We went out for dinner again. It was a little different, this time. He had been gone for ten days, a time period I would later make him count on his hands twice. It had felt much longer.
The menu was blessedly tiny and I thought about the last time I’d been in, nearly a year previous. He took control, ordering roasted peppers and a brussels sprout and pancetta pie and wine in a burbling rush, even teasing a promise of tiramisu. I was so spellbound I forgot to order a drink of my own. I flipped the menu and chose something Italian that at the time I pronounced flawlessly but right now cannot remember.
We were deep into it by the time the peppers were half gone. He told me about some girl in the desert, and that’s when the flavors lost their color. The cheese was just salty, the peppers were just sweet, and I was swallowing around a lump in my throat. I took a sip of wine and it was just dry.
I made a half-assed attempt at communicating exactly why it was I didn’t want to hear about this particular encounter, this particular girl. It was a rush of things. Feeling second best, feeling asexual, feeling rejected, just feeling, feeling, feeling and it came out in tears I tried casually wiping away with a seriously stiff dinner napkin.
"Vivi. It’s unsettling how easy I can make you cry."
I was struggling for purchase, struggling for propriety as I noticed the waitress bring a pancetta pie over to the couple next to us. “I think that’s ours,” I said.
They had ordered an entire pie, each, and I watched him pull a face, the same exact one I’d probably would had I not been so concentrated on mopping up traces of facial leakage. I wondered who I was to him, and wondered why I was even wondering, and I saw his expression change as the question left my mouth.
I should have known I wouldn’t be getting the kinds of answers I needed. We are in two different spots, and as I raised my elbows to make room for the pizza that was ours, finally, I made a fist to indicate him, a planet, and waved my fingers around it to indicate me. Stars?
I tried to explain how I saw him as this fulcrum, a focus point that I had to constantly adapt to to keep balance. He dismissed my argument by rejecting the entire concept. What balance? Why worry? It would be fine.
It should be noted at this point that we were both devouring sooty, doughy slices of pancetta and roasted leaves. Fine.
Fine. Somehow. Without real maintenance. Without communication, with, instead, a mercurial person who reserved the right to be or do whatever he pleased. And I, who, for some reason, couldn’t do the same. I fought another lump in my throat with lumps of fior di latte.
"What if you disappear?"
"You don’t have to worry about that."
"Why wouldn’t I?" "What would be the difference between you doing as you please and you going as you please?"
I don’t think I said it that elegantly. But I definitely do remember dabbing tears away with sooty fingertips, trying to find an unstained bit of napkin.
"Vivi. Come on." And I saw real concern.
The pie had been demolished, and I was picking at crusts on my plate.
The conversation meandered away from the original topic, while our dishes were cleared and the check was brought and sent away. He paid. I felt I’d charged him.
I wiped my hands repeatedly, enjoying the black stains. The pie was grilled like summer, a thought he verbalized as it finished forming in my mind. Something he does that no longer stuns me. He said he’d been in my place many times, had his heart broken many times. But, with a smile and a wagging finger, that tears wouldn’t fool him.
I wanted to say my heart wasn’t broken. Instead, I said I wasn’t crying for him. I was crying for me.