Monday, August 4, 2014

Guilt Goes Both Ways

Enough is enough; after over a week of hearing absolutely nothing from Bryan, I decide that I have to see him.  I’m almost positive that he’s out of the hospital, and while I don’t know where he lives, it can’t be that hard to figure out.

In all honesty, it’s not like I yearn for him or want to get back together.  Unlike with Cam, I don’t even want answers about the breakup (are we even broken up??  The last I’ve heard from him was via his mother).  I just want to make sure he’s okay.  

Before I put on my detective’s hat, I call him one more time.  Over the past week I’ve called him no less than five times, and texted him as well.  Not one message has been returned.  It’s not like I’m looking for a date here.  All I want is to ensure his safety.  However, I also realize that he might think I’m going to extreme measures and borderline stalking him, and he deserves a heads up.  

As expected, no answer.  I leave a voicemail.  “Hi.  It’s Ryan.”  I take a deep breath.  “Look, I just wanted to see how you’re doing.  It’s been a rough week and I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.  I don’t want to overstep any boundaries here, but I feel like it’s necessary at this point.”  How do you tell someone that you’ll be finding out where they live without being too creepy??  “I’ll be at your house tonight.  Eight o’clock.  If that’s okay, call me back.  If it’s not, I’ll see you then anyway.”  I swallow.  “I’m sorry.”  I quickly hang up.

Oh God, I’m such a freak, I think, my mind in a panic.  It feels like all I’ve been doing lately is confronting ex-lovers.  I try to reassure myself–I have to do this.  I need answers, and I would hope he would do the same for me if I’d been the one in surgery.  

I start at the only place that makes sense: Google.  I search his full name, and of course nothing comes up other than the expected, such as his Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  But then… a blog? Bryan has a tumblr?

Resisting the urge to click through and snoop, I go to his LinkedIn instead.  If I can’t find his house, I can find out where he works.  

However, I don’t have to search for long.  My phone rings, and I am shocked to see it’s Houdini himself, Bryan.  

“Hello?”  I answer cautiously.  

“Ryan.”  He sounds a little out of breath.  “I got your message.”

I don’t say anything, still worried that he has called the police and thinks I’m a stalker.  

“Can you meet me in an hour for lunch?”

“Sure,” I say.  I swallow the urge to apologize for my calls in the past week, telling myself that he should have let me know all was well.  We were in a life-threatening accident, I think.  The circumstances are a little different here.  “Thanks for returning my call.”

“No problem.”  He definitely sounds nervous.  We exchange a few more words, but it’s clear the real conversation will take place at lunch.  

Since I am currently unemployed and have no idea what to do with my free time, I spend the next hour straightening my hair and getting ready for lunch.  I’ve talked with my mom about what to do next, and she insists that I search for a new job immediately, but I’m still pretty wounded.  I try not to think about it, but it’s impossible.  The number of times I’ve yelled at Kent in my head is embarrassingly high, and I keep having nightmares about being homeless.  

So, shaking the negative thoughts from my mind, I make my way to Panera, which is where Bryan insisted we have lunch.  I have to stifle a laugh–am I going to be broken up with in a Panera, surrounded by the smells of fresh-baked bread and pastries?

I’m too nervous to eat, so I order a hazelnut coffee and sit in a booth.  Just as I’m getting comfortable, I see Bryan… in a full leg cast.  I wince and hurry over to him.  

“Didn’t see you at first,” I say as a greeting.  “Oh God.  How are you feeling?”

He shrugs, not making eye contact.  “I’ve been better.”

“The surgery was okay?”

He nods.  “It went about as well as it could have.  But I’m in this thing for two months, and then a boot after that,” he says, gesturing to his cast.  

I’m not sure what to say to that, so I take a sip of my coffee.  It burns the roof of my mouth.  

“I’m really sorry if I made things weird…” I begin.  Bryan holds up a hand, signaling me to be quiet.  I’d be annoyed at the gesture if I didn’t already feel so guilty.  

“Don’t apologize.  I should have called you, or returned your texts.  It’s just been… a stressful week.”

I nod.  We have that in common.  

“My mom drove me here,” he continues.  Oh no, I think.  His mother, the woman who was so rude to me while I was in the hospital.  Of course, some of it was understandable–her son was badly injured and needed surgery, and who wouldn’t be a little snippy in that situation?  But she hadn’t given me the time of day and had almost seemed to blame me for the accident.  Not that I was too shocked about that… to be honest, I blame myself a little too.  

“When will you be able to drive?”

Shaking his head, Bryan tells me that he won’t be able to until the cast is off.  “It’s more of an inconvenience, really.  My mom’s been great, except…” He swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing.  “I know she wasn’t too nice to you after the surgery. She told me you’d called, but said I didn’t have to call you back if I didn’t want to.”

I feel a flash of rage building inside of me.  What is it with guys and their parents recently?  

“I wanted to call you,” he says quickly.  All at once I see how nervous he is.  His upper lip is sweating a little and he keeps fidgeting with his napkin.  I see him tearing it into tinier and tinier pieces and watch with fascination for a second.  “Ryan, I’m so sorry about the accident.”

This shocks me.  “Don’t apologize.  It was my fault,” I insist.  “I was the one who wanted to go for a ride.”

Bryan shrugs.  “I wanted to show off.”  He laughs a little.  “I’m not too proud to admit that.  And I was driving like an idiot.”

“That car hit you, though,” I say.  I’m realizing how ridiculous this is.  I wanted to go on his bike, but so did he.  We may have been in the car’s blind spot, but the driver should have been more careful.  Bryan and I, we both harbor this guilt for something that already happened, something we can’t change or fix.  Still, I know I’ll feel this guilt for a long time.  

“I’m really sorry,” I say softly.  “This sucks.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” he says with that same short laugh.  “What a fucking mess.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  

We talk a little longer, about hospital bills and work (I don’t mention that I was let go, because I don’t want to compare miseries with the guy in a cast) and life in general.  

Then, Bryan says what I’ve half expected him to say all along.  “I think we should, you know, go our separate ways.”  It’s a stupid line, but I’m almost relieved.  Maybe the accident and recovery could have brought us together, in another universe.  But it’s clear to me that the guilt would be too much.  

I nod in agreement.  We smile at each other for a moment.  “It was fun, though,” I admit.  “Your motorcycle is pretty freaking awesome.”

He laughs at that.  “Well, thanks.  I can’t decide if I should sell it or not.”

“I’ll buy it from you,” I say, deadpan.  This is the weirdest breakup ever, but strangely enough, it’s not too painful or awkward.  “I’m going to run,” I tell him.  I’m not sure what I should say next.  Thanks?  Apologize again?  Go in for a hug?  I settle on a handshake.  I feel like I’m at the end of an interview.  “Hey, good luck with everything.”

“You too.  You’re a good girl, Ryan.”

I’m not sure what that means, but whatever.  I’m so exhausted all of a sudden, like I want to collapse in bed and sleep for a full 24 hours.  It seems like everything–losing my job, the accident, Cam, Bryan, everything–has finally caught up with me, and all I want is a nap.  

I don’t look back after I leave, but imagine Bryan sitting alone, still ripping the napkin into even tinier shreds.  

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  The posts in the next couple of weeks may be a little off, schedule-wise.  I’m moving (!!!) 20 hours away and my house is currently a mess and all of my wordly belongings are packed away.  I’ll still try to get two posts up per week, but they may not be at the expected times!  Thanks so much for your patience, everyone, and of course thank you so, so much for reading!