That one short phrase left me paralysed. I saw him emerge from the trees, at quite a distance, before (I hope) he had the chance to see me. I knew him. His stature, his gait, the way he was so absorbed in his music as he jogged through the park alongside the river, catching the breeze. It was freedom to him. His solitary pursuit, and he felt free. I could see it. I knew it. I knew him.
My face burned red as the gap between us gradually began to close. I worried that if or when he saw me he would think that I was a cliché, or a character of my own making, rather than me. My camera hung around my neck, and I fumbled with the pen and notebook in my hand. I had come here to slow down, to walk at the river’s gentle pace, to capture moments too inspiring to miss, that most of us sadly, in too much of a hurry through life, did miss. I was here to think, to ponder, but most of all, to write. This was my freedom. Did that ever really matter to him? Did he ever know me the way I knew him?
He was in his zone. I wanted to be invisible just to give me time enough to compose myself, to figure out what to do or what to say. I took a deep breath. Invisible or not, I would never be ready for this.
He spotted me. He raised his arm slightly in a friendly wave, and I could see him begin to slow his pace, turn his music down, and switch gears. He was always so much better at doing that than me. He could hide the way he felt so much more easily, and that frustrated me. Not that he could appear calm and composed, but that I could not, no matter how hard I tried. Surely he would be able to see right through me, my feigned calm, cool demeanour, to see that inside I was terribly flustered….and afraid. Part of me wanted to be an unfathomable mystery to him, composed, stoic, in complete control. Another part of me wanted him to see me just how I was, and in that to see how much he, how much all of this really meant to me, and in turn to care as much as I did. I wondered if he could.
The distance between us grew shorter and shorter, and then in a breath, he was there before me, hunched over, his hands resting on his knees, his dark hair flopping over his face, as he paused to regain his breath. As he straightened up, his smile disarmed me. He gestured that he would have hugged me but then pointed to himself and his shirt damp with sweat, as if to save me from the discomfort. I smiled, nervously. He was charming as ever, gentle, kind in the questions he asked. He did seem to focus on me, to show a genuine interest in what I was doing. The familiarity seemed to comfort us both. I could see what I couldn’t see in him before, or what I was too hurt to see, what perhaps he was trying to hide. He did care. He did see me.
For some precious moments it seemed as if time had stopped, and if nothing at all had changed between us. As we reconnected, I gently began to ask him about how he was, what was going on in his life, how he was doing. I had never seen him flustered before like this. He wiped his brow, laughed nervously, trying to hide his hurt, trying to protect himself in a way that I sensed he still wanted me to protect him from himself. Somehow, unwittingly, I had disarmed him.
He laughed again, that charming, genuine laugh, and shook it off. And then he said it. ‘It’s been so great to see you, but you know’, he paused gesturing to his sports watch, ‘I’ve really got to dash’.
I froze. I just couldn’t engage myself to speak or act. ‘Got to dash’. Was he in such a hurry to get away from me? Were we still journeying through our lives at such a different pace that even now he could not pause to take this in. Would he miss it yet again? Would I?
He paused just longer than he had intended to and I could see the hurt in his eyes. He really didn’t want to dash, but that was his way of coping, the way he thought he could be free.
And as he turned away, I let him go. Life was too important to me to live at that pace, and he knew that that held true for him too. Perhaps, in time, at a gentler pace our paths would cross once more. But in the meantime, we both had our own journeys to make.