It hadn’t taken me long to settle back into my previous routine after coming back from Ohio. Nothing had changed during my trip. Except maybe my bank account, that had declined. But the severed relationships – were exactly as they were when I left – broken. I hadn’t gained any newfound perspective. I didn’t really enjoy myself either. All the time away had accomplished was to stress me out more.
I did receive my cell phone back from my parents. So at least I was able to communicate with the rest of the world. But I knew my parents were watching my account like a hawk. My good friend Chris and I had a phone conversation in the mid-afternoon because, well, no one knew why I dropped off the face of the earth for an entire month! A few hours later, I was brought into questioning.
“Who is this Houston number you talked to for 28 minutes today?” my mother sternly questioned.
They could see the number and the call duration, but they couldn’t see who the number belonged to. “That was Chris,” I responded flatly.
“Let me see your phone,” my father instructed, while holding open his hand.
I handed the phone over to him and could feel the warmth surfacing on my cheeks and forehead. They weren’t going to find anything on that phone. I refrained from texting about anything that could slightly be taken out of context, and decided all my communication on that phone would have to be via calls. I had sense enough to know that I could never communicate with or about Kendrae on that phone. Because it was under severe scrutiny and could be confiscated at a moment’s notice.
After about ten minutes of searching, my father finally found his way into my contact book and matched Chris’s phone number to the phone call from earlier that day. My cell phone was returned sans apology and I was dismissed from the room. I was irritated and anticipated that this would be added to the list of my new norms. But scrutinized conversation was better than none at all. And at least I knew how to work around it.
Jess, my best friend from college reached out to me later that evening with a plan to reunite Kendrae and me. The alibi – I was going to help Jess get her new classroom/office set up for her teaching gig. She had just gotten a P.E. job in Fort Worth. The truth – Jess had some old apartment furniture in a storage unit in Longview. Some she needed to sell, some she was taking back with her. In between moving, and selling her washer and dryer, Kendrae and I could finally see each other for the first time since the big incident.
I was absolutely flabbergasted that my parents were allowing me to leave the house to go somewhere besides work. But knowing that I would get to see Kendrae kept me awake – the butterflies in my stomach danced all night. My mind couldn’t fathom seeing him again. This whole time, we had been running on fumes. Not knowing how or when we would be face-to-face again. Not knowing if I would ever be able to breath in his intoxicating cologne. Unsure if I would ever feel safely wrapped up in his strong arms again. Certain that my heart would never recover until I felt his eyes light up as they locked with mine.
I got up early that morning and made the drive to meet Jess in Fort Worth. From there, we hit the road and made the two-hour drive to Longview. Spending time with Jess always lit my soul on fire. She has an unassuming away about her that puts you at ease, but pushes you to experience more deeply. Whenever we were together, no idea was too big and dreams were absolutely possible. My mind, heart and spirit were spilling from the brim with gratitude for this friend who shook me out of my slumber and helped me see the light again.
We got to her storage unit and quickly took care of business. We emptied it out quickly and secured everything in her U-Haul. She would drop me off at Kendrae’s then sell her washer and dryer, catch up with a few of her former basketball teammates, then pick me up and we would head out. We would only get about an hour together, but I didn’t care. When it feels like you’ve been separated for an eternity, one hour suddenly seems infinite.
The ride from the storage unit to Kendrae’s apartment complex felt more like 100 miles than 10. I was beyond nervous. Would I feel the same? Would he feel the same? Would we feel the same? Had we built up our love to more than it was? Would he still look at me the same after everything that had happened? My whirlpool of what ifs had sucked in me too deep to escape. All I could do was gaze out the window and focus on breathing. Breath in. Breath out…
We were here. The car was moving in slow motion and my ears were ringing with silence. Jess pulled up in front of the apartment and said she’d be back in an hour. I slowly stepped down from Jess’s royal blue Jeep Patriot. I took a deep breath as I closed the car door and waved as she drove away. Breathe, Sarah. I truly didn’t know if I would ever see this view again. This modest three-bedroom apartment that housed Kendrae and his two roommates. I paused for a moment and stared at Kendrae’s apartment door. It was the most beautiful dingy white door I had laid my eyes on. I swallowed slowly in an unsuccessful attempt to settle my fiercely beating heart.
The first step towards the apartment door felt like the first step out of oblivion. Right foot. Left foot. Right. Left. Right. Until I found myself at the door. My nerves and excitement were racing neck and neck to see who came out victorious. The butterflies were in full flight and felt more like pterodactyls than delicate creatures. As I raised my closed fist and rapped on the door, my emotions were so intense I was afraid I might pass out before the door ever opened. I heard the feint click of the lock sliding out of its cave and saw the knob turn. My whole body was underwater and the weight of my storm of emotions was too much to bear. And then…I was greeted by the most handsome face and an instant calm washed over the shores of my emotions.
I found myself instantly wrapped in a warm embrace. Big arms braced me as my head fell into Kendrae’s chest. The warmth of his skin comforted me and sent chills down my entire body. The feeling I had been dreaming about for the past month. Safety. And the tears flowed from eyes as all my pain, grief and frustration quickly exited my body. I was going to be alright. We were going to get through this.
When I said an hour could be infinite, I was wrong. It felt more like a blink. Before we knew it, Jess was outside and I had to leave. It wasn’t enough time, but no time spent with Kendrae ever was. Like bookends on a book shelf, I ended my visit with Kendrae in his doorway with a tear-soaked hug. These tears felt different, because again, we had no idea when we would see each other next. The future was so foggy and neither of us had a compass handy.
That one hour, however brief, was more than enough time to reassure us that nothing had changed between us. In fact, we found ourselves more in love than ever before. I wasn’t imagining our relationship to be grander than it was, like we were the starring roles in a Shakespeare play. If anything, I was underestimating the depth of our love. For it was more complex than any love story I could have ever imagined. And even though our visit ended with a goodbye, Kendrae reassured me that this was just a “see you later.”
I joined Jess in the Jeep, and attempted to recompose myself. It took a good fifteen minutes before my eyes finally cleared up. The heart is a wild creature, able to feel multiple extremes simultaneously. But the emotion that continued to rise to the top was gratitude. Grateful for a ride or die friend who found a way to help two people rekindle their love. Grateful for a man who loved me so purely, even when he had so many reasons not to. And grateful for a heart that continued beating regardless of all the pain it endured. An honest smile found my face for the first time in the past month. The dawn was coming, I could feel it.