from Found lost
We met on the main street. C. had driven two hundred and fifty miles to get there, although he didn’t want to see me; She was en route from her home in Maryland to a week in Vermont followed by a wedding in upstate New York, and the town where I lived made a great stopover. A few months earlier, a mutual friend introduced us via email and, without saying much, told us that we were in love. We’d exchanged polite notes, and later that spring as she was planning her road trip, she realized she’d be stopping by nearby. She suggested lunch; I named a local coffee shop. When the appointed time came, I went into town, stuck my head in the door to make sure she hadn’t already arrived, and then went back out to wait.
It was mid-May, on a day that had started out cool but was quickly turning beautiful. In front of me the road meandered down to the Hudson River; behind me the peak of an eastern spur of the Appalachian Mountains was just beginning to turn a pale spring green. That morning I’d been jogging up there on a trail that climbed up along a creek to a rocky peak that looked west across the river to the Catskills and south almost as far as Manhattan. I’d moved from New York City nearly ten years earlier, which meant, to my great surprise, I’d lived longer in this hilly city than anywhere else since childhood. That’s what I had in mind during my run – the pleasing yet somewhat random nature of my home. I can’t remember what I was thinking standing there on Main Street before I looked up and saw C. coming my way.
It’s weird conjuring up this version of her and this version of me all these years later. With Plato symposiumAristophanes envisioned lovers as two halves of one being separated by the gods and unable to feel whole until they found their missing match, but C. and I were perfectly whole before we met. What strikes me now, remembering that moment, is precisely her wholeness: there she came at me in all her remarkable specificity, and there I was, still not knowing anything about her. Slender, fair skinned, dark hair that falls past her shoulders, dressed improbably for her road trip in an Oxford shirt and jacket: that was the sum total of available information about what had just become, although I didn’t know it yet. my new life. In hindsight, I’m not even sure how I knew she was the person I was supposed to have lunch with, she was such a complete stranger to me at the moment. Rotate history a billionth of a degree and it would have stayed that way forever. Instead, I watched as she walked up the street toward me, closing the last brief stretch of all space and time before we met.
It’s not entirely true to say I knew right away. What I felt most about that first lunch was extremely alert. She was earnest and extraordinarily intelligent, so much so that my heightened awareness resembled that of a climber on steep terrain: the peaks high and varied, the views vast and beautiful and surprising. Somehow she gave the impression of being open and reserved at the same time, so that when she laughed for the first time with quick and genuine joy, I immediately wanted to make her do it again. I watched her as she spoke, her long fingers ordering the air between us as precisely as a conductor; I watched her formal yet easy movements as the day warmed and she took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. We sat on the cafe’s empty outdoor patio and chatted for two and a half hours, although it felt halfway — or, really, we felt altogether detached from the forward rush of things, like Old Man Time could have caught a glimpse of us and broke the rules temporarily, like the friendly airport policeman who, a few weeks later, let us linger in a no-parking zone in front of the departures area, laughing at a long goodbye.
Finally, after we had one last superfluous cup of coffee and placed our dishes on the counter inside, I obeyed an impulse that remained obscure to me and invited her to join me before she went out into the street again. We went there together and I showed her the little coach house I lived in and the garden in front of it, the tomatoes and peppers still no higher than our ankles, the bean plants just beginning to unfold from the earth like tiny periscopes. Then, suddenly unsure why I’d brought her there or what to do next, I wished her safe travels and we said our goodbyes, a little embarrassed. When I went back inside I was startled to realize how late it was in the day.
That night she texted me, “I’m out of practice with this sort of thing, and you live three states away, but I’d like to take you out to dinner the next time we’re near the same town.” Two things happened that way quickly that I’m not sure I even got to the end of that sentence before my brain began its life-changing reorganization. First, like an optical illusion where one image suddenly dissolves into another, the afternoon we’d just spent together rearranged itself completely. Before I received this note, it had not occurred to me that C. had dated women – which is why I suppose I had not properly grasped the nature of my own intense focus on her. Second, I knew without thinking that I was going to say yes.
We had our first date a week later when C. was returning from her friend’s wedding. After dinner and a movie that we both loathed, we headed out for an evening stroll. I can still clearly remember the exact path we took and also the winding path we took, now closer and now further, the shifting of space between us suddenly at the top of my mind. The night was mild and cloudless. A crescent moon accompanied us from its usual discreet distance, disappearing and reappearing between chimneys and treetops. Occasionally their laughter rose into the air as if starlings were startled from their roost. When we returned home and settled comfortably on my couch, I was acutely aware of how much I wanted to touch her and how much I wanted to continue to sit and listen to her. So it’s my fault it was so long past midnight when we finally kissed.
I won’t try to describe it other than saying I could; I mean it’s one of those rare moments, of just a handful, that each of us gets in our lifetime that remains immortal in all its detail. By then we had strayed back outside. The moon had set. Stars and silence filled the sky. All around us the universe was expanding, not of anything, not into anything, all by itself, changing the scale of space, stretching the boundaries of existence. Gravity, electromagnetism, strength and weakness, all the known and unknown forces acted on the cosmos. If we felt it, if we ever felt it, we didn’t know it, overflowing with our own powers, spinning in it all like the smallest heavenly spheres of Ptolemy. Then I led her back inside. After that, for a long time, everything that wasn’t her – the house around us, the rest of the world, the passage of time, the past and the future – retreated into insignificance.
The next morning we woke up shy and happy and amazed, both big and small. How little we knew of each other: she was startled by the tattoo on my shoulder, which she hadn’t noticed in the dark; I was startled to find that her serious brown eyes had turned a beautiful sunlit green. Hazel, she admitted, but I thought magic, and since then I’ve assumed she’s magic-eyed. We left the house together and decided to go into town for a coffee instead of making it at home and on the way up the small hill outside my front door I took her hand in mine. It was different, in exciting ways, than we had touched it the night before, more chaste but also more decisive. Overnight I’d become someone who wanted to hold someone’s hand on the way to breakfast.
She left around noon, though not before secretly pulling a book of poetry from my shelf and leaving it open to a perfectly chosen page where I was sure I would find it. As I did so, a few hours later, something flared up inside me, like a newly lit candle. If I didn’t know it before that moment, I knew it then.
from Found lost by Kathryn Schulz, published by Random House, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2022 by Kathryn Schulz.
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