Leah, the end of the road


leah“Knox, you should give up all the adventuring with random women and just learn to settle down. You’ll be happier. I swear.” This was the advice Leah gave me during a particularly desolate moment during our junior year of college.

I looked at her, feeling both drunk and earnest and said, “Maybe it’s all been leading up to you.”

She looked at me, also drunk and said, “If that’s case, we got a long ways to go.”

We met during freshmen orientation, Leah had snuck a bottle of whiskey into a supposedly dry dance and we wandered up to the roof of the student union building to drink with a few of our other new friends. At the end of the night, I sloppily leaned in to kiss Leah, but she back away.

“You reek of cigarettes, buddy,” she told me, which led me to believe she wasn’t interested. Nonetheless, while most of the other faces we’d met during those first glorious weeks of college faded into their own lives, we remained close, though never intimate. Leah went through strings of relationships with solemn, sociology-types while I chased heartbreak with a fervor that pains me to recall. We always had our eyes out for each other, though.

When it came time to graduate, Leah went abroad to Eastern Europe for three years, while I alternated between the life of the hustling up-and-comer and the righteous down-and-outer in various American cities. We stayed in touch via mail, and watched each other develop into adults. I came to visit Leah one year in Prague, when I was particularly flush and she finally made an honest pass at me. “Maybe it’s all been leading up to this, Knox.” She said, as reached across her couch to hold my hand.

As much as wanted to dissipate the long-standing sexual tension underlying our platonic friendship, I was engaged at the time and couldn’t bring myself to do it. “I think we still have a ways to go, doll head.”

I didn’t see Leah for a decade after that. She came to New York on business. She was recently divorced and I was going through a period of staunch bachelordom, so it seemed as is maybe the stars had finally aligned for us. When I saw Leah, a wave of memories rushed over me, and I felt a slight kindle of my youthful sense of optimism.

What was great about the evening was we didn’t spend time reminiscing about old times, but simply talked about whatever was going on in our lives at that exact moment. It felt like we hadn’t seen each other in days, not years.

When I walked Leah back to her hotel, I stopped in front and touched her warm cheek with the back of my hand. “Maybe it’s all been leading up to you,” I said.

Leah frowned. “Knox, I’m sorry. I date women now.”

I told her I understood and was happy she’d found herself, but couldn’t hide my disappointment. It was such a weird sense of rejection, because instead of feeling like the window of opportunity had closed on me, I realized it had never been open in the first place.

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