Your frame of reference is shot. This time last year, you would have slept with anyone who bought you a drink. Step back a year before that and you would have slept with anyone who asked. Fall back a third year—you’ll find yourself a drunken, shattered mess—too intoxicated to say yes or no, and too fragile to stop anyone who disagreed.
You tried to move slowly because you wanted sex that felt good again. You wanted sex that didn’t make you cry afterward. Intimacy is the embrace after you fuck, right?
All it took was meeting him for you to understand what it feels like to hold someone. You have now learned what hands feel like and you’re building a list of moments when you knew that you loved him. You’re lining them up next to the moments where you knew that he was in love with you.
List #1: When You Knew He Loved You
Lying in a hospital bed, drowsy and dumb from Benadryl—his thrill, his relief to see you when he pulled back the curtain. He had been in the waiting room for hours. He waved you farewell as they rolled you away and when you came back, he squeezed your hand tighter. You flashed him your blood-stained teeth. The morphine didn’t work and he curled his body into yours, even though he knew he wasn’t allowed to lie in your hospital bed with you.
He brought you your concert ticket when you forgot it. He bought you cookies when you felt sad and he brought you home roses he found discarded. He brought you chopsticks from Korea. He wrote a poem for you after your first night together.
He held you as you cried on the Green Line train.
Before you moved away, he said your time together wasn’t through. Without any plans to meet in the future, you didn’t have any doubt that that was true.
List #2: When You Knew You Loved Him
He brought you cottage cheese to eat in the bath tub and he sat on the toilet to talk to you while you ate.
In the morning, when he dances to rap music in your kitchen.
At school, when you watched him read a poem he wrote about Laura Palmer. At a bookstore, when you watched him read poems he wrote about you.
He says out loud what you’re already thinking (often).
He licked the orange chicken sauce off of your cheek.
There are small moments when everything makes sense—this is what hands feel like, this is what lips feel like, this is what love feels like. Intimacy is locked up in love—you’ve found it with your clothes on, you’ve found it when you’re jumping up and down at a concert. You found it within your own pain, you found it on the CTA train, you found it eating cottage cheese in the bath.