I stand in front of you
I take the force of the blow
Last night was different. Happier, giddier. Both of us have made progress with our personal situations, which made for a lighter, cheerier atmosphere.
When we stood to leave, the bartender, a Greek woman equal parts sassy and sweet, hugged me goodbye like an old friend.
"Take good care of her," she said to him.
"I always take care of her," he replied.
"He's a good guy," she told me.
I nodded. "I know."
I don't know what to call it, but I'm finally starting to understand that maybe it doesn't need a name. I can't explain it to my friends, who worry I'll get hurt because it's not a traditional relationship, more of a once-in-a-while thing. He's not my boyfriend and yet I've been seeing him longer than some of my exes. Every time I see him, it's with the understanding that it might be the last time. There has been a lot of passion, but conflict, too. I'm drawn to him in a way I haven't been drawn to anyone in a long time.
I pinned down what was bothering me about the situation last week. It's not that I need for us to be exclusive; I like having the option of seeing other people (though I equally dislike the thought of him doing so, because I'm jealous like that; oh well). It's not that I need to be labeled his girlfriend. Last night, he introduced me to everyone as his friend, but then openly kissed me and wrapped his arms around me. The label didn't matter, because I felt genuine warmth and affection from him.
No, what troubled me was the time in-between, the days during the week when I don't see him, when there's barely any contact, when I have to fend for myself. I have plenty to keep me busy, but it was more a matter that I never felt like I could call him after a tough day to talk, that I could view him as a source of support the way I do my other friends. That's what it was: I didn't get a sense that he was my friend.
Last night, I told him that. I said I was aware of the risks of developing a closer personal relationship, that treating him more as a confidante could lead to sticky territory of more attachment and a need for commitment. Which isn't what I was asking for.
He saw the difference.
"You can always call me if you had tough day and need to talk. I would be there for you the way I'd be there for any other of my friends. And if anyone was every giving you a hard time, I'd sort them out. I'll be your bodyguard." He got a fierce look in his eyes, a spark of anger at the idea of somebody messing with me.
"I guess I never felt that from you before."
"I consider you my friend. I have from the very beginning."
He said he didn't think of me as a casual fling or fuck buddy (how I hate that term), that he thinks about being with me during the times we're apart.
He mentioned a personal story I shared a couple of weeks ago, of something awful that happened to me as a little girl.
"When you told me that, even though you said you couldn't remember it happening, I felt so sad for you I wanted to cry. And I couldn't stop that from happening to you, but I feel so protective of you now."
He sees a part of me not many others see. In many ways, I'm still naive, still blind to the evils of the world, and oblivious to life outside my small sphere of consciousness. For the most part, I have led a relatively sheltered life. He sees this innocence, and wants to shield me from harm.
I feel his protection.
This is one reason why I love being with him, why the times we are together are worth all the uncertainty that follows. I feel so safe with him that everything else falls away. I can let go of my fear and be my real self. And despite our strange and uneven communication in between, when we get together there's a sense of relief and inevitability, a sense of belonging, even if it's just for the night. There is always at least one moment during the night that feels perfect. It might be a minute in my room, listening to music in utter stillness. It might be in a taxi, crossing the bridge and putting my head on his shoulder. It might be in a crowded bar, smiling at each other through the hazy din of layered conversations and alcohol. It might be when he wipes away my tears, pulls me in close, and kisses me. It could happen at any time.
I pay a price for these perfect moments. I want more of them and yet I have to understand that their beauty comes from the wild and unstable circumstances surrounding them. It's the power, brightness, and instability of a lightning bolt. It's breathtaking and treacherous, impossible to predict.
When that lighting does strike, time freezes and everything is in its right place. In those seconds or minutes or even hours, in his arms, I am completely, irrefutably, safe. Protected.