as simple as choosing

On Friday, I get an email from Upstairs, telling me he'd like to go for a walk today, to settle things mano a mano. Before I have a chance to reply, I run into him in the elevator. We both have our dogs, so we take them down to the street together.

We walk in silence for a minute before he speaks. He tells me he understands everything I've been saying for the past eight days. That he hates the idea of making me uncomfortable with his overtures. He stops on the sidewalk and looks at me, and I catch my breath, to see how pained and sincere and open and vulnerable his expression is. "But in spite of everything, I'd still date you if--"

"Then let's do it," I hear myself saying. The air around us seems to freezes for a split second, while I brace myself for his reaction. It feels like hours.

He stares at me, incredulous. If I'd been a third party, I would have looked at me the same way. I feel incredulous. Before replying with actual words, he makes a noise that seems to be equal parts disbelief, annoyance, amusement, and delight. I try to compose myself; I feel like crying. I suddenly want him, and badly so. I feel like I've just jumped off a bridge, tethered only by a rope around my ankle - the other end of which is tied around his waist. Everything he's been telling me since last week has led me to believe that I'll be safe if I take this leap - but I still feel terrified, for both of us. I am in no way sure he knows how fast and heavily I can fall. I am in no way sure he'll be able to keep us both alive. But I've gone and made the call to test us both. I've said the words, and there's no going back. The waffling is over.

I know what makes me say it, and I know what doesn't.

I say it because in that moment, I realize how incredible - how miraculous - it is, that after all the hot-cold hoops I've put him through, here he is, still ready to take a chance with me. He's fearless, I realize. Fucking fearless.

In that moment, there on the sidewalk, I realize what an incredibly beautiful thing his fearlessness is. How rare and precious it is. It kind of makes me fall instantly in love with him a little bit. Just the littlest bit. It kind of makes me see him in a way I never have before. I realize, suddenly, that I can choose to love him, if I want to. Or at least choose to see if I will. I've nearly rationalized this person out of my life because I've been afraid of what loving him could do to me down the line. But it's as simple as choosing to see it differently: to see the things that are already there (the friendship, fun, laughter), and the things that can be there.

I don't say it because this hasn't worked out. I know how much it might seem like that, to someone reading this story in serial installments. But it isn't about that. That's the furthest thing from my mind. It's 100% about Upstairs himself, and about seeing, finally, how much he's brought to my life - about recognizing that those things could be just the tip of the iceberg. That I'd be a fucking fool to at least not give it a shot. Never regret the things you do in life. Only the things you don't do.

I know I don't need him in my life. I can be perfectly OK on my own. I know that without question. I was prepared to be single, for all intents and purposes, for a good long time, until some of the bigger puzzle pieces in my life fall into place. But Upstairs brings something really special to my life. He isn't a need, nor am I for him. But we give one another joy. Why wouldn't we want more of it?

The next twenty minutes, walking around the block, are a blur. He seems surprised, skeptical, wary, excited, hopeful, happy. He tells me I'm crazy. He tells me he doesn't know what to think, or what to believe. I tell him I completely understood, and don't blame him one bit. But that if his offer still stands, all I'm asking for is one date - one official date, finally. He can't stop smiling, or looking at me. We're giggling. He takes my hand. He puts his arm around me. He tells me we'll have to take things slow, that we'll have to go on one date and see what happens. He says he's scared. I say I am, too.

---

That night, we text up a frenzy. Earlier, on the walk Chaucer had snapped at his dog, so I send this. In reply, I get this, with the caption I guess the emotional trauma was too much for him.

I tell him he's going to need some Bounty. At least two rolls. And a large grill, he writes back. I request mine medium rare, and say that Chaucer would like his rare. He's having seconds, he says. He can get his after us.

We make plans to hang out at the St. Patrick's Day block party the next day, held directly in front of our building. We text-banter nonstop in the hours before I leave for work. Please please please just stay my friend, he says. I don't wanna lose this. No one else gets my jokes.

I write back: Friends first and above all. Pinky swear.

Ellie, I'm in, he says, and my heart soars a little bit.

We have a poetry slam, while I'm on the train to work:

(me)

Riding the blue line
Someone sits too close; I move
Green beer tomorrow


(him)

He receives a text
The phone lights up; so does he
Sydney scoffs and turns.


(me)

A guantlet is thrown
Fuck, what rhymes with [his real name]?
Dirty limericks rule.


(him)

Challenge accepted:
We pronounce words differently.
I say limerick


---

We speak again briefly, after I get home from work. Plans to meet up the next day, while we both are out with our friends. I'm excited about seeing Hollywood U2 again, about watching the concert with him. I tell him he'll find me by looking for the girl wearing yellow + blue instead of green. He tells me to Google "snowclone", a cool word he's just learned.

We say goodnight, and the thoughts I have of him as I go to sleep are different than others I've ever had. It's as if he's completely new to me. I can't wait to see him the next day.