I remember the first time I thought of him as more than a friend.
It was my one year anniversary of sobriety. It was an open meeting, and I was supposed to share my experience, strength and hope, whatever the hell that means. I was scared. I had never told the truth before. I had never told so many strangers who I really was. Supported by two wonderful women, I made my way towards the entrance of the building.
And there he stood.
It was a Thursday night. I knew he would never miss his martial arts class. I also knew how much he despised Narcotics Anonymous. He had gotten out of rehab the summer before, and he didn’t believe in most of the crap they tried to shove down his throat. I didn’t even remember telling him about the meeting.
My escorts went inside. I stood there opposite him, not knowing what to say. He shrugged and said something about just wanting to wish me a congratulations and that he would see me later. It was right outside a meeting place, so, in the meeting mode, I threw my arms around him and gave him a hug.
It was awkward. I hugged people every night, some who I had only just met. I saw people in the street and gave them the ‘quick hug, hello how are you’ thing. It never bothered me.
Hugging him felt like hugging the only other two people in my life I never hugged, my father and my brother.
That’s when I knew things would never be the same.
That year was filled with random conversations. Usually, we just sat next to each other on a little step in town, chain-smoking. He would be listening to his music and I would be people watching. On the rare occasions when we were on the same planet, we would talk.
We spoke about our parents and our family dynamics. We spoke about how our future Shabbos tables would look. We spoke about how to raise children. We spoke about connecting to Judaism.
Once, we spoke about how girls like me never get to come back because boys like him tend to want to marry perfect little virgins. He proved the point by going around his school asking the guys if they would ever marry the girls they were hanging out with in the streets. I felt like I had an ally in my quest to change the world.
One night, I met him on the corner, standing with his hands behind his back. He looked guilty. He gently broke the news that he had started drinking again. I didn’t really understand why he cared what I thought of that. I said ok and told him he didn’t have to hide three beers behind his back because I happened to be sober. He looked relieved.
He went on a crazy drinking binge that summer, while I struggled with being homeless and broke. We saw each other every night.
One day, I went with a friend to work out some kinks in his ticket. He was leaving the next day. On a whim, I asked the agent if there were any seats left on the plane. There were, and I had an open ticket. I was in Tel Aviv that night, and flew out the next morning.
I came back months later, a different person.
My first night back in town, I saw him. We exchanged pleasantries and then he told me he was leaving. My heart stopped. I panicked. I felt something I had never felt before. I asked him how he could do that to me, just leave me like that. He looked at me with an expression I had never see him wear and asked, “what about me?”
I knew then that we had never had a chance to fall in love.
We were already in love.
We had grown into it.