I gathered my keys and flip-flops and said goodbye to Pool Girl. That’s what I ended up calling her to my family and best friend back home. I never got to know her well enough for her to get an actual name. She was nice. We’d laid out and talked about the school she’d just transferred from, Wake Forest. I was going to Playa del Carmen next month and wanted some color for my white belly. You never know whom you’re going to meet.
In every heart
The iron gate clanged shut behind me. The sun was bright. My school workload was light. I was almost through with my junior year of college. And I was single for the first time in three years.
There is a room
Feeling daring, or maybe just determined not to spend the rest of my time in college avoiding her, I climbed up the stairs on my ex’s side. Back when we’d been engaged, we thought it would be cool to get apartments two doors down from each other. It wasn’t quite as cool now that we’d broken up. But our schedules kept us from seeing each other much, and our own efforts helped as well. Every time I climbed that staircase, I always wondered if she were in there, watching me, working, studying, relaxing, crying.
A sanctuary safe and strong
My footsteps pounded on the stairs, amplified by the building next to ours. Her door was hanging wide open. I couldn’t help but look in as I passed by. The music drew me in–Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes.” One of the songs I’d done with her in my first-ever choir concert back in high school. One of the songs that made me cry on senior day in May when we break out the old songs to sing one last time before we graduate. One of those songs that make me pause and listen every time I hear it.
To heal the wounds
She was standing in her living room, clad in loose pants and a black sports bra. I love sports bras, and she knew that. Although my male ego doesn’t want me to admit it, her attire might have been a coincidence. But maybe it wasn’t. Her hair was pulled back. She looked great, but too thin as always, as she liked to be. My heart jumped.
From lovers past
“She’s cute,” she said. Her eyes and voice were resilient, like a battle flag peppered with musket fire.
Until a new one comes along.
“Yeah, she’s pretty cool.”
I spoke to you
“You gonna ask her out?”
In cautious tones
“Oh, I don’t know…”
You answered me with no pretense
“Come on, don’t tell me you didn’t have somebody waiting in the wings.” Her smile was wounded.
But still I feel
I couldn’t say anything. Because she was right. And it wasn’t even Pool Girl. I would never date Pool Girl. She looked even more anorexic than my ex was. My wrist was as big as her upper arm. Nina, my first French partner, was waiting in the wings, and she had already turned me down. Twice. But I couldn’t tell her that.
I’ve said too much
I wanted to hold her. I wanted to dance with her. I wanted to run away. I wanted to cry. I felt ashamed and guilty. I missed her. I stepped inside. We stood there silently in her living room listening to the music. The door stayed open. I never touched her. We just stared blankly at whatever was there, feeling the thickness of our connection and the significance of our separation, seeing the gulf that could be spanned with one touch.
My silence is my self-defense.
“I’d better get going.” I started walking toward the door. The sun was bright. “Take care.”
I walked out and dragged myself the 30 feet to my own door. I let myself in through the same doorway where I’d told her goodbye the month before. It was very quiet inside. I knew, as always, that she was still down there. She was probably thinking about me, just like I was thinking about her. I locked the door, sat down on the couch, and closed my eyes.
Interspersed poetry is from “And So It Goes,” by Billy Joel. Don’t tell Billy.