I’m on my way to drinks with a friend when I realize I’m passing the restaurant where you serve part-time. My eyes dart through the window of the barely lit dining room and a fraction of my beating heart hopes to see you. It is the fraction that misses your laugh and jokes and carefree way of gliding through the world. It is the fraction that wrote you letters and returned to the last thing I penned for you any time a pang of wistfulness pulled at my gut. It is the fraction flooded by nostalgia, the part of my heart that lives waist deep in the recollection of when things were good.
And, yet, when my eyes dart through that barely lit dining room, there is another fraction of my beating heart that hopes not to see you. It is the fraction that knows memories are fun house mirrors, distorting our versions of reality. It is the part of my heart that holds hands with my mind, the two both worn thin from the emotional gymnastics my early twenties put them through. It is the fraction flooded by practicality, the part of my heart that lives waist deep in the recollection of when things fell apart.
I did not see you that night.
But, still, my memories of you are land mines, recklessly dropped across streets of the District.
On the way back to my car after drinks, just as the last traces of flashbacks fell away from me, I passed that Cheesecake Factory. It was the one where we had dinner on my birthday. I idled there and let myself get lost on a dark Clarendon street. I listened to my steps slow down as my heart sped up, the highlight reel of that night suddenly far too fresh in my mind. The Grey Goose before dinner. The way we both looked dressed in all black. Your encouragement that I wear the heeled boots instead of the flat ones. Your hand casually tossed across mine in the back of an Uber. The driver who said you were a lucky guy. The way we made waves rise and crash when night melded with morning.
My memories used to be loaded guns, cocked unflinchingly at my peace of mind. My memories were once defunct compasses, always leading me back down dead ends by way of phone numbers I promised I’d never dial again. But, now my memories are not much more than memories, emotional currents that rip through me and eventually find rest.
That night, I gave those thoughts permission to rip through me. And, sure enough, they eventually found rest.