Chapter Seven: If Only
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Matty went back to New York just before New Year’s Eve and we immediately began counting down to when we’d see each other again. When we started dating, neither one of us was in a position financially to be in a long-distance relationship and we were beginning to crave some consistency. I suppose there are “if only’s” in every situation of life. There were certainly a lot for us.
If only we could afford this.
If only I could see you on your birthday.
If only we could take off work.
If only we lived in the same city.
Which led to the ultimate “what if” -
What if we’d met earlier…?
It’s something we talked about a lot. I knew that I wasn’t moving back to New York but the thought of Matty living in Austin didn’t make sense to me, either. So how come this was the situation we were in? There was a lot I couldn’t say for sure, but there was one thing I knew for damn sure - if Matty would have started pursuing me even a few weeks earlier, I would have never randomly typed “jobs in Austin” into Google. I had been searching for a reason to stay in the city, for anything to keep me there. I believe in signs and I know myself enough to know that Matty would have quickly become a sign. Or at least, something to wait around for. Just in case.
So if we’d have met earlier, I never would have moved to Austin. It could have discouraged me, but it made me believe that I was meant to be in Austin and that this was the way our relationship was meant to go. It didn’t make any sense, but it was just too close a call to be happenstance.
We knew the “what.” It was the “why” that kept ever elusive.
And so we just kept on as best we could, missing each other and keeping the most simple memories - him grabbing my hand, the way he smelled, how I melted when he touched my hair - all on repeat.
I turned 29 that January and decided that I wanted to have a dress up party with my family, so we told everyone to come dressed as a musician. My Mimi came as Pocahontas and sang a country tune as she beat her drum. It was a memorable night, to say the least.
Matty was devastated that he wasn’t with me on my birthday. I figured it wouldn’t bother him too much, considering how I screwed up his with the late package and potentially moldy gifts, but he just couldn’t stand to be apart from me. I was overwhelmed with the idea, seeing as I’d never had a boyfriend that cared so much about making my birthday special. We’d made plans for him to come to Austin in February and we could celebrate then, and he kept me happy by sending me selfies all day (seriously, this is long-distance in a nutshell), but I knew he was struggling. He promised that he’d never miss my birthday again.
I had work to do. I needed to make him like Austin without letting him know that I was trying to make him like Austin. So this time, instead of packing our schedule full of restaurants and things to see, I was saving recipes for home cooked meals and leaving plenty of time for exploration. I wanted him to see what the lifestyle was like in a city that was slower, simpler - and if that didn’t work, I would have to be enough.
I knew that I was enough. But I wanted more for him. I loved him, after all. I wanted him to live where I lived, but I wanted it to be his decision.
The weather was mild and perfect when he landed in Austin. We went hiking and climbed trees, we had nice dinners and went for ice cream, he read magazines while I went for a run, and we even went to the grocery store together. It was normal, but an anomaly for us. Simple and perfect.
He wanted to cook dinner for me to celebrate my birthday and he chose a recipe for apricot chicken that his dad perfected. As Matty bustled around the kitchen I played around on the guitar, determined to let him do all the cooking without being nosey. He knew it was a struggle for me. But after awhile, the apartment began to smell amazing and I waited in the other room as he set everything up. When I came back out, there were candles and flowers on the floor, music playing, and a very handsome (and proud) Australian man waiting with a smile on his face.
It was the most romantic thing that anyone had ever done for me. I looked around and I looked at him, and I thought how fun love has turned out to be. Because of love, something as simple as dinner on the floor of my tiny apartment held a weight of sweet significance. I felt like I was floating when he handed me a gift. I opened the tiny box to find a long, gold chain with a gold and bronze triangle pennant and two roses. On the back of the pennant he’d engraved a Bible verse that I’d held particularly close that year.
We ate, and I fell in love with him all over again when I tasted the apricot chicken.
The trip was very short, most likely an insignificant weekend in the lives of those around us, but it felt like magic. Every minute with him was an intricate, deep, colorful ounce of time. My memory of his touch was magnified as I willed it to carry over until the next time, just long enough. He left as quickly as he had come, and I wearily began a new countdown to March. The visits were becoming more frequent, but the days between held more frustration and anxiety than ever before.
It was becoming clear to us both that something needed to change.