Monday, May 8, 2017

Letting Go

We were at an academic conference in a little cold college town full of brick buildings that looked like abandoned orphanages. She was asking for directions in the lobby of the hotel as I was passing by and wanted to go where I was going. She went with me and we talked the whole way. And we talked the rest of the day and long into the night. We talked all the next day. And the day after that. We agreed on almost everything. We rolled our eyes at the same presentations, laughed at the same things. I thought her fascinating and brilliant and pretty. We wound up one night in a hotel room full of Brazilians talking about translations, something I know nothing about. One of them used a soccer metaphor to explain the perils of translating Adorno into Portuguese. All the Brazilians nodded their heads knowingly but we were both baffled. We talked about the people waiting for us back home. I don’t remember if she was married or was going to be married. I was already a dad. The days were dark and there was snow on the ground, and I’m not sure I’ve ever spent more time with one person over the course of a weekend just talking. Then we went back to where we were from.

A few years later we met again at the same conference, but this time it was in New Orleans. I waited for her at a window in a bar as she came walking up the street in a blue dress, smiling. That image stayed with me. And once again we talked and talked for the entire weekend as we walked everywhere. Can you miss someone you’ve only seen once in your life? Can you miss someone you avoided communicating with? Can you miss someone you know you should never see again? If so, then I missed her and realized how much I missed her during all those conversations. We stayed up late every night and afterward I would walk her to her hotel room, which was on the opposite end of the French Quarter from mine. On the last night we shopped for trinkets and had coffee and beignets with the rest of the tourists. She had bought herself a John Coltrane record, but as we were getting ready to get up she said that I should have it and put it in my hand. I said: “Too bad we never kissed.” And she said: “Yeah, it’s too bad.” And we hugged and I walked her back to her hotel room, said goodbye, and never saw her again.

This James Arthur song I hear often on the radio is about meeting someone and knowing right away that things are right. The song imagines this leading to a lifetime of happiness and love. And maybe it happens that way to some people. Or maybe all the complications of life get in the way of things going the way you imagine them. Perhaps the best love at first sight is the love that you never get to act on.