Posted on November 19 2020
AT FIRST, WHAT I WANTED WAS TO BE WANTED, DEEPLY, AND UNBEARABLY.
By Ashley Black
I wanted someone to long for me the way I had hopelessly longed for so many others, wasting away under the terrible weight of a feeling so overpowering I would ache. Even the most minuscule crush, a kind smile from a cute boy or an accidental brush against my back would throw me into the pit of longing that I seemed to constantly be clawing myself out of.
Being raised on a grief ridden recounting of a love story truly hit a nerve. Love at first sight, big bang. Complications and deep feelings and finally, the happily ever after. But then the after. And what happens after? After tragedy and death and more complications? That's the part that didn't sink in. Just the first part, the longing.
But then the after.
Years of unrequited lust, subtle rejection, nauseating heartbreak. The after of a one sided love affair with love. It did not want me. Me, a product of a profound and ill-fated love story. So be it.
Moving forward is easy because there's nowhere else to go. I learned to want nobody because no one wanted me. I convinced everyone around me (and most importantly, myself) that I just didn't want anything to do with "all that". Relationships were "complicated" and "boring" and I was obviously not interested in complicated, boring things. Though the longing never disappeared, I buried it. I pretended it wasn't there and that a drive for someone to love me didn’t exist within me. I accepted that I was simply not even unlovable, but unwantable. So be it.
And then, a journey across the sea. An adventure to the other side of the world falling into my lap, certainly not complicated or boring. An Italian summer day, sweltering. A golden, burning sun beating down on tourists and canals. Sweat beads across my forehead and streams down my face, trickling. I do not glow like a goddess, I do not bronze under the harsh light. I am beet red and moist everywhere. My traveling companion is the Aphrodite of this friendship. She is petite and gorgeous and has been tanning beautifully since we arrived. I feel like a sticky sack of flesh sitting next to her. I have excitedly listened to all of her sexual and romantic exploits, a world she walked through while I withered under my insecurities. I'm jealous of her but I can't blame her, she is always nothing but good to me.
Then we spot him through the window of a tourist trap pizza shop, bare chested, and glistening in front of a stone oven. He is muscular and handsome, the stereotype of every romcom. When you think of the good looking stranger who sweeps a woman off her feet, charming her with accented English and an infectious smile, this is him. He is a cliche in a tacky movie yet is still alluring to me. We decide we need to eat. I swear I feel him watching us as we walk in and sit and my face tingles with excitement and embarrassment. Obviously he's looking at her, but I could use the endorphin rush. He fiddles with a paddle and wipes the back of his hand across his forehead. He speaks to a coworker in a language I don't understand, not even Italian but something Baltic. We are content to not-so-subtly watch him from our peripherals and I am content to see him look our way repeatedly. We giggle to ourselves as he walks out the front, apparently done with his shift, glancing back one last time. What fun to pretend.
But this isn't pretend.
As we're walking out, the foreign Venetian. The pizza maker stands directly in our path with a companion of his own. His eyes brighten as he smiles, he throws his hands up.
"Eyy!" a sound of recognition.
In my hurried thoughts, I don't realize this is potentially suspicious, only that it is exciting. A happy coincidence for all involved, or something better, something destined. The language barrier is so deep that all we can do is smile at each other and nod. Through fragmented conversation and hand gestures, a decision to get drinks is made. When we try to pay for our own glasses of white wine (the only alcohol I know I can stand without making horrid faces), the two men wave away our euro's.
I have never felt this awkward excitement before. I am deeply uncomfortable but I can't stop smiling foolishly. Communication is impossible, I don't like white wine as much as I thought I would and my face is practically melting from the combination of summer heat and embarrassment, but none of this matters. There is a real life, attractive man sitting across from me and he is looking at me, smiling. My stomach is floating through my chest. I couldn’t tell you what was said or how long we sat there but it felt euphoric.
The drinks are finished and we stroll beside them through the ancient streets, the air heavy with moisture and the smell of murky water. A lush, green park with heavy hanging trees. I am getting anxious, my floating stomach is in my throat. I lock eyes with my traveling companion and she knows.
"I think we need to get going," someone says. I'm not sure if it was me or her. We both feel it. This is exciting but frustrating. The need to understand each other has officially surpassed the thrill. The foreign Venetian's eyes widen again but this time without joy. He looks frazzled.
"Ah, wait!" and he looks at me. "One kiss?" My stomach is flying above my head. "For him?" and he points between his own companion and mine. "And for me?" My heart stops and my face turns to ice. Me.
I have been kissed before, but this is different. This man does not know that I am darkly humorous or that I am open minded and accepting. He does not know that I can be loud and annoying but have a good heart. All of these "attractive" qualities that I have spent my life honing and perfecting to make up for my lackluster appearance mean nothing to him. He knows nothing about me except what is in front of him. And I am enough.
My friend and I laugh and sheepishly agree. He puts his hands on my waist and pulls me in as my body practically collapses from the shock.
And we kiss.
This moment is pivotal. I don’t know it yet but I'm different now.
I pull myself away and giggle like a child. He grabs my hands and tries to pull me back.
"One more?" he asks and I cannot stop laughing.
"No no no, we really have to go!" and we practically run down the street. We are cackling and screaming and busy getting lost. I have never felt a rush like that. I have never felt so high and weightless and good. I have never felt so wanted.
The streets of Venice are a maze that we dreamily wander through. My whole body is still pumping adrenaline and serotonin is practically oozing out of my ears. I feel beautiful and validated by being chosen by a complete stranger.
We are completely lost in an unknown city but I have wings and I am floating. When normally a panic would set in, I am uncharacteristically calm. I don't care if we ever make it back, today was a wonderful day. As I continue to think back on my moment in the spotlight, I realize I don't know his name and I laugh.
Ashley Black is a full time barista and sometimes writer living in the Midwest of the US. Feminism, witchcraft and television take up most of her time.
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