…but I do.
It’s nearing Christmas. I’m in Starbucks, listening to Taylor Swift’s Begin Again on loop. The slow country sound conjures up snow flurries outside the window, and with my bulky wool jacket I can just imagine the nip in the air as the holidays set in. I’ve got a touch of a “winter” flu, and pieces of tissue litter my table as evidence. I’ve just put down the phone.
Honestly, I feel guilty.
Every time I call or text or Facebook-message him, asking for a favor, I can’t help but think “I’m such a user.” He told me that I wasn’t, though, when I brought it up. That’s classic him: we’re friends (or so I’d like to think), and so when I come to him with frowning (or worse, crying) smileys and pleas for prayers and reassurance, he readily counters with sympathetic emoticons and conversation that stretches on much longer than my usual awkward encounters with (okay, I’ll admit it) attractive boys in my age range.
A part of me understands the possibility that I may be (probably am) freaking him out, more than a little bit. I mean, I called him, this girl that if we’re honest he barely knows, once again asking for a favor (though one that does come with perks for him). He has a major exam and I have homework and yet his voice is even and warm in my ear–one of those things that I miss about having a guy friend you can readily talk to, even if it’s only every so often.
Months of awkward favors and pleaded prayers and here I am, feeling that I owe him more than a statement and restatement of “I owe you.” I’ve written him poems, promised him jetpacks, parts of China, and a share of the moon–things I’m pretty sure he knows are poetic hyperbole–and yet I still feel indebted. Once upon a time, it was just because he would talk to me like a person, and not like a girl. Then it was the gift of a paper rose for a critical callback. Now it’s a scatter plot of acts of kindness, a graphic representation of a promise that “You know you can always come to me for help.”
I think he finds overwhelming gratitude is a bit much. Scratch that; I know he does. (China and a jetpack and the moon? Really?!) But I can’t help it: I’m so used to jokes and being brushed off and not being taken seriously by guys that when a boy is earnest, I’m dumbfounded. The act is amplified by contrast, and so my reaction is amplified too.
Eventually, I guess I’ll get used to it. When the friendship is no longer new or rare, when we grow close enough for me to give as much as I take, maybe my debt will shrink from a jetpack to a backpack, or something equivalently more terrestrial. Maybe I’ll realize that these grand gestures–in word or deed–are truly superfluous. But until then, each answered kindness is a revelation, a sweetness without sweetness, a small thing made bigger by its infrequency. Would it be a stretch to say that he’s one of a kind?
Well, we’re all one of a kind.
I don’t know how much I can say before even his non-malicious mind begins to read crush-like undertones in my effusions, but I’ll try to say what I can because it’s the best way I know how to say thank you. I can’t buy him a Christmas or a birthday gift, can’t hug him like I do my other friends (and I don’t really want to–it would be weird), can’t even offer to help him with school (because we’re in different courses with different subjects). I know trying to do these things would be strange and more than a little suspect. Words provide a bit of distance, without sacrificing depth of feeling.
I don’t have a crush on him. For all of the affection (and yes, there is affection) I feel, on that point, my mind is very clear. I haven’t created this idealized version of him in my head. There is no rush of adrenalin and spun-sugar butterflies, none of the liquid warmth of the first blush of unrequited love.
Instead, there is something else: a tiny, tentative feeling of hope. Hope that every time I call and he answers with “Yes?” I have something far more valuable.
…you don’t know how nice that is, but I do.
UPDATE 6/24/13 – Obviously in #denial.