On German lakes

we interrupt your regularly scheduled Prokofiev program notes with something that must be said.

[POI: a conversation where two people ask each other if there’s “any other unfinished business,” and the answer is, “of course,” but nobody dares utter it.]

dear _____,

One of my favorite memories with you is sitting on the edge of Lake Constance (Bodensee in German), close enough to the pewter-colored water to poke the swans squawking on the surface. You likely don’t remember it. A Cavalier King Charles spaniel bounced by. “It’s so regal,” you exclaimed, your voice hushed. “So English,” I agreed.

Things were untainted then, on that bench by the lake. I hadn’t yet loved you. You probably loved me, but you didn’t know it yet. You simply kept asking that I quiz you from your German notebook. Laid out maps for me in the morning before you left for class on the kitchen table, in case I got lost (I didn’t, thanks to your ever-meticulous instructions). Met me by the train station. Still slept on a board the third night because you insisted I have your mattress. When I think of the way you were kind to me those four days, in my ears I hear your voice: calm, assured, and steady, like marble.

“I wouldn’t mind hearing your program, too,” you said last November. It was biting cold that night when we visited our piano teacher’s apartment and warmed our fingers on her mugs of pomegranate green tea. I was burning when we left because I had poured myself onto that piano. You watched me play from the sofa quietly, immovably. When it was past eight o’clock, I asked you why you hadn’t yet left for dinner. “I can go to dinner anytime,” you said.

You told me our friendship was too precious for dating to ruin it, and I believed you. Until you stood in your doorway clapping at the sight of me in my dress, insisted to snap a few photos with your fingers clutched to my side, and made one of them your shiny new profile picture. A cold “no” was still what you put in my mouth when everyone around us at the bar whispered, “are you dating?”

(That bar’s entrance decor miraculously sported a motorbike with a Bodensee bumper sticker, of all things. We both gasped when we saw it. I wish it wasn’t there. It’s the coincidental stuff of nightmares now.)

You told me I was coming on too strong, that softly-burning candles and undone zippers twisted your insides. I believed you, even though I hated myself for it. I wished with all my might that I could hate you instead. But, no matter how hard I tried, black tar seemed to coat my lungs at the thought of losing you. I gasped for breath when I checked twice it was really you who had typed those words to me, and the tears flowed, like water in a reticent Japanese Koi pond, onto my best friend’s shoulder. She said nothing. She didn’t have to say anything. Who else could make me heave like that?

I removed my tag from your profile picture. You still didn’t change it after the third week of silence between us. That’s when I knew.

In five days, I’ll step foot on California soil for the first time. You found out I was visiting my friends through a public Facebook comment. You hate it there. When I raised the slightest possibility of not seeing you, your fury made me wish I had never booked a flight in the first place.

Sitting on the riverbanks of Lake Constance, how could I have known? How could I have known that the man by my side, to whom I so easily entrusted myself, would sear a hole through me, the size of a bullet wound? How could I have known that a year later, you would still be studying German from the same notebook, and you would still hold the same wonder for me as you did on the banks of the Rhine? How could I have known just how far I would run to grasp the frayed, charred edges of that wonder, and the pieces of myself I’d scatter behind me?

It’s so unsettling to think about, isn’t it? All that can change within a year.

Someday, I’ll read this and scoff that I ever allotted this much of my life doting on you, believing in you. I’ll think about how your eyes glimmered sage, then evergreen, then hazel, as if you had run your irises through a kaleidoscope, while you and I contemplated the water spread before us. I’ll muse over, like I did at the lake, what you were thinking.

By then, I won’t feel a thing, and we’ll finally have understood each other.

signing off,

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