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Risk and Danger

September 3, 2009

Once, I spent an evening getting devastatingly tipsy with a colleague, whom I didn’t know very well. We moved from after-work drinks to after-drinks sushi, to after-sushi cocktails, to after-cocktails wine at his place. I know, I know, this all sounds sketchy, but I had a boyfriend and he knew this, and I am not that sort of lady, if you know what I mean. And so, it all seemed innocent and incident-free. And, I should add, the evening remained that way.

Conversation followed a trajectory familiar to anyone who’s ever been tanked with someone from work–office complaints, impressions (and later, drunken impersonations) of co-workers, where to grab something to eat before we end up wrecked, where to head next since it’s Friday and Saturday is a sleep-in day, then the slick and slippery slope from freely tossing around the F-word to personal history to most-embarrassing-moments to dating disasters to more of the F-word, and finally, to heartfelt revelations about where we wish/ want/ hope our lives take us next.

I am perhaps more vibrant the drunker I become, but I am not particularly withdrawn or closed when dead-sober, and I rarely share details when intoxicated that I would have withheld under more moderate conditions. In other words, I’m not a bar-stool confessor spilling out bits that should remain under guard. Likewise, I’ll reveal personal details to people I trust, without needing drinks for lubrication.

At my colleague’s kitchen table that night, we slouched and sipped wine and our eyes grew hooded with sleepiness and liquor. We’d stalled at the topic of Boyfriends & Girlfriends: Past, Present, Future, and in particular, the matter of risk versus return. He illustrated a point with a wild arm-swing, catching his glass with his palm and smacking red wine up the wall. Folding his hands in his lap and composing himself a little, he declared, “Girl, you are awesome. Why are you taking this shit from a person you call your ‘partner’ but who is clearly no such thing? It’s making me so angry, I would like to say I can’t listen to any more of this, but I also want the whole story. If you’re sticking with this guy, there has to be more to it than you’re telling me. Because seriously…it sounds like you are getting nothing back for what you’re putting in!”

Risk, danger, investment, return. All rather clinical words to apply to matters of the heart. And yet, strangely apt words, too. As wine dried into a stain on the wallpaper, I tried to explain my choice to remain in a relationship that was no longer healthy, balanced or fun, but I failed to convince him of its worth, and by dawn, no longer had faith in it myself. “I think maybe it’s a place holder,” I admitted. “I have a person to snuggle and dine with, while I wait for someone who properly loves me to come along.” A dreadful admission, and I wasn’t sure if it made me feel worse saying it aloud (like I was a traitor), or to know I would go home, sleep it off, and head to my boyfriend’s house the next night like I’d never made the confession at all.

My colleague and I spent increasing amounts of time together, talking about everything except the thing he wanted to say most. One day, he asked me why I felt so comfortable confiding in him, when mere weeks ago, we had been strangers. “When I talk to you,” I explained, “I’m a bird in your open palm. First, I perch on your finger tips, hopping a little closer and a little closer till I reach the middle of your hand. I can tell that, even once I reach the place where you could close your fist around me faster than I could take flight, you won’t. And so, I can tell you these risky stories without being afraid of getting crushed.” Meanwhile, my friend’s heart twisted with unrequited and so-far undisclosed affection for me.

Within a year, that place-holding relationship would end, my colleague would angrily inform me via email that he had such a crush on me he couldn’t bear listening to me talk about other men, and our friendship (which had grown sincere after that first drunken night) would be put on hold until the crush abated.

In the wake of my break-up, I would think back to my place-holder remark and how easy it felt to be flippant, and how much it ached to lose that guy. I considered whether I’d meant what I said–that he was a place to stop and rest while something better caught up with my life. The tortoise and the hare, so to speak. Or, had I brandished a stick of “whatever, I don’t care, he’s just someone passing through and one day we’ll both move on,” when in fact he was the love of my life, never to be replaced, the best man I would ever land?

This spring, I did some tentative and half-assed dating, terrified to hook up with anyone I actually cared for in case he became a rebound boyfriend, treating him poorly while I exorcised the last of my anger at my ex. I went out with a handful of sweet guys with whom I had no chemistry, and a short-list of wackos who couldn’t make it through the first date without exposing their skeezy side. And then, I took a break. Did nothing. Turned to other things. Traveled a bit, lied around in the sunshine, wrote like mad and spent time with my family. Cultivated a suntan that I should know better than to earn, and wore short-shorts to the café at least three times. I never go out in short-shorts!

And then, I met someone. Played it cool, held my cards close to my chest, was relieved when he assured me he moved slowly but with intent. Took little steps toward acting like people who are dating rather than two people who sometimes go on dates. My heart was poised to fall and, in due course, I let myself believe he was poised to fall for me, too.

I was wrong. I was ready to fall, and so was he, but never for each other. It just wasn’t that kind of thing. Risk, danger, investment and return. Bird in the palm. Heart in my hand, held out for consideration, then folded back safely into the little cage of my fingers, stuffed back in my chest, held close like that hand of cards, awaiting something smarter.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    September 4, 2009 1:11 pm

    Oh my friend, I love and miss you.
    And admire you more than you know.

  2. Carrie permalink
    September 4, 2009 2:49 pm

    I know it hurts. I hope writing about it orders your thoughts and, in the end, makes you feel better.

  3. Veena permalink
    September 5, 2009 8:56 pm

    Hi Amanda,
    Thanks for this post.
    So the line "I let myself believe he was poised to fall for me, too" was at the bottom of my screen and I thought it was the end. I was about to get up and get my dinner, with a sense of guarantee about love and life.
    Now, I just think of that little bird, and another little bird I know from a folksong:
    "If I were a little bird,
    And also had two little wings
    I would fly to you"
    The innocence of that moment of letting yourself trust! Risk and Danger and Little Wings of Flight.

  4. Amanda permalink
    September 6, 2009 11:18 am

    Ah, Veena…thanks for that…

  5. Veena permalink
    September 10, 2009 1:55 pm

    I thought about your post again when I read the last line of this:

  6. Amanda permalink
    September 10, 2009 4:32 pm

    Gah, Veena…that poem! So great. Thank you.

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