a decent explanation

i'm not sure what compelled me to call her. i had been thinking about her for days now. something about the combination of stifling boredom i feel when i'm not given enough work to do on hot summer days with too many hours, surrounded by the bustle of people i should know but don't, told me i could not be alone, not today, not right now. out of the hundred or so numbers in my phone, most of which i'll never call again, something told me it had to be her. mostly because i knew she could never say no to me. her heart was always as big as the universe, and even after all these years, that was something that would never change.

we met in a tiny coffee shop on bank street, a relic in a part of the city that was almost entirely consumed by gentrification, where rising office towers cast dark shadows over the small windows. we sat in a corner booth, on sofas with worn but neatly mended upholstery. in an age where restaurant furniture was designed to get you out of your chair in fifteen minutes, the way i sunk into that cushioned seat was a welcomed change, like i was being invited to stay.

she sat across from me with her hands clasped together, smiling. her eyes were brighter than supernova. the right side of her collar was upturned, a victim of the fierce hug i had given her as she stepped off the number 1 bus. her squeal of delight still rung in my ear. it had been a while since someone was so happy to see me. i almost forgot how amazing it was to feel that from someone again. the lone waitress interrupted our staring contest.

she ordered green tea. i said the same. she raised an eyebrow.

'i've started drinking it,' i told her.

her eyes were asking for an explanation, but there wasn't any. soon, we began arguing over when was the 'last time'. she guessed it was at least three years. i offered four, but she shook her head adamantly. she explained it could not have been four years because we still had a class together then. she threatened to pull out her laptop and forage through her gmail.

'you kept all of those?' i asked, incredulous.

'they keep themselves,' she replied matter-of-factly. 'google deletes nothing!'

'ever go back and read them??'

'i forgot all about them until just now.'

she held her cup delicately in both hands, almost as if it were a small child. thin wisps of steam rose as she sipped quietly, all the while never taking her eyes off of me. i eyed her back suspiciously.

'why did you call me?' she asked first. 'don't get me wrong, i'm happy to hear from you, but it just feels so sudden.'

i told her i had been thinking about her for a few days now. i told her i had just moved back to the city a couple months ago, back to a city i grew up in, but over the years, has since outgrown me, and i needed someone to remind me where i came from, that i hadn't been completely left behind. more importantly, she was one of the few people i knew who still had the same number.

'more importantly, i wanted to see if you were still pretty.'


'not bad,' i paused for dramatic effect, 'i guess.'

she grinned and pretended to take offence. 'glad to see you're still a jerk.'

after a while i told her how i ruined something good. 'really unbelievably good.' i paused to rehearse the story in my head. 'i met this girl. actually, before i met her, i woke up one day, and realized i was completely miserable. i hated my job. i hated where my life was going. then i met her. i met this incredible girl at the worst possible time, and when i decided i needed to get my shit together, i cut her out. it wasn't a concious decision. one day of neglect led to another. before i knew it, six months had passed. it was surgical, precise, cold turkey. i just stopped.'

'you were always good at that,' she said. 'so why didn't you call her instead of me?'

'i did,' i told her. 'i tried to explain myself. fix things. we're talking again, but i don't think things will go back to the way they used to be.'

'of course they don't. you don't pull that kind of shit to someone you care about.'

'i told her before it all started that i have a bad habit of closing up. she said she remembered, but never thought i'd do it to her. i felt like a complete asshole.'

'you are a complete asshole.'

i explained that i always operated under the assumption that when you meet someone, especially when you think it's the right one, there was this biological imperative that you would naturally make the changes necessary to make things work out. 'it's not that i lose interest. i don't know. it seems like such a cop out to say i have commitment issues-'

'which you do,' she interjected.

'but even when i know i have a good going, i always find a way to royally fuck things up.'

she shrugged and tilted her head. i braced myself for her four year degree in psychology to pour over me like a southeast asian monsoon, but she was surprisingly economical. 'i don't know when it was, but when we were dating, i started feeling that we weren't going to last very long. it wasn't your fault, and i know it definitely wasn't mine, but you never came across to me as the kind of guy who can stick around in one place -- and i don't mean physically -- for very long. you need someone to fill in the empty spaces of your life, and when those spaces close up, that someone gets squeezed out.'

i gave it some thought. 'so not only am i a complete asshole, i'm a selfish prick too.'

'pretty much,' she said, almost giggling.

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