I just saw an old lover on the street. He didn’t see me–or pretended he didn’t–but I got a good eyeful. We were together off and on for four years and I hadn’t seen him in two. Recently he turned fifty, so he’s been on my mind though our connection is too dangerous to ignite with a polite phone call or card. We live in the same neighborhood so it’s a wonder we don’t run into each other more often. I often think spirit is protecting us by ensuring we don’t. We caused each other a lot of pain–more than the pleasure we gave each other, even.
I watched him talk to someone–a friend, it looked like, if not a close one. Maybe a colleague. I watched him clasp his big hand on that man’s shoulder, then make his way down the street in the opposite direction from me. My old lover seemed smaller and bigger, blurrier and more filled in. It was a shock to see him alive at all–still human, not just an animation of my many memories.
I felt a terrible longing to run alongside him, duck under his shoulder, climb on his back until he folded me in his embrace. This is a man I’ve known since I was a kid though we only became lovers in our forties, and his body has always seemed familiar to me: his smells, good and bad; his fingers (his cock), the tiny stud in his ear (how many times I tongued it), the hairs curling on his chest. His mouth. When we were together, I was always burrowing into him in a way I’ve never done before or since. Sometimes he loved it, sometimes it put him off, but what was miraculous was I didn’t care either way. It’s not that his feelings didn’t matter to me. They did, so much. It’s that, with him, I was present in a way that precluded premeditation. I was not angling to impress or be impressed. I felt him in my blood and bones and pussy and so, without thinking, I’d reach for him.
I watched this man–this collection of human atoms whom I first beheld when he was 10 and then 19 and, o, you get the picture–I watched him bob down the street away from me. His gait was the same. He always keeps it light, bounces on his toes, keeps his carriage erect, as if taking real seriously his mother’s farewell phrase: “Walk good.” He looked heavier and furrier and still, to me, extremely beautiful. For a minute I remembered it all: how many times he opened me when my heart seemed shut to everything, how many times he walked away without looking back. In that rush I wanted my friend so much–not just in bed but cross-legged on the floor, where we could share every story we’d collected since we’d been together. I wanted to climb the stairs into whatever home he occupies now, work and live side by side, match heartbeats.
I wanted to say hi.
But there was no point in reaching across the great divide of space and time that looms between us–two tesseracts, at least. I know his smallest and biggest self, and in some alternate universe both always feel like mine. But in this one, the man walking down the street was in no way moving toward me.
I sent him love instead.
It reminds me of that Grace Paley short story, the one where she returns a library book at least twenty years overdue, then checks it back out because she still hasn’t read it. Her ex husband, someone she hasn’t seen in decades, walks by just then, and she says: “Hello, my life.”
Hello, my life.