Back then I genuinely believed that every next man was the last one.
I could make myself love you.
I encountered the ghost of one such man this afternoon, while Drew and I lazed outside the corner café. I didn’t recognize him until he walked right up to us. Ten years had passed since I’d sat across from him, picking at the expensive food he’d ordered, busy trying to tally the good.
He was kind to waiters, had a winsome smile, wanted to really know me. He bought overpriced lemonade from the kids on the street corner and smacked his lips theatrically like it was more than pure powder. He spoke often of being grateful for his health, the way most of us swear we will when a vicious flu befalls us and we’re bargaining for a return to normalcy, only to forget our promises the very moment we can breathe freely again. There was so much about him that was tender and decent; everything about him added up. I prayed he’d trip up, cause me irreparable harm or commit an egregious, unforgivable act, but he never did. In the end I gave no reason when I slipped away from him, and he, in his goodness, let me.
This afternoon, after so many years, he looked at me, at Drew, then back at me. He pulled me into a hug so abruptly I gasped. But it was a genuine hug, a recognition, and with his scratchy cheek against my smooth one, I felt a tightness in my chest I can only describe as grief.
That night, the kids asleep, the two of us sat on the porch breathing in the soothing, grassy scent of citronella. Drew, curious, perhaps at the hug’s intimacy or the way I had let myself sag in his arms, asked,“Did you love him or something?”
It was dusk and humid, the sort of gentle heat just heavy enough to remind you that you have a body, that you take for granted how hardily it carries you through the world. The man, like the others, meant nothing. I interwove my fingers with Drew’s and stroked the simple wedding band I bought for her eight summers ago.
Clancy Tripp is a Midwest-based writer, graphic artist, and humorist. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Electric Literature, Slice, Reductress and The Rumpus. She has won the 2020 Iowa Review Award in Nonfiction (judged by Leslie Jamison) and the 2021 Witness Literary Award in Nonfiction (judged by Cinelle Barnes). She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Ohio State University. Find her on Twitter @TheUnrealTripp or at www.clancytripp.com.