The next morning I wake up with some clarity*. I realize that my anxiety is less about his reason for not wanting to kiss me, but rather that maybe I, me, I'm not choosing and instead merely succumbing to his attention without checking myself first. Plus I wonder if I'd built up a fantasy in my head and kept it simmering on the back burner for a year. Holy shit, I think, do I even like him?
Along with a small group of other foreign grown-ups learning English in Vancouver, I taught my future husband a grammar class. At the end, feeling slightly less hungover and slightly more adventurous again, I wrote the name of a restaurant in East Van that hosted samba and salsa dancing on Saturday nights on the whiteboard, inviting the socially deprived people out to an area that didn't directly cater to their naïveté*.
He approached my desk after class and wanted to know a few specifics on the grammar lesson. I probably faked my way through the answer because grammar always felt like math (sorry, all my former students!)* but he was earnest in his approach. I looked at him with a slight leer, in one of those liquidy moods where all I can think about is rolling into the next bender and fucking the world, but he was so nice. Like, really, a good person.
The next evening, I almost didn't go meet him, but she drug me out of our ratty apartment and down to the restaurant. We were already halfway in the bag, skipping through the street, doing that thing where we were in love with one another but going out to meet men when I spotted him sitting at the bar all by his lonesome, all dressed in black. He stood up to greet me and that was it, I knew our destinies would be looped together by that invisible string.
I didn't even know if I liked him yet but I was in love.
The burdens of expectation and disappointment have lifted when I come downstairs for breakfast and see him sitting at the table puffing on his vape. He stands up to greet me with so much tenderness in his eyes that I almost break into tears. But I don't. I'm going to let myself choose this time, see if I like him, put some space between us, try "slow".
"Can I make you a coffee?" he asks.
"How did you sleep?" he looks at me from under his brow. His body seems to sway between reticence and devotion.
He sets down the coffee. We sit in silence for a few minutes as I drink it, and it's not unpleasant that silence.
"I tossed and turned all night. It was awful," he finally says.
"Oh you did?" I reply softly, not wanting to sound like I care that much.
"That oil from Paris, I could smell it all night...could smell you. It was just, God, it was just too much," he says the last few words forcefully.
"Why because you're seeing someone?" I blurt out.
"Then why didn't you kiss me?" I say looking down at my hands, then back up at him.
"I just want to take things slow. I like you. You're so smart... and different." He puffs on the vape and smiles, "Wanna hang out today? Talk and cuddle?"
That makes me so happy I want to burst but I stay cool.
"Yeah, sure, that sounds nice."
Silence used to be painful because I didn't like what I heard in it; endless chatter suggesting I was stupid or ugly or inadequate or indecent or vulgar or unworthy or too much. Sometimes I would lay down at night and my head would be screaming "I'm sorry" -- sorry to whom? Sometimes I'd default to choosing a man to be sorry to, the last man I encountered. I must have done something to make him not like me, I must have come across too strongly, turned him off. Even though those voices are the machinations of self-hate perpetuated by how one grows up, and the woman-hating culture at large, they're also protection mechanisms. They're all about me in the end, damaged or victorious. The obsessive chatter fuzzed out real contact with others and more importantly, with myself.
I was saying sorry to me. Compassionate, loving, but still very quiet me was apologizing for all the hurt I caused myself.
*Footnote on the amazing extra benefits of sobriety: I so rarely wake up with pangs of regret, I've lost weight without trying (no more gazillion wine calories, late night crap food or hangover pizza), I have money in the bank, and substance-free, I sleep so much better. I can nip cravings and obsessive thought earlier, whatever they happen to be. I feel actual fucking FEELINGS. Mornings have become light moments of truth instead of dark rushes of anxiety. Are these the secondary embers of self-love?
*Second footnote on how much I hate shitty bars and restaurants in downtown sectors across this country. It SUCKS BALLS to be stuck in a foreign city and be subjected to mass mainstream bars and restaurants. If you ever meet a foreigner in your city or town, please throw them a bone and suggest some decent places to eat or hang out. Thank you.
*Third footnote on teaching English. It was my golden goose for almost 10 years. I met so many deeply fascinating and beautiful people and was privileged to be their teacher. I was weak at grammar but I hope I made students feel loved and heard. Teaching is really hard and requires so much energy, dedication and heart! Respect.