When Michael crawls into his bed, it is nearly midnight. I have been asleep for hours, after encouraging him to have dinner with his friends without me. I feel the warmth of his body as he pulls me into him, feel the scratch of his beard against my cheek as he kisses me. His breath is bittered by beer.
"I missed you," he whispers.
"I missed you too," I whisper back.
He laughs, low and breathy. "How could you miss me?" he asks. "You were asleep."
"I always miss you when you're gone," I reply.
I turn to taste the barley on his lips. His grip on me tightens as each of us inhales the other.
September: Los Angeles
Michael sits on an arm chair in our Hampton Inn hotel room in Arcadia. He is pulling on his socks, readying himself for our day out, when he mentions a caption on a photo I'd posted to Instagram.
The caption read: "I thought about waking her. But it was unnecessary. There would be other nights. And how can you say I love you to someone you love? I rolled onto my side and fell asleep next to her. Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you, Oskar. It's always necessary."
"Who's Oskar?" he asks.
I tell him it's a quote from a book--Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
I don't tell him that I posted it to remind myself that it's always necessary to say I love you to someone you love.
I often think about how it's called falling in love. Not walking.
October: Los Angeles
I am standing at the security entrance in Terminal 1 of the Los Angeles International Airport. Over Michael's shoulder, I watch as traveler after traveler queues for security. I remember a time when I loved airports. I remember when airports smelled of promise and adventure.
Presently, LAX smells of sorrow and heartbreak. Michael is leaving again. It feels like he is always leaving. Or I am always leaving. There are too many elsewhere obligations pulling us apart.
I check the time and give us a deadline to say goodbye. And then I collapse into tears.
Michael places his palms on either side of my face, tilting my head until my gaze meets his, and wipes my tear stained cheeks with his thumbs. He leans down to kiss me. It tastes of salt. When he pulls away, I cry harder. I rest my head on his chest and he shushes me sweetly. I calm down and look back up at him.
His eyes are thick with concern. I reach up and run my fingers through his beard, in awe of his gentleness with me.
I am wildly in love with him and haven't yet found the courage to say it.
Our time runs out and he leaves again. Still not knowing how I feel.
Later October: Los Angeles
I find a journal entry from 6 years ago. In it I write about running into Michael at our old job. "I love Mike," it reads.
I take a picture and send it 400 miles to Michael, in Tempe, through text message.
"Ah!" he writes in reply.
"To clarify: I'm sure I meant I loved you in a completely platonic, friend kind of way."
"No need to clarify," he writes back.
This is the closest I get to telling him I love him: sending him a picture of a 6-year-old journal entry where I say that I love him.
Falling evokes images in my mind of bruises and cuts. Of fragility. Of helplessness.
Falling is often accidental; you trip and fall.
It is clumsy. It is shocking. It is confusing.
November: Tempe (continued)
Mine and Michael's minds are equal parts hazy--his from alcohol, mine from sleep. Regardless, our lips find their rhythm and we are pulled out of our respective hazes and into the present.
He stops kissing me abruptly. He declares that he has something to say.
"I didn't want to do it like this. This is one of the hardest things I've ever had to say."
He pauses then. It is a silence weighted with my anticipation and fear. We'd been fighting the night before. I had been hurtful. My mind immediately jumps to: He's about to break up with me. I turn to search his face for what's yet to come, but he is cloaked in darkness. No moonlight or lamplight creeps through his blinds. I cannot see his face. I cannot read his eyes. I turn away from him in fear.
I do not know what is coming.
I hold my breath. I feel him inhale beside me.
"I love you, Sheryl."
I snap my head back to look at him.
"I love you too," I say.
The first time I tell Michael I love him, the words jump from my tongue to the edge of my lips and into the space between us.
It is clumsy and shocked and confused.
It is fragile. It is helpless.
I often think about how it's called falling in love. Not walking, or running, or gliding, or sailing, or soaring--but falling.
The first time I tell Michael I love him, it is all of the things I associate with falling. But it is not falling.
To call it falling is to call it an accident. He and I are no accident. He and I did not stumble into this. He and I have jumped.
Jumping into love.
Jumping captures all of the things falling does, but also the intention, the faith, and the choice involved in loving.
Despite my fears, I decided to jump. I wanted to fall. I have faith in this man, and in this relationship.
I chose this love.