This is part 2 of how I met my husband. Part 1 is available here.
"A" pulled into the parking lot of my depressing suburban apartment complex right on time to pick me up. The week had been long, and I was grateful for the evening's distraction, to say the least. Most of my recent evenings had been spent by myself sitting on the couch of my sad one-bedroom, where despite the months that had passed since I'd moved in, there were still books piled on the floor and no pictures hung on the walls.
I was learning that suburban America is no place to be single, or even functionally single, as I increasingly felt. Beyond hitting the supermarket on my drive home, my time outside of work was distressingly unoccupied. When I moved into my new apartment, I stubbornly hadn't ordered cable, figuring I'd simply waste my evenings in front of the television. So I listened to NPR, rented videos, spent hours on the phone with my parents in Seattle and my best friend in Delaware, and lived my time alone wishing I could escape. This is not what I'd expected life after college to be like.
And what of the fiancé, you ask? I'm sure he was around from time to time. Tellingly, neither one of us had been eager to move in together right away after I graduated. So we kept separate apartments not far from one another, but I can't remember now how much time we actually spent together. I do know he had no clue how lonely I felt.
The few local friends I managed to find were used to getting last-minute pleas to go out. No one seemed to know where to go out, since we all lived in a sleepy town forty-five minutes from Boston, with one seedy bar and not so much as a decent coffee shop. Yet tonight there was "A", with the courage to drive into Cambridge -- I was still too fearful of driving in Boston to cross route 128 -- and he was waiting to take me with him. He even had tricks for finding a parking spot when we arrived. I was beginning to realize just how much I'd miss him when he moved back to Paris.
He took me to a Mexican restaurant just off of Harvard Square. It was mobbed with loud students waving half-empty margarita glasses, but we managed to find a relatively quiet table downstairs, and soon fell to talking as if we were the only people in the world. I can't remember what we discussed, whether it was superficial or deep, or whether we talked about my loneliness and the similar loneliness that had pushed his decision to move back to France. I do know that I felt I was finally getting to know "A" and could from that moment on consider him a real friend, perhaps the first I'd made since I graduated. I complained loudly that it didn't seem fair.
He held my hands, looked into my eyes, and said pointedly, "I know. Me too."
Uh-oh, I thought, a bit concerned, a bit flattered. I was at such a painful point in my non-relationship with my fiancé that I relished any attention I got from other men. I suspected there was more to it than that, though, but didn't quite let myself pursue the thought. "A" seemed to be so many things my fiancé wasn't: exotic and well-traveled, for one (my fiancé was a Massachusetts boy who hadn't been south of Philadelphia except once on a childhood trip to Disney World), interested in many things beyond work, and intent on listening to what I had to say until he understood me. Eventually it was time for the long drive home, and I was afraid I'd be even more lonely when he left me at my apartment than I had been before.
We sat for a long time in his car after he pulled into my parking lot. We recited our goodbyes and promises to keep in touch for the second time, and when there was nothing left to say, he said with finality, "I will kiss you, then, like we do in France."
There is nothing more common in France than a kiss on the cheek. Family members, friends and colleagues greet each other with one (or, more accurately, two) every day. In certain small villages where everyone knows everyone, it is even the accepted way to greet most passersby. Even in urban, impersonal Paris, friends of friends exchange la bise at the end of an evening together.
I didn't know this, of course, and "A" knew that I didn't know this. So I still wonder just how calculated it was when he gently grabbed hold of my shoulders and, leaning forward, slowly and purposefully kissed one, then the other of my cheeks.
He had to know that it would make me melt into nervous laughter the minute I went up the stairs alone and closed my apartment door. He had to know that my cheeks would burn the rest of the night, and that in my imagination I'd memorize the exact square inch where he'd kissed me. A Frenchman can't live in the US for as long as he did -- almost three and a half years, at that point -- without gaining some notion of the effect of his French-ness on a sentimental young américaine. I never dared ask, but I think that he did it on purpose, and that he had some vague plan from the start, but was too concerned about breaking my heart to put it fully into motion.
He was sincere in his goodbye, but he left a question in that kiss, just in case.
(To be continued...)