...and yet cannot.

Twenty minutes after the show you walk into the bar and she’s the only one who waves and squeals your name. And when she does this, she half stands up from her stool. Even so, this reaction to your arrival, it’s got little to do with you. She’s perky in general. You just keep reminding yourself how you’re nobody special—just another somebody she knows. And, with that much assured, you choose to reply with a single wave and a mild, lip-closed smile. You choose—because “between stimulus and response” everyone has the choice—to reply with less than half her enthusiasm.

She saw you first because where she sat she was facing the door. The few others who know you and noticed your entrance, they smile, but they don’t make the Big Deal she just made...and thank God for that.

You don’t trust attention for attention’s sake. If that makes sense. Hey, sure, if the joke kills, laugh; if the song and dance pleases, clap. Most curtain calls, though, you can barely ever bow. Most curtain calls, you think they’re clapping because it’s Customary—they’re clapping because it’s Proper.

You didn’t think she’d be at this bar. You assumed she’d be further up the street, at the other, louder, younger, hipper bar. But here she is, and she sees you first, and she proclaims her discovery with a flattering squeal of joy, and suddenly gravity has less of a hold on you, and your heart, it’s now pumping not just blood through your veins but pure, unrefined Hope. Your belly, however, it’s violently rejecting this swallowed-whole ton of abrupt Optimism. And, unfortunately, of all your internal organs, your belly knows how to bitch best.

So you don’t go to her at her table. Your job now—lest you suffer the pangs of some gastrointestinal fury—is to ignore her. You perch yourself upon a stool at another nearby table where other mutual friends are gathered, and you focus on them. But, before you turn your back on her, before situating yourself at this other table, you trade a single expressionless glance with her. In fact, every time you two encounter each other you exchange these strange poker-faces. Though, if you were to smile, you’re certain that she would smile right back. The whole first month of knowing her—nearly a year ago—all you ever did was smile at her…that is, until she wanted to know why. And then, instead of answering why, you just stopped. You stopped smiling. At her. At damn near everyone.

At some point, she’s standing right beside you; your shoulder and her shoulder can’t get any closer without touching. And all she’s doing is talking to one of the mutual friends. You keep reminding yourself it means nothing more than what it is. She’s gregarious, a Social Butterfly, and That Is All. You keep reminding yourself that there are no ulterior motives at play—which is why she is here at this, and not at the other, bar. At that other bar, late into the night, they’re shooting pool. At this bar, at one o’clock in the morning, they’re playing chess. You, of course, no matter what the location or activity, all you have are ulterior motives—which is precisely why you don’t say diddlysquat to her; why you’ve never said diddlysquat to her. Or, is it that you’ve only said diddlysquat to her? Lookit, if you can’t be honest, there’s no fucking point. Right? So there she is, right beside you, and you don’t—or you try very, very hard not to—halt your current conversation to eavesdrop on hers.

When the time comes to leave and you’re standing and zipped up for the cold she hugs you. Indeed, she hugs you hard; she presses all of herself into you. But then, this hug, hard and complete as it is, it is no more than a three-second hug. Three seconds, you’re certain, not one second more. As she hugs she says, “Good show.” Only, during the show, you listened for her and didn’t hear her laugh at any of your punch-lines. Anyway, she squeezes you for three seconds, says the obligatory, “Good show,” and quickly moves on to embrace the next mutual friend. Everyone else gets less-brief hugs, four to ten seconds worth—you’re certain of it. And, everyone else, they get eye-contact, too, and more than a paltry two parting words.

The whole walk to the L-stop, round and round your head, you detail all the ways you yet again fucked up Opportunity. And then you remind yourself that, in the first place, there was nothing, no Opportunity, to fuck up. You keep reminding yourself. Round and round your head. Just...if only you could…be thankful for the hugs. If only you could…be thankful for the waves Hello. For the smiles. For the most minute of utterances. For the briefest of glances. And keep reminding yourself…just…go on reminding yourself…that it Must. Be. Enough.

Allow it. To be. Enough.

If only you could…

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