Romantic Gesturing

Ella Dawson
Jun 2, 2016 · 5 min read
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I had the line down perfect. I’d been refining exactly what I wanted to say since September when he put on his beaten-up sneakers on the bedroom floor and kissed me goodbye. I watched him walk away from the window, memorized his defeated gait, pressed my hand to the glass and thought the year starts now. We were broken up but love doesn’t go anywhere. Love has no reason to respect passports or abroad programs, graduations or career changes. Neither of us would have chosen this and so I started practicing what I would say to win him back when the time came that he was right in front of me again.

I planned my outfit too. I ordered a loose pink cardigan and paid to have old-fashioned Hollywood curls fussed into my long hair. I slid on cowboy boots and printed my Amtrak ticket and told anyone who would listen that I was “romantic gesturing.” Friends and co-workers looked at me with soft concern, unsure if I was immaturely deluded or just one of those lucky people for whom everything worked out. But I’m not a deluded person, I’m practical to a fault. The facts were on my side, after all: he had invited me to visit him. Why would he do that if he didn’t want to see me again? Why would we not be together if we loved each other and there were no separate continents claiming us as their own?

He was waiting for me in the station, just outside my track — I noticed with a heart-stop that he was all dressed up. Our hug was tight enough to crack bone, each second making up for a wasted day apart. I was so goddamn nervous and we sat outside in the humidity eating McDonalds and waiting for it to finally start raining. On the walk back to his apartment, he pulled me to him by the belt loop, mid-sentence. That kiss was a year overdue. Later he told me that he had kissed everyone like he was kissing me and I thought ah ha, I was right. First loves, they never really end. They grow with you under your breastbone, keeping you modest, keeping you warm.

We found a restaurant with outdoor seating for dinner and I was still drunk on his face. I wanted to hold it between my hands and just stare at his familiar scars and wide, young eyes. I wanted to tell him everything of the year he’d missed, the family strife, the writer’s block, the Internet fame. I wanted to tell him about my mentor, a regal woman with unending kindness and generosity like she was the social media editor of some distant kingdom. I wanted to tell him about the city where I lived now, how my borough is full of so many more trees than I’d expected. I wanted to tell him what I’d learned about myself, about the woman I could feel myself becoming like an early twenties growth spurt. I wanted to tell him all of this and ask how that sounded to him — could he see himself buying Diet Coke at the corner bodega and learning the rhythm of Grand Central? Could he find a home in my new skin? Was I enough of the girl he had loved then to be the woman he fought for now?

When the opportunity to say it finally came, I was shaking. I couldn’t look at him, my eyes fixed on the tiny flickering candle on the restaurant table. “The only thing scarier than telling someone you love them… is telling them that you still love them.”

He looked at me and I realized I never prepared for how he would respond, not once. I never anticipated the face fall, the exhausted pain of a boy who had worked so hard to honor practicality above his heart. He asked me how long I’d been writing that line, an Ella Dawson classic, and I felt that terrifying lurch of forgetting the last step of the stairs in the dark and falling forward with nothing to catch you. I still love you, of course I still love you, but…

I never wrote about it. I told myself it was out of respect for him and for the relationship we had—no reason to sully all those months of partnership with an unnecessary epilogue all because I had gotten carried away and read non-existent constellations into our occasional Facebook chats. No need to put us both through the details of a conversation neither of us wants to remember.

But that’s a lie, because I never even wrote about it for myself. That section in my diary is a huge blank despite the copious pages I’d spent planning it before. It’s hard not to think of it as a failure. I understand — cognitively, if never emotionally — why he made the right decision for both of us, why it wouldn’t work. Knowing it was right doesn’t make the memory any less embarrassing. I cried in front of him a lot that weekend, couldn’t seem to catch my breath. It wasn’t dignified.

But all those months of pure confidence, of brazen faith that love finds a way… I am told so often that I am brave for how much I put myself out there in my activist work, but that day was the bravest I’ve ever been. And the stupidest, maybe. I don’t regret it. Sometimes you need to re-break bones that healed wrong, and if I hadn’t told him how I felt, I would have carried what could have been with me for the rest of my life.

Love doesn’t care about logic or fairness or pride. Love is the biggest risk I will ever take, and I choose it again and again and again. What else do you do for the man you love but fight for him? What else do you do but book a ticket and put it all on the line, your dignity, your savings, the risk of being hurt again? I never felt like I had a choice. And I’ve never been more myself than I was in that moment, stripped raw to the emotional bone, offering my whole heart to someone who deserved it but couldn’t accept it. I’ve spent so long trying to forget that conversation and I know I never will. That’s the woman I am. She does what she needs to do.

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