She used to call me, minutes away from my house. Actually more like a hour after having called earlier to say she would be by in 20 minutes. She wanted to walk in all kinds of weather, usually too late at night for a good end of a day. I got in the habit of saying yes. Long walks. I would listen to her talk.
She would say that I walked fast enough, long enough legs to keep a pace that gave her the exercise she needed. She spoke as swiftly as our legs would carry us. I listened, sometimes with care, sometimes with frustration, sometimes with love, and sometimes because that is what I do.
And some days, I would not listen, wonder if I had heard it all before, wonder why she thought explaining it a second and third time would make the story different (even if the names and places were not the same), thinking that maybe I had her same problem years before and why the world had not ridden itself of it by then. I wondered if I was frustrated by her or by myself—because maybe it was just me who had not ridden myself of life's chronic impediments.
Late summer nights with my friend were easiest. Some, I still remember. Let me see. Was it that first summer night lying in the grass in the middle of the nearby college campus or another a few years later? Not sure which one to remember and which to forget.
I don't remember how she described what happened on that later summer walk. Something about the rain. Something about my arms. Something about how hard it is to let someone love her. Something about it being easier to be with someone who treated her poorly than the fear of being with someone who she might disappoint. I said nothing about my fears of the same.
That first summer walk, we lie on the grass, me wondering if I should kiss her. I am still wondering. Instead I just turned periodically to watch her gaze at the sky. I gazed at the sky, too, even though the city lights washed out the night-sky sparkle. Where do we look in those awkward moments? And somehow my mind made this moment into an episode akin to spending an entire dinner looking at a date's earring—too shy to look in the eye; too modest to be caught looking lower.
I was so much more grown up then.
I didn't know how much she wanted me to kiss her. Neither of us realized at the time how much easier life would have been if we had left that later paused walk moment as undisturbed as the first. Years later, on that rainy night, we would fall in deeper than a mere kiss. Rain. Arms. Complicated longings unnecessarily confused by conflicting emotions, sensibilities, and circumstances to avoid.
But that first night was fine the way it was, in the grass with the summer night sky. Hardly a soul crossing campus, no rolling traffic, and no singing katydids. Just the appropriately paralyzing cacophony running through our heads, our shy modesty staring at the summer night sky.