He looked good. Walking into our Brooklyn apartment, I saw that a season apart was what he had needed, too. I said hello cautiously, but before I moved to gather the last of my stuff, he pulled me into a bear hug, resting his chin on my head.
I’d left nine weeks earlier. One leaving in a series of breakups that would make it impossible for friends to say whether we were together or not.
I had broken the cycle by deciding to work remotely out West before moving to Boston for a fellowship at MIT. The apartment, now his, was serene. Everything in its place.
He looked like he’d been lifting weights, getting sun. Relaxed in a way I’d forgotten was possible — happy even. I told him so. “It’s because you’re here,” he said tightly. It was like him to remember things more generously than I deserved.
We’d been at odds for a while. I was in a frenzy to rend all the staid parts of our relationship and make something new. He loved me as I was and had no inclination to change anything. He concerned himself with more practical issues, and was, as a result, the most reliable of friends, colleagues, boyfriends.
And looking at me standing in his living room, he suggested I needed brunch. He fried farmer’s market bacon and eggs, sunny-side up. He didn’t burn them as I invariably would have. Over the months I’d been gone, I’d lost 11 pounds and was underweight. I realized as I ate his food that I’d been hungry all summer.
He brought me peaches, then cut up more. “Hey, I don’t want to eat all of your peaches,” I said. “Hey,” he contradicted, “I know you.”
After we ate, I sat down on the futon. Then needed to lie down. I hadn’t slept well while I was away. Never in one place for more than a week, whether in a cabin at 9,000 feet or in a friend’s guest room in Red Hook, I’d wake around 2 a.m. and read on my phone for hours.
I’d made some dubious choices where men were concerned. One a much older, long-married man, who knocked on my door with a “little pig, little pig, let me in.” Another sexted like a Trump transcript: “I want to be there when you get there very unfair.” For a period of time, something in me desired to be loved less. To be wanted more. To be weightless.
But here, in our old place, with him looking so solid, I wanted to sink into that calm. I asked to stay. And that night, I lay in his arms and slept till morning.
The next day, he helped me pack clothes, shoes, and kitchenware into my car. He made bacon and eggs. Then a second helping.
He checked my oil, which I should’ve changed well before my 5,000-mile road trip. He said to pick up a quart of 5W-20 at a gas station. I wrote it down.
“Get it changed,” he said with an eyebrow.
I left him, and married the next man, the Harvard man, whose love was like a tightrope. Who said he’d seen me in a vision. Who promised we’d sail the Greek islands. Who went climbing the day I moved into his apartment. Who enjoyed his secrets. Who watched me lose 10 pounds as our marriage fell apart and didn’t seem to notice. Who, when he lost his job and broke down and I booked him therapists and a clinic, blamed the whole world, then me.
Him I left quietly, carefully, while he was out of the house, without saying where I was going.
Love doesn’t always last. But in the dark times, you will still hear them say: Take care of yourself. I know you. Eat. Check your oil.
Caty Enders is a journalist and research scientist in New Mexico. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. TELL YOUR STORY. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.