Chameleon Chapter 19 - Relationship Practice
March in Amsterdam. The day after Jochem and I spent the first night together, I moved apartments and then had a couple of hours before Jes was due to arrive. He was heading into work in the afternoon and had played it cool about hanging out again. He had asked me what I was doing that night, but when I asked if he wanted to hang out, he told me he had a dinner to attend. I said what I was thinking out loud – Then why were you asking me what I was doing if you already had plans? The only reason was I knew he did want to figure out how to see me again. He texted me later on, asking if I wanted to meet for a drink at a place near the new apartment. I showed up late somehow, and he was sitting outside at a picnic table painted black. Smoking a cigarette with a beer that was half full sitting by his elbow. His legs so long, he had turned himself the opposite direction with his back to the table and his elbows propped up on either side. Sun shining on him. This was fun. I had a new friend in this new city that I happened to enjoy sleeping with. I went inside and got myself a beer and met him back outside. It was a little cold, but the heat of the sun warmed me up enough. He was wearing another amazing sweater. We picked up right where we had left off earlier that day before I left his bed. Joking around, asking questions, looking at each other. He was studying me – that, I could recognize. He was surprised by what he was feeling – that, he eventually told me. He wasn’t expecting to fall for someone so quickly, not like that. Not someone like me was I think what he meant. I liked that. Partly because I so infrequently feel like I am surprising to people. I’m a little too enthusiastic, self-deprecating and extroverted to surprise many people. But I had surprised him. And the beer as delicious.
June in Amsterdam. I particularly enjoyed one of the nights, the first that I was back in Amsterdam after we had gotten over the initial awkwardness of seeing each other again. We headed out to a bar that was at the corner of a street, with the outside benches and tables facing a canal. Jochem and I ordered beers inside and then moved to a bench outside. The tables were set up with the intention of customers having their backs to the building, to face the street and canal. To be entertained by what was out in the world. We sat next to each other on the bench and I shifted into my favorite position with him – just draped and twisted around his long limbs. I’ve always enjoyed curling up, getting as small as possible, or twisting myself into positions. Basically whatever I can do not to sit “properly” in a seat. Jochem is perfect for that because he is so narrow and long, I can just wrap myself right into him. We sat outside as we adjusted to the intimacy of being with each other again. The next few days we could pretend that this was a standard relationship, where we lived in the same place and spent our time together.
Instant intimacy without any baggage. But for me at least, the connection felt real. His personality was familiar to me. Guarded and protective of his own feelings, but curious and encouraging for me to share mine. Hurt and sensitive inside with very little overt interest in looking into the pain and struggles he had experienced up until that point. I could sense all that. He was like an old onion – peeling back the layers was even more difficult because they had been forged so long ago, and in some of the places the hurt had layered upon hurt, bruised and molded together, to something impenetrable. Some of the spots would take time I didn’t have, that I knew he wasn’t interested in any way. So I was the open one. I was the one making myself vulnerable. Answering all his questions, keeping the conversation on me. Observing his reluctance to talk about himself or analyze his actions. Curled up underneath his arm at this bar, pressing my face into his chest. Which was covered by a sweater that I already knew I would miss.
I let myself imagine that things could work between us even after I left because it makes it more intense and carefree in the moment. I didn’t want to feel practical. I didn’t want to imagine that he would want to give me up. So we drank our beers around Amsterdam, keeping as close as possible to each other. There were moments when he would remind me, offhand, that it wasn’t for keeps.
He called it a fling.
He asked why I cared about messing up his sheets – I would never be there again.
He wasn’t being mean when he said these things. Just undeniably, unbreakably practical. He was saying these things for himself too. That I also knew. So I worked not to take those comments personally. Reminding myself that we were feeling different things and that we were in different stages of our lives. And I just threw myself into it anyway. Telling myself it was practice. I had wanted to be more open, more vulnerable, to pursue more. And now I had the opportunity to do just that. And I had nothing to lose. I could feel embarrassed, he could tell me he felt completely different, he could reject me and I would be ok. Better even, for going through it. And it was freeing. Exhilarating. Truthful. I had never felt so open with someone so quickly, especially with the foundation so shaky. This is practice I kept telling myself. This is practice.