Chapter Four: Austin
Every time I write a new chapter I sit in bed and watch Matty read it so that I can see his face and make notes. This one made him laugh, which is always my most important test. It also made him kiss me. He told me that he thinks the fact that I'm writing our story is making us fall more in love, another twist we didn't see coming. I'm so thankful that you're enjoying the story so far - there are far more juicy bits to come :)
I pulled into the airport in a clean car feeling grateful and accomplished, in a very weird way. There was radio silence on my phone while Matty was in the air which added to my nerves, but time was moving quickly and excitement was fighting to take over.
I wasn’t really sure where to go or what to do when I got arrived to pick up the guy I’d gotten to know through a computer screen, but I figured parking and going inside would be better than just pulling up. If I’m honest, all I wanted to do was run up and kiss him, but first I needed to put a physical presence to this...thing. I wanted to hold the thing in my hands that had been floating in the air all around me for three months.
I sat on a bench outside the terminal and called him to tell him where I was, keeping my eyes fixed on the revolving door. He answered and my heart lept into my throat. He was off the plane, every moment making his way closer to me. Straining to see him walk through the door, I felt something next to me on the bench. I turned, and there he was. He had walked out the door behind me and spotted me right away - looking for him in the opposite direction.
Finally, in that moment, I stopped thinking. I felt my arms wrap around his neck and my voice say, “Hiiiiiii,” and I just went with it, thanking the good Lord that my immediate reaction was not awkward.
“I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe this is you - you’re real!” Words just fell out of my mouth unchained.
He didn’t mind it. He just laughed when I asked him if he was hungry then said it didn’t matter if he wasn’t, because brunch was the first stop on our itinerary and I was the ultimate planner.
In the car, I was aware of everything: The music that was playing, my ability to drive a vehicle properly, keeping good posture and not doing the weird laugh that gave me a triple chin from the side. And I was aware of him. Finally with me in Texas, in a twist I never saw coming.
When I heard that I got the job in Austin, it occurred to me that perhaps some new things would begin to fall into place. I thought that maybe I’d meet someone, start dating again, get married. Without putting a finger on it, I really do believe that I knew it was coming. But I never would have guessed that it would follow me from New York.
We went to brunch and it wasn’t until he asked why there wasn’t bacon on the menu that I realized I’d brought him to a vegetarian restaurant. We managed to enjoy our meal anyway. I caught him staring at me before we ordered. And after we ordered. And when we ate. He just looked at me, unapologetically, without hiding it.
“I hope you don’t mind that I keep staring at you. I just can’t believe I’m here with you right now.”
It was the sort of confidence that I was still getting used to, and I couldn’t get enough of it. We only had a few days together and every moment counted. I was thrilled that he didn’t have to wait a few hours (or for a few drinks) to start hinting at the fact that he was in Austin for me and me alone.
That night we met up with Sadie and Gerry, my married friends who’d agreed to host Matty. I’d gone back and forth trying to decide where to eat and what to do that night, but Sadie is very good at decisions and we landed at a fancy Mexican restaurant downtown. Matty and I were still trying to sort out how to act around each other, let alone how to act around each other with people around. Eventually, he took my hand as we were walking. After spending the whole day inches apart without touching, I felt relieved. Sadie, ever observant, told me later that she felt the same way. (“Finally.”)
We made our way through small plates, a few drinks, and lots of guacamole, and things started to ease into place. We didn’t know it then, but Gerry would one day be one of Matty’s closest friends in Austin. Sadie and Gerry had survived long-distance and I saw them as a beacon of (brutally honest and very much appreciated) hope.
As we made our way over to Midnight Cowboy, a tiny speakeasy bar with a reservation and a password required to get in, I was totally done for. Matty was with me, he was handsome, we were walking downtown, I was filled with guacamole, and every since he held my hand I hadn’t let go. I was completely smitten. We ordered our drinks and watched our personal bartender create old fashions on the bar cart at our table. We held hands under the table. I sipped on my drink. We held hands. Everyone was laughing. He got up to use the restroom. I sipped my drink. I missed him. I also had to pee. I got up to use the restroom. It was occupied so I waited by the door. He walked out. I stopped him. I kissed him. Just. Like. That.
Instant. A reflex, really. I just kissed him. Outside a bathroom, no less. It wasn’t “intense” by any means, but it was the first. And I laid it on him. I didn’t mean to and I absolutely had not planned it. I would have felt bad, if he hadn’t of gone completely wild for me after the fact. We’d broken the ice and now all those feelings and inklings we’d had over Skype - that perhaps this person is someone I am really, really into - were free to live without hesitation.
I decided that I needed to stay at Sadie and Gerry’s that night, as well. For important reasons, like the fact that I couldn’t leave this guy for one second. We took a train back to their place and I suddenly started worrying that Matty would think I was a floozy or that I’d taken away his right to give the first kiss. I figured best to cover my bases, so I leaned over and said to him, “Hey, let’s not take this too fast, okay?” as I mentally pat myself on the back.
Turns out that’s not the thing to say if you want a guy to feel confident about how you feel about him.
The next morning we decided to start the day at a coffee shop on the river and I could tell something was different. He was quiet and nervous, unlike the day before. I thought he wanted to make it official, but I could also tell he felt awkward and unsure. Despite the fact that I’d just had one of the most fun nights of my life, I started to get a little nervous, too. What were we stepping into? Were we ready to withstand something that had no promise to survive? I knew in my gut that I wouldn’t be moving back to New York, so that meant only one thing for Matty. I wasn’t sure I could ask him to do that for me; really, I wasn’t sure if he would.
When decisions get overwhelming, it’s normally because I’m looking too far down the line. Like, wondering if this guy that I spent 24 hours with would move across states for me. So I peddled it back. Someone once told me that deciding on our next step requires the faith to know that when our foot lands, the stone will appear underneath. It’s an image that’s stayed with me for years and I knew that if I had the faith to take the step, the stone would be there. I was wild for this man, and every earthly thing that might keep us apart could try, but in that moment I just wanted him to be mine. And so when finally he looked up at me over his coffee and asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend, I said yes. Because I did.
“I have a boyfriend.”
“I have a girlfriend.”
“This is so crazy!”
Riveting conversation followed. The words felt strange on our lips as we chewed them over, laughing and coming to terms with the depths of what we’d just entered into.
The ice we’d broken the night before seemed to have glazed over since I definitely didn’t feel free reign to kiss him again. He’d just become my boyfriend and I wanted my rights, but I waited. I knew the next one should be on his terms - anxious and annoyed as I was.
I took him to the capitol building to check off the culture piece of his trip, but no painting of Davy Crockett could distract me from the fact that he hadn’t kissed me yet. We walked through every nook of that beautiful building and I envisioned him grabbing me in the vacant spaces the whole way through, to the point that I became rather mopey when he didn’t.
He could tell something was up (perhaps because I started walking ahead of him...), but I don’t think he knew why. I couldn’t tell him because I had yet to learn that communication is an important part of a relationship in our 2 hours of dating. Eventually, I think he got the hint because he suggested we walk around the grounds. He led me further and further from people and closer to a huge tree with deep roots and a billowed canopy. And that is where he gave me a kiss. It was perfect.
The days went by in a blur after that. We hiked to lookouts (and kissed), we saw a movie (and I don’t remember the end because we kissed), we ate way too much (and kissed even besides the uncomfortable bloating), and we fell more and more for each other. I finally made him that meal I promised when he helped me move 3 months ago, and his genuine surprise and delight at my cooking was the beyond the compliment I’d hoped for. We shared cheap bottles of wine and went out for pizza at midnight on a Sunday. That night we decided not to sleep because he was leaving the next day and time was a cruel bandit.
On Monday we managed to fit in one more lunch before I had to take him to the airport. It was our first taste of goodbye, and I had a feeling it was only going to get harder from there. I woke up after a few hours sleep with a knot in the pit of my stomach, anxious with the slipping time. After over 10 years of living away from my family, I’d developed a sort of coping mechanism with goodbyes. It mostly went like this: hugs were long, words were fast, and no crying allowed on my part. It only made it harder for the other person.
I went into Monday ready to rip off the bandaid as usual. I kept it light and happy as we ate, and tried not to say anything too depressing on the way to the airport. We weren’t sure when we’d see each other next, but we figured it would be in New York, and much sooner than three months. I told him goodbye, we kissed, and then he left. Then it started raining. I drove straight to my apartment and ate all the leftovers in the fridge to deal with it, the final secret stage of my coping mechanism.
I was texting him all along, trying the keep the perfect balance of sad yet hopeful, not aware that he was actually a bit perplexed as to why I wasn’t more upset. Matty wanted a full on breakdown out of me; in his mind, I basically pat him on the back and let him go on his way while I happily went on with my life.
Little did he know, I was stuffing a blueberry muffin in my mouth without pausing for breath and Googling more advice for long-distance relationships, all the while desperately wanting to kiss him again. A total and complete mess of a person who managed to come off as sane through text messages.
I decided to come to New York as soon as I could purchase a ticket and get off work, which looked like November. We had two months ahead of us, our first foray into long-distance as a real, Instagram-official couple.
It was on.