It has been two years since I had seen you.. touched you.. felt you.. experienced you.
Two years ago, if someone would have asked me to tell them about all my favourite memories, you’d be in each and every told adventure… but not anymore.
Like I said — it’s been two years — two years without your time period overlapping mine, influencing mine, warping mine, changing — me. The two best years of my life happened without you, and so when we decided to meet up again, understand the paradoxical risk I took at becoming a time travelling writer.
For the life of me, I can’t remember what you were wearing. A jacket and a scarf for sure — the weather demanded it in Germany — boots, I’m positive about.
But I can’t remember the details. And this is an important part of the story — the meaningless details of you.
I told you to meet me in front of the McDonald’s at the Grand Central Station of Cologne. We didn’t know who’d arrive first, so we had to pick a point to reunite.
You got there first, a little after 9am. As the escalator climbed up, I wondered to myself, what would I feel upon seeing you again?
Would it come back in waves? Would you pull me back in like the tide?
Because no matter how much Mother Nature dictates earth and water as separate entities, the waves always wash back to the shore — coming and going. How bittersweet the sand must feel after each kissing ripple leaves — never to stay.
Seeing you was not so grand, unfortunately fortunate. I saw you, and felt happy, yes of course. Of course, I was happy to see you again.
Please don’t think I wasn’t.
But it wasn’t the utter and absolute gut wrenching, hands shaking, forehead perspiring feeling that used to overwhelm my entire physical body. It didn’t seem like before, all the many countless of times we had reunited in airports after long periods of time.
This was a new experience for me. And well, I’m very much a fanatic of new experiences — wanting to constantly feel every combination of chemicals my brain can neurologically produce.
So this curious feeling took me by surprise when we embraced.
Along with it came the first monstrous wave — your scent. It overpowered my newfound lack of love, and uncomfortably drowned me — which is a terrible way to describe it, because who has ever attested to drowning being comfortable?
(Only writers in love.)
So I shifted to let go of your body, but you held on still and I humored you. At this point, I knew you missed me more than I missed you. You missed the person in your arms, while I missed the girl from my past — completely different people.
That is not to sound cocky at all. But I know I rely on our friendship less, because it has grown to be one-sided. You come to me more often than not with all your problems — you even started calling me your life coach, ironically. I never understood why you didn’t go to your best friends or your boyfriend with matters of your troubled mind — why it was me you were still calling at 2am.
Comfort is funny that way, I suppose.
We were exhausted, to say the least. 12 straight hours of exploring a foreign city had completely depleted our energy. There was a mall about a 5 minute walk away from our airbnb that had a small Viet café inside. We decided to go there for sushi and noodles — our hosts told us it was a must to try, claimed it was the best place to get authentic Asian food.
I hadn’t had sushi since being in Berlin — whereas I ate it at least once a week back home. So, I was enthusiastic about the choice selection.
When we finally got back to the airbnb, you looked at me sympathetically while I fumbled around trying to find the keys in my jacket’s pocket. I knew this look, but I asked anyway, key turning inside the door, “what’s wrong?”
I paused in front of the kitchen, and you went straight to our room, inside the apartment. I followed behind you, with the bags of food in my hands.
“Can we just eat inside here? I don’t want to have dinner with them.”
Them meaning the couple who owned the apartment, and rented our their spare room to travellers. She wasn’t being mean — I understood her sentiment. In fact, our hosts were actually pretty great. One was studying to be a doctor, while the other was a photographer — the beautiful mix of science and art.
But, I, too — was exhausted. And didn’t feel like depleting what little energy I had left on conversation with strangers, no matter how interesting. I wanted a comfortable silence with someone I knew. I wanted to mindlessly watch a show while savoring a comfort food I had been deprived of for 3 months.
However, before we could do all this, I wanted to shower. A personal… charm of mine, let’s call it. I enjoy being clean, it’s one of the best feelings.
And what better way to end a perfect day of exploration, than baptized with a full stomach?
I told you my plans to shower first, and I could tell you wanted to protest. You were hungry now — and we both know the ways in which hunger can change a person. But you agreed, knowing you’d be too lazy afterwards to move.
So I showered quickly, eager for food and relaxation. There’s something about water that is cleansing — metaphorically. I stayed under the water for longer than I care to admit, letting the water caress my body, removing the proof of the day’s adventure.
I felt good — rejuvenated, walking back into our room. While you showered, I set up dinner. We had a side table that I moved closer to the very low bed, and pulled up a chair, so that we could sit somewhat side-by-side to eat.
Sitting on the bed was the obvious answer for the most comfortable position to eat in. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t imagined myself sitting there. But you took the spot, and I let you without hesitation.
Small selfless gestures — the type of kindness that wouldn’t change the entire world over night, but that had the power to change someone’s perspective on the world in an instant. You had told me before it was one of your favorite things about me — reflecting now, you were right, you know, over the past few years of your absence in my life, it’s something I have learned to fiercely love about myself too.
I know it all could have gone terribly wrong. I could have used my broken heart as an excuse to become the complete opposite. I could have let my anger fuel me to ferociously guard my heart. I could have closed myself off and called it “protection,” to keep my distance from people to avoid disappointment.
Instead, I let my heart break completely wide open — that’s how you let the light in.
Before moving to Berlin, one of my best friend’s from back home, Lisa, told me something that will stay with me forever. “Despite everything you’ve been through, you love entirely with all your heart, and that is so powerful.”
And I’m so proud of that, of this person I’ve become… of this heart that I possess.
There are so many things I have learned to love about myself in your absence — and beyond doubt, I know how strong this makes me. I know how capable I am.
Losing you was the beginning of an exquisite adventure to finding me.
And yes, I know how cliché that sounds. But you used to be such a vital person to my life, every decision I made revolved around you.
But I replaced you with me, and does that mean you can’t hurt me anymore? No, but it does mean I know how to pick myself back up.
I don’t claim I’ll never get hurt again, pain is inevitable. But it also means, that I’ll love again, too — and I have loved, so much more than I thought possible, since you’ve been gone. And I’m excited, because I know it’s only going to get better from here.
I’ve gone on a tangent though. Back to you.
You sat on the bed, and I took the chair. You looked genuinely happy for the first time. It had taken you awhile to warm up to me, honestly. At the beginning of the day, you were lost in your own thoughts and problems, not fully enjoying the new city underneath our feet. It was something I noticed as the day progressed — your cynicism for life.
I hated to see you this way — so different from the person I had fallen in love with at the delicate age of 17. In many ways, it was a relief because I realized I could never be in love with you again. It confirmed it for me, absolutely, put away any false hope I had left lingering.
But more strongly, it saddened me, to see you, someone I still deeply cared for no matter in what form, in so much pain and conflict over your own life. How much it engulfed you, stole away your pleasure for the ordinary, blinding your happiness.
For the first time in my life of knowing you, I found something that you could not wear attractively: pessimism.
And so when you leaned over and kissed my knee gently, and said, “I’ve missed you so much, bear.” — something inside me rekindled, my soft spot for you: my want to protect your heart, to comfort you, to make you feel better. The combination of your physical touch mixed with our old term of endearment just struck a chord in my chest.
I smiled at you and we finished our food. Before booking the airbnb, I had asked you if it would bother you to sleep together. Honestly, I had initially wanted to book a hostel, so we’d have separate beds and bypass the awkwardness, but the airbnb was just much cheaper, especially for me, as a grad student.
You said no, not to be silly, that sleeping together would feel normal.
“We can be friends without hurting anyone right?” you asked, while I fixed the blankets on the bed. I sat beside you over the covers and looked at you curiously, I hadn’t expected you to ask something like this. You wrapped your arms over mine, and held me in an embrace.
During lunch we had already had this conversation. I expressed to you how I found it weird, and also felt slightly guilty, that you were going on a trip with your ex and hadn’t told your boyfriend — even if we were just friends and I had no romantic feelings for you anymore, I was still an ex lover. And you justified yourself by saying you knew me and trusted me enough to know nothing would happen.
So I shrugged off your question, along with your hug, “Yeah, we can be. We happened so long ago, it isn’t important anymore.”
Which was sort of a lie, thinking about it now — if it wasn’t important anymore, to either of us, we wouldn’t have made a point to see each other again. I realize that now, that even if I don’t feel the same way as I did in the past, the past will always be important. I guess I was trying to spare her feelings of guilt.
So we laid together under the two blankets, and I put on a random episode from Black Mirror at your suggestion. I held my iPad on my stomach, propped up so we could both view it. You slept close to me, but platonically, drifting off into slumber.
I didn’t mind. Honestly, it was comfortable — how easy it was to slip back into us again. It felt good to be your friend, no more, and no less. And truly it was so nice to be able to do normal stuff with you, without a screen and miles between us. Being able to have dinner and watch TV just seemed much more… I can’t find the word, but it just felt more with you, and maybe it’s the distance that constantly blurs the borders of our hearts.
I nudged your shoulder lightly, “I’m going to go brush my teeth, let’s go together before you completely fall asleep.”
“Five more minutes, please.”
Why was I so surprised with your plea? That was always your response every time I tried waking you up, all throughout our senior year in high school until our senior year in university when we finally broke up. 4 long years of you always asking for 5 more minutes, it was why I first started calling you, “bear.”
I didn’t respond immediately, you didn’t give me a chance. You placed your head on my shoulder, wrapped your arm around my waist, put your leg over both of mine, and used your other hand to weave your fingers between mine.
Holding hands is so intimate to me. It’s a more than just friends kinda gesture for me. It might be more important to me than kissing. It’s a comfort thing, don’t let go, and stay. Please, stay.
So why didn’t I let go? Why didn’t I immediately just get up and go brush my teeth by myself and wake you up after?
I just stayed still. Her bone joints rubbed against mine, and ignited a warm sensation all throughout my body.
I keep using this word: comfort(able).
You didn’t feel like home anymore, but you still felt — comfortable. Like an old sweater I had outgrown, but still loved.
So as normal, instead of 5 minutes I gave you 10 minutes. Then I unhinged my body from yours and went to the restroom. I watched myself in the mirror as I scrubbed the minty texture into my teeth.
Then I returned to bed, and gently woke you again, becoming more persistent in getting you up this round and not falling victim to nostalgia a second time. Finally your eyes fluttered open, you brushed your lips against my shoulder, and got up.
When you came back, you put your favorite episode of Black Mirror on for me, while you rolled over and put your back against my shoulder. I also changed my position, and set the iPad on the bed and turned around — our spinal chords now inches from each other. I honestly thought you were asleep, and then I heard you whimper in your sleepy voice, “Don’t turn your back on me.”
I laughed surprised at your request and obliged by lying on my back again, with just my head turned to the right to see my iPad. You scooted back closer to me, and felt the entirety of the back of your body pressed up against me, your one foot slipping beneath my leg. I didn’t mind it — sleeping together is what I missed most about a relationship.
Ten minutes into the episode and I had become consumed by my own fatigue. I closed the iPad shut, and lay in bed looking at the ceiling. I knew this was weird, but I couldn’t quite say it was romantic in any way possible — I was just being myself with you, and this is how we were.
So I rolled over again, this time spooning you, slipped my arm beneath your arm and held your waist, pulling you in closer to my body. “You didn’t finish it?” you struggled to say, surprising me again. I was for sure you had succumbed to Sleep’s sweet spell. I mumbled, “no.”
You shifted beneath my arm, I thought to move away, but you didn’t — just a small readjustment, placing your hand over the back of mine and putting your fingers between the spaces of my fingers, pulling my hand up against your chest, the pulse of your heartbeat reverberating against my palm.
In the middle of the night, I woke up. We were still in the same position. I don’t know why, but the blanket of guilt was weighing heavy on me at this moment.. or perhaps I was just hot from the body heat. She had a boyfriend, so why was I the one feeling this way? I retracted my arm away from her and rolled over on my other side, now wide-awake.
I stayed like this for an hour or so — thinking about the day. How everything we had done up until dinner seemed so much just like old friends catching up. She ranted to me about problems with her boyfriend and how she was conflicted in how to tell her parents she was moving in with him and abandoning her job in Amsterdam and I showed her pictures of the girl I was crushing on and how we met over slices of oranges. We talked about school and work, and all the things we had missed in each other’s life.
Before I knew it, I felt your hand against my bare waist, distracting me from my train of thought. My shirt had been slightly lifted, and now you were pulling my back into your body. There was no use in fighting it. This was just part of us. You were just being you with me, and this is how we were.
My alarm blared at 9am. I was a bit flustered and still very much so tired. I shook your shoulder gently again and asked if you wanted to sleep another hour, you nodded your head yes and I reset my phone to ring at 10am.
When I turned back towards you, you had your back facing me now — but your arm was in the air. I knew what this meant — you wanted to be held. Why not? It was the last hour we’d sleep together, probably the last time, in general. I don’t expect to see you again anywhere in the near future. Why would we?
So I held you, selfishly. I wanted to, to suffice my need for physical touch; I hadn’t slept with anyone like this in years and I missed it, and yes, I suppose a part of me had to miss you in this way, too. And you, well, I don’t know why you wanted me to hold you, you had someone.
But for one last hour, we were us again.
“Did you really mean it, that we wouldn’t see each other for another two years again?” she asked, looking directly into my eyes, while my train slid into a halt in front of us, ready to whisk me back to Berlin.