It’s funny how in my darkest hours, I still think of that night I decided to go with some friends to some “hip” cafe in downtown Washington, DC, to study. We needed to work on our research paper that was due later that week, I believe. Or maybe it was due the next week? I’m not too sure of the exact details.
What I do remember was that it was cafe and bookstore. Lots of books. Austen. Dickens. Hemingway. Shakespeare. Poetry too. And of course the contemporary books as well. It was beautiful there. The rustic smell coming from the classic books mixing with the rugged smell of freshly brewed coffee.
It was also cold outside. It was spring time already then, so it was humid. 100 degrees outside in the daytime. Flowers blooming. God, my allergies were killing me then! But the night time always brought relief. Washington was beautiful in the cool spring time air.
You were performing that night. You had already started your set when we entered the cafe – that two-story cafe with books all around. The stage was at the second floor. A great bird’s eye view of the entire place! I didn’t know you, but I knew you then.
I was in the first floor. And as I looked through the stacks and stacks of books, always browsing through another hardcopy even though I told myself that was I going to stop soon and get to work. After all, the words weren’t going to jump from Fitzgerald’s works to my research paper! But still I scanned through copies after copies. And listening.
I was drawn by your voice. Your sad melody of love and heartbreak. And your message of hope in raspy tones. I couldn’t help but fall mysteriously into your songs. In your second or third song, I finally looked up. A brief eye contact. A smile was exchange. A curious smile meeting a cocky, struggling musician’s smile. It was as if you were waiting for me.
And so I waited back for you. To finish your set. To finish your stories.
Years later, I can’t say that I miss you. I think I do, but I’m not sure. I may even regret what we had, but I am sure that I regret what we didn’t have. And I can’t say that what we had in the brief period when there was a “we” was real. I still think that it was a relationship based on poetry.
We weren’t in love. Our relationship was based on that moment. And so I let you go.
It didn’t hurt to let you go then. I wasn’t in love, or even in like with you. I couldn’t; we had a time expiration – in two weeks, I was going back home to California. Yet, even three years later when the darkness and too cool air surrounds me, I am always taken back to that cafe where the poetry spoke to me. And the ballads sang to me. And that moment.
Maybe I didn’t know that I had love back then. But at least now, I have learned the meaning of the words you sang that night. I had it.