#FreeWriteFriday – Icemen

Sometimes #FreeWriteFriday and Valentine’s Day coincide. Sometimes you feel that this, in itself, is a sign from the Universe to be brutally, embarrassingly honest.

9:15 am

Rob parked his car next to mine but left it running. We would need the heat. I opened my driver’s side door to cross the snowy lot. Halfway around the hood of his car I tripped and slid on invisible ice. Uggs are not made for traction.

My arms shot out reflexively and I grabbed the frozen metal grille in time to keep from falling. I laughed at myself, got up, opened the passenger door, slid into warmth.

Rob was there to tell me why my relationship had ended.

Not with him, of course. With his roommate and best friend. He was the mediator – one of the best I know. He can take a tangled, twisted situation and make sense of it. He can pick apart snarled threads until something like the truth unravels, even if it’s a truth no one wants to face.

But I’d rather truth than empty words.

***

I teetered on the edge of the wooden deck, afraid to step into snow with my slick-soled leather riding boots. They were the black ones I’d worn out. The sparkly top, half-teased hair and smeared makeup were also souvenirs from going ‘out.’ I’d been ‘out’ for two days and two nights. In the middle of being ‘out,’ I’d gotten snowed in. I clutched a quilted coat around myself, my only source of warmth save the warm sweatshirted body behind me.

That body took a half step forward, kissed me on the top of my head, hugged me from behind and stepped back into the heated hallway.

“You can do it, Texas girl.” His voice was half teasing, half exasperated. I looked back into his smiling face, uncertain.

It was February of my sophomore year, and this was only the second or third time I would walk in snow. A deep breath and I started forward. I made it across the deck, down the stairs with much clutching of the handrail, through the front yard and halfway up 5th Street before I slipped. There was nothing to grab. My feet slid out from under me and I landed, hard, on my tailbone.

I scrambled up. The back of my leggings was soaked. I looked hastily around to see if anyone had seen – if he had seen – but he’d already disappeared back into the house. Back into his bed where I’d slept for two nights. Back into the world in which he only had to think of me occasionally.

Fraternities are not good for love. They are loud and unruly and testosterone-driven; they are full of the push to prove yourself to your brothers.

He did not love me there. But I loved him.

***

Rob and I were meeting on Thursday. I’d spent late Monday night and Tuesday and half of Wednesday at his house. We’d been snowed in together, the three of us.

We’d made nests on couches and dents in books and I’d watched them slam through games of solitaire though they were never alone, not in that tiny apartment with one extra inhabitant.

We had all escaped the confines of the walls for a few precious hours. Rob had walked one way and the two of us had walked the other, down snowy lanes to meet neighbors and their dogs and to chase plump robins to the edge of wintry underbrush.

On that walk he’d kissed the top of my head from behind too, arms wrapped around my midsection. Not until a particularly sleepless night did my racing mind make the connection between this year and last.

And during those days all cooped up together I’d fallen hard for him. His thin sentence underlines in black ink and his Michigan sweatshirt and the way he always asked if I wanted coffee or tea. At night we kept warm in his tiny bed and blanket mound.

If anything was off, I didn’t notice.

***

Two days living in a fraternity house had gone over well with me. I’d adapted. I’d borrowed a sweatshirt and braided my hair and been perfectly content watching round after round of FIFA, beer in hand. I’d bummed smokes on the back deck and listened to the boys’ gossip (yes, boys gossip) about girls. Occasionally I’d even chime in with a remark that made them all laugh. They liked me, I think.

Because when I bugged them to escape the house they obliged. Rising with groans from I-don’t-want-to-know-what-that-stain-is-from couches they bundled in layers and trudged out of doors.

He wore scrubs tucked into Nikes and rubber banded around the ankles. To keep the snow out, he said. We stole trashcan lids and tried to sled, but they sunk into the soft powder on the hill. There was a snow fight instead. He tried to shield me, but a chunk sailed over his shoulder and soaked my right ear.

At night I scoured his iTunes library. We reveled in middle school throwbacks and he sang Blink 182 out loud. We watched trashy comedies and horror flicks. I drew pictures on his dry erase board and shed my hair all over his black sheets.

If anything was off, I didn’t notice.

***

That morning I left the house giddy and glowing and sure of myself. Weeks went by. We talked, but not every day. That was fine, I told myself. Normal.

Then came months. I worked Dance Marathon and went to New York and got sick (mononucleosis) and turned 20. He fell off the face of my earth. One day, fed up, I pressed for closure.

We met on the concrete steps in front of the library. It was April; the snow had long since melted. I arrived first. He walked toward me, not quite meeting my eyes, and sat down at my side. Our conversation was a series of short, quick stabs to the gut.

He knew how I felt. It wasn’t enough.

***

Rob had music playing. Rob nearly always has music playing.

He sat in the driver’s seat and looked at me. I couldn’t take it. I curled into a ball. In a series of halting words I asked him to explain. He tried. In the end, it boiled down to a familiar story.

He knew how I felt. It wasn’t enough.

Rob watched me dissolve. He listened and listened and added sentences of his own when there was a pause. He gave me an ugly pillowcase from the backseat to wipe my nose. This was a luxury – so much space. A foot of fabric in place of the tissues we’d both forgotten to bring.

I would move on, he said, and I will. This I know from experience. It’s the stretch of time before the moving on that’s painful.

An hour later I opened his car door again and circled back to mine. For a second time I slipped on the ice, but I did not fall.

Snow will not lull me again into a false sense of security. It will not lure me again into the arms of men for whom I am not enough – enough to overcome distance or time or second guesses or the uncertain, fast-approaching Future.

I am enough. I am ready for spring.

10:17 am

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#FreeWriteFriday – Icemen

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