Here and Now

We were sitting on your couch in the living room of your graduate school apartment, watching some ridiculous horror movie, when I looked over to my left at your jacket and what you had hanging next to it, and said, “Nice book bag.”

“Book bag?” you responded, “Don’t you mean back pack?”

It sparked a discussion about American slang, and how one item can have a variety of names, and sometimes what you call it depends on what part of the country you live in, or maybe what your parents referred to the item as when you were growing up.


It made me realize just how different your life - your childhood - was from mine. And it made me like you that much more. And it made me want to get to know you that much more. It even inspired a post, buried deep now in my drafts, because I truly believed we would have more conversations like that.
The following week I was in Target (of course) getting ice cream (of course) when a child, no older than 3 or 4, came wandering over to me and pointed behind him and said two words: back pack. And sure enough, he was wearing one.  It was May, so there’s no rhyme or reason as to why his parents (who quickly apologized for him coming up to me) would be buying it for him.

It was the first time something happened that made me immediately think of you. Our little inside joke that I could tell you, knowing you and you alone would understand.

When I told you, you joked that “back pack” should be our safe word.

You are unlike anyone I have ever met, and I was really only able to scratch the surface. I was left feeling like there was so much more for me to discover; so many quirks about you that I didn’t get to experience. And for that, I feel quite cheated. And maybe that’s what’s caused me to hang on to something, even after it was so far gone, and out of my control.

I sometimes wonder if that would have been easier if I allowed you to make a mess of me all at once. If I let you in completely, only to be turned away, if it would have hurt less than slowly breaking me down, bit by bit.

There’s a line in a book that I read recently that said, “ stories aren’t always linear and sometimes you don’t get the guy.” I read that line over and over again, letting it sink in. My thoughts immediately went to you and how back and forth and up and down what we had seemed to be. How I never really knew where you were (mentally, physically) and how I still don’t. How I never said the things I should have said, and when I haphazardly put something together to say to you, it was too late and it didn’t come off as it should.

What I ended up saying to you wasn’t enough and it so many ways, that’s how I felt all along; like I wasn’t enough. I faltered by questioning why someone like you could be interested in me, instead of believing in myself and my worth. And when you showed what appeared to me as just the slightest bit of lost interest, I bolted. I put my guard up and thought, “I knew it was too good to be true.”

I pushed you away, all while thinking it was the right thing to do. I pushed you away, instead of talking to you about how I felt.

I reread our conversations and I can tell that I was being hesitant with you. On occasion you would be very open with me about how you were feeling (you said I made you nervous and that you liked that about me), and how I would never really reciprocate that honesty. I know myself and why I acted that way.

What I don’t know is if whether or not I would have ever been able to open up to you the way I want to now, given the chance to spend more time with you. And whether or not you were the lesson I needed to learn so that the next time around, with someone else, I’ll know better than to make the same mistakes I made with you.

If you Google the term “safe word” you’ll see a litany of definitions that all pertain to S&M, bondage, etc., but essentially what the term means is to stop. And when you say this word, you’re supposed to mean it—because you can’t take the pain anymore, because the other person is hurting you too much.

I sit here – 18 months after first meeting you, 5 months after last seeing you – thinking to myself, over and over, “Back pack, back pack, back pack.”

Because there’s too much hurt. And I so desperately need it to stop.