The days remaining between now and our meeting.
I can’t remember the last time I saw her. I know it was before April of 2001 because that’s when I moved away. We’d known each other for about four years prior to that. She had only recently started working full-time at the art gallery where I worked, though I’d seen her occasionally before—an archivist, and a painter like everyone else. I don’t recall our first meeting, not at all. She was just another face in the crowd, I guess.
Were we introduced? I don’t remember. I do, however, remember the first time I was jarred into noticing her. Sparks flew… but not the pretty kind. Our relationship (I’m going to call her ‘O’ from here on.) started with a head-butt. O stepped into my office one afternoon, interrupting my immensely important work, whatever it may have been, and asked me to move some artwork for her. I just looked at her like, “What? You want me to take time from my exhaustively busy day to move a couple of paintings that you’re perfectly capable of handling yourself?”
Every time I revisit that moment, a burning smell comes to mind—my eyebrows perhaps, singed by her searing glare. She left me with an unambiguous huff as she turned and walked out the door.
A short while later, another one of my female co-workers, one who I’d always gotten along exceptionally well with, came stomping into my office and barked, “Why are you being such an asshole?”
“You should know better. You should know that pregnant women aren’t supposed to do heavy lifting.”
“Uh… pregnant? Her? Really?”
I felt like such a turd after that. I couldn’t let it stand as it was—me, the heartless, son of a bitch asshole, and O, my poor pregnant victim. I had to somehow make it up to her. From then on, I would be her willing slave.
“Rodney, will you move this two thousand pound sculpture for me?”
“Rodney, will you carry this half-empty shoebox down to the basement for me?”
“Certainly. Right away.”
“Rodney, would you please pick up my pencil for me?”
“Oh, my God! Of course I will.” I dropped to all fours and crawled under her desk to retrieve her pencil. And in this way O and I became friends, and eventually ‘good’ friends. We began going to lunch together, out for an occasional cup of coffee and a cookie, and at other times a quiet walk around the neighborhood. We talked, though I don’t recall the topics of our conversations. Perhaps they were too mundane to remember.
Then the baby came—a healthy boy.
Our friendship continued to grow. Though, I think there was something more, something deeper, beyond friendly, like some hardwired instinct stirring beneath the surface. I felt it, but refused to give it definition, the same as she. For the most part we ignored it.
Her baby became a toddler. She’d frequently bring him into the gallery where I’d spend hours entertaining him, giving him rides on my shoulders. He’d grasp my hair with his tiny fists, drool all over me, and giggle and laugh as I pranced from one end of the gallery to the other.
That thing, though, that undefined thing would not stop. Neither of us spoke of it, but I’m certain O was just as much aware of it as I. It was unsustainable and dangerous—a train, with a stuck throttle, headed for the edge of the world. I think she understood this better than I. Something had to be done to stop it. And then something was done. Perhaps she didn’t realize what she was doing; maybe it was subconscious. Whatever the case, she managed to shake things up so thoroughly and effectively that I refused to talk to her or acknowledge her presence for weeks afterwards. I don’t remember what it was she said, but I remember how my reaction left a persistent chill in the air. I think the entire gallery staff was aware of the quiet. Then suddenly and unexpectedly my wife died. My world turned inside out, upside down, twisted, shaken, beaten, tortured, and burned. Six months later, I moved away.
There’s a gap here of nearly twelve years between then and now, and a big, complicated story within it. Twelve years, which I might visit another time.
So, about two years ago, I was in O’s vicinity visiting my daughter who stayed behind when I left. While there, I found myself repeatedly thinking of O, wondering if she was still around and if she’d have a problem with me contacting her. I thought it’d be nice to go out for a coffee or, at the least, say hi—see how she’s doing. I found her address on line, the same address she had when I moved ten years earlier. I didn’t call. I wrote her a brief note and included my cellphone number, then drove over to her house and slipped it inside her door. Days passed. I got no response.
When I got home, I located her email address and sent her another note. Weeks later I got a reply: two short sentences followed by exclamation marks, which I mistook as a brush off. A bit disappointing. But, oh well… I let it go.
A year or so after that, I got a Linkedin message, one of those ‘you may know this person’ things. And there she was again. So I messaged her. Weeks went by. I mean, God, reconnecting with this woman seemed as complicated as landing a Chevy Astro Van on Mars. But I did it. Or perhaps we did it. It’s such a curious thing—as if whatever it was that we had long before resisted was still there, lying dormant, waiting. And now it seemed it was pulling us back together. So, anyway, we’ve decided to meet. Though, this time it’ll be under entirely different circumstances; there’s no longer reasons to resist.