I closed my eyes and remembered staring at my drink, leaning elbows on a raw wooden table. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but he had appeared, unanticipated, thinner than I remembered, and with a beard in a North Carolina smokehouse. We had both traveled thousands of miles from different directions for the same wedding. The sight of him was like falling into ice water. I didn’t know where we stood after so much cold, silent time.
But as I sat next to him, looking down at my glass, a smile overtook me. I sensed he was smiling, too. We were feeling the comfort of each other, the warmth from a fire we both thought had long since burned out. There was no need to remember the details, to tell our sides, or to try to make verbal sense of it. Words would have muddled the pristine joy of mutual forgiveness. It was a discussion between nervous systems, as we sat, feeling the giddy wonder of each other’s presence again.
We had never been lovers, the hot-burning brevity that leaves shadows on the eyelids for fleeting moments. We were friends through the brutal winter of young adulthood. We had shouldered the sadness of each other’s rejections, listened to mundane stories over homemade sandwiches, invented games in a swimming pool during summer, and laughed and gasped in wild hilarity with each other. We had stopped tending to our friendship after we had been burned, believing that the fire did it on purpose. In an instant, on that rickety southern bench, the blame was choked out by an effervescent gratitude for this familiar warmth. We sipped our beers and loved each other quietly as the pink scars of years faded.
After a short while, we hugged a good, solid hug, and went our separate ways. But even untended, those old embers still glow hot enough to light.
I closed my eyes today as the first chills of autumn floated in on lengthening shadows and soaked into my skin. I thought of that hug — his big bearlike body wrapped around mine, holding me like I’m something precious — and I warmed up.