To see him again—tall, lean, crinkling eyes, thin lips tugged into a smile, always dry from working outside high up in the trees, a ‘tree doctor,’ he called himself—my stomach drops like it did when we first met at seventeen, him walking into the shoe store where I worked, later returning to ask me out, the first time picked up by a boy meeting my parents and we strolled the boardwalk in and out of circles of lamppost light, illuminating, fingers intertwined, his large hands enveloping, and now two decades later on the street corner in front of his parked work truck, white instead of black like the one he bought when we were together, so big he hoisted me up at the used car dealership, chuckling, the first truck I ever drove, perched and squinting out too-dark tinted windows, picking him up downtown at the end of his serving shift when his tip money was stolen out of his locker, a weekend job to save cash for our daydreamed trip to Belize, we catch up—his wife’s new hospital job, high daycare costs for his kids (I don’t reveal I know about his wife and kids from curious social media searches over the years), and my recent engagement (I keep the ring hidden under my gloves, he doesn’t ask)—then reminisce, his downcast embarrassment when his car ran out of gas on our third date, trekking the highway shoulder together carrying a red plastic gas can, the stocking I made for his first Christmas celebration, having renounced his mother’s religion just before we met, his name sewed in bold block white felt letters like the ones from my own childhood, eating soggy sandwiches under flat-bottom clouds in Saskatchewan during a cross-country drive, slurping warm chicken noodle soup on New Year’s Eve while he sprawled under a navy blanket on the couch sick with shingles, how I watched the X-Files through outstretched fingers covering my face curled beside him, always seeking his protection, stuck at the top of Blackcomb mountain, scared on a double-black diamond run in my stiff snowboard and boots, him holding me and coaxing me down, stripping mint-green paint from an old dresser, a thrift store find, sanding it bare and refinishing in hazelnut, something hearty and new, a dresser I still use, and now our belly laughter deep and full, talking over each other, words tumbling, so we don’t notice the crisp November air but shove hands deeper into pockets and step closer, my chattering teeth overlooked, work appointments ignored, my chest tightening as he removes his work helmet, tousling greying hair, and then a pause—his lowered voice asking, “Why did we break up again?”— and we remembered me leaning against the kitchen counter while he paced the grey speckled tiles, looking everywhere but at me, voice cracking, that after nearly nine years he didn’t want to settle down, he wasn’t ready, not in his mid-twenties, reasons now evaporated, and then for years, out-of-the-blue phone calls, dinners and concerts, pinkies linked, new boyfriends compared, each time wondering if this was it, hopeful, surprised at details he remembered about me that even I forgot, his memories a tether, getting tattoos, two colorful swallows on his chest facing each other, the crest of a blue wave on the inside of my left ankle, ebb and flow of tides, permanent reminders, and yet another night together, entangled and familiar, falling asleep as always with one leg draped over his, bodies warm and clinging together with sweat, hot breath in my neck, after he hosted a going away get-together before I moved away for grad school, grilling burgers for my friends, and I remember not our first kiss, but the one when I first knew, outside his sister’s apartment door, his back against the wall, me leaning in on tiptoes, him pulling me close, the weight of his clasped hands behind my back, the taste of cigarettes, and now we gaze at each other across a long silence, and when we hug goodbye, we each hold tight before letting go.
Lina Lau is a writer from Toronto, Canada. Her nonfiction was the third place winner of the 2019 Prairie Fire creative non-fiction contest, and was longlisted for the 2019 CNFC/Humber Literary Review creative non-fiction contest. Her work can be seen in Hippocampus Magazine, The Citron Review, carte blanche, Little Fiction | Big Truths, and Tiny Essays.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower