I held the little wooden piece between my fingers. I had just slipped it out from its original slot where it had belonged and was now placing it on top as I had just been recently taught to do. Once my turn was successfully had, I threw my arms into the air in triumph. Then he smiled and handed me the bottle of cream soda we were sharing just before he knelt before the coffee table. I watched him study the small wooden structure of pieces that would inevitably fall apart from one sudden jerky movement, maybe a decision that was a little too ambitious, or maybe just because it could stand up on its own no longer. Jenga was one of those games that you played until you couldn’t. You kept going until those wooden bones fell and scattered amongst themselves. That’s just how Jenga goes.
I took a sip from the glass and studied him as intently as he studied the game in front of him. His hair was loosely slicked back over his head, but a little tuft of hair rebelled forward onto his forehead just over his dark eyebrows and strong blue-grained eyes. He had so much emotion in the color of his eyes that I wondered if he could see feelings.
He found a loose block and poked it with his long white fingers. Then he reached around and effortlessly pulled the wooden guts of the jenga set out. After placing the piece on top, he leaned back next to me. We sat on the carpet with the coffee table in front of us and the base of the couch supporting our backs. We were two poor twenty-somethings sitting there not wanting to spend the night any other way. I handed him back the bottle, and he took it and winked at me. I tried to wink back, but only managed an over exaggerated blink with both eyes. He laughed, letting his head rest on the couch and then slowly rolled his neck slowly towards me. His forehead pressed into mine and the only things I was aware of was just how close our lips were to each other, how his breath sounded at so close a range, and how sweet the smell of thick caramel flavored cream soda was.
At that moment, a slight pain started deep behind my ribs. It wasn’t my mind, but my body that was remembering the feeling of pain that came after perfect moments like jenga in the living room. Once upon a time, I was a happy little girl. Now I was a woman. I had felt the emptiness that comes from loss. The doubt that follows abandonment. I thought of the morning I drove away from my little apartment in the Bay Area with Jordan standing out in the middle of the street begging me not to leave. The tears on his face were the most tears on his face I had seen in all of our three years together. I thought of the moment I drove away from the gas station in the middle of nowhere, Merrick’s hand on the icy window being the last I had ever saw of him.
Yes. I had survived. Yes. Heartbreak is a part of growth. Yes. It was worth it. But goddamn! It hurt.
My eyes returned to the present where a jenga game that was two turns in was standing in front of me. It looked stable enough. We had plenty more turns before it started to get complicated. The cream soda in his hand had countless more shared sips before it was empty. I looked into his weather-blue eyes. If he could see feelings, maybe he could see my fear.
As I looked into his eyes, I could see a future in them and that was the best and worst I could feel at the same time. What great many nights would this night lead to? What amount of heartbreak was in store for me afterwards? How long would it take for me to recover this time? My smile pulled back into its shell, and I looked away trying to avoid the answers.
“What’s up?” he asked. He had seen the change in my face. Maybe even the fear.
“Nothing,” I patched my smile back up. He wasn’t convinced, so he stayed silent. I buried my head into his shoulder. It felt so good: I had been so tired and I finally felt safe enough for the first time in over a year to just… let myself rest. I didn’t even have to wonder if he cared. I didn’t even have to wonder if he wanted me there. I felt it. I felt it all, and it all felt good.
I've been waiting for this. I’ve been looking for this. Jenga on the coffee table. Sharing a bottle of cream soda. Driving through canyons to climb big rocks to the very top just so I can kiss him on the mouth in as many different places as possible. I’ve been waiting for my hand to fit into someone else’s. I’ve been looking for someone to take me on a evening stroll to a hidden wall of giant painted books of Steinbeck and Orwell and Rowling.
When I told him that I had tried to write about him, but couldn’t, he said, then write about yourself.
So I thought about myself. I thought about my life. And I thought about this new person in it. It hasn’t been long, but he makes me happy. He makes me so happy I get scared. I get scared because I feel the potential he has to break my heart. It’s a scary thing, sensing the power someone has to hurt you. It’s equally as scary realizing that if I don’t open up to someone who has this potential, I may never love again.
And what is living without love?
So I faced the coffee table and leaned forward. It was my turn. I brushed my fingers along the wood, knowing one wrong move could collapse the entire tower. I felt his hand on my shoulder. He squeezed me encouragingly. I reached up and pulled a large wooden sliver of a block slowly out of its place.
A broken heart is only broken if it stops. Come what may, I’m going to keep stacking these blocks, flirt with gravity, and let myself love in the only way I know how to love: