He drove to the hotel garage, and avoided parking on the street. The San Francisco streets are often difficult to trust when it came to parking. For the most part, a driver will realize soon after he returns to his parked car that a biker or another car nicked some part of his vehicle.
His intention was merely out of curiosity. What occurred the night before took him back to a place that he thought he compartmentalized in his mind. He placed all the memories of her in a box within his mind which every now and then he opens to remember her, and sometimes, the box opens itself and exposes a time he’s long forgotten. This is the problem with compartmentalizing, he realizes that he has never forgotten at all.
She had changed, but yet–she had not changed.
He was just spending time with old friends at their usual monthly reunion; friends that he’s had all of his life. He did not think that fate would play a joke on him.
Once he parked his car, he walked slowly to the hotel lobby. It was just dinner to catch up on the last 15 years, he told himself. He decided to concentrate on the notion that it had been that long since he filed her away in his mind.
She was once his, but never truly.
He stood in the middle of the lobby and twisted the wedding band on his ring finger. As he nervously twisted his ring, he wanted to ask himself out loud why it has taken him ten years to lose the numbness he felt when she left, four years to become serious with another woman, and just one year to put on a wedding band. He decided to sit down to avoid looking anxious. He continued to twist his ring, and with every turn against the skin, the image of her face began to grace his mind.
She was the face that he wanted to see in his children, but that will never happen.
He looked at his phone and there was a text that he needed to respond to, but decided to do it later when his mind had been cleared, he preferred to have the gray blur linger—a blur that always surfaced whenever he thinks of her. The world, himself, his life—they all become second to her.
The gray blur began to close in on him last night. It was a night out with the guys and they all decided to drive to the city for dinner. The restaurant was crowded with people; typical on a weeknight. As his friends talked about the upcoming trip to Vegas, his best friend grew quiet. He noticed that he was looking intently at another table.
What are you looking at? He asked.
No one, he responded.
Regardless, he followed the point where his best friend’s concentration was focused on. In an instant, he knew.
That’s not her, I made a mistake. His best friend said.
He looked at the table.
You know that’s her, he responded.
There at the table, she sat with a group of people that he always imagined she would associate herself with; the kind of people that walked with ambition and drive. They worked in high-rise buildings with their innovative ideas, and strategic plans to climb up the corporate ladder. He thought about these people when he thought of a different life as he served his deployment in Iraq. He decided that he could never be one of these people.
He stood up once more from the hotel lobby couch and walked over to a sitting area near the elevator. He continued to twist his ring as he waited. He took his phone out of his jeans pocket and decided to dial the number that texted him earlier. He listened as it only took half a ring before his wife answered.
I’ll be in the city for a few more hours, he told her. Don’t worry about cooking dinner and just pick up something to eat.
He pressed ‘end call’ knowing that a relationship cannot be as easily done.
He knew this because it was she who made this true.
His friends realized who was at the restaurant and they all glanced at the woman, who for the last ten years became a presence in their friendship, and yet she was nowhere near it. They watched him struggle with losing her, and patiently listened to him as he talked endlessly of the choices he made that caused her to walk away. There were endless nights of drinking and partying to deafen whatever it was he felt for her. He looked at all of them as he stood up to walk to her when she returned from taking a call on her cell phone. His friends knew better than to say anything.
He walked up to her as she was ending her call and stopped in her tracks. He was grateful that he barely had any drinks so that he can keep his steadiness.
She smiled at him as anyone would to a stranger and a second later, she realized who she was smiling at.
Hello, he said. She looked at him as she would have years ago when they were young.
It’s been a long time, she responded.
Look at what a decade has done to you, he said.
That bad, huh? She smiled.
No. He looked away.
The elevator opened as he continued to pace back and forth. He stopped when he realized that it was her coming out of the elevator doors. He was still holding on to his cell phone. He clicked on the silence button. The gray blur continued to become dense. He didn’t mind much. He continued to twist his wedding ring as he walked towards her.
Hello again, he said.
She smiled at him, and looked over his shoulder with a puzzled look.
Where’s your wife? I was hoping to meet her, she said.
She got stuck at work and couldn’t make it, he responded.
She tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear, and looked up at him as she once did when she could see through him. He noticed the significant statement on her delicate ring finger that proclaimed who she chose, and he knowingly ignored the truth.
Finally, he stopped twisting his wedding ring.