Wednesday, Jun. 07, 2023 @ 4:59 pm
The Best Person
We are in the forest together, the sun already set, our riding extending later than usual. The Swainson’s thrush call out through the understory. We are planning our route down to the beach, and he checks the time on his phone. He looks up at me.
“My wife and daughter are at the beach.”
Everything inside of me shifts and shrinks. My heart races.
I think about the scratches on my legs from the salmonberry bushes, my skinny arms extending from my baggy t-shirt. My eyes that have become a bit too large for my face as my winter fat layer has receded. Is there even anything to be concerned about when I have the silhouette of a twelve year old with the casual neutrality of the girl next door?
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to spring this on you. I didn't know that they were coming down here. It’s up to you if you want to meet them. No pressure.”
He’s observant and sensitive, and I can tell that he’s watching my reaction. I’m tough on the trails and quick to laugh and joke, but he knows that I’m vulnerable. I am running through my options but have already decided that I will meet them, mostly because it would be strange to not.
“I’ll go to the beach with you. I’d like to meet your family. I don’t know why I’m being weird.”
We head off down the trail, me lagging behind. My head isn’t functioning properly, and I dump speed wherever I can, afraid that I’m going to bail off my bike into the undergrowth.
We reach the bottom, and he asks again, and I again confirm that I will join him.
On the last stretch of gravel path before the beach, I turn to him.
“I have one question for you, if you’re up for it. I admit that it’s a bit of a selfish question, but I enjoy hearing the answers to it, so I do hope that you’ll indulge me.”
“Sure,” he says with a mix of curiosity and wariness. “Ask away.”
“What was your first impression of me?”
He rides in silence for a moment. I glance over, and he appears thoughtful, a bit nervous, but also amused.
“Fun,” he says, and I can tell that there is more and that he’s trying to form his thoughts into words. “Energetic, fun, bright. Riding is more fun with you than it is by myself.”
I let the words hang there for a moment. His impression of me is not the same as what I’ve heard from others, which is typically something around the realm of ‘nervous’ and ‘cute’. But I’ve never met someone while riding my mountain bike before, and the fact is that riding makes me feel confident and playful.
He turns to me. There’s not much trail left before we reach the beach.
“So what was your first impression of me?”
“Warm. Interesting. Thoughtful.”
Before I can finish or hear his reaction, we are weaving through a thick crowd of people. The tide is high, and only a thin sliver of beach remains. The throng of people around the drum circle spills across the seawall and into the forest.
We push through with our bikes and eventually find his wife and teenage daughter.
I try to be normal but find myself turning inwards. I sit quietly, attempting awkward conversation that goes nowhere. I am definitely coming across as ‘nervous’. Not sure about ‘cute’.
I can’t get a good read on his wife. She is quiet and reserved, often looking out across the water. Not too interested in engaging with me. His daughter is a bright sparkle, so much like him, studying the crowd intently and quick to laugh.
After ten or fifteen minutes, I stand up and put on my helmet. I’m not doing well, and I want to minimize the damage.
“I’ll leave you all to have some family time. It was nice to meet you both!” I say with a false brightness.
I ride home slowly feeling quiet and sad. Disappointed in myself for not being able to form a connection with either of them. Disappointed in myself for being awkward and self conscious.
I enter the apartment, which smells like the dinner that I put in the oven before heading out to ride. Russell is there, and I reach out to him for a hug. I press my face into his neck and am so grateful to have him as my home.
After eating dinner, I look at my phone to see a series of messages from Shawn.
He apologizes and says he didn’t mean to make me feel uncomfortable. That he was glad that I came to meet his family. He is so reassuring that my heart breaks a little bit.
“Again, I want to apologize if it made you feel uncomfortable. You’re awesome and there’s no need to feel awkward. I’ve never kept you a secret from anyone.”
And he goes on to say, “You are by far the best person that I’ve met in a long time. I don’t generally like people, but you are amazing, and I’m so glad that we met.”
I read the messages and sit there trying to let his words sink in. His empathy, his sensitivity towards me, is astounding. The moment that I have doubt, he steps in to be reassuring.
I consider his first impression of me. Fun. Energetic. And I know that he’s seen beyond that and understands the complexity of my emotions, the depths of my thoughts. He’s watched me learn and grow. He’s watched me get frustrated and fail. He’s watched me celebrate achievement and come out of a trail with the biggest smile on my face.
Whatever this is, it’s shifting and growing and deepening.
I fall asleep with the window open, listening to the waves roll in across the beach. I lay awake for a long time, thinking about my thoughts and actions, working through the shame that edges in against me from the sidelines.
I think about all of the moments that I’ve had with Shawn and am grateful for the chance to know him. Whatever the future holds, I know that what we had was real and magical and rare.
And, I too am so glad that we met.