I was hopping up and down with excitement at the airport. Like literally hopping, bouncing up and down in the air. It was a private joke between Matt and I. When I asked him what he loved most about me, he said it was how I hopped when I saw him.
The joke had started a few years before. I’d gone to Las Vegas with friends for a weekend. One night, after a few drinks at a club, I’d danced with a beautiful blonde, blue-eyed man in a leather jacket. We’d flirted, made out, laughed a lot, and then traded phone numbers. After weeks of chatting, he’d come to see me in Salt Lake City. Before his arrival, I’d texted that I was so excited to see him that I couldn’t hold still, and as he’d pulled up, I’d been hopping in the yard, making him giggle. After that, I’d hopped every time we’d seen each other.
Prior to this, the last time I had seen Matt was nearly a year before. I met him in St. George, Utah, in the middle of an insane blizzard. He got out of the car, and I just seized him in a hug, and we stood there, holding each other for several minutes as the world blustered around us. After that, we went inside and made love and just held each other. He could light me on fire with his touch. After that, we’d had yet another passive argument about why our relationship wasn’t working, and why it couldn’t (the distance, the kids, he needed to finish college, he wasn’t ready, he cared too much, it hurt me too much to be so far away and have so little time with him), and he drove away, and I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again.
Matt got off the plane, and found me hopping, and we hugged and kissed and laughed. I always felt so perfectly complete when I was with him. I felt attractive, desired, loved, accepted, like everything would be okay.
Over the next three days in Seattle, we talked, drank coffee, hiked to waterfalls, window-shopped, danced, had drinks, and ate everything. We snuggled at night and kissed in the morning. And yet again, I realized how perfect life with him felt. He stopped to pet every puppy, he reached for my hand when we walked, he had this way of looking me right in the eyes and making me feel safe. But I knew he’d be gone again and that it would all fall apart. Again. We’d already done this perfect-weekend-only-to-say-goodbye thing so many times, so many times.
After our hike to the waterfall, we got a table overlooking the falls, and ordered coffee. He smiled at me. God, he was beautiful. He looked me in the eyes.
“You seem happy here. In Seattle.”
I looked down, sighing. “I wanted it to be perfect. I did. But I hate my job. I haven’t made friends like I had hoped. And I’m lonely, a lot. I miss the kids. I–” I looked back up. “I miss you.”
He nodded, understanding. “I hate Vegas. I hate living there. I hate who I am there.”
And I surprised myself. “We talked about you coming to Salt Lake to live, lots of times. And you never felt ready. You never were ready. But what about–”
“What about what?”
“What about Seattle? What if you came and gave things a try here? What if we started here together, with a blank slate?” My heart pounded in the silence.
He shook his head, quickly. Too quickly. “I can’t.”
“You haven’t even thought about it. Matt, why not?”
“I can’t. I’m not ready. And I have thought about it. Ever since you’ve moved here, I’ve thought about it. I miss you constantly.”
“I miss you too! This could be something! Why can’t you? Why can’t you give it a try?”
He sighed. Deeply. Painfully. “I wouldn’t be easy to be with.”
I rolled my eyes. “I can handle the challenge.”
“No. I’m not ready. You’re eleven years older than me. You’ve done so much with yourself. Your writing, your career. I haven’t done anything with my life. I work part-time. I have years of school left. I can’t.”
“Matt, it isn’t a competition! Aren’t we worth a try?”
“Of course we are. But not yet. I’m not ready.”
It was the same conversation we had had a hundred times. We would reach a stalemate, and then it would get too painful to stay in contact, knowing it couldn’t go anywhere. I had kids and responsibilities. He just wasn’t ready. So we would stop texting. Months of silence would follow, and then one of us would finally reach out, and we’d make plans to see each other again.
“I–I think I thought that you wouldn’t come to Utah, for whatever reason. But I think, deep down, I think I hoped you might come here.”
He looked surprised. “Am I why you moved to Seattle? That doesn’t make sense.”
“I–no. I moved here for me. I just think, subconsciously, I think I hoped you might want a fresh start with me. I think deep down I thought that maybe we could finally be together.”
“I’m not ready,” he repeated, and then the coffee came.
That night and again the following morning, we made love again. He was leaving in just a few hours. In the car outside my apartment, I felt my heart break. I turned to him, my eyes brimming with tears.
“I’ve never said this to you, not out loud, but I love you.” I meant it, and he knew it.
“I love you, too.” He said it softly, his eyes turned toward the floor. He reached over and took my hand.
I looked away. “You say that. But you’re going to leave me today, and I have a feeling I’m not going to see you again.”
“I’m just not ready,” he said. “I have to find me first. It’s Vegas for now. I can’t leave yet.”
I drove him to the airport and kissed him goodbye. And as I drove away, tears leaking down my face, I knew that it was time. There was nothing for me in Seattle. It was time to start planning my return to Utah.
A year later, while I was in Las Vegas for business, I stopped by the place where Matt worked. A tattooed girl with long black braids worked behind the counter. I explained I was there to see Matt. She responded with enthusiasm.
“Matt! Oh, I miss him! He moved two months ago. He met a guy last summer, and they just got a place in San Francisco together.”
And as I left, I realized that although I hadn’t been holding on tightly, it was finally, finally time to let go.