Speaking Lessons

I.

You’re at the port in Jaffa when you see her. It’s a summer night and you’re on a date (of course you are) when you run into some people you know. She’s there, sitting on a bench, in shorts and a tank-top. She’s looking at you. You’re looking at her. Hmm, you think to yourself.

You see her again the next day, at a birthday party for a mutual friend. You compliment her outfit, working in a line about Andy Warhol. She say’s it’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to her. Talking to her feels good. Later, you’re sitting with some friends on a couch, and she’s on the couch across from you, sprawled out like a cat, looking at you. She’s really something. You wonder how this one will play out.

A week later and you’re at a party. Her roommate is coming to meet you, and he says she’s coming too. You’re standing around and he tells you that some someone at the party is checking you out. You hadn’t noticed, you tell him, you’re famously oblivious. The girl laughs. You have a crush on her already.

You make your way to another party. You’re looking forward to getting to know her. You figure you’ll wait a while before striking up a conversation. You don’t want to seem too eager. A few minutes later, a piano player comes by and starts talking to her. He leads her into another room. You’re triggered. Damn, you think. Not again. You never get to talk to her.

A few days go by. You’re walking to an open mic night with some buddies, and you pass her on a run. She invites you to her birthday party that weekend. After she leaves, your friend says that he thinks this is the kind of girl that you might like. You tell him he’s not wrong.

It’s her birthday party. You bring her a cashmere scarf and a bottle of Georgian amber wine (which ends up being not quite as good as you’d hoped). There’s maybe a dozen of you around the table, and you’re sitting next to her. She asks you about your dating life, and jokes that she has the worst taste in men. She says she lets them walk all over her. She says she just wants to meet somebody nice.

People want to go out, so you make your way to a nearby bar. It’s fun. Eventually the crowd starts to thin out. She mentions that she always goes skinny-dipping on her birthday. She says lets go to the beach. There’s four of you now — her, her roommate, her hip friend, and you. You walk to the beach, strip naked and all run into the ocean. Leonard Cohen plays in your head.

The next week her roommate invites you over for a pasta night. An acquaintance of yours is in town so you bring him along. You’re nervous around her, so you mostly make pasta. Your acquaintance is awkward and makes embarrassing comments. You ask the girl if she’d like to come with you to a dance show. She says sure.

The week of the show, the girl tells you that there’s a family emergency and she has to go back to America. She asks if you can reschedule. Of course, you say. There’s no rush.

A a week or two later, you’re at a cafe with her roommate. He invites you to come take psychedelics in the north. Sure, you say. He says there will be eight of us, and we’ll camp and take acid at sunrise.

You’re up in the darkness, fumbling with scissors and blotter paper. You all dose and go for a walk. You’re winding along a path as the sky starts to brighten. You see a field, with hills and an ancient castle in the distance. This is the place, you think to yourself. The group keeps walking, heading down to the river. You want to tell them to stay with you, but drugs steal your words.

You watch the sunrise alone. It is among the most transcendent things you’ve ever seen. In thirty minutes, the sky turns from black to pink to blue. The fields slowly come alive in the heat of the day. The clouds float behind the castle. The colors, the layers, the textures are all so perfect, so sublime. You think to take a picture but decide against. You wish you were sharing this moment with somebody.

After the morning breaks, you find the group, down by the riverbed. You’re smiling but cannot speak. You spend the next few hours all lounging by the river, engrossed in your ecstatic visions. The girl is lying next to you. You want to say something but your words are clumsy. You lay back and watch two reeds caress in the wind. Your body aches with yearning.

You’re sitting around the camp after the comedown. Her roommate pulls a prank and she laughs. You think she’s just about the most wonderful thing you’ve ever seen.

You sit next to each other on the car ride home. You’ve remembered how to speak. You’re joking, teasing her about her taste in film (she likes romantic comedies but has no feel for science fiction). She tells you about the latest guy she’s been seeing, about how she’s very loyal to her friends. You tell her that you won’t be friends in a year.

You go home and you dream about her.

The next week she messages you — they’re putting on a sci-fi movie in the park this month, would you like to come? You’re thrilled. Of course you would.

Her brothers are in town and she’s not sure what to do with them. You give her ideas, and tell her you’ll organize a night out. They all come over to your place and you kick back. They’re cool people, and they seem to like you. You take them out to a bar. She seems happy.

A few days before the movie, you check in. She says it’s on. You’re excited. First date? You want to get to know her.

The night before, she abruptly cancels. She has to babysit, she says. That hurts. She doesn’t care about you.

You invite a friend of yours instead — a sweet girl you had a fling with a few months back. It fizzled out but you’re still on great terms. The night is fun and easy. Isn’t it supposed to be?

It’s your sister’s birthday party that weekend, and you think to invite the girl. She says yes.

She comes by your place in the morning, but you’re tense. You realize that you don’t want to see her. You make small talk in the cab ride, you ask her about her week. She says she’s been busy, because she can’t say no to anybody (except you, you think). She says that she had been spending time with the piano player. You briefly contemplate leaning over, opening the door, and pushing her out onto the Ayalon.

The girl meets your sisters. You’re uncomfortable. This isn’t fun anymore. Your heart is closed. The girl tells you she’s no longer seeing the guy from the camping trip. You don’t care. You talk to other people. After she leaves, your sister’s friend asks if you two are dating. You say no.

The next day you’re walking along the beach with your roommates when someone shouts your name. It’s the girl. She comes running up to you. You greet her brusquely. There’s nothing you want to say.

You still dream about her.

II.

A few months pass. You don’t reach out, and you never hear from her. You keep living your life — working, seeing friends, a date here and there. Your parents come to visit. At one point you go to Africa. You run into her from time to time, but mostly you avoid her.

Meanwhile, there’s a breakup. A quirky girl with a matchmaking impulse moves nearby. She takes a liking to you and you roommates, and starts inviting herself over.

One night you’re in your room on a work call, and the quirky girl is reading in your bed. Out of nowhere someone jumps on you. It’s the girl. She and the quirky girl have become friends, and she told the girl to come. After your call the quirky girl wants to read your star chart. She does a great job, it all feels very intimate. The girl says she’s stopped dating guys until she finds someone she really likes. She’s looking at you. You remember how much you like her.

The next night there’s a get-together at your place. You’re screening a new TV show on the roof. The girl is cold so you give her one of your jackets. She comes and sits near you. You want to reach out but you don’t know how. She and the quirky girl and you and your roommates stay up talking until late into the night. You tell her you’re moving away in the spring, to chase a dream.

You decide to try again. You’re leaving in a few months and have less to lose. You tell her you want to see her. She says not tonight. She jokes that she wants you to put more effort into the relationship. You tell her you stopped talking to her on purpose. She’s upset. She says she thought you were just busy. She says she’s free this weekend. You say you’ll teach her backgammon.

The next night there’s a costume party, and everyone looks amazing. You and the girl eye at each other from across the room, but don’t speak. You’re not going to blink first. You end up going home with another girl, who one of your roommates had been chasing. You hadn’t really meant to, but still not your greatest moment. Why are you like this?

It’s Saturday night and you’re going to see the girl. You’ve known her nearly six months and this is the first time you’ll be alone together. You meet at a nighttime cafe and talk about monster movies. She seems to think about death often. You wonder if it’s a pretty girl thing. She’s fun to talk to.

You play two games of backgammon. She’s never played before but she beats you twice. You ask her if she’s ever thought about you in a romantic way. She says she didn’t think you’d be interested. You tell her you think about her a lot. You’ve never said that to anyone before.

You go home to California for Thanksgiving, like you do every year. The girl starts messaging you more and more. She doesn’t want you to move away. She jokes about getting pregnant. She’s been having some bad luck. You tell her you’ll bring her back a protective amulet. You say you know a guy.

California is fun. You go on dates, more than you need to. You like feeling desired. You’re laying the groundwork for your project, testing the waters, planning the move. You’ve been putting the pieces together for years, and it looks like it could really come together. You’re excited.

One day your friend takes you to a birthday party in Malibu. There’s a treasure hunt, to look for hidden bracelets. It seems like they’ve all been found but you’re not so sure. You think there’s one left. Your amulet. You scramble around, climbing over rock after rock. Eventually you turn your head and see it.

You go back after New Year’s. You tell the girl you have presents for her. After a week of phone tag you meet up for coffee. You give her the bracelet. You talk about a book she likes, about a woman who takes a backpacking trip. You say that if she ever wanted to take a trip like that you would go with her. You tell her that California is nice. She says she’s not ready to leave Israel. You talk about your dating lives. You tell her that you want her to think you’re charming. She says that you are extremely charming. You tell her that you would date her. She says that she’d just end up heartbroken.

A few days later, you come home and run into an ex of yours. She’s friends with your roommate and paying him a visit. You haven’t seen her in months but she seems happy to see you. She invites you to come dancing Gaga with her next week. You think why not.

The night after dancing your roommate hosts a get-together at your place. The girl and all her friends are there. Everyone is having a good time. They all don’t want you to leave. The girl tells jokes and you laugh. She really cracks you up. You could listen to her talk forever. She’s not engaging with you much, but by accident your eyes meet. She looks at you with searing intensity. You break away and you’re stunned. At the end of the night, on her way out, the girl holds you close.

One day you’re at the quirky girl’s place, helping her move furniture. She asks your advice about a cabinet. You tell her to add dinosaur stickers. She looks at you. She says the girl also said dinosaurs.

You keep trying to see the girl, but she’s hard to pin down. Eventually you decide she’s not interested. If she wanted you, this would have happened by now. You’ve given her a million chances.

One day out of the blue you get an email, inviting you back to California for a professional event, all expenses paid. It would mean leaving a few weeks sooner than you thought, but you recognize the call to adventure. You’ll think about it.

You try to see the girl again. She’s busy. You run into her at a party. She doesn’t stay very long.

Your ex invites you to a show. You go and have a great time.

You decide it’s time to leave. This has been a wonderful chapter, and while you would have wanted something more with the girl, you can’t force these things. You have something you want to do, and you don’t see any reasons to wait. You book your flights, and tell your roommates you’re leaving.

The next night, you visit your ex. Things get physical. You’re happy to make some sweet memories.

Later on you see a message from the girl. She had come by your place, but you weren’t there.

The next day things get weird. You’re hosting a barbecue on your roof. Towards the end of the night the girl messages you. She and her hip friend have been out drinking, and can they come over? You guess so.

They arrive and the girl lays down on your bed. The hip friend is saying very complimentary things about you. The girl starts taking her shoes off. Everyone abruptly leaves. The two of you are alone.

You realize that this is it. You’re terrified. You tell her that you have feelings for her. She says that she has feelings for you. You tell her you want to kiss her. She says she wants to know what it means. She wants to know if this is everything or nothing. You say something in between. She says that’s too hard for her. She wants to know why. You say the timing isn’t great. She wants to know who you both end up with. You say you don’t know. You don’t want to talk about this right now. You didn’t know she felt this way. She’s upset. This is too much. You just wanted to be close to her. Your heart is beating extremely fast.

The two of you sit for a while listening to music. Your favorite song comes on. She says she doesn’t know what to do with you. Eventually, she leaves. Your heart feels full.

The next morning you’re in a daze. But you’re not worried. She likes you. It’s going to be ok. You tell her you want to see her. You want to talk about what happened. She says she’s babysitting but she can come by after. You cancel all your plans.

You’re home alone the whole night, waiting for her. Eventually she messages you. She says she’s tired and can we talk another time? Sure, you say.

You don’t see her again until the weekend. She and her roommate and her quirky friend come over in the morning. Everyone is having a good time. You break the news that you’re leaving early. The girl says she thought you were leaving later. You say that plans change. You see that she’s crying. They all leave. Your heart is breaking. You didn’t plan for this.

You’re going to your aunt’s that night, with your sisters. You’re watching a movie when the girl messages you. She wants to see you. You say you’re out of town until tomorrow. She wants to know how long you’ve known. You try to remember. You’d only decided two days before the barbecue, and that was a few days ago, but you’d gotten the invite a few days before that… you say a little less than two weeks. She hears that you knew for weeks and kept it from her. She hears that you just wanted to use her for sex. You tell her that’s not at all how it is. You say can we talk when I’m back? She says sure.

You don’t know what to do with yourself. You smoke a lot of weed.

The next morning she messages you. She’s calm. We don’t need to talk, she says, everything is fine.

Everything is not fine. You tell her you want to talk to her. She says if you like. You ask her where she wants to meet. She says nowhere really. Her roommate messages you. He invites you over for a movie. You wonder how much he knows.

You go over to her place after sundown. You make small talk and joke about the film. When the roommate steps outside, you and the girl sit in silence. After it’s over she won’t even look at you. You decide you should leave.

You’re not really sure what’s happening. Suddenly there are too many things going on.

You want to know where things stand with the girl. The two of you had had plans later that week, but when you ask her about it she’s double-booked. She says she forgot. You tell her you wish she would just talk to you. She says it takes her a million years to trust someone. She jokes that this is what it looks like when two avoidants try to communicate.

In the end she decides she’ll see you. One night she comes by your place after work. You drink whiskey and talk. You talk about her time in New York, your time in New York. You talk about her family, your past relationships. You have a lot in common.

She’s comes by again the next morning. You have coffee and do arts & crafts. It feels so sweet. She asks if you were really interested in her, or if it was just about the chase. You tell her you’ve thought about that. You tell her there are a lot of things you like about her.

She’s coming over a few nights later for a movie — the one that you were supposed to watch in the park, the one that she’s never seen. That feels right. You want to give her a present. You spend the day beforehand going around town, looking for a poetry book to give her. After four or five stores, in the back of a used bookstore, you find the one you want.

She comes by and you give her the book. She opens it and comments on everything but the inscription. You tell her you’re really going to miss her. She says she’s going to murder you.

You watch the movie. She puts her head in your lap. You lean your shoulders on her hips. You’re breathing into each other. Did this have to be so hard?

The next day you message her. You want to know how she feels. She says that she likes you but needs to protect herself. You say you understand.

It’s your birthday. Everyone is being very nice to you. The girl is messaging you. You wonder if you should invite her over. You decide against it.

One of your roommates wants to talk to you. He and the quirky girl have started dating. You say you’re happy for him.

It’s Valentine’s day. You take your ex out to a nice dinner. You have no reason not to. You bring her flowers. Someone was going to get flowers.

The next day you bring your ex back to your place. You come home to a party. Your friends are all there. You didn’t know they would be there. They don’t know about your ex. The quirky girl is there. She tells the girl to come see.

The girl arrives. You don’t talk to her. She doesn’t talk to you. You don’t owe each other anything. She could have had you so easily.

To your surprise, the girl comes over the very next night, with her quirky friend. Her parents are in town, and they had all just gone out to dinner. You wonder what they talked about. You’re sitting around and chatting. Your elbow is resting on the girl’s knee. She tells you she’s been keeping your bracelet in her purse. She tells you her roommate thinks you would make a good dad. You tell her you’d like to meet her parents.

After they leave, you wonder if maybe you should stay.

A childhood friend of yours is in town on a work trip. You want him to meet the girl. You tell him you need his advice. You make plans to meet at a bar you like, near your house. You’re going to ask her if she wants you to stay.

You and your friend are having a drink outside, catching up, waiting for the girl. Out of the corner of your eye you see someone walking by. It’s the piano player. As he passes your table, the girl arrives. They look at each other. He says he’s heard you’re leaving. You say yup, next week. You tell him it was nice to see him. He seems to take the hint.

The three of you talk for an hour or so. It’s nice enough. Eventually she leaves. You didn’t get a chance to talk to her. Your friend tells you not to stay.

You’re thinking about it later that night. The situation is too weird, her feelings are too ambiguous. You’re involved with somebody else. You have things you want to do, and so much is already in motion. There are some weddings coming up that summer. You can figure this out then. You’re not going to stay.

The next night you meet her parents. They’re out with a group of her friends. When you arrive the hip girl tells the table that if she were straight, she would date you. Someone makes room for you next to the dad. You talk to him first. He asks you about your project. You tell him your vision. You talk to her mom. She wants to know why you’re moving. You tell her you’re trying to find your place. You tell her that there are things that you want to do. She says the sense of community is better in Israel. You really like them. You wonder what they think of you.

The next night is the last time you see her. She says she has something for you. She comes over and you pour the last of your whiskey. She gives you a postcard and tells you to read it in the morning. You talk. She opens up to you about some of her past traumas. Things make more sense. You tell her you’ll see her in the summer. She says anything could happen between now and then. You say you’ll have to take your chances. You don’t want to make any promises you can’t keep. For some reason, that feels important. You play with her hair. She says is there anything else you want to say? You say you think you’ve been pretty clear about how you feel about her. She says but have you though? Then she leaves.

The next morning you read her card. It’s all admiration and well-wishes, with not a single feeling anywhere. What the hell is this, you think to yourself.

You make it through your last few days without a major meltdown. You throw a birthday party, dozens of people come. You and your ex have a sweet last night together.

Your last day is quiet and slow. Your flight is at night, so you spend the day packing. You work through your things, deciding what to keep and what to give away. You have lunch at your favorite restaurant. In the end you manage to fit everything you have into two checked bags and a carry-on. The scout in you is proud.

Some friends come over for a final send-off. You make a soup, and you smoke the last of your weed. Someone asks you to share some wisdom. You say that it’s not so easy to find a place where you can feel vulnerable.

Your friend drives you to the airport. He watches while you fumble around with a rental cart. You give him a hug.

You’re gone.

III.

You fly off the rails pretty quickly.

It’s less than a week before the panic attacks start. You’re in bed for hours at a time, thinking about her. This woman wanted to be with you, and now she’s thousands of miles away. It’s one thing to imagine time and distance in the abstract. It’s another thing entirely to see the days stretched out in front of you, vanishing into a hazy future.

It’ll be fine, you tell yourself. If not her, then it’ll be somebody else. There’s nothing to worry about. And the summer isn’t so far away.

Your sister messages you. Her friend has someone she really wants you to meet.

You’re working through your feelings. Do you want to meet someone new? Does that mean you’re looking for someone better? Who would want to come back to that? On the other hand, you and the girl aren’t anything. You live in different places. Maybe you should just put her on the backburner.

She said everything or nothing. That meant something to you. Some things don’t compartmentalize.

You’re not sure what to do next. You talk to your friends. One says don’t contact her until the summer. Some say you should fly her out to visit you. The summer feels so far away. On the news, they’re talking about a virus.

You decide not to wait. You message the girl, you want her to come visit you in California. You tell her you think this could go somewhere and you want to spend more time with her. She says no. She says you live in another country. She says you’re just nervous about being in a new place.

The lockdowns begin. The summer is looking shaky. You realize that you might not see her again for a long time. You have so many feelings and no one to talk to. Your friends say let it go, it’s not worth it. You don’t hear them. They weren’t there.

You try to stay in touch. You wish you could keep it light but too much was left unsaid. Are you just a crazy person? Was any of it real? The more heated you get the more she puts up walls. She says it’s too much pressure. She says can we be friends. You say that’s just not how you feel. She’s upset. She says this is why she doesn’t date her friends. You tell her that this was never friendship in the first place. You’re going around in circles. You hate this.

The weeks go on. Your project gets lucky break after lucky break. You’re getting closer to your parents, who you haven’t spent much time with in the last few years. You and your dad are now in business together. You and your mom are learning to trust each other again. You slowly reconnect with your high school and college friends. You’re lonely but you read a lot of books. You listen to music, and every song reminds you of her.

You talk to the girl, but less and less. You ask her how she feels. She says she’s doesn’t know. She says she thought your feelings would have changed by now. You tell her your feelings for her don’t change. You wish you could just relax but deep down you’re afraid that if you stop reaching out, you’ll never hear from her again. You go on dates but it’s pointless.

You are profoundly torn. Your dreams of years are coming true, but all you do is think about her. You know that if you abandon your project you’ll be totally lost, but the cost is too much to bear. You tell yourself you’ll find a way to make it work — you’ll split your time, you’ll figure something out, you’ll come back for her. You’re grasping for an answer.

Her indifference crushes you. This is more grief than your body can contain, and your behavior grows increasingly erratic. You figure if she’s not going to talk to you, you might as well give her a reason. You would rather she loathe you than feel nothing. That feels easier, somehow.

You treat it like a controlled demolition. Whereas you mostly keep your chaotic impulses in check, more and more you’re saying screw it. You do and say things you know you shouldn’t, just to see what happens. In a strange way, the experience is therapeutic. If fear has made you overly agreeable, you’re learning that being a little bit bad isn’t going to kill you.

Meanwhile, your project is actually coming together. You’ve never done anything like it before, and everything feels always on the verge of falling apart. For weeks you’re in a wild, demonic state — you barely sleep, you’re drunk and high constantly. Too many things could go wrong, too many things need to go right, you have so much desire and so little control. You take so many risks, and you never hesitate.

A million little shifts are taking place inside you.

The weddings have been moved to late summer. You decide to still go, even for a week or two. You’d like to be there for the fiancés. You’d like to see your friends. And of course, you want to see the girl again, even just once, even for ten minutes. You’ll tell her that you love her. You’ll tell her that you want to figure something out, that you’ll come back every month if you have to. You’ll mean it. You’re not optimistic, but this isn’t a story that ends in what if. Eros turns to thanatos, which craves poetic annihilation. You book your flights.

Her birthday is coming up. You decide to make her a present, you like having something nice to think about. It’ll be some books wrapped in brown and then in gold, so that when she opened it she would have an extra surprise. You buy a card. You go on walks and gather flowers. You press them and will give her the prettiest ones. You write her a little poem, but you can’t think of the right ending.

There’s another lockdown. The wedding dates keep changing, but still, you’ll go.

A few weeks pass. The dust has settled. You’re going back soon, you want to try to pick up the pieces with the girl. You reach out and tell her you feel bad about going so nuts, that’s not the note you wanted to end on. She says thank you.

She tells you she’s just started seeing someone. Your stomach sinks. You realize that this might be it. You tell her you love her, sorry about the timing. She says thank you. You say that you always will.

You ask her about the guy. You want to know how it feels, what it means to her. She says it feels nice and she’s not sure. You ask if they’ve slept together. She says yes. You say so much for a million years. She says the situation is different. You say you understand.

She asks you how you’re doing. You tell her it’s going well but you still think about her a lot. You tell her about the present. You tell her about the poem, and how you thought of four endings and didn’t know which one to use. You send her all four. She asks if she can take some time to articulate her feelings. You say sure.

You don’t hear from her. After a few days you decide to pull the plug. This is not going well for you. You break off contact. You don’t want to see her and you don’t want her to see you. You cancel your flights. You would’ve made the trip for the weddings or the girl, but now it’s neither. You tell the fiancés that you wish them the best and that you’ll join virtually. You tell your roommates that the situation has gotten too hot and that you’ll see them when this is all over. You say nothing to the girl. What can you say?

At the last minute, your project comes together. It really shouldn’t have, it was all so very lucky, the timing so incredibly perfect. Something about it feels strangely karmic — as if through your hurt and your grief you briefly gained the power to bend reality. At least it wasn’t all for nothing.

IV.

One night you dream about the girl. You’re on a cruise ship, and so is she. You’re trying to find her. She’s somewhere. You’re looking, looking. You see her but she’s far away, blocked off. You find a way around. Eventually you reach her. She’s sitting in a chair. You go close to her. She’s just met someone, she tells you. They’re in love and they’re moving in together. You jolt awake.

For a few weeks you are in actual, physical pain. The internet tells you the issue is with your sacral chakra. You reach out to your friend who is an energy healer. You go over to her place and she does some Reiki. The pain goes away. Reiki is a winner.

A week or two later you meet a new girl online. She’s cute and smart and seems to really like you. You think this could maybe go somewhere. The two of you start dating. You’re trying to move on.

A month or two later the girl’s roommate reaches out. He wants to catch up. You tell him it’s not a good time.

You hear through the grapevine that the girl and that guy broke up, apparently only a week or two after she told you about him. Whatever, you think to yourself.

You take the new girl on a trip for her birthday. You spend the whole weekend having sex. You think, this is nice.

Another month goes by. You’re thinking about the girl again. You’re thinking about her a lot. You’re thinking about her when you’re with the new girl. She’s still the one you want.

You talk to your artsy friend about it. She tells you to talk to her psychic. There’s an app, she says, and she has a coupon. You talk to the psychic about it. She tells you that if you want this, it’s on you to make it happen.

You decide to end things with the new girl. This isn’t fair to her, and whatever happens, at least you can be in integrity. She takes it pretty well, she says she had fun but knew that this wasn’t it. You tell her about the girl. She says you’re an idiot but wishes you the best.

You reach out to the girl. To your surprise, she’s happy to hear from you. You tell her you’re sorry you were bad. You ask her about her emotional world. She starts to really open up. She tells you about her relationships, about how she’s learning from her mistakes and learning how to love herself. She says you were a part of it. She asks how you’re doing. You tell her that your project is going well but that you think about her all the time. You ask her if she’ll let you come back and try this whole thing again. You tell her you think you would be happy together. She says she’s not in the right place for that. You tell her again that you love her. She says thank you. You tell her that you hope that she can see in herself all the things you see in her. She says she likes that.

The next day you decide you need an answer. Indulging in ambiguity wouldn’t be right, for you or for her. You’ve been dreading this but it’s time. If you’re being honest, it was time months ago. You ask her if she wants to be with you, yes or no.

You wake up the next morning and she’s responded. No, she says, this whole thing has turned into too much of a mess. (Apparently her friend helped her write that. She’s never told someone no before.)

You feel a lot of feelings, but mostly you feel sad. It shouldn’t have ended like this. There’s a lot of things you want to say. A lot of things you wish you had said. A lot of things you wish she had said. You fire off a string of messages. Twenty minutes later you delete them all. You have nothing to offer her but frustration. You tell her you’re happy for her, and good luck.

A week later you get one last message. It’s long but doesn’t say much. She says she hopes you can be friends. You reply with something direct and complimentary. You tell her we’ll see. You hear through the grapevine that she takes it poorly. That feels appropriate, somehow. Maybe the truth is you’ve been talking past each other the whole time.

Now you have all the words, but there’s nothing left to say.

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