He walked into the bar like he owned it, and immediately I rose from my bar stool and gave him a hug. It was so quick that it’s difficult to even remember it happening. But I never had a doubt in my mind that we’d hug.
He smiled at me, and said, “Wow,” with a hint of amazement. Perhaps because I looked better than he expected, or maybe because it was just so strange to see me alive, after all this time. The MS hadn’t killed me yet. Wow.
“Should we?” he asked.
“Yeah, let’s grab that table by the window,” I said, naturally finishing his thought.
We sat across from one another, but the distance still felt enormous. Here he was, in front of me. He wasn’t in Japan, he was here, in Flagstaff where we’d lived. His hair was a bit longer, he was a bit slimmer, but other than that, he looked exactly the same as I remembered. I think I might have been staring. I eyed his zip up shirt, grey, ribbed with a shiny silver zipper, and a black anime T-shirt underneath. I wondered the whole time whether she’d chosen the zip up. It looked like he’d made a bit of an effort to get ready, but not too much of one. Classic Donovan.
“Those are some heels,” he said as I scooted from my bar stool to the seat by the window. “Yeah, that’s what people wear in New York,” I said. He had noticed. I silently thanked Aryn for choosing them. Boys.
The discussion at first was simple.
“I drove by Lake Mary,” I said. It was where our second apartment had been. Although I’d never really cozied up to the place. “It looks…run down.” And it had. It showed the wear of the years since I’d seen it last. It was cracked, dirty, certainly not luxurious.
“Did you see Kaibab Lane?” he asked. That had been our first place, one-third of a mobile home. “No, I couldn’t remember how to get to it,” I said. And it was true. MS had taken things, and one of them was parts of my memory. It usually wasn’t permanent, but I noticed that I quite couldn’t access a word here, a memory there. In time they’d usually surface, but stress forced them to flee further into the black holes in my brain. I’d learned not to force them. They were probably hiding for a reason.
Cinnamon had asked me in the car, “So, have you thought about what you want to accomplish today?” No, I hadn’t. I still had no idea what I wanted to accomplish. I figured it would just come naturally, like it always had between us.
And it did for a time. There were a few awkward pauses here, glances there. But all in all it felt pretty comfortable sitting across from him and not touching. Not wanting to touch. But the elephant in the room was staring at me through the window.
“You know, I still think about calling your mom,” he said. “We should call her.”
And then, we turned a corner. He had broached the subject, something deeper, something real. This was what I had gone there for.
“Yes,” I said eagerly, “Let’s call her.” My mom had no idea that I was meeting him for lunch. I knew that telling my family would only stir up controversy that I really didn’t feel like addressing until after it was over. I had made up my mind to meet with him, and no one was going to change it.
“Really”? he asked, as if he hadn’t just suggested it a moment before. Of course, things look different close-up, when they’re right in front of you.
“Yes,” I said, grabbing my phone. “Let’s make this interesting.”
I dialed the number. When my mom answered I heard her sleepiness, it was nap time. “Hi, mom,” I said sweetly.
“So, there’s someone that wants to say hi,” I said. I knew that I had to make the introduction. Donovan calling on his own would be a disaster.
“Ok,” she said, sounding tired. And I handed him the phone. I had no idea what to expect. Something sincere I suppose. But still, his body language was tense, the wall he’d built strong.
“Hi,” he laughed nervously into the phone. “How are you?” he asked. He didn’t introduce himself. He didn’t need to, but he wanted to be sure of that fact. He wanted to prove he hadn’t been forgotten.
I could hear her, “Donovan??”
“Yeah,” he said grinning. I looked at him, I looked down, I looked out the window at the snow covered mountain. I looked out at the elephant. Yes, this was really happening.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he said. “ I just…I wanted to apologize to you, you know, for disappearing the way I did.” He listened. I wondered what she was saying. She was my mom, she was saying something funny, something brilliant. I wondered if she was insulting him.
“Yeah,” he said, “I know… Well, you guys always did so much for me, so I wanted to thank you,” he said seriously, but still with an air of distance. “I really do appreciate it,” he said. The wall wasn’t cracking.
As I listened, I realized what I had gone there for. Deep down, what I wanted was an apology. He’d given my mom one, albeit a chilly one. Didn’t I deserve the same? After all, I was the one he’d abandoned.
When he hung up, I felt an opening, a chance to subtly shift the conversation the way I wanted it to go.
My phone buzzed.
“No regrets.” It was my mom.
I looked at him, deciding to make the move.
“So,” I said hesitantly. “There is something that I wanted to ask you about.” I continued on without stopping. I certainly wasn’t asking his permission. I was just making an announcement.
“When I was in the hospital, when I got the diagnosis, I remember that you were mad. On the phone, when I talked to you; you sounded…angry.” I looked at him. I waited for a moment. He waited; he looked.
I continued, “And, well, then I didn’t really hear from you that week – at all. And I just can’t really understand why. I mean, I thought that you were on your way to see me, you know?”
I looked at him.
“What?” he asked. He looked at me with a mixture of annoyance, surprise, and disgust, all rolled into one.
“Well, I mean, I thought you must have been on your way to see me. I couldn’t figure out any other reason that I wasn’t hearing from you.”
“No,” he said. Obviously not. I mean, of course I knew that now. But that wasn’t what he meant. I realize now that the no was his warning, that he was cautioning me to stop. But it was too late.
“And then, when you came to visit for Christmas, you just seemed so distant, and I…”
“Look, – ” This was it. I was eager, hopeful. But I’d misread his tone.
“…I don’t want to talk about this,” he said.
He was looking out the window, squirming in his seat, arms crossed.
“Oh,” I said, realizing what was happening. Almost instantly, I was angry. But I recognized something. I was taking control. He wasn’t used to it. I wasn’t the same girl he’d dated, I barely resembled her on the inside.
“Well, I do,” I insisted.
“Well, I didn’t come here to talk about this again. I mean, let’s talk about stuff now. Like, I don’t even know what car you’re driving,” he said.
“What … car I’m driving? Really?” I felt cold. And I felt hot, anger pulsed in my veins, the same veins that had been filled with Gammagard, tapped into with countless needles, that bled steroids, that had been taped, swabbed, stuck.
“Well, I didn’t come here to talk about that,” I said. I caught his eyes, distant, perhaps back in Japan. Mine were flickering. I was sure that they weren’t green. I wasn’t sad, I was angry. I wasn’t hurt, I was livid.
This was my day, if I wanted an apology, why didn’t he just give it to me? Sure, he’d apologized on the phone, but it was different in person. It was real.
And I didn’t get one.
“I need to use the restroom,” he said, getting up.