a story in four hugs

Up in the north where it’s quiet and beautiful. And, oh, so green.

“Don’t go back. Whatever you do, don’t go home or you’ll break your heart.” — African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe; Doris Lessing.

But I did. I went back home and I went back to the terraces because, for a short while, it felt like a home, too.

A few things have happened since I last wrote here. A whole month went by because somehow time spins out of control for me and I can’t catch the loose threads of it. It seems to me that Friday comes every three days. But at least, it’s summer now and I can say that I am okay. For the most part. I sampled ash coconut ice cream with a friend from university and it has since become my favorite. It’s Mid-July, and I am the girl in a black t-shirt, black trousers, black sneakers (with a black tote bag) eating black ice cream. I spend too many afternoons in Kampa Park; it’s never enough. I finished seven books in as many weeks; plus another three in just three days*. Once his text messages stopped, the reading came back on its own. He’s better than most books but most books are better than most people. I am selfish, private, and easily bored. Will this be a problem?*

I went to a board game night and instead of being a part of it all, I drank a bottle of wine by myself with a David Baldacci’s novel in Croatian. I’ve been reading in languages that aren’t English lately. To recalibrate my brain. Slovakian, French, Serbian in Cyrillic. I began reading Stalinovy krávy one afternoon in Kampa but shortly after that I went on the road again and I haven’t had a chance to finish it yet. I remember keeping my phone close that afternoon but there was nothing. Deep humiliation nestles between your ribs when you are hoping to hear from someone and you never do. Instead, I see Bubble Tea more often now. Sometimes, in Londynska; sometimes around Riegrovy Sady. We are both lost and lonely and need hugs. He understands me more than anyone else around me and I realized that it’s the comfortable silences that mean so much to me instead of expensive dinners and empty plans.

Which is to say: I’m grateful.

A weekend in the north with him calmed me down. Set things into perspective. It was too easy to be true. Hanging out with him; the little things. He wasn’t drinking but bought a bottle of wine for me anyway. The simple salad for lunch instead of anything else (I scraped the tomato pulp saving it from getting binned), The Unusual Suspects that I hadn’t watched until then (yeah, I know), and the simple act of him holding my feet in his lap. When someone makes breakfast for you in the morning, you cannot help but fall for them a little. Just a little. But when it’s someone like him, it’s as easy as much as it’s dangerous. Like that thing, you aren’t allowed to do and you know it but go straight for it. Except in the past week, I realized, again, that after twenty-twelve, nothing matters anymore. Nothing. He could have been anyone. It doesn’t really matter anymore. Who, or what, or when.

Except for the hugs. The hugs mattered and they still do.

The first one was awkward and brief and neither one of us knew what to do with our limbs. I flew to Brussels the next day and the unpleasantness dissolved. Or I forgot about it. Either’s fine. Then I came back and left again and came back again. I needed him and it brought us closer than we were before. I guess, that’s why the second hug felt suddenly familiar and easy and something more than friendship was conveyed in the short span of time. Something stirred in me and I couldn’t stay still after that.

The third one, the most significant, was everything the others weren’t. He leaned in first, and he wouldn’t let go. Not when most people do. If pressed for it, I could tell him apart in a crowd of people in absolute darkness just by his hug. I’ll always remember the ugliness of the platform we stood on, the night setting down around us, the noises. People walking past. I know they were other people around us but nothing registered and nothing existed for me in that moment. Only him, hugging me, the way I think no one has ever let themselves go before. Not for me. The feel of it — his chin settled in my collar bones comfortably, his relaxed breathing, the heart beats, the warmth which flooded me and stayed for days. I hung onto that thread of happiness so hard, I unintentionally unraveled it.

Just a week later, he sent me off to work in the morning; then said goodbye. Take care of yourself kind of thing. I was instantly alert. Then he hugged me and I knew. I knew it was a goodbye hug and that was the strangest thing about it. Is it even possible to feel such a thing? But I did. As I walked away from him, I reached for a pen in my bag and wrote it down. Date, time: that was it. As if I needed the evidence somehow. Something for later to prove that it wasn’t my fault. I threw that scrap of paper away later because it felt like a brand on my forehead. It felt like I signed a contract I cannot walk away from. There’s still a digital copy out there though. I’ve always been a historian. For some reason, I am still keeping a little flame of hope alive even though I know I shouldn’t. I like to play with it; bring my fingers a bit too close, feel the burning until it hurts too much. The obvious question is why do I do it?

And the truth is — I have nothing to lose. What’s an extra set of memories to weigh me down? So I left again.

But I am grateful. I am grateful for him. Because ours is a story told in four hugs.