“Let me hold your bags for you,” he suggested. I looked him over. White short-sleeved button-up. Khaki shorts. Loafers. This man was fine. But why would I allow for a stranger to hold my bags?
“Nah, I’m good,” I replied as I switched hands to continue holding my bags. Maybe I shouldn’t have made that last stop to Mango. The damage done in Zara and H&M was probably enough. It was the last weekend in June, the train did not have air conditioning, and the heat was swallowing me and my bags whole. Not only that, the D train had betrayed my trust, yet again, and we were stuck somewhere in a tunnel between 59th and 125th street. The fingers on my left hand were burning, indented even, by the weight of clothes and shoes nestled within my shopping bags. He knew my hands were tapping out, but my pride and ego didn’t need his help. I switched hands instead.
That morning I had been reminded that niggas were not shit after watching a man I should have left alone way before I care to admit, text some other woman lovey-dovey things while I was still naked in his bed. Of course, the only logical way to make myself feel better was to get up and let my bank account treat me to a little bit of therapy. Retail therapy. Had I known that I would be paying for it hours later because the germaphobe in me wouldn’t let me put my newly purchased items on the dirty ass train floor, I might have reconsidered the shopping trip altogether. Instead, two hours and 5 shopping bags later, I was sweating through my first hour of what was supposed to be an 18-minute ride back to my Sugar Hill residence.
“You don’t look like you’re good,” he taunted while wiping away the sweat from his forehead. We were all sweating at this point. Frustrated too. But not him. He just wanted to hold my bags.
I didn’t respond to his comment; in fact, I’m almost certain I pretended like he didn’t exist. I switched hands again, right before the train began to move, knocking me off balance. He instinctively gestured to help catch me, but caught the attitude from my frown and quickly placed his arm down. He remained silent for the rest of the ride, burning a hole on the side of my face as I continued to ignore his presence. That was until we both exited at the same stop.
St. Nicholas Ave – 145th Street, with all of its extra black glory.
“You live near here? I live just down the block. But I’m moving to 96th soon.” He continued to make conversation, but I continued to meet him with silence as I hurried to the end of the platform where the narrow escalator would hopefully provide me some distance from his persistence. It didn’t work. He continued to make conversation even with someone in-between us.
“I’m guessing you do live close since you grabbed your keys.” I placed them back in my purse. I typically like to have keys out and ready just in case one of the crackheads on the block wanted to harass me. But instead, lucky me, harassment was happening even before I had left that damn train station.
When we finally made it to the street, he lightly tapped my shoulder and asked me for my number. I rolled my eyes to show disinterest and responded with a curt, “No, thank you. Maybe next time,” but I was flattered. Nobody this attractive had ever shown such interest in me. Before he could respond, I turned the corner and walked as fast as I could, switching my bags to both hands to help with the momentum and, again, relieve my damn near purple fingers.
That was the end of the conversation.
Or so I thought, until I saw him two and a half months later on the same train heading downtown. Serendipity, I think, is what they call it. It’s what he called it after he managed to grab the seat next to me during our commute to work.
“My name is Michael, Mike for short, and I think this is next time.”
We exchanged numbers that day. Not because I all of a sudden came to my senses, but because, at this point, it very much so felt like fate, and to be honest? I wanted to know what it felt like to be coveted in this way. On that short train ride, I realized there was something truly remarkable about Michael. His physical appearance was, of course, something that set him apart. He was beyond attractive. And yet, that was never the most interesting thing about him. It was the way he was genuinely interested in the words that came out of my mouth. It was the way he insisted on learning the pronunciation of my full Nigerian name, It was the way he looked at me, as though he had known I was going to be his.
I also found it to be quite fortuitous that we worked on the same street, no, the same block. He, at HBO, and me, across the street at MetLife. I knew at that time, when he escorted me to the entrance of my job, that I wouldn’t be ready for him. And I wasn’t.
I wasn’t ready for the thoughtful dates. The expensive dates. The “come over and let’s talk for hours” dates. I wasn’t ready to be escorted to work the mornings that our schedules aligned. And I wasn’t ready to be introduced to family or invited to work happy hours. I wasn’t ready for the notes that were magically hidden in my notebooks or different purse compartments. I wasn’t ready for the support, the cheerleading, or the unconditional care and concern.
I wasn’t ready to be loved and to not have to suffer for it.
The deeper he fell, the more my anxiety and fears grew. He said everything right, did everything right, but my skepticism of his genuineness kept me in a chokehold. I was used to having to fight to show that I was worthy of kindness and love, and here he was offering it up for free without any fine print catches.
I think that’s what has made him unforgettable. He was shameless about wearing his heart on his sleeve. He knew what he wanted, and not once within our 6-month relationship, allowed me to forget it. Michael shared his complete, full, and honest self with me the entire time, but my lack of healing wouldn’t allow me to do the same.
The night he told me loved me, was the last night we spent together. The night he gave me keys to his newly renovated 96th Street apartment, was the last time I made myself readily available. And the night after my birthday weekend where he gifted me a purse, with yet another letter tucked inside, was the last time we would see each other romantically.
Michael ended it because he knew I was too chicken to. Michael gave me an out because, like he said in his last letter to me, I wasn’t ready for a love I’d never have to question.
I’ll be the first to admit that my lack of self-love played a part in our abrupt ending. After being raped earlier that year, and still piecing my heart and pride back together from a relationship turned sour, I adopted the narrative that I could not be loved. No matter what this man had planned to do, it wouldn’t be well received. Not until I did the necessary work to reopen my heart to romantic possibilities. Not before I committed to truly loving myself.
Michael wouldn’t be the only man to try, but he was for sure the only one who taught me what pure and unconditional love could feel like. And after years of therapy, and the daily work to heal past wounds, when presented again with this kind of love, I was ready to receive it.
This time, thanks to a little serendipity and a lot of Michael’s persistent kindness, I welcomed it with open arms. No more running.11