Chapter Five: New York
Months moved painfully slow as Matty and I returned to the world of Skype and late-night phone calls. There are times we wonder if our relationship would have survived if it wouldn’t have been during the digital age. Long-distance is a completely different game than it was even ten years ago, and though nothing compared to being face-to-face, we had the opportunity to see or speak to each other every single day. The best thing about dating someone in a different state is that you get to know a lot of intricacies about that person since all you can do is talk. The worst thing about dating someone in a different state is everything. We missed each other like crazy.
As my trip to New York grew closer, it became more difficult to keep certain words from falling out of my mouth. The things I’d begun to feel in August were deepening, and I could tell he felt the same. After FaceTiming for hours we’d try to say goodbye but just stare at each other, smiling in silence like two idiots.
It felt so lacking. Near the end, I felt like someone had placed warm chocolate chip cookies in front of me and then told me that I couldn’t eat them. Oh, the torture.
When the time finally came to pack (my carefully curated outfits), I placed the note I’d written to Matty months ago in my wallet and prepared to visit my boyfriend in New York City during the most beautiful and romantic time of the year. Nothing compares to autumn in New York. My head was filled with visions of “You’ve Got Mail” and “When Harry Met Sally” - basically Meg Ryan walking down a red and orange street to a jazzy tune. Perfection. This was where I always imagined falling in love. The crisp, cool air, the warm flavors of the season, the sweet calm before winter, and bright, beautiful colors everywhere: it was the setting I dreamed about.
I caught a cab from the airport and directed the cabby to Matty’s apartment, where he was cleaning, pacing, and all together freaking out. He couldn’t sit still and found himself more nervous to see me then than the first time, to his roommate’s great amusement. When I finally got to his street there was more traffic then I was prepared to wait for, so I paid the cabby and gathered my bags to walk the rest of the way. I texted Matty and he bolted down the stairs to meet me in the middle. I felt nervous for the last bit of distance between us. There is safety apart and there is safety together, but sitting in the closeness of this intermingling space felt odd and unsettling. We locked eyes across the street and I pulled my bags along, hoping that reaching him would cure the awkward nerves. He wore a black tee-shirt and no coat and when he pulled me into his arms I could feel him shaking to the core, though the cold had nothing to do with it.
We found ourselves, again, in this odd transition. Living far apart had it’s recognizable comforts and we knew each other well within this space. I knew Matty’s soul and the history of his life, so it felt strange to now observe simple things like how he walked, his interactions with others, if he’d open doors or carry my bags for me (he did), and seeing him live life beyond the confines of a computer screen in his tiny Brooklyn apartment.
I could tell he was nervous (as punctuated by his roommate’s silly grins), and after giving me a tour of his apartment we decided that whiskey was in order. We sat at the bar of a BBQ joint and took silly selfies with our whiskey glasses before friends started pouring in for dinner. Matty and I quickly loosened up, whether by the comfort of the drink or the comfort of our friends, and soon we found ourselves settled into this new idea. Dating. In real life.
I was thrilled to see the faces of people I’d loved and missed, remembering what it felt like to go out and have a meal with people who were beyond the necessity of small talk. To sweeten the moment, I was just soaking in all the quick whispers: “Oh my goodness, Brittany, you two are perfect. How did we not see this coming?”
It went down like honey...or whiskey.
We had a few days in the city before Matty planned to take me on a day trip to a small, quiet town called Beacon. It was a picturesque place nestled between mountains and lush trees, with tiny cafes, the Dia Art Museum, and ample opportunities for a photographer like Matty. To me, it sounded like the perfect spot for someone to reveal how they really felt; I could see it coming miles away.
The night before we left for Beacon, Matty and I were hanging out at his apartment and nearing the end of the day. After hopping around the city arm and arm, me on a never-ending quest to visit all my favorite hot chocolate spots, we found our way back to his couch in Brooklyn. We stared at each other, laughing knowingly. He pulled me in like he was going to whisper something in my ear, then didn’t. I knew he was teasing me, but I didn't mind. We had a big, romantic trip planned for the next day. He’d say it then. It was getting late and he offered to drive me a few blocks over to where I was staying with my dear friend, Julie, which I readily accepted. Mostly because I didn’t want to be apart from him, but the fact that the cold and rapid winds had kicked in (or, my number one reason to leave New York) was a significant reason to accept a ride from anyone, really.
He pulled over to the curb and kissed me goodnight. Like a real boyfriend on a real date. I leaned over to give him a hug before hopping out into the cold night.
“I love you.”
His lips were by my ear as we were locked in the hug. I pulled away in surprise. Now? He just...he just SAID it? Of all the scenarios I’d imagined, this was never one of them. This was the whole point of taking me to Beacon, was it not? Or really, the whole point of taking me to any spot in New York. Romantic spots ABOUND in New York.
I smiled to myself. He did it. He actually surprised me with the one thing I thought I’d seen coming a million miles away. If it proved anything, it was that this man must indeed be the one for me. I forced myself to come back to the moment. He was waiting for an answer and I hadn’t said a word.
I reached for my purse, satisfied that he wasn’t the only one who could pull of such a surprise. He sat in silence as he watched me rifle through my bag, undoubtedly the last thing he expected me to do in response to him saying that he loved me for the first time. I opened my wallet and pulled out the folded piece of paper I’d ripped from an old school notebook. Handing him the note, I watched watched his eyes move from confusion, to trust, to ultimate shock when the date on the paper finally settled in.
I don’t know how this is happening, but I think I’m falling in love with you.
“I love you, too.”
His eyes watered and with that, he’d surprised me twice in one night. Tears! We held each other tightly, smiling, laughing, and feeling the ultimate joy of this freedom in love. A weight had been lifted as we stepped into new territory without fear or doubt. We were in love and it was real.
We finally said goodnight and I bounced into Julie’s apartment, eager to relive each moment in the car.
“Matty just told me he loved me!!!!”
“What?! Tell me everything!”
I eventually fell into sleep thanking God for girlfriends to freak out with and a hot Australian man who told me he loved me.
We left for Beacon early the next morning after grabbing bagels and coffee. I prepared the perfect playlist for driving through northern New York in the fall, and I was mesmerized by the combination of warm bread, sweet music, golden trees, and this boy. Since he said he loved me the night before, there were no expectations on this day. All we had to do was enjoy the ride and occasionally burst out, “Can you believe we’re in love?!”
Entering the winding roads through small towns felt like entering a dream. Or a movie set. Or Gillmore Girls. I was happy with all scenarios. I took a chance and played some bluegrass, to which he complimented my ability to match the music to our setting (points for him), and we took in the richness of space and fresh air.
Our day in Beacon consisted of second breakfast at the quaintest cafe we could find on Main Street, exploring old buildings, walking down railroad tracks, and skipping rocks. We spent the afternoon at the Dia, a modern art museum on the outskirts of town, and though we enjoyed the art, the highlight may have been spotting one of Rachel’s boyfriends from the show Friends sitting next to us in the museum cafe.
Matty couldn’t stop snapping photos, mostly of me, and I willed myself to become more free in front of the camera. I was terrified that he’d take a photo of me that would reveal my true self: second chin, lazy eye, a cow-lick in my hair, etc. But he didn’t really want me to be perfect - he wanted to capture me as I was. He didn’t try to pose me or direct me; he just wanted me to be comfortable. Authentic.
It made it easier. I was pretty decent at being me.
When we got back to the city we experienced New York in the fall for all it was worth: strolls through Central Park, coffee all the time, late night dinners, and stolen kisses. I ignored the feeling in the pit of my stomach that I would have to leave eventually, but time would not let me forget. The day came, and I was crushed. We tried to make the most of it, but walking through Brooklyn felt tiresome, food was losing its taste, and conversations lacked comfort.
When the time came to say goodbye, not even drowning my sorrows in an airport pretzel was enough. Long-distance, I was beginning to realize, was a combination of soaring highs and terrible lows. It was an unsteady and unsustainable lifestyle, one that I could see us growing weary of in due time.
We made vague plans to see each other at Christmas time and I boarded a plane back to Texas, fully in love and fully broken-hearted.