It doesn’t begin like you thought it might, back when you dreamed on ballet-pink sheets under a patchwork of airbrushed pop stars. Back then, you would have thought it began when he leaned sideways in his chair to whisper for a pen. His fresh scent fluttered around you like a scarf, and you had trouble concentrating on the reading after handing him your Bic. When he returned the pen, his fingers brushed yours and instead of pulling back, he looked at you and smiled. Ah, the you with pink sheets would have thought, this is how it begins.
It doesn’t begin like you thought it might. In the days when you would grind your newly-ripe body against strangers in steamy go-go halls, wearing skin-tight jeans guys had to peel like fruit, you would have sworn it began your third night together. He shucked his shyness and turned athletic, tangling his hands in your braids, leaving you deliciously aching. As you surged up to meet him, the sweat on his shoulder tasted salty but clean, like he’d risen from the sea. Yes, the you who believed that perfect rhythm spoke truth would have sighed, here it goes.
It doesn’t begin like you thought it might. The years where you searched for yourself in the eyes of others and became desperate because you were never there, you would have believed it began when he asked to read one of your stories. You insisted you weren’t going to watch, then spied on him from the kitchen. He smiled at all the right moments, in the right sort of way. The you who quaffed approval like white Zinfandel would have thought: finally, it’s happening.
It doesn’t begin like you thought it might. In that endless era where you mistook jealousy for an accolade and possessiveness for passion, it would have never begun.
It doesn’t begin like you thought it might. The period in which you tumbled around the canyons of the world, sometimes lost and lonely, often not, you would have believed it began the day he took your hand as you started to roll away. He didn’t let go even when you pulled him into the shadowed lanes where the monsters roamed. He just looked at you in that way that makes you feel like he’s sketching you with charcoal. Later, he whisked you to a few dark corners of his own. Well, the you emerging from your chrysalis would have thought, well, well, now.
It doesn’t begin like you thought it might. It doesn’t begin with your shared passion for dusty bookshops, hard summer rain, debates that last until dawn, or his corny jokes. To tell the truth, rain makes him irritable and you’re the corny one.
What you realize now, as you lie beautifully naked beside him in all your middle-aged glory, is that it begins long before you ever meet. It begins deep inside of you as an inkling, a seed, a whisper of an understanding that grows sharper and brighter amid the jetsam of your life, the shades of you outgrown. When you feel those long-ago selves regarding you from their distance, your heart goes as soft as a breath. Because how it began was with love of you.
Barbara Diggs is the author of two non-fiction history books for middle-schoolers. Her fiction has been published in honey & lime and is expected to appear in Flash Fiction Magazine. A Washington, DC native, Barbara lives in Paris with her family. Catch her at the corner café or @bdiggswrites.