I cradle my margarita glass in both hands and gently touch my tongue to the salted rim. I tip the glass slightly, sip the cool tequila cocktail, and let it warm me from the inside out. I feel the drink slide down my throat and spread through my body, the alcohol turning off my verbal filter in the process. I look across the table at Michael and try to hold in my laughter.
"You don't think this is weird?" I say, pressing him to agree with me. I know his answer before he says it.
"No," he replies.
I watch as his face falls slightly, and I worry that I've been doing something wrong, making him feel uncomfortable or unwanted when, in actuality, I want him more than I can remember wanting anyone in a long time.
I take another sip of alcohol and start laughing again.
"It feels like we're on a first date!" I say.
"But we're already together!" he shoots back. His exasperation is apparent and I am crestfallen.
"I mean it in a good way!" I want to convince him of my truth. It is good. Good. Sweet. Perfect.
He stares back at me, lips pressed tight, and his eyes shift from side to side in quiet disagreement. He does not think I mean it in a good way.
I often stare at Michael in disbelief and awe. It happens every time we're together. Or when we are FaceTiming when we're far apart. I will simply stop speaking and quietly study his face and mannerisms. The ever-changing color of his eyes. The red hairs peeking through the brown of his beard. The way he scratches his nose and upper lip with the back of his thumb. The click of his tongue before he says, "So..." and trails off after he finishes a thought.
I commit each of these details to memory and then review them again and again each time we see each other. I expect to one day be bored by it, but I never am. Each time I am more fascinated by him.
I have known Michael for eight years. Back in the early days of knowing each other, when we were nothing more than friends, I would sit across from him repeatedly--never taking note of any of the tiny details that I now study intently. Back then, I would come down to San Diego, visiting from Los Angeles, and he would call me and ask if I wanted to grab a drink. I don't think I ever turned him down. I enjoyed spending time with him that much. We would meet somewhere and drink and talk and laugh for hours. When we were friends, I didn't pay much attention to the terrain of his face or the subtle, habitual movements of his body. I would simply revel in his company.
Now that we are more than friends, now that he is the man I wish I could wake up to every morning and fall asleep next to each night, I feel as if I see him with new eyes. I don't understand it. How did I spend countless days in his presence and never notice the width of his fingers or the shine of his hair?
But my disbelief and awe go deeper than that. I am not only confused by the fact that I never paid attention to his physical attributes. I am blown away that I failed to see the kind, sweet, generous, loving man that he is. When I stare at him now, as my boyfriend, I wonder why I didn't go after him sooner. I wonder why we lost six years in between the platonic and the romantic. Six years where we stopped being friends, where silence stretched between us and made us strangers.
I spent those six years fumbling through relationships with men who were not deserving of my time and energy. I spent those six years mindlessly scrolling and swiping through dating profiles on my computer and phone. I spent those six years on awkward first dates, in a city with a dating culture where it feels like everyone is only half-heartedly invested in dating; where it's simple and quick to find another option as soon as the one in front of you displays the slightest human flaw.
When I look at Michael and start laughing, I am laughing in disbelief and awe and joy and gratitude. I am laughing because it took me years to realize what had been in front of me eight years ago. I am laughing at the absurd perfection of timing. I am laughing because even though I wish I hadn't wasted so many years with the wrong men, I know that they prepared me to finally see what the right one looked like.
After dinner, Michael and I move from our table to the bar, where he orders another glass of wine while I sip the last of my margarita. I push my barstool up against his and rest my hand on his thigh. I study the geometry of his profile--the angle of his jawline, the slope of his nose. I start laughing again and feel him tense beside me. In my head I keep asking myself, "How did I get so lucky?" I want to tell him that that is what I'm thinking, but I don't.
Instead, my insides seize in fear, and I start laughing harder.
I realize there is another reason I am laughing. I am afraid.
Not afraid of Michael himself, but of wanting him as much as I do. To want him is to be vulnerable. To want him is to place my already fragile heart in his hands and wish for the best. It is faith and trust and hope.
I am laughing at the absurdity of being afraid.
Michael is kind, sweet, generous, and loving. He is my friend, and my boyfriend. Even if he were to take my heart and destroy it I would get through it.
I am laughing because I want him more than I can remember wanting anyone in a long time. Even with the risk of getting hurt, the vulnerability that wanting entails, the fear it creates.
I am laughing because I am thrilled to finally see and appreciate the astonishingly good man who had been in front of me all along.