Unguarded

by Thom Garrett and Danna Colman

They ate popcorn out of crinkly foil bags and kissed the salt from each other’s lips as they drove along mountain roads. They told stories that revealed their pasts. He told of his childhood family summers at the camp where no one spoke, and she spoke of her childhood summers where she was sent off to camp for two dismal months, abandoned.

He confessed he missed his wife, crying after finishing his story. She watched him with love and compassion as his eyes seemed to plead with her, fearing she would back away from him. Instead, she held his hand and gently soothed his brow with her fingers as they turned to the lighter music on the CD.

She studied his complexity, how he was so capable of jumping headfirst into their relationship, flying 3,000 miles to meet her, a stranger. And, yet, he was tormented with fear and self-doubt about his truth being enough.

They spent a full month together taking a week-long trip to the Central Coast and then coming back home to another three weeks filled with each other but mostly doing nothing except talking and still getting to know one another better. They felt as if they had been together forever and sometimes had nothing left to talk about that was old and only spoke about the present and future.

What would the future be filled with? Did either of them know? He hadn’t lived alone in his entire life until a few years ago. He had gone from his parent’s house to a college dorm and then married at twenty. He hadn’t divorced his wife of thirty-plus years before moving in with his lover and soulmate. And after her untimely death and two years spent completely alone with his darkest thoughts, he was open to meeting someone. Didn’t he need some more time to think about his future? Didn’t she need more time to rethink her coveted solitude?

Their pasts, so dissimilar in every way, had been their connection in the early days and weeks of their love. They had found what they had in common, invisible to the eye and untold in their histories. In spite of the countless ways their lives were different, they each found comfort and safety in the other. Shaped by a lifetime of contrasting experiences, they were made for each other — different enough to feel like an adventure, similar enough to feel like home. And so, their yesterdays faded, and they thought more and more about their tomorrows. Uncertain and unknowable, their future seemed risky compared to their past, safely captured in stories. But their past could only bring them so close, and they wanted more.

They had shared their pasts through reading each other’s personal essays and exposed their thoughts and feelings by telling stories. Taking a chance, they chose to share their present — a few weeks or a month at a time — with no expectation other than to be in the moment together. At even greater risk, their time together has led them to the brink of the future, no longer satisfied with just the moment. It was frightening to say “I’ll spend a day with you,” and even more to say, “I’ll spend the night with you.” A day, a week, a month, more moments taken one at a time. Now their hearts have turned to the future. “Will you be there for me tomorrow?” “Will you still love me next week?” “Will I still love you next month?” And the month after, and the month after that? And the year after that? And when I’m older? And when I’m sad? And when I need you?