Lost and Found
He returned at 6am.
The sign of his arrival was announced by the box of Nikes on my front door step. Snow White Presto Flyknits sitting on my welcome mat. A question and a statement: they said both ‘can I come in?’ and ‘I am here’. To their left stood a smile, and the man who wore it as both an apology and a proclamation of intent slouched in the confrontational sunlight. I raised my arm to shield my eyes in protest and protection from both its harsh light and his presence. Spring was making its entrance, and with it, came Frank.
An incessant doorbell had woken me, hauling me out of the warm embrace of linen, memory foam and last night’s Netflix playing on a loop. I reluctantly yank myself out of bed, and left yet another Olivia Pope monologue about Fitz, to make my way to the door — grabbing a pair of pants from the floor as if they are responsible for this early morning transgression.
The doorknob gives way at my gentle urging and my eyes slowly adjust to the sunlight, drawing a shadowy map: from sneakers to a Pablo sweatshirt, from sweatshirt to a familiar neckline, and as if prompted by the woman on my GPS (who is always leading me astray, and here does so again), make their final resting place on his face on that infuriatingly welcome smile.
‘Hi’, he says.
Feet shuffle in Air Force Ones.
‘Hi’, I respond.
Feet greet a mouth set in stone.
‘You look good’
A peace offering enveloped in social niceties / polite conversation
‘How did you find me?’
Crossed arms in resolute response.
‘Tyler gave me your new address…’
‘Are you going to let me in?’
I sigh and lean against the door, creating a narrow pathway for his entrance. He deftly navigates the space between the cupboard and my unyielding frame. His wrist softly brushes against my hip bone. Something shifts and then resets itself.
I watch him survey the space. I moved into it a few months ago, finally abandoning our not-so-shared one bedroom once its population abruptly halved. Every inch of this apartment is marked with my signature. I chose the light fittings, door handles and furniture. I selected each sensation. It still smells like the inside of a furniture store — Eau de Coricraft and Other Middle Income Class Trappings. I relish every impression it creates. I take a strange comfort in how out of place he is in this place. My place. And then, with the flick of a jacket discarded, a 180 degree turn and simultaneous seat on the coach he suddenly makes it his too. What an awful, yet inevitable calamity. What a self-set trap.
‘Where have you been?’ I ask.
‘Away. Figuring shit out. I took up carpentry for a minute. Spent the summer in California. Did shit. It felt endless’, he responds.
His feet are up on my coffee table. He has declared this space his. The circular dance we have been doing for the past few years continues, talking not so much to each other and more around each other, as if simultaneously attracted and repelled. This feels endless.
There’s a loop on the other side of a loop is a loop.
I wasn’t even aware that I was holding my breath. A sudden and protracted exhale is the only signal that my body has been holding itself aloft, as if trying to escape gravity through sheer will.
I start to speak, trying to root my bare feet on the tiles to calm constant pacing.
‘I’ve been thinking…’ I say.
‘About me?’ he questions, as a cheeky smile taking up residence on his face.
‘About you, yes, but mostly about me’, I volley back. My eye-roll borders on infinite.
Laughter erupts from his lips. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you’.
‘It’s ok. But seriously, I’ve been thinking, you know, about how we were both responsible for this thing. I mean, you didn’t let me know what was up. You gave me dates that you would return. It sometimes felt like you were scheduling my disappointment. Encouraging it even and laughing from a distance. Like it was some kind of game’
He looks up. I look at my bare feet.
‘It’s quite alright to hate me now’ Frank simply states. One part honesty, two parts questioning, four parts confidence that his suggestion is built on impossibility.
‘But I don’t. Not at all’ I state.
He looks pensive. Or could just be thinking about what he wants for dinner. Both are equally possible.
I continue my frequently interrupted monologue: ‘I participated in that strange dance too. And the more I thought about it, the more I started to realise the weight of my expectations, and how that collided with this endless wait for you, for anything at all. I just wanted some real assurance that you would be back, that this means something. I guess in some ways, I thought you were mine and that meant that I owned you. That it meant you owed me so many parts of yourself — especially the ones that you try to keep hidden. Which on so many levels is…urgh…gross, I think?
He is smiling, as he always does when my efforts to explain something result in an extended, rambling monologue. I am the same Olivia Pope that I tried to escape a few minutes ago. Except in particularly less cute pajamas, and way less white attire.
There is a brief silence that seems to acknowledge the newly-formed distance between us, the result of so many years apart. Two people trying to renegotiate their terms and conditions, trying to get out of the bull-matador matrix and see each other under a different contract.
I break it: ‘I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me. And then that dream felt like it turned into a nightmare, when reality hit. You left, and it felt like I suddenly woke up, abruptly, to a cold bed and cold shoulder.’
‘I had to roll solo for a while. I thought we were better off that way’.
‘I know. But it was hell on earth for me’
‘For me too. For my own reasons. You get that?’
‘I know. I do.’
‘I care for you still and I will forever’
My lips slowly press themselves into a wry smile.
I guess we were both complicit in the creation of this mythology. His return made me reluctantly accept my role in this drama, where there was no clear villain — even as I so deeply wanted it to be much clearer. Even as I sought out saintly status, untainted and perfectly constructed. He is off the pedestal. And so am I.
I look down and see a slight mark on his usually pristine Nikes. He follows my gaze and sees it too.
‘I’m just a guy. Not a god,’ he says looking up and meeting my eyes with a mock-serious intensity.
We’re eating fruit loops. It’s 1am. I’m wearing the Nikes.
Last night feels like a past life.