’d been a while since I’d revisited that one. I cracked a beer and we made eye contact that seemed to keep at a glacial pace.
Your pink, wet skin against mine, it pulled me back to the way it had always been (hot as fuck). It pulled me back to the first night, when we drank that bottle of wine and discussed politics and religion and watched American Horror Story—when it just ended up making sense, when the conversation was so good, when both of us agreed to infer that this would continue.
The weekend after our first night, I drove up north to my dad’s cottage. While everyone was out hunting, I sat on the pier overlooking the twinkling, calm river, reading the novel you’d lent me and drinking a vodka-water. Things were good, things were where they needed to be. And I couldn’t even try to get you out of my mind. That day, I wrote a song about what I was going through.
I woke wrapped in your naked body. My alarm rang at an obscene hour that I think you had hard feelings about. I rolled out of the bed to shower. All your stuff laid out on the counter, perfectly placed—it was all the same stuff you used to use.
I dressed and then stood before your sleeping body. I slid onto the bed and straddled you as your eyes slowly opened. You winced. “It’s early.” I nodded and said, “I have to go. But I don’t want you to be a stranger. I want you to have a good rest of your time in town. I want you to have a good flight.”
I kissed you goodbye and left. It was too early for anyone to be out and about in the lobby to witness the beaming yet flustered fucking look on my face as I made my way through the hotel. I entered my car and “Glory” by Liz Phair played. It was right then when I was able to truly understand those words—because what she was saying was exactly what I was experiencing in real-time.
You are shining some glory on me.
As I drove off, my eyes glazed over. I knew there was no guarantee I’d ever see you again, that we’d ever find ourselves in such a circumstance where it would make absolute sense to repeat this.
But also, I think that’s okay, because we still went back and got to do what we got to do—even if it was the last time, it was the perfect ending.