You blamed it on timing, but it wasn’t timing. So you blamed it on circumstance, finances, luck, and finally, distance. Only the last has ever had any merit and you know it. Until she moved, she was yours for the chasing, but you let days pass until she couldn’t wait for you any longer.
If you thought for a moment she would come to something so cliché as a reunion, you wouldn’t have even opened the invite. You would have dropped it in the kitchen trash can with the pre-approved credit cards and coupons for intensive carpet cleaning and letters from charities you hadn’t donated to in four or five election cycles. You would have ordered take-out for your kids and enjoyed greasy General Tso’s chicken as your daughter told you what shapes she learned that day. Then you would have poured yourself a drink and fell asleep in front of the television watching the Mets finish a three-game sweep. And when trash day came, the invite would make its way to the dump where it would rot until Judgment Day. But you didn’t, so it didn’t.
And now she’s standing by the bar without a drink, laughing with a blonde woman who you recognize, but can’t name. You’re finding it difficult to breathe. It feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest, but it’s nothing so surreal. It is the weight of years; time is weighing down on your sternum and flattening your vitals into a wet, red mass of bleeding, useless gunk, until you feel like your only option is to run again. But she’s spotted you, and now the weight has shifted to your tongue which has gone dry with fear.
Neither of you move, even though you’re blocking the door, forcing couples to split around you like a rock in a stream. Still, you hold your ground because you know when your feet move they won’t stop until you are in front of her. Finally, a shoulder to your back uproots you and sends you barreling towards her on numb feet. She’s nodding along with the blonde, but her eyes are on you.
You get within a few feet before her friend notices and launches herself around you with shrill recognition. Before the hug breaks, you remember her name but nothing else about her. Over the blonde’s shoulder, she is smiling at you with a look that says, “Hell, I don’t really remember her either,” and you realize that’s probably part of the reason you loved her. The blonde tells you about her life and wishes she would have kept up with everybody better; she smells drunk, but not in the way that makes you wish she wasn’t. She wants you to meet her husband who she says you used know, so she runs into the crowd to find him, leaving the two of you alone at last.
You say her name out loud for the first time in years, and it doesn’t hurt as much as you imagined it would. She says yours and it hurts exactly as much as you imagined it would.
More people arrive and a few insert themselves into your conversation before shuffling off to interrupt others. Your heart misses a beat when she says she is there alone, but trips over the next when you see her ring. The bartender appears and you buy her a drink, but nothing for yourself because alcohol seems like a mistake.
You want to talk about the past: about the time she wore the orange dress that broke your heart when she danced. About the handwritten notes she used to mail you from campus. About the night she cried in your bed, before sneaking out at sunrise and leaving her earrings on your night stand. About how you waited two years before throwing them away. You want to tell her that your favorite picture of her is blurry, and that maybe that’s why it’s your favorite.
But instead you talk about nothing – your families, the cars you drive, the hotels you’ve chosen that are only a few blocks apart – but each word lingers for a moment, begging to be shattered into a million pieces and looked at under a microscope. You want to believe there is a hidden code in her words that will only become clear when you hear the right keyword or she slips you a piece of paper that says, “Every fourth letter.”
Eventually, the program begins and you’ve got to find your seat. She is at a table across the room near the exit, and you know she’ll take full advantage.
She says she misses you and you briefly forget the sound of your wife’s voice.
When she says goodbye you remember why.