We would never inhabit each other’s hearts.
The last time I saw John was in a west Michigan town halfway between Chicago and Detroit (well, really closer to Chicago because I always had to meet him more than halfway). We shivered in a booth at the Pizza Hut just off the highway, then bedded down in a cheap motel down a back road, where we talked in the gray-dark about how much we had changed, and how little, in the years since college.
As I offered him my first book of poetry the next morning, my personal goodbye gift, he waved it away with his hands. “I don’t want to see what you’ve written about me,” he said.
“I always told you dating a writer means you’re fair game,” I said.
We hugged awkwardly, then folded into our cars and drove home in opposite directions.
Although I dated John on and off for more than three years, I only ever got so close. I could never quite get under his skin enough to know he was mine.
It was a lonely kind of love. The first Christmas of our relationship, he invited me home to his parents’ New Jersey mansion. I bought a Norman Rockwell ornament for his mother’s tree, and she glitter-glued my name across a big felt stocking.
I didn’t know he came from wealth. When he picked me up at Newark airport and drove me down winding country roads in the snow, I wasn’t prepared for the fenced driveway that led to his family home.
“Why didn’t you tell me you live in such a big estate?” I asked him, but he only shrugged in response.
I could guess he wanted me to like him genuinely for who he was, not what his family offered, but I wouldn’t hear an explanation from him. And such an assumption meant he didn’t really know me, either.
We met in college, when hopes and dreams for Real Life are just that: hopes and dreams. We would journey through junior year and into senior year, through separate lives in New York City (he in Hoboken, working Wall Street in a stiff navy suit; me in Murray Hill, subway-ing to work at a newspaper in my hippy-grunge signature style).
I was intoxicated by our love. By the passion in a thin twin bed of a rented apartment, by the possibility of grown-up lives.
I waited for words. I wanted them desperately. But all I got was the subtle realization that we were so different, planets circling separate Suns, we would never come into each other’s orbit.
When I moved to Washington, D.C., I promised myself I would finally put John in my past. I was lonelier with him than alone with myself. It wasn’t healthy. We were different religions, held different perspectives on what mattered in life. I couldn’t even buy him clothes. (I remember once wanting to buy him an Eddie Bauer rugby shirt — each sleeve was a different primary color, the front a third color and I thought it was cool and different. His mother, shopping alongside me on a visit to our college town, shook her head. “He’ll never wear that,” she said.)
I dated other men, made a life in our nation’s capital. Some relationships even lasted for months. Then came the call.
It was a sweaty summer night. His voice was smoky and familiar. Immediately, I wanted to believe he wanted me. I wanted to believe all the despair and hope of the past few years was an evil dream that led to this: happiness, us together without an eventual end.
He even led me to believe that. I think he was drunk in a bar in Colorado, but I didn’t want to see any details other than what he said.
“I miss you. I want you. I love you.”
“Yes. Can I come to you?”
He was riding his bike across the country and would finish the nationwide ride in Washington. He’d stay with me. I’d drive him and his bike to the train to return to his parents’ home. He’d quit Wall Street. He wanted to teach, a career that “mattered.” Were we finally speaking the same language?