The Sound of the Latch

#TheStruggleIsReal

The first time I left a man I had been living in Madrid for three years. I walked into a bar on Calle Lavapiés when I heard “Can I buy you a drink?” I turned to match the deep voice to full lips and short brown hair. He introduced himself, but all I heard was that he was a photographer. When I gave him a double kiss all I could think was that he smelled like someone I already knew.  He bought me a round. Then I watched him sip his beer and roll a cigarette. He licked his lips. His eyes were dark. He looked like someone. It was almost like I must have met him at some other point in my life. He glanced up at me. I smiled. I knew he’d become someone I’d sleep with regularly if I wanted. That night, he kissed me and I gave him my real number.

The next time we hung out he took me to a David Lynch like club with red velvet couches and walls of mirrors. Afterward we went to his place, smoked pot, and talked about our grandmothers. He showed me pictures of when he used to have dreadlocks, and then I saw his portfolio. He spoke passionately while I leafed through his portraits and landscapes. It was 3 a.m. when I said I had to leave. He pulled me in close. “Stay.” I got up and put on my clothes. I looked around and grabbed my bag then tried to shut the door behind me but it wouldn’t latch. I tip toed back in. Still naked, he said, “You have to pull it con fuerza sin miedo,” which roughly translates to with strength and without fear.

On the walk home, up the hill I passed the nightclub we had been at, by cafes I’d sat in and restaurants I’d dined in. I knew why I’d left him. I had been with a version of him before and I had stayed. I had stayed for a year of passion and yelling and cheating. I had stayed so long that I had missed my exit.
The next man I left waited for me to take his hand in the street. He put his arm around my shoulders as we walked to his friend’s place. In the room where he was staying, I stared out the window at the quiet, luscious, trees.  Afterward, he wanted to hold me and count all the moles on my body. He wanted to tell me stories of how he first traveled overseas and what he thought I’d be like pregnant. But this rush had already happened before. I got up, buttoned my jeans and threw on the shirt that a minute ago I had eagerly ripped off. “Where are you going? Stay.” I looked around for my bag, grabbed it and said goodbye.

While others turned to ice cream, depressed music or movies to heal wounds, I turned to shutting the door behind me as often as I could. Every time I pulled the door closed, the sound of the latch empowered me. It was walking home afterward when I would think about the expression on a face when I grabbed my bag, or the awkward phrase to keep me there as I threw on my shirt. It had become my medication, the satisfaction of seeing all of them as nothing more than what I had been: shocked, silenced, and left.

For two years all I did was leave men. And, then, I stopped. The last time I left a man was in New York. I had too much wine and after grabbing my bag went running down the three flights of stairs, out onto the street. Crouching over the curb I vomited. I stood up aware that there wasn’t anyone nearby to comfort me, or to hand me a ginger ale, and I wondered if I was okay. Shouldn’t I be healed by now? Or rather, did I want to be?
Constantly leaving was actually keeping me in the same place, the past. I was stuck in a pattern that originally was meant to cure me quickly, but as with any medication there’s an expiration date. I knew I was reaching mine when I was on a plane over to St. Louis for a friend’s wedding. I had just finished telling my seatmate a mild version of my life. He smiled for a moment and said, “So, it doesn’t seem like you really want to share your life with someone, then?” I looked out the window. My seatmate had a point, when I first started closing doors I had gotten out of a bad breakup, and then after the breakup one of the closest people in my life passed away, which was another wound I was trying to clean. But was this constant pulling shut what I wanted to keep doing? Was this really what I wanted my life to look like? I turned to this perfect stranger and admitted that I did want to share my life with someone. Then, something completely unexpected happened. No, I didn’t fall madly in love with my seatmate, but hours later, after I stepped off the plane, I met a guy in a plaid shirt. He, like me, was a friend of the bride. Our introduction was nothing out of the ordinary, but when I said I was going back up to have drinks with friends he followed.
 I thought he would say goodbye when we reached the patio, but he pulled up a seat. He was handsome. My friends left and I stayed. Pretty soon my stomach muscles were sore from laughing, my cheeks had Charlie horses riding through them, and the July heat had my bare legs sticking to the chair.  Where the men before were versions of ones I’d already known, this man was someone I’d never met before. I hadn’t even read stories or seen movies that explored the emotion bubbling from my pores. Sitting at the table I smiled at him. He looked at his watch. It was 3 a.m. I stood up and said, “Well, I’m going to head in.”  He pushed his chair back and moved in front of me. He was a little taller. I could smell the mix of his sweat and cologne. I looked at him and wanted to run my hands through his hair, to kiss his lips, to laugh with him, to cry with him. I wanted to travel with him, to share stories with him, to walk with him. I wanted to play with him, to lay with him. I wanted to stay with him. But instead I said, “Well, it was good to meet you.” We hugged. It was maybe only a second, but it felt like minutes before I stepped back and said, “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
While I brushed my teeth that night, I knew that my days of leaving men were behind me. I knew because of the rush of emotion that shot through me before I left the man in plaid. It was a spark. It was a zap. It was a rewiring where my heart was now beating open. I had shielded myself for so long that without my armor I felt light, cool. I spit and then put my toothbrush on the counter. Then without thinking I started beating my chest like I’d seen Tarzan do in the movies. I wanted to scream I’m alive but couldn’t because everyone around me was sleeping. Instead I let out a long guttural sigh. I smiled at my childish reaction to life, confident that no matter what was thrown toward me I could catch or let fall, but either way I would be okay.

A couple weeks after I met the man in plaid, he asked me to be his girlfriend. We were on a bench in Cape Cod, my legs draped over his and my head on his shoulder. He was asking me to stay. I couldn’t help but think that it was all the leaving that let me arrive at this place. I kissed him and said, yes, con fuerza sin miedo.

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Cynthia Kane
Cynthia has her B.A. from Bard College and her M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. She has written for national and international publications, and has traveled all over the world. What she's learned about life so far is that it's who and what we are, which means we have to learn to care for it.

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