En route to the coffee shop at 7 am today I was feeling fine. Unfettered by the longing I always carry and rarely articulate. It was cool and grey, my favorite sort of summer morning this year. I was wearing a dress with pockets so deep they could store everything necessary for my jaunt—keys, wallet, lipstick—which left me free to swing both arms and legs as I strode. I’d slept the night before in braids, and my hair, only recently grown out enough to be considered really long, swung too, and in the rippling mermaid waves I’d always hoped they would. All in all, it was as if a crease had been folded in the time-space continuum and my hopeful 7-year-old self had temporarily been granted control of my grown-up body. Once again I was the girl who’d never had her heart broken, not even by her daddy. The girl who remembered all her magic. It felt great, though I hoped she liked coffee as much as I do.
I wasn’t wearing my glasses since at 7 I didn’t need them and in general I always find it relaxing to be liberated from too many details. But my nearsightedness worked against me when a man began sprinting down the other side of the street. He was copper-colored with close-cropped hair and, as he ran closer, I could see how elegantly the muscles in his limbs and shoulders tapered though I still couldn’t see his face. I saw that he was wielding a slightly forlorn bouquet of flowers, the sort you buy at the deli in a last-minute rush of love or forgive-me-baby. I saw too his bald spot, large enough that most men would have shaved their whole head in order to make that baldness seem deliberate rather than a vulnerability. It was the last detail that got me. I had always found that bald spot painfully endearing in my last big love, a man I’d once been sure was no less than my destiny, my heart, my reward for all that had come before. All that jazz.
It so easily could have been him that I felt another blip in the time-space continuum, albeit one that was even more unlikely. Suddenly it was months before, when he and I still harbored hope, when we still proclaimed love, when he still would have been sprinting to my bed. For a minute I felt blissfully, unabashedly happy. And in that next minute I felt a sick fear. Because if it were him—and sick fear having chased out the nine-year-old girl and her excellent eyesight, I really couldn’t eliminate that possibility—then all that voluptuous romance and beauty and fucking hope was sprinting to someone else. To someone else’s bed.
It hit me then that since I’d not heard from my former lover in a long time—on my behest, yes, but for what I’d deemed very good reasons—the chances were high that he was doing just that. If not across the street from me, then somewhere, and likely somewhere in my neighborhood since we still geographically if not emotionally occupied the same turf. It was a thought that wreaked havoc upon my every organ, though I’d hardly been a saint myself since we’d parted ways.
Ah, heartbreak before 8 am. So unpalatable.
But of course the universe loves hope, not just truth. The truth in that moment was I was not 9 anymore and actually had weathered enough heartbreak to merit an umbrella every day of the week. Once I really let myself taste that fear and disappointment, though, hope had room to come in, just as it always does when I stop writing around the truth. One minute I was on the verge of tears, trying to decide whether to call out my former lover’s name, and the next minute hope crept out of my hairline and popped into my hand, in the form of a ladybug as plump and red and perfectly polka-dotted as any ever get. A tiny foretoken of luck. We gazed upon each other for a moment and then she froze. “Wait, wait, wait,” I whispered, and began to look around for a nicer place than the concrete patch of sidewalk where we were standing. I moved into the shadow of my favorite neighborhood Mother Mary—a life-sized sky-blue statue sitting pretty in a glass box surrounded by big lacy trees–and since my new friend knew what was good for her, she unfurled her fairy wings and flew right into all that divine mystery.
With great admiration I watched her go until I realized I’d forgot to look closely at the man as he’d run by. He was far gone now. Since he’d not noticed me, I figured he was either not my guy or had been too consumed by his new love to bother with what amounted to yesterday’s lunch. Regardless, I was out of the woods. For now. What’s more, there was still coffee to be fetched.
Stendhal writes that it only takes a small amount of love to beget hope. It may take an even smaller amount of hope to beget love. (O, I miss my friend.)