I wasn’t expecting much when I walked inside. I like making people happy and ensuring that they’re comfortable—I especially felt inclined to do so for Alex. There isn’t anything I can do to bring his mom back, but if accompanying my friend to a party full of strangers would bring him some joy, then I’m happy to oblige.
Talking to people is usually pretty easy for me. I used to meet people for a living, after all.
The door opened and the host greeted us. Kind. Charismatic. An older gentlemen with just a touch of gray. It was as if his hair were the only indication that he was no longer 25.
“Mmm…he seems great,” I thought to myself.
Normal introductions followed. “Hi, this is my friend. She’s visiting from out of town.” I shook a series of hands and heard a number of names I don’t remember. But I remember yours. How could I forget? We met in the kitchen, technically. It was an awkward encounter actually because when it was our turn to shake hands, your eyes darted to the friend behind me. Apparently, you both weren’t expecting to see each other, and so your interaction was a literal pleasant surprise. But I hadn’t been forgotten.
“B, this is my friend, Elena.”
“Hi, Elena. I’m, B. Pleased to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
I don’t remember anything about the handshake. I don’t remember how your hand felt in mine, but I do remember your eyes—dark and warm, framed by glasses that added just the right touch of sophistication. I also remember you hair—styled and silky. “I wonder if it’s as soft as it looks,” I thought. I remember your face, clothed in skin that was familiar with the sun, caressing a smile that invited me to look just a little too long.
But then the moment passed. Everyone started mingling and I got lost in the shuffle. I found myself at a table of women who I didn’t care to necessarily engage. They were nice enough, of course, but our common interests extended as far as the latest Rom-Com that was recently in theaters. I’d seen the movie and was internally begging to connect with someone at this party, so I chimed in. “Yeah, I saw it. It was okay. Funny enough, but a little too raunchy for my taste.” The women agreed, reciprocating my words in a different order. It’s funny that we do that, isn’t it? Repeat what we hear as if we’re saying it for the first time. Everyone just wants to relate and be related to, I suppose.
As I was sitting at the table, my eyes kept darting across the room to find you—first, the kitchen, behind the island, enjoying the buffet of food; next the living room, near the couch, enjoying the company of men that I assumed were your friends, but maybe not? Perhaps you were just being polite and friendly; finally, the space in between the two rooms, across from me. You were holding a goblet of whisky, or maybe it was bourbon. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but I do remember thinking how childish I felt as I sipped on my ginger ale in a styrofoam cup. I wanted to be drinking alcohol. I wanted to join in the fun, but my stomach wouldn’t allow it. There was even a moment where I wished I had indulged before I’d come to the house, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so skittish and aloof in the corner, alone.
But I’m glad I was sober. I’m glad I wasn’t influenced by anything other than you. I’m glad the most intoxicating experience I had that night was our conversation. But maybe I was inebriated. Maybe something had been slipped into my drink. It was all too enchanting; it didn’t feel real. Maybe you meet people in this manner all the time. Maybe having such riveting conversation with strangers is a hobby of yours. I’m sure people try their hardest to talk to you wherever you go. Americans are funny that way. We love foreigners, but only the right kind of foreigners. Your British accent was exactly right. But how cliche, huh? Of course I’m attracted to your accent. How could I not be? It doesn’t matter that I’ve always had an odd affinity for England. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been to London, but have spent several days in Newcastle (a town not known for tourists). It doesn’t matter that my heritage can be traced back to England and that my last name sounds like it could be on the front of a beautiful stone building with the word “Manor” following it. Whittemore. None of it matters because in every other scenario you are the character that all of the girls fawn after. You are the character that is fascinating and intelligent and witty and winsome, but that’s it—you’re just a character.
This wasn’t every other scenario. And I’m writing about it now, because there is a part of me that feels as if I dreamed all of this up in my head. So I have to record it. I’ve been afraid to, though. Usually writing something down is what gives it life, but when life has enough to sustain itself, how can my mere words capture a night that feels too charming to explain?
“But that’s the narrative we’re told, right? As millennials…” I don’t remember the first part of our conversation because I was trying to remind myself to breath. “Yes, Elena. He’s talking to you. Speak to him. You’re fine.” Deep breath. Why were you talking to me? Did you see me staring? “Forgive me, I couldn’t help it. I was just so curious,” I thought.
“I have a theory about our generation, actually…”
“Really?” You paused. Interested? “I’m going to take this seat.” Right next to me. “Okay, go on.”
I explained my theory. I fumbled over my words a bit. Admittedly, I was nervous. I know what I had to say was of value and merit, I wouldn’t have brought it up otherwise. But I wanted you to remain interested. I wanted to keep talking to you.
You nodded. You smiled. You agreed. Safe.
And so we continued to converse. Back and forth. You would speak and I’d feel the same way you did. I would share my thoughts and you’d enthusiastically respond in agreement. There was a consistent serving and receiving. Surely, our understanding would end. Surely, you’d get bored. Surely, I’d realize that you weren’t actually as intriguing as I’d thought. The hammer never fell. The curtain was never pulled back. Intricately, delicately, intentionally, we pursued a myriad of topics—literature, film, music, politics, psychology, religion, human relationships.
“Elena, let me ask you a question…” The words fell off your tongue and spun around my ears. I was on the edge of my seat. “Ask me anything. Let me in on what’s peaked your curiosity,” I thought.
“Do you think opposites attract?” you finished.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. What answer were you looking for? Surely, you didn’t see us as opposites. We’d found so much common ground. Do I say, “yes” because that’s how the age old adage goes? Do I say “no” as to seem unmarked by what culture tells me is fact?
“Let me think about it.”
I had to be honest with you. I couldn’t lie. I didn’t want to lie. I’d been honest up until this point, and it had worked in my favor. There was no need to change who I was so that you might find me more attractive, and I wanted you to find my attractive. You seemed to be attracted to my honesty.
“Yes and no.” I concluded.
Your eyes turned toward me and seemed to ask, “What do you mean?”
Before you could audibly inquire, I answered. “Let me explain myself.”
“I think opposites attract to some degree. I mean, they have to. We’re so interested and curious about other people, people that are different than us, right? Its fun. So they attract, yes, but they don’t sustain. Beauty fades and looks don’t always say the same, but companionship, common interests, that lasts. There needs to be some level of common ground in order for a relationship to work.”
“Oh, that’s brilliant.” You let those three words escape and then you let them escape again.
“I think, you’re absolutely right. You’ve put it brilliantly. Opposites attract, but they don’t sustain. And it’s that sustainability that a relationship needs, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” I said.
I’d hooked you. No traps, no nets, but you were now engaged in our conversation differently than before. I’m glad I was honest. I wanted you to be hooked because you were pulling words and thoughts and ideas and narratives out of my broken barrel of a mind. You were pouring water on a garden that had seen a rough winter. You were tending to my curious flowerbeds with questions of of care and weeding out unnecessary small talk with poignant subject matter. I was growing and changing. There. As we sat in two chairs in between the living room and kitchen I was reminded of what I love, what inspires me.
I wish I could make this sound less dramatic. I wish I could make this sound less poetic. Sort of. I wish these things because I want to be believed, but I’m not lying. There’s no over exaggeration, but I suppose until you have an unexpected encounter such as ours, this will all sound as farce.
I don’t know what you do for a living. I don’t know how old you are. I don’t know the name of your English hometown. I don’t know what kind of car you drive. I don’t know what your favorite sports team is. I asked if you liked sports, and you said yes. I asked what your favorite sport was and you replied with “politics.” I smiled. You’re a fan of mind games—not manipulation, but you enjoy engaging in thought. I do too.
As we continued to talk, I did my best not to look at the clock. But we were at a party for a purpose. There was a big sports match. Pay per view. America vs. Europe. Us. But we weren’t rivals, we weren’t opponents. We weren’t trying to best each other…
It was almost time for the fight to start and I found myself begging for time to turn back. Internally, I was pleading for everything to slow down. All I wanted to do was keep talking to you. I wanted to keep asking you questions and I wanted to keep answering yours. I wanted to know more about your mom—it’s obvious that you care for her deeply. You said she was “your heart.” I wanted to learn more about your brothers—you’re all close, yes? I wanted to understand why you didn’t have the best relationship with your dad—do you want that to change? I wanted to know why you studied engineering in college when your heart rests with psychology and literature. I wanted to know where you personally stood when it comes to matters of God an the Bible—you know much about religions and faith, but what wakes you up in the morning?
I wanted to know why, in the most random of places, in the most spontaneous of manners our moments in time intersected. I wanted to know why talking to you felt like listening to my favorite song and why being near you, while entirely new, was as comfortable as my favorite sweatshirt (the one that’s been with me through a lot, the one that I know is reliable, the one that makes me feel good about myself even if I’ve just rolled out of bed). I had so many questions for you, B, and I still do. I have an aching desire to know you and I’m undone because I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to truly do so.
But I want to.
It’s been five days since we’ve met and you’ve been on my mind for every last one of them. I feel silly. You’re just a boy and I’m just a girl. We met and shared a wonderful evening. That’s it. Then why has my mind begun to create pictures and scenarios and stories that star us as the protagonists? Why do I keep checking my phone to see if you’ve written me a modern day letter, (as you called it)? Why do I want to share and experience my life with you? I hardly know you. Are you even thinking about me? I don’t think I believe in love at first sight, but the last boy that I connected with in this way had a heart big enough for me to fall into and I loved him with everything I had. I never told him, though. He’ll probably never know, actually. But my connection with him wasn’t anything like ours. Ours was better; richer; more thoughtful.
B, I hope I talk to you again. I hope I see you again. But if not, thank you, thank you for a wonderful evening.