I ordered Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes and sat cross-legged on a cold metal chair. You chose a table on the ground floor of Novel Cafe. You’d only lived in Westwood a couple of weeks, otherwise you might have known to sit upstairs. When I arrived, the plate in front of you was dotted with remnants of baby spinach. I noted it as peculiar. I had a long and sordid history of male friendships, but couldn’t recall any of the men in my life ordering salad at a restaurant. Ever. Later, I would know you as a frequent consumer of cold lettuce and raw veggies. Usually from a square plastic box with a colorful Trader Joe’s label. One time from a folded cardboard container. A Whole Foods Salad Bar Caesar I’d assembled myself. I remember the care and consideration I’d used in selecting the ingredients. High quality. Right proportions. It was important to me that it tasted perfect, to you.
That first night was more “second interview” than “first date.” I was still skeptical about whether we’d end up really being friends. Were you funny enough? Interesting? Politically Engaged? Did you have a closet full of jersey cotton t-shirts with ironic phrases across the chest?
I asked my best “get to know you” questions and channeled my inner high school counselor. I probably chewed with my mouth open when I got excited and had a mess of dried maple syrup smeared across my chin.
It was the last time I felt any uneasiness between us. My last memory of us as anything other than best friends.
Our inaugural hangout was a foreshadowing of the months to come.
Week after week of Friday and Saturday nights spent laughing and talking through a light, organic meal and shared dessert.
Our relationship happened, and deepened, over dinner.
Sometimes the purpose and nature of our dates was unclear to one or both of us.
Like when you picked me up wearing sweat pants and I pranced down my concrete staircase wearing makeup and high-heeled leather boots.
Or the time I was forced to go out in your oversized zip-up sweatshirt because I’d showed up in the middle of the day in a tie-dyed t-shirt. We planned to sit and “catch up for an hour.” It was early in our relationship. Soon after we realized that between the two of us, that phrase didn’t exist.
I knew I was doomed during our first homemade “dinner in.”
You masterfully crafted gourmet quesadillas from your two-burner makeshift kitchen while we sang and swayed to Ray Lamontagne. That night we played mini golf after threatening to find somewhere to “laser tag” in Los Angeles. On my short drive home, I thought about the ease of our relationship. It’s comfort and stability. How I was going to avoid the inevitable disaster at the intersection of platonic soulmates and unrequited love. A year and a half later, I could feel my patience unravel over a plate of sauteed brussel sprouts. You offered them to me tenderly, coaxing me out of my ball of exhaustion, curled up on your soft, beige couch.
I always thought we were best during those stripped-down stay-at-homes, but we had our share of beautiful nights out, too.
You salvaged the celebration of my 27th birthday with an elegant plate of fish and a fake story to the wait-staff about how we were engaged. Overlooking the ocean in Malibu, we wrote a screenplay about best friend lawyers who made a classic romantic comedy marriage contract as unlucky-in-love law students. We called it “At Arms Length” and staged the movie poster while holding hands, barefoot under the icy, mid-December tide.
We drank a bottle of wine to celebrate surviving our second year. You made our reservation under your celebrity pseudonym, John. We toasted to finding, and saving each other. As we left for more drinks at ” The W” I warned you about my irrepressible desire to make-out after more than one glass of wine. I was being honest, but also testing your always clear (and thick) boundaries. The boundaries that kept our unique relationship intact.
We demonstrated entrepreneurial genius and made countless strangers into friends. We made up elaborate narratives for the events and relationships at adjacent tables. Even now, there is no one else in the world with whom I would agree to “split a brownie.”
During dinners amidst our small social network, we kept people guessing. They wondered if we were “doing it” on the side of our friendship or secretly involved in a full-fledged affair. Every person we knew together had a different version of our story, not one of them mirrored the truth.
When we ate with your siblings, I wondered what they were thinking. I wondered both what you told them and how they evaluated it on their own. I wondered if some day, at our wedding, they would talk about the early days of light-weight denial and the destiny we collectively knew about, but of which, we never spoke.
Lately, I can’t stop thinking about a year ago. My seasonal memory is a powerful storyteller and the images and sensations of February trap my mind in the re-living. I re-play every episode, evaluating what I might have done to re-write the ending. We talked about dating, and marriage. About telling our families, and our friends. When you kissed me on my living room couch, I was trying so hard not to screw it up, it’s the only thing I barely remember at all.
It happened so quickly, then ended just as fast. A month later, we felt like strangers, again.
I ran from you, and hid from my feelings. You watched me leave, and let me hide.
Ultimately, we would repair the damage the same way we created it.
After months of dinners without you, on a garden patio in a Venice bistro, a week before the bar exam, we finally felt like us, like before. You ordered shrimp and I chomped though a kale and potato flatbread, wondering when the “greens on everything” trend would finally disappear. We took the “is this a date?” online quiz, a hysterical flow chart that could have been written exclusively for our relationship, at all stages of its evolution. It was both fitting and awkward. We could laugh out loud in silent recognition of the unreleased tension, the still unaddressed feelings underneath.
As the youngest patrons of a chic Brentwood eatery, on my last night in Los Angeles, we said, “goodbye,” over dinner.
It was the last time I looked at you and wondered how you could possibly resist doing this with me forever. I wondered why you didn’t reach across the table and beg me to stay with you. Why we were planning how we would stay in touch instead of how we would spend the rest of our lives, together. How dinner could possibly be better, or more fun, with anyone else.