"A One-Time Thing"
"A One-Time Thing"
He swerves ahead without any hands on the brakes, sometimes no feet on the pedals either. He doesn’t go in a straight line, instead curving back and forth on these open streets with no care in the world, like he owns the place; it’s not like there are any cars nearby to challenge his displays of dominance. I know he’s done this a million times already, this rather unique act to me being completely commonplace for him at this point.
I slowly ride behind to try and remember everything about this setting, to soak up every single detail my mind can absorb: the summer music wafting out from the top of his overstuffed backpack even when fall has already begun, his Tommy Bahama sweatshirt radiating those West Coast vibes while we, foreigners, exist in the cut-throat, competitive, and ambitiously nauseous atmosphere of the East Coast, the fact that he hasn’t taken off that layer all night despite the rather physically strenuous paths our bikes have taken.
And I just watch him instead of focusing on the problem with the handlebars as they start to slip to one side. The tableau is so picturesque--street lamps as the only sources of light for miles with the occasional low beams of cars slowly moving at their leisure. It’s so nice and free and fun, this youthful energy we both exude as we disrupt the boredom mundane of the night. But I know it won’t last.
Because I know this type—this free spirit, this breaking in and drinking wine while he lays on a picnic blanket. This riding with no hands because he doesn’t want to be constrained by arbitrary laws that were put in place before he was born, much less old enough to vote on them. This constant disposition to be “out of it,” as he called it, aided by alcohol, pot, or whatever other substance gets him there.
These types are simply not the ones to stay—there is something inconsistent, final, and singular about them.
They’re sweet and say such pretty things about the world, attempt to be philosophical when it’s 3 am and your mind can’t fall asleep. They make you feel wild when you’ve been studying for far too long, when you can’t just call it a day and retire to your apartment at 10 at night like every other academically neurotic college student in your history class seems to achieve just fine.
But you’d never get stability with him. The reasons why these moments are so special—their reckless, spur of the moment rarity—are the very reasons why they don’t—can’t--last.
He doesn’t concern himself with restrictions or commitments; limitations are not in his vocabulary. This kind of spontaneity doesn’t have space for rules, boundaries, and attempts at resisting temptation, instead just pursuing life with the sole goal of total serendipity. Not caring about what the next day brings or where the person will be a month from now. Unlike you, he’d never wonder about your future, never care to think, two or three years from now, where you might be, what you might be doing. With time, you’d grow so unfamiliar that he would forget you were ever anything more than just a stranger.
He’s just so content with being unattached. And, as the night begins to come to an end and you realize you’ll never talk again, you can’t do anything but accept it, even if you can’t understand it.
As I sat with my friend at that Italian restaurant, learning of yet another event cancelled, the night of short-term gratification, selfish liveliness, was something that I needed. Though I saw it as the perfect target for all my unleashed energy, I also subconsciously recognized the endeavor as something that would break my heart; for some reason, this trend of abrupt finality seems to always find its way to me. I’ve grown so accustomed to this consistent beginning and ending, to meeting someone once in a foreign place--somewhere volatile, unstable, inhabitable—and then never seeing them again. Only having experience with these one-off affairs, I grow scared that someone might grow tired of me as I, so easily, lose interest in those I get to know better. I can act all superficial and fake a smile for a night, but it’s hard to maintain that charade for a long period of time.
And so, drifting back, but not too far behind that he’ll notice the distance and slow down because he’s just so polite, I try to memorize this whole scene. Try to compartmentalize it in my brain as a part of my bucket list of life rather than brand it as a night towards which, later, I’d grow romantically sentimental. Rushing downhill past buildings and monuments and museums, employing my bad eyesight to read the inscriptions on the structures, I seek to view this night solely as a “fun time,” with no other strings attached. It’s no one’s fault, this utter contrast of desires, this stark difference in the amount of work put in by each side to simply “not care”; it’s just a bad match. Sometimes, I wonder if this meaningless lack of connection, this achievement of “fun” as the ultimate goal, is something that I might, actually, want. Part of me is, in fact, a shameless flirt who loves to dress up and assume an excessively vivacious persona while I dance to every type of music, hoping to win over the attention of older, foreign men. Part of me is, in fact, a girl who goes to London by herself for five weeks, getting the boys she meets on Bumble to take her to famous British monuments and gorgeous historic towns, places where they’d end up making out. Part of me is, in fact, someone who enjoys those nights where each actor only exists in the past, never to extend outside the bounds of that one memory, that one time and place.
But when the parties are all over and you’re stuck sitting alone in your bed, listening to musicals from the early 2000s and watching old foreign films, these nostalgic media call forth the image of the same exact individual time and time again. Despite all the others you have met, he’s the one you imagine holding you in his arms as the boat cruises along the tranquil Seine at night, a scene you’ve stolen from The Cold War. He’s still the one you dream of in Prague, when you’re finally exploring Eastern Europe at an age which allows you to remember the trip forever. He’s the only one you actually want to come to Los Angeles, despite the other boys who try to invite themselves once learning of your family’s newly bought beach house along the California coast. The fact that it’s the same man in all these various circumstances and plans you’ve mapped out shows your heart’s true desire: you want commitment; you want stability. You want a partner, not a cycle of aimless one-time things.
Continuously having stalled the goodbyes until later times, pushing your curfew from 1 to 2 to 3 am, finally, at 3:40, you decided you had to leave. He might have been acting, but he looked as though he really did go to sleep; you could hear the soft and smooth breaths he took, convincing you of his peace of mind, a state he seemed to achieve so effortlessly. You just stared at him. At his perfect nose and his lips that you had been bad at kissing. He was so unusually safe, so unexpectedly kind. And though you paused before heading out the door to finally take him in for the last time, you noticed that, surprising, you weren’t sad. Your overly emotional self should have driven you to cry at a circumstance such as this, cause you to make some big spectacle out of this moment, but you felt no tears run down your face. Somehow, you were perfectly fine with the knowledge that you’d never see each other again, that he’d never call you or care to be a part of your life. It’s maybe one of the only times you left someone without caring to consider the fate of your future narrative. Who knows, maybe he, in all his independent ways, rubbed off on you, instructed you on how to relent, how to yield. How to not obsess.
No. I think you just finally achieved clarity. Clarity in what you want. And, thus, all that you don’t.
He doesn’t ever wake up and so I finally walk out the door without giving a goodbye, quietly getting in the Uber and taking a picture with the early morning time stamp of “3:49” to make the stable, attached, and anchored man I had left in August jealous.