THANK GOD WE DIDN’T MEET at a party. I imagine what would have happened. He would have been standing in the kitchen (“it’s where all the action is,” you told me later”) and throughout the night, a succession of girls would take their turn before him to gaze at his little boy grin, to lean into his sparse sentences, to finger his sleeves, and to be bewildered at the tiny stabs of sarcasm interspersed between the flirtatious phrases. I would have been in the living room, dressed like a librarian. I would have been standing near the stereo where a hoop of music-obsessed boys utterly oblivious to my presence hovered, trading trivia, while I kept an ear on what was playing and amused myself with judgments no one would hear, perhaps become trapped into a long conversation over the merits various vinyl-only record labels, until I was at last rescued by the hostess.
We might have noticed each other and yet remained unmoved at our stations. I would have glimpsed that dark hair, the laid-back yet provocative calm that was pulling the attention of the unattached females- and probably many of attached ones as well- in the room. I would have noted the too-loud tipsy laughter of the girl currently trying to charm him, and thought pityingly, “that’s not the way to go about it at all.” He would have encompassed the tilt of my head, my barely-apparent restlessness at the endless drone of the boy talking at me, our eyes meeting briefly and almost coldly.
As the party wound down, we would’ve met on the way to the bathroom, each of us having assumed the other had left long ago, secretly joyous that we hadn’t. The joy would feel inexplicable, and we would both stifle the eagerness as we searched for some pretext to introduce ourselves. Our glances would linger on each other’s best features while the conversation took us through the mundane topics of school, work, mutual friends. In the most ordinary phrases, though, there would be the implication of some other meaning, catching at both our imaginations, yet baffling our reason. I would lean against the wall, he would cross his arms. Someone would need to pass by on the way to the washroom, one of us would have to lurch forward, our skin would kiss, warm, maddening. At last, the conversation would give way to the real voices people use when they feel they’re with a sympathetic spirit- one of my opinions would jolt him with its lack of pretension; some sincere hope expressed by him would linger in my mind weeks afterward.
Neither of us would ask the other for a number. He would have given some indication of being intrigued, that I, being doubtful in nature, would have not responded to, and my standoffishness would have hurt his ego. Remembering the succession of girls with slight disgust, I would be too proud to want to be grouped with them. It would be late by then, and we would depart separately, alone, “it was nice talking to you” “see you around” said pleasantly, yet with distance. Afterwards, I would visit the thought of him like a fountain in the city, in solitude. I would have dreamt of him standing in my kitchen, woken shuddering, resentful.
Months later, the seasons having changed twice over, we would have ran into each other on the street, the surprise of recognition giving way to a return of that sense of mutual sympathy, of the unsaid and the undone hovering and waiting to be taken from each other’s lips. What are you doing now? Where are you living? Do you still keep in touch with so-and-so? Good seeing you. Take care. And again, the repetition of attraction and detachment, more frustrating now, renewing our memories of that wine-soaked party, each other’s summer skin. Time- there would not be enough time.
Thank God, I didn’t meet you at a party.