"I have missed you very much, Namaste," he said in English, and then again in Arabic.
He draped his hand over my upper thigh in an attempt to draw me a bit closer to him in the corner where we were sitting. It occurred to me that I had forgotten about this side of us. I had forgotten that we ever had chemistry. Was it really only two years ago that we dated? It all seems so brief and uneventful in comparison to all that has happened since. It was a time when I found the maintenance of a relationship structure burdensome and overbearing. But the truth is that I never felt like he had any passion for me. I felt like he was unwilling to fight the good fight for me...
Or had he?
With his hand still on my knee, I smiled and drew back a little. I registered my hesistation in a flirtatious way of looking into his eyes, which was my subtle way of assessing his sobriety and truthfulness. Despite the fact that we were at a cocktail party for our respective academic interests, I knew that he did not have a drop to drink. And, given our dating history, I reminded myself that I knew for a fact that he never lied to me. Not once. Nope. Never.
But he also never spoken to me like this. At least, not while we were dating. Of course, there was that one time when he pulled me to him after a big dinner with friends, kissed me, and said something profoundly romantic in Arabic. Come to think of it, maybe he did that a lot. And yeah, I remember how he was always very proud to be with me. One time, he asked a mutual friend of ours to drive him to the airport early one morning. Even though I volunteered to give him a lift, he insisted that our friend drive him. That morning while I attempted to sleep, I heard him say to the friend:
"My girlfriend is beautiful and too generous to me already. I ask you this favor so that you will allow me to let her rest, and so that my memory of her on this trip is that she is still peacefully sleeping in my bed while I am away."
Wait. Why did I break up with this guy?
As we sat there talking, I realized how he has continued to walk through life with me, even at a distance. I remembered how he was the one who nudged me in the direction of my current research. In that moment, I realized how unselfish he was when he agreed to let me end our relationship so that I could leave and do other things. (I remember feeling hurt that he refused to join me, but I guess this was his way of letting me fly, albeit without him.) Even still, as my friend, he came to Jerusalem as many times as he could while he was visiting his family to spend afternoons with me. As my friend, he invited me to come to visit him at his family home, to meet his parents and siblings, and see the place on earth that makes his heart whole again and again.
"It's better for you not to be with me right now," he once said when I hinted at the fact that I was struggling with my end of the relationship. In my mind, this only confirmed his lack of passion for me or my happiness. But now, with just a little bit of retrospect, maybe I have finally grown smart enough to realize that he was two steps ahead of me all along...
I smiled and discreetly put my hand over his. The party rolled on around us, while we sat with our hands touching under the table. Mutual friends walked by and laughed awkwardly, as socially inept academics must do when put in a room together.
"You know, I'm pretty sure that you see into my soul and only see the best. It's like...you see the best in me--" I actually said out loud.
"Because you are one of the truest people I know," he replied evenly.
Nothing more was said, other than an unsolicited promise to see me in Jerusalem again in the coming summer when he comes to see his family. Between an exchange of smiles and heavy hugs, he whispered to me to keep going, and I couldn't help but love him and want him to hold me that much longer for this. But, instead of asking him to ask me to stay, I allowed him to allow me to go.
Up until that moment, I had been toying with the idea that love may really be a selfish and empty enterprise at best, a system of score-keeping, notch-making, and so forth. As my hand slipped out of his as I reached for the door, I realized that the best love is willing to let us go.
I left him standing in a circular doorway somewhere between 6th and 7th avenues on 46th street, the smell of his cologne still clinging to the collar of my coat. As I walked away, I made a silent promise to myself to never do it again. That is, of course, if the opportunity should ever come back around.
But for now, I leave for the Middle East in ten days. I leave with the knowledge that what is now behind me was never in vain, always in love, if not sometimes a bit misguided, and admittedly clouded in my own insecurities.
Next time, I said to myself, I won't let myself be let go. But such is the enterprise of love and being loved well.