Before my thirtieth birthday I fell in love with a woman I shouldn’t have. She had a boyfriend and she lived in Paris with him. In fact, she had moved to Paris for him. The first time we kissed was the first night we spent together and I knew it was a mistake. I told myself it would only be a summer fling and there wasn’t nearly enough time for anything of real consequence to form.
Two days before she departed for Europe she called from a wedding to say she missed me. She called again during her stopover in Ireland to say she was thinking of me. Then she called me every night at 3:00 a.m. for the next two months, saying she was going to come back to the States to be with me. I believed her.
One morning, minutes before I had to teach a class, I got an email. He knows everything. When we spoke about it our conversation was short. He had forgiven her and she was going to stay and try to mend their relationship.
“Good luck,” I said. “I hope it all works out.”
“Is there anything I can say to change your mind?”
There wasn’t, of course, and though I hung up on that cold note I nearly bought a plane ticket I couldn’t afford to track her down until I realized that life—real life—isn’t a movie where you can will a thing into being. A year later, still heartsick and lonelier than I have ever been in my life, we agreed to meet in Harvard Square for a drink. I arranged the meeting because I had to know I hadn’t been crazy. I needed to know she loved me once. Cotton-mouthed, barely able to maintain eye contact, I listened as her soft voice and halting words said she was getting married in two weeks. A bereft silence filled the space between us but it was clear I hadn’t been wrong about us, which was no comfort at all.
We went for a walk, passing by a park where men were playing ultimate frisbee. Their footfalls and traffic were the soundtrack over our exhausted small talk and they drowned out our quiet words. We walked long enough that she got blisters on her heels and we had to stop while she inspected her raw skin. I fought the urge to help her, to tend to her as I would have a year before.
Our trains were headed in opposite directions and ten yards short of the T station she asked to hug me. I hadn’t held a woman since I last held her. She leaned into my embrace and I took in the ridges of her spine, the smell of her hair, and remembered the way our bodies had felt pressed together. Then she lifted her chin and kissed me. It was one of those days when the sun can’t shine any brighter and when the sky stretches so clean and blue I am filled with the wonder it wraps us in. Her skirt lifted in the breeze and I thought, we could be anyone to the thousands of strangers passing us in their cars or on the sidewalk. The couple that just found each other. The man and woman embarking on a future instead of closing their past. We could be the ones getting married in two weeks. There is so much hope in a kiss, but it wasn’t until then I became aware a kiss contained elegy, too.
The Kiss is a bimonthly series curated by Brian Turner.
The Kiss: Intimacies from Writers is available from Norton in February 2018.