Blog,  Stories

Departure of the Unrequited

I met a man in a bar in Madrid. He was an Englishman visiting town to watch his favorite football team play a game. We compared accents, of course, and debated the definition of “ranch dressing” — is it a dip, or a way of describing what a cowboy wears? He remarked on the straightness of my teeth. Months later, while sitting at a bar top in Monaco, a German bartender would dub us a “classic Anglo-American love story.”

So, an American girl walks into a bar.

I wish I could write down how it went. What were the steps, laid out neatly, that led us to where we ended up? But I can’t think of it. When I think of him, I think of moments, fleeting, that comprise our story.

It was when we were walking down a narrow French street in the rain late at night, not another soul in sight. I remember the soft yellow light of the street lamps and the patter of the rain echoing off the uneven cobblestones; the sound of our footsteps sounding hollow as it bounced off the steep walls of the buildings.

It was when we sat in a jazz club in Nice, kissed and watched a band play, his hand on my thigh while I drank champagne. I didn’t think I cared for jazz then. I do now. We went back and did the same thing again the next night.

It was sitting with him in a park in London. It was August. I was nervous. It was raining. He kissed me. A group of people walked by, and I got embarrassed and pulled away. He kissed me again.

It was stumbling back to our hotel room in Monte Carlo, drunk and happy after a nearly three hour meal during which we delighted our server so much that she gifted us two — or was it three? — shots of limoncello. We weaved between the yachts and read their names aloud. We took pictures and he kissed my cheek.

It was running across a used book sale along the banks of the Thames. I was collecting books from my travels and didn’t have one from London yet. I found an antique book of poems called “The Golden Treasury;” it cost £10 and he bought it for me. The same thing happened in France. That book is called C’est un Arbre. It’s a tree.

It was when I put a bottle of red wine in his duffle bag, and then watched, as if in slow motion, as his bag slipped off mine and landed hard on the train platform. The bottle broke. The train was arriving. We hauled his dripping bag into the train with us and stood with it at our feet, me frantically apologizing and him reassuring me the whole ride. Everything he had was soaked. He never got mad, and for what it’s worth, the concierge was able to get the stains out.

It was cuddling with him on my couch in Los Angeles as the pandemic was just starting. We didn’t know what was happening, or what to expect. His phone buzzed — his flight home was cancelled. He had to rebook, and he left the next day.

We saw the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. We ate the best food I’ve ever eaten. We sat in leather booths and drank martinis, at small cafes and ate oysters. We said tearful goodbyes in train stations, airports, and in front of taxis.

In the moment, I didn’t know whether we were in love or just two rascals who had the same idea of a good time. I still don’t know.

It was saying goodbye at the airport in Los Angeles. I hugged him, and tears welled in my eyes as usual, but I told him that I wasn’t sad. Something was different, and I knew we’d be together again soon. I’d go there, he’d come here, or we’d meet at whatever corner of the earth called to us. The distance would be arbitrary.

Sometimes, I’m right. This time, I wasn’t. But still, that German bartender in Monaco knew what he was talking about.

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