Mutual Insurance (Kipling)

After two months he sends you a text, "I didn't know if you wanted to catch up this week?" You are curious. You say sure. You meet for coffee.

He is the same - a conundrum, an enigma. His features are classically, carefully drawn, beautiful instead of handsome - dark hair contrasting with a light complexion - he has strong shoulders, narrow hips and long, elegant fingers. His skin is taut over his cheekbones, jaw line, and aquiline nose, the ivory color only slightly, barely more pink on his cheeks. His full lips rest equidistant between a smile and a frown. But his eyes, the color of smoke haze in a blue sky, are not windows into his soul; instead they dart around, rest on the middle distance - he avoids your seeking gaze. His movements belie the refinement of his physical being, he slouches, he is bumbling – he accidentally knocks the spoon against his coffee cup with a clang and drops his napkin on the floor. When he speaks it is in starts and fits with long pauses between. He doesn't explain what happened. What changed. Just that he's missed you. That he thought about you every day. As you leave the coffee shop, both of you bundled in a heavy wool coat, knit cap, scarf, he nervously rubs your arm and then wraps you in a long sigh of a hug. He kisses the side of your head, your hair. Can he feel your heart beat through the layers?

That is all it takes.

Previous relationships and life experience have left you emotionally gun shy – the starting point of any interaction is colored with hesitation and mistrust. And now the chasm between you and Kipling, wider and deeper from your break-up, has filled to the brim with paranoia, worry and uncertainty. He doesn’t contradict your concerns, he feeds them – he gives you even less of himself than before. He wants to see you less. He communicates less. He shares less. He is more reserved, quieter, less affectionate. Not that he’d been generous with compliments before…now he’s limited them to never. He ends each day with a text: Night! Unless he doesn’t.

When you mention an event coming up next month, he shrugs. He’ll commit for Friday but not Friday next and who knows what he’s doing in March. He remarks he’s looking for work that will take him out-of-state for the summer. Like it doesn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, matter to you.

You meet for a movie on a Saturday afternoon. When he gets up mid-film to use the bathroom, he takes his coat and hat with him. Will he return? Or will he walk out of the theater, down the hall to the exit and leave? Are you more surprised when he returns than if he didn’t?

He moves apartments but doesn’t bother to tell you.

He doesn't make suggestions or have ideas about how or why you spend time together. He doesn't ask you to go to a play or lunch at your favorite spot. But if you invite him for dinner, and make something special for dessert, he might be available.

He is busy. He has work. He should have called, he didn't. He is vague about where and what he's doing when you're apart. But he lets you hold his hand when you’re watching TV on the couch. And his sarcasm, cutting as it is, makes you laugh. And when he stays over, he walks the dogs and makes the bed and does the dishes without you asking. And in the deep dark depths of the night, he turns his naked body to yours and spoons you, his breath on your neck, chest to back, thigh on thigh. And then, you tell yourself, even if he is barely here, he is still here, and that is enough.

You hate this part of you maybe more than any part. The part that of you that says: “he is giving me nothing and I’ll take it. I’ll take this bit of moldy bread and I’ll relish it like it’s the most delicious bite of the most delicious cake I’ve ever eaten.”

Because you’re so hungry.