7 min read

On Him

I don't believe in love at first sight. I don't believe in walking into a room and being drawn to someone I've never seen before. You can't just fall for a stranger upon seeing him smile.
Originally written in 2017.

I don't believe in love at first sight.

I don't believe in walking into a room and being drawn to someone I've never seen before. You can't just fall for a stranger upon seeing him smile. How silly is it to look into somebody's eyes for the first time and feel the urge to tell them all your secrets?

He was the most beautiful person I ever met.

That morning he sat by the wall on the other side of the classroom, leaning over in conversation with another boy next to him. I opened the door. His head briefly turned towards me and I saw the pearls of his smile, suddenly drowning in the warmest green of his eyes, forgetting the cold of that Italian winter. The walk to my seat was a daze as I kept looking at that wonderful stranger who seemed to light up the room with his presence. I didn't know his name or his year and yet a certainty began to take place: I would never talk to him because I was afraid of what would happen if I did.

That January proved to be unusually chilly, experienced most acutely when crossing the street in the first hours of the morning. On my way to the bus stop I'd usually scurry, half-running to make up for my extra minutes of sleep. Shops would be preparing to open and the Galleria del'Accademia, surrounded by lines of tourists during later hours of the day, would look as unremarkable as the residential buildings next to it.

That morning I had gotten out of my bed a few minutes too late and so I sprinted, zigzagging through the yawning passerby while trying to put on my scarf. By the time I reached the bus station, I had finally managed to assemble a non-aesthetic (but warm enough) knot of purple around my neck and then I looked up to see a lone figure leaning against the wall.

It's funny. Had I not pressed snooze one time too many, or responded to those couple extra messages before heading out, we would not have ended up alone on a bus stop that fateful morning.

A myriad of coincidences, from us having chosen to take the same class to the bus having arrived off schedule, were necessary for us to have missed the bus as we did.

It's naive to believe in fate as a pre-determined set of events destined to happen, yet some chance occurrences are difficult to describe with any other word.

I remember every bit of that conversation: my hesitation to believe that he was talking to me out of anything more than mere politeness, my hands shaking as we walked into a nearby coffee shop, my tongue burnt on the cappuccino drunk too eagerly as I laughed at his jokes.

Being around him felt safe. I forgot all caution while telling him about myself and recounting all the silly things that would cross my mind when dozing off in class. "Neptune tastes best with mozzarella," I affirmed to this boy who I met mere minutes before. I felt my heart skip a beat as he laughed, wrinkles forming around his lips.

From then on, the month in Italy was a blur lit with the golden brown of his hair and warmed with the olive green of those spectacular eyes.

Being around him I felt like Alice, thrown into a different world that I couldn't quite understand. He was someone who didn't seem to be bound by limits: around him, anything could happen. We'd bounce from one unexpected event to the next – from befriending locals we'd never met before, to crossing the city center on a spontaneous whim in the middle of the night. Life was an adventure and I felt my soul spinning, spinning in circles around the Duomo under the full moon and the gentle winter sun.

I spent my first months of college in tears.

The certainty that I could never fall in love after losing my high school sweetheart soaked up the color of my days, all until this stranger stormed into my life on a cup of coffee and drowned my fears in the melody of his laugh. Up was down and down was up, because I found myself to be the person deserving of that smile.

Surely, this was just a little romance. We were meant to end with the last leaf on the calendar marked "January", but that silly affair was filled with possibilities I hadn't dared to imagine for myself ever before.

I had never considered myself pretty until I saw how he could look at me. It was difficult to believe the praise he bestowed on me to others in our company: suddenly Alice was more than a sleepyhead and was worthy of greater things.

On the plane back from Italy, I fell asleep with a smile. I would not see him for months and we would probably never talk again, but that didn't matter. Because I had felt what his wonderful world was like, and had no intention of forgetting it ever again.

From buying red boots to daring to sign up for dance classes, I was intent on becoming the person he saw in me. I could be wonderful, I could make myself feel like a protagonist in a movie once again. Anything and everything was possible once I had been marked by his gaze.

In the seven months after Italy, I had perfected control of male attention. I learned to be irresistible to any who caught my interest, and even some who didn't.

My next involvements, much like my first love, were with those who I settled for. The comfort they brought was filled with disappointment. Anytime I made love, no matter how nice the boy and how soft his skin, I would look up at the ceiling and feel as blank as the paint on it.

I wanted to feel the impulse to close my eyes, someone contact with whom would strike like lightning. I wanted to love somebody who made me feel the way foreign songs do: overflowing with emotion I couldn't quite decipher in words I couldn't understand.

Being in love would feel like watching city lights sprint through the car window when riding on a highway past midnight, slightly drunk and delirious with an evening well spent.

I wanted someone who would inspire awe and make me want to get better, all the time. Someone who I would constantly reach out to and want to walk side by side with in life, running after each other on the long journey, always trying to catch up.

As those seven months passed, I never ceased to think of him. I would dream of those green eyes and the promise that they brought to me back in Florence.

Then summer drew to a close and the breeze would, all too often, bring with it the taste of red wine we shared and the smell of his cologne. One day, back when we first met, he asked me if I liked jazz. Since then, anytime I heard the sultry eroticism of the saxophone it was accompanied by the mellow sweetness of his voice.

When we saw each other again any uncertainty dissipated in a blink.

When he asked me, weeks later, what I saw in him... I wished that I could close his eyes and make him feel what I felt. I was sure that if he did, even for a second, he'd have no more doubts. I was willing to do anything for him to see himself the way I did, and yet knew that there was nothing I could do to make that possible.

He'd ask me sometimes why I got so quiet when he talked.

The reason was simple. When we were alone I'd hold my breath the way one would when approaching a wild animal: he was an exotic bird that I would try not to scare away, a sight so unusually beautiful that any wrong step would make it flee and leave the observer with only a mirage.

I never lost the sense of being in a strange world other than my own, a guest allowed to roam the fields of Arcadia only temporarily, and I feared to overstay my welcome.

Do you ever play with candles?

Touching him felt like pouring hot wax on my skin and so I'd watch him with my eyes wide open, trying to absorb as much sensory input as I possibly could. He was like a flame at which you could stare for hours – comforting and yet alluring with danger. He was familiar and yet he stayed so foreign to me, filled with secrets that I had yet to uncover, truths I wasn't allowed to hear.

He wasn't perfect and yet... the more I learned of the shadows cast by the light I saw that first day, the brighter he shined. I was certain that our darkness had far more in common than the glow.

It's easy to look for reasons not to fall for someone, yet I found myself falling faster and faster the more of those reasons presented themselves. Everything I found out about him seemed almost too good, almost as if we were meant to meet. We worked so well, a connection that I could not have anticipated the first time I laid my eyes upon him.

Despite that, timing is everything. And timing for us just wasn't right: from a seven month break between our encounter in Florence and our next meeting in the Arabian desert the circumstances were conspired against the very possibility of "us". If only he was born a year later or I a year sooner, none of it would have mattered.

It is fitting that for a romance built on a foundation of unlikely coincidences its doom came in another random alignment of circumstances. Fortuna spelled our beginning and also wrote out our end.

I suppose I knew from the start that no fairytale lasts forever: no one person is allowed to be that happy for long and the more joy he brought me the more aware I grew of how fragile the vase I held on to truly was.

He left me, on a night that started like our happy nights before it.

As he spoke of the reasons for our end, we sat on his bed and I held his hands, clutching them harder and harder with every word. I thought if I grasped on to him hard enough he would not let go of me, but could already see him disappearing beyond the horizon.

As I left his room the world had lost its bewitching hues.

I knew that life decides to give and take away at a whim and so I must do my best to take all as it goes. Yet, I continued to yearn for the warmth of his stare and the comfort of his roughness.

I had been left with a feather and I wanted the bird. Alice had woken up.