some fall in love. i shatter.

Staring At The Sun (#39)

In Stories Volume 2 on January 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Five months had passed. They’d been five long, agonizing months of soul-searching, self-examination, loss, and gradual recovery. Five long months. The first couple spent asking around, inquiring about his state, his feelings, his whereabouts; the subsequent few learning that there was nothing to learn that meant anything to the betterment of Patrick Donovan.


And then one Monday night, Patrick turned the corner off Beauregard and onto Jackson. 7pm, still early, and the crowd of people fresh off work and picking up groceries from the Whole Foods was thick and teeming. His yoga studio fell just beyond the crowd and the temptation of the groceries. Those five months had also been a tumult of pounds both falling off and on, so to pass the resplendent, massive, and Hollywood-lit windows of the grocery store existed as a challenge of his will. The crowd helped as it required much of Patrick’s attention.


But to navigate a crowd is to strip the people of their faces and individualities. They become instead moving cogs. But sometimes a cog would have a face that Patrick should have recognized, would have recognized had he not been looking at each person as but an obstacle. And sometimes those cogs with recognizable faces would recognize Patrick’s as well. It happened often enough as the grocery store was an anchor in the area, an institution. Almost always, it was just a friend that would draw his attention and stop him on the street. A coworker on rare occasions. But never him. He was never there. No, he was never there, until he was, until he reached his hand out and he stopped Patrick on the street.


“Patrick? Hey! How are you?” The hand flashing into his vision would have been enough to stop his feet; the sound of the voice stopped his soul. His voice. Daniel Lundquist. Patrick steeled his nerves, focused his thoughts, and met the gaze of the man that had broken his heart five long months ago. The man he hadn’t since seen until that cold moment.


“I’m…” he floated around for the right word to convey the shock, terror, excitement, and sadness erupting like a quartet of volcanoes. “I’m… okay. How are you?” Patrick directed that question towards a face with a closely cropped beard, black hair cleanly slicked to the side, eyes that showed no signs of any sleepless nights. He directed it towards a body that still looked trim beneath the tightly-buttoned houndstooth jacket, the efficiently knotted scarf, the brown leather gloved hands that held two bulging and pendulous grocery bags. He directed it towards composition, efficiency, and self-management.


“I’m good, thanks. Not so used to this cold weather but it could be worse, right? There’s no snow.” He smiled widely like they were old friends without baggage, but the baggage was apparent in the empty air that hung between them, balanced precariously upon wisps of breath. They both looked down at Daniel’s brown leather A. Testoni shoes, perfectly polished and safe from the corrosion of rock salt, and then at Patrick’s tattered black Converse high-tops, immune to the ravages of nature, for they were ravaged by time. They matched most of his appearance: the stubble on his face, the muss of his uncut hair, the wrinkles in his shirt.


“What have you been up to?” Patrick took his right hand off the strap of his black and yellow messenger bag and dug it deep into the pocket of his overcoat where Patrick wouldn’t be able to see the tiny tremors rattling his fingers.


“I’ve actually been traveling a lot for work, hence the groceries. My refrigerator was empty of anything edible. Plenty of things inedible, but not much else. I’ve been going in and out of the country pretty steadily for the past two months, so a lot of dinners out or ordered in.” The bags seemed heavy to Patrick’s eyes but they remained fairly steady in Daniel’s grip.


“Why are you traveling so much?” Patrick still couldn’t make more than glancing eye contact, instead shooting towards the ear, or the passing crowd of people, or back down at the ground. He’d spent too much time in those eyes, too much time under very different circumstances, to allow himself to fall back in.


“Oh, I must’ve forgotten when we last saw each other. I got a promotion at work – still at the advertising agency – and their home offices are in London. They’re a little old fashioned about things; they want me there in the flesh for a lot of the introductory meetings. Can’t complain really. But what about you?”


“It’s still Christmas break for my students, so I’m on a little bit of a vacation right now. I just came back two days ago from visiting my family in Texas. They asked about you, which was awkward, but even my mom let it go pretty quickly.”


“Oh… I’m sorry.” There was a measure of comfort in hearing those three words. Patrick had heard those three words so many times in the past few months, especially while in Texas, that they brought him back to steady ground. Meeting Daniel on the street was an anomaly, hearing condolences was a taste of the new normalcy, which Patrick sort of knew how to deal with.


“It was bound to happen at some point, just unfortunate timing. But I’ve got a few days to relax here before classes start again. Not that I’m not looking forward to it – these kids I’m teaching this year… I don’t know if I’m getting better at what I’m doing or they’re becoming more receptive, but I actually can’t wait to get back into the classroom with them.”


“That’s great, Patrick. And I’m sure it’s you. It makes more sense that teachers learn and improve over time than kids magically becoming more receptive. And I see you’re back into yoga?” Daniel lifted one of his overfilled grocery bags and gestured towards the yellow and purple yoga mat bag hanging on Patrick’s left shoulder.


“It’s been helping me focus. I’m going to the gym again as well. Trying to get my life back in order; healthy body, healthy mind.”


“Well you’re looking healthy, so good for you. I wish that I had the time and the focus to take care of myself.”


“And I wish that I could travel to London as much as you are.”


“You studied there during university, right?”


“Yeah. I loved it. I try to go back every couple years but it’s hard to find the time and money.”


“We never went there together, did we?”


“We talked about it but no. Too bad you didn’t have that promotion earlier – it would have made for the perfect conditions.” Patrick’s back stiffened as he heard the words come out of his mouth. He could hear the wistfulness returning to his voice, see the imaginary scenes returning to his mind, sense the dreams of reuniting. Too much time had been spent rejecting those things and laying the bricks to block them off for good. “But you didn’t, so, too bad.”


“Yeah. Too bad.” Patrick glanced at his watch. He was going to be late for his yoga class. He looked back up to see Daniel just standing there, no words on his lips, no glancing around of his eyes, no movements to unstick himself from where he was stuck.


“I’m sorry but I should get to my class. The lockers fill up, you know?”


“Oh, yeah, of course, I’m sorry. I saw you here and just wanted to say hi. You look good, you know. You look healthy, like you’re doing well.” Patrick finally smiled and allowed himself to do so without recrimination.


“I’m feeling alright these days. Thanks.” They each nodded, they each waited for the other person to move, and they waited another moment. “Okay, Daniel, good to see you. And congratulations on the promotion.” He began walking and only thought that maybe he heard a response when he was already a few feet away.


He didn’t look back. He made a point not to. Not that he even wanted to. Not after so much had passed between them and then so much time to make peace with it all. The well-lit windows of the grocery store no longer enticed him, Patrick simply longed to be in the warm yoga studio, seated squarely and safely upon his mat, the firmness of the hardwood grounding him into his physical space.


His hand on the door to the studio, Patrick allowed himself just one glance backwards, just one glance, just to prove to himself that he hadn’t heard any wistfulness in Daniel’s voice. Just to tell himself that there had been no sadness there, no regret, and that they were both, in fact, doing fine. His hand on the door, the door swung open, the warmth of the studio greeting his face red with the cold. One glance. Daniel still standing in that same spot, looking toward Patrick, with his hand on the door, the door swung open, the warmth of the studio warming his face still red with the cold.


Then the door shut.

  1. That awkward moment of meeting anyone after a break up is hard, in any degree of relationship. Nicely written.

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