Photo: Hugo Bernard
The plane trembles somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea, shuddering gently, shaking the tray table, and I lean into you. You take one look at my face and hold out your hand. I close my eyes, comforted by the pressure of your fingers against mine. You pour two glasses of wine, holding up your glass in a toast, and I avert my eyes.
You are not mine to love, but my heart flips-flops anyway, responding to this moment on the plane, the giddy feeling of being next to you, and the hundred moments in Doha where you held a hand out to me, to steady my nerves, pull me up to solid ground amid the faltering process of an international agreement and the devastating disappointment that went with it. I spent two weeks stealing glances at you, laughing in delight when you rolled your eyes and teased me, complaining with arched eyebrows and a perfect French accent that I am impossible.
In Amsterdam, I hug you goodbye, holding on a little longer than necessary. I stand at the gate, until I can’t see you anymore, and then I circle slowly back to an airport cafe, order Poffertjes, and watch travelers pass while drafting letters to you in my head. When I return home, I play Christmas music on Pandora and bake chocolate-chip cookies. I bake two dozen, eat one, and try not to sigh as I pack the rest into a container to be eaten over the next two weeks or, if I’m honest with myself, three days.
I think of you, home in France, with your girlfriend looking at you in adoration, leaning into your body as you wrap your arm casually around her, and I try not to wish that was me. I try to be happy that you are happy and I am.
Mostly I miss the way your hair frames your face, the way you take your glasses off and rub your eyes. When it’s just the two of us at midnight walking the streets of Doha, every moment underscored by the look you give me as we share fresh juice in that corner restaurant, every day a new concoction, but every evening that same look. Your brown eyes unwittingly stripping the layers straight to my core and the place I keep so many broken parts and delicate secrets.
My eyes haven’t stopped searching for you. From the moment I step outside, my imagination finds your face in the crowd of strangers striding San Francisco’s streets. My home, the place that belongs to me, is now a backdrop for you and all the things I imagine you saying. I walk through the ferry building, a place I rarely go, and I take you with me. The Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread, Blue Bottle Coffee, the patisserie, and the gelateria. It’s a world created for a gourmandie and though I prefer the Mission, I’m proud of this collection too.
In my head, I tell you how baffled I was while studying abroad in Germany, how an assortment of European exchange students mocked the lack of cuisine, culture, and coffee in my country and I, coming from San Francisco, had no idea what the fuck they were talking about and it made me mad that they spoke with such authority about something they knew nothing about. I want you to give me that look, suppressing a smile as I swear bitterly at something so inconsequential, to take my hand the way you did on the plane, when you leaned your head against mine and the feel of you against me took my breath away.
A tourist catches my shoulder, knocking me off balance, apologizing profusely in an accent I can’t decipher, and I shake it off with a cavalier shrug and then a sigh. It’s all in my head. It always is.
You are not here and it’s too bad because just across the street, the food trucks form a semicircle around the open-air ice skating rink and when I lean against the railing, lifting my face to the slight San Francisco mist, I think about 1am in Doha and how we laughed at our friends as they piled into taxis on their way to the ice rink. The absurdity of it amusing us both. I curl my hands in my mittens and my heart reaches for the possibility of us and how, if you were here, you would pull me onto the ice, laughing at the bold, brazen American turned timid ice wobbler.
I have no right to miss you, no right to lay any claim on you, no right to even think about you, but my heart circles around your memory and I don’t know why. There’s only the two of us sitting on a beach outside of Doha, bare feet tapping the shore, toes curling in the sand as you ask me how I ended up here and I don’t know what to tell you because I want it to be you. The romantic, hopeful girl who pines for Mr. Darcy and secretly reads Twilight on the plane wants to believe that you are the reason the stars crossed our paths, lines intersecting at the moment your hand accidentally brushed mine. But the rational girl just stares out at the sea, wishing she could peel off her clothes and dive in. Something akin to that scene in The Awakening, but instead of drowning, I’d just swim.