I look hard at him from the other side of the couch.
His face is the same. His body is the same. He’s dressed in a casual white polo shirt and through it I see his familiar tank top undershirt outline his chest. His jeans hang a bit lower, despite the fact that he is wearing a belt. He smells the same, for the most part—his cologne, mixed with his hair gel and the new laundry detergent she is probably using. His hair freshly cut, but in a way that makes his face look smaller.
His voice sounds the same, but I sense sadness, confusion. He’s come to me because I am his soft place to fall. Just like every other time his life is spinning out of control. And as much as I like it, I also hate it.
I never expected to see him.
It’s been weeks since we’ve been face to face. He’s been living with someone else. And although I am tempted to ask why he is here, I don’t. There’s only one reason. She moved out. I sense it in the way he’s acting and the mere fact he is in my house.
She is gone.
I told him a few months prior that I did not want to hear from him or see him until she was no longer in his life. And now here he is.
On my couch.
I don’t want to ask about her. I don’t want to know. Yet, I see it now. For the first time. I’m his back-up-plan. His second choice. His fallback. The girl he goes to when he can’t find a “better” option. It’s a roll I’ve played many times before, because I loved him. I let him. Unknowingly. Until now.
I don’t ask. I don’t want him to verbalize the truth… if he’d even offer it. The realization I’ve made on my own hurts enough.
So why do I let him lay his legs on mine as we sprawl out on the opposite sides of the couch? Why do his dark eyes still attract me? His perfectly manicured eyebrows still hold something inside me that I know I will never be able to shake?
As his eyes momentarily close, I remember how I used to love to watch him sleep. He was full of rage, anger and passion, but while he slept he was whomever I wanted him to be.
His rests his hands on his chest and I begin drowning in memories.
I want to be the one resting on his chest, feel his arms around me and drift off into a peaceful slumber with our bodies close enough to feel each other’s breath on our bare skin. But this man, with all the familiar features that I know so well, is nothing more than a stranger laying on my couch.
In my home. With my kids sleeping soundly in their rooms.
And I am nothing but his fallback.
I once shared my life with this now stranger on my couch.
I opened my heart, body and soul to this now stranger. He knew me inside and out, all of my fears, dreams and desires. He knew my story and I knew his. We accepted things about each other and also tried to change the things we didn’t like.
We fell in love once. And now I almost can’t remember how I know him.
I know exactly why he is here and on my couch and what brought him back to the home we had once planned to live in together. Why now—after the last eight months of his absence, his not being around to celebrate my birthday, Halloween or Christmas—he comes to me.
And it was during those eight months of solitude when I began to heal.
Through phases of grief so strong it felt as if parts of me were missing—my limbs, my brain, my other half. Through pain and confusion so great it was if I was walking around with Alzheimer’s. Until the point that I hardly recognized myself in the mirror, whenever I actually bothered looking.
And then, with the help of friends, I began to stand on my own two feet.
Stepping out of myself, my sorrow, my pain, I began to heal and discover who I was. I began exercising again. Taking cooking classes. Painting classes. Movie nights. Going to concerts, comedy shows and giving out a fake number to a few creeps.
I laughed and I cried. And I missed him. But I kept moving forward no matter how much it hurt. And I continued healing.
For months I had daydreamed about this exact night.
Him. Here. With me.
I thought about what I would say to him when he decided to finally come back home.
Now that he’s here I get the opportunity. As he gets up to leave, I walk him to the door.
And I say goodbye.
Because in the process of falling out of love with him, I began to fall in love with me. And this is a forever sort of love.
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock