is it a slight distance? why do I feel the need to retaliate with a receding? why do I feel the need to fight with a clinging? why do I not know if this is real at all?
I didn’t think much of it in the moment. I’d spent the afternoon reeling in two distinct housing crises as he watched and offered sympathies. We were about to leave; he’d just finished changing.
This is the video: it opens up sideways. It fumbles until it’s right side up, trained on HJ, still a little lop-sided, or perhaps that is just HJ’s inherent slight lop-sidedness. It’s grainy from the low lighting, which somehow makes it look more like a vintage polaroid than just a shitty video. He is smiling easily, a little awkward before the camera. “Sup,” he says, raising a hand in a geeky greeting.
“It’s really nothing…” you hear me say from behind the camera.
“Cool,” he nods. It’s such a statement, devoid of judgement or anything really but simple affirmation.
And his smile: it is unchanging; it is unconditional good-naturedness. He looks at the camera the entire time — and his look. It’s soft, kind, easy. I watched that video ten times just to feel that look trained on me. I watched it ten more times out of pure affection for his essence, beaming so strongly in that three second clip.
I’m beginning to miss him when we’re apart.
Wait so…but…that first movie was platonic, right?
Oh, yeah, that was totally platonic.
And then what about the second one? Was that platonic?
That was absolutely not platonic.
Ha! I had no idea.
Really? Do you do that with tons of people?
I have guy friends, you know.
I was so nervous, you know that? During that second movie. I had such a big crush on you.
Yes! You made me nervous. You make me nervous.
I make you nervous? Still?
Oh wait, that’s right. I could totally tell. That’s how I knew, after that second movie, that things weren’t platonic.
Yeah! I sensed that you were nervous, and I was so confused. Like, why is he nervous? And then it made so much sense.
Why are you smiling like that?
Oh, just every time you look up at me it’s hilarious.
But you also just smile when your eyes are closed. You smile in your sleep.
Well, with my freshman year crush next to me, how could I not?
Wait, what? I was your freshman year crush?
But so —
That makes so much sense.
So…did you know I was in a relationship?
You told me.
I did? Why would I do that?
Oh, no, it just came up on conversation. Like you mentioned something you were doing with your boyfriend, and I was like, oh.
Did you ever meet him?
Maybe? I don’t know. I saw you with him once, though.
I don’t know — but I saw you with a guy once, and it looked like you were, you know, together.
When was this?
Like, freshman year.
Oh, yeah. That would be JKm, then.
So…how did you know we’d broken up?
I kinda just hoped that it’d been a long enough time that — yeah.
Oh, I see.
If I may ask —
— what happened there? Or, like —
I mean, only if you’re comfortable.
No, I am. It’s fine.
We, ah, dated for a year. And then I just kind of realized we weren’t compatible — like, in terms of long-term compatibility — and so I broke up with him. And he, ah…he didn’t take it well, and, ah, well…now he doesn’t talk to me.
But it’s fine! I mean, nothing really happened.
Yeah! I see.
Last night, we held hands, we laughed, we kissed, we looked at each other, and I said:
You’re a really good person, you know that?
And it was far more vulnerable than if I had said something so over the top that it couldn’t possibly have weight. I love you. I love you only holds weight when it might be true — I love you to an acquaintance is a dime a dozen: a comment on a profile picture, a squeal at a party of half-familiar faces.
This was vulnerable because I felt it to be so completely true. And his reaction: stumbling, fumbling, throwing a half compliment back and yet not a full one, was disappointing. Awkward returned compliments only happen in the face of perceived unequal power dynamics. He felt I needed affirmation of reciprocation. Fine. But he also knew he couldn’t give it fully. And while I didn’t need that half-assed reciprocation, I think I like him enough that I’m ok with it.
That’s not true. I don’t know where I was going with this.
HJ and I were sitting on the floor of his dorm the other night, talking pointlessly to fill the two hours we had, when the topic of dating came up. He’d realized, he told me, that a lot of his dating had been interview-like for far too long, and after he’d noticed that, they’d always broken it off.
“What do you mean by interview-like?” I asked.
He didn’t know, he said. More like all the dates were just getting food of some sort and talking the entire time about their, he didn’t know, family background and whatnot, and it just always felt so formal. And it never moved on to the next step.
“But what’s the next step?”
Doing things together, he said. Going to events and experiencing things together, instead of experiencing things separately and then talking about it in conversation.
I sat there for a bit, thinking. I’d always placed conversation — conversation in a vacuum: can you talk with this person if you had nothing but the person itself? — as the highest measure of compatibility. I judged my fit of friendships by how well this flowed. And yet: I could see how he was right. Friendships could be built off of doing things together. It rang similar to something WB had said a long time ago, how he valued time in which he did things with friends in silence, in parallel, though perhaps even separately. I didn’t understand at the time. But I do now.
On Friday night, HJ and I, stranded, decided to play pool. Our conversation was nil, but banter was high. I enjoyed myself. I let myself enjoy this conversation that met none of my intellectual standards, that was composed of nothings and dumb jokes and that made laugh nevertheless. I’m learning, I think.
we’re standing on the first floor of my dorm; I’m walking him to the door. I’ve stopped on the second to last step of the stairs; we kiss sweetly, the same height thanks to the steps. there’s a slight lull as he’s about to leave and my lips part a little as my eyes smile; thoughtfully small
I’ll — see you soon?
tilting my head a little to the left, and he says
I’ll text you.
and my lips curve slightly upwards as I turn and run up the stairs, two at a time, the slaps of my bare feet echoing