A soft place to land

You greet me in a double handshake, your hands warm and greatly dwarfing mine. My expression is meant to be schooled into a mask of calm pleasantness, aware as I am that true happiness does not sit well on my features. I fail, however, and I know it.  There is no hiding that I am glad to see you; my eyes would give me away even if my expression did not.

It’s been just over a decade since I last saw you, and still I am watching the details. Handshake, suited to the professionalism of our relationship, two-handed to express warmth.  You guide me to a small table, and to the seat across from you. Across, not beside.

All as it should be. Nothing unexpected.

I am about to break up the straightfowardness of the meeting.

I excuse myself for a moment – all the warning you’ll get, though of course I will apologize later – and half-stand, gesturing you back into your seat as you try to rise. I hover over the seat to my right, leaning in your direction. You shift away, looking at me warily. I can almost hear you wondering what am I doing and why am I doing it. I freeze, waiting for you to be still. You do, still looking askance at me, but assuming I intend to brush your cheek with mine, or perhaps whisper something in your ear.

I do neither.

Instead, my lips press gently at the corner where your eyebrow, temple and forehead meet.

It is a spot chosen, in part, for comfort. So I have not pressed against the warm spot where I can see the pulse in your neck, nor a soft place under your ear… both far too unforgivably loverly for my purpose. I am well aware that such gestures are neither allowed nor desired; neither would be consistent with our friendship. Still I can feel the clench in your jaw through your temple; the only one of us drawing comfort from the gesture is me. You are likely disappointed and wondering what fresh hell of nonsense I have wandered into.

I have longed to kiss this exact spot in a gesture of comfort since the last time we were in meaningful contact, some three years ago… when I learned that you’d contracted an insect-borne disease that might, but by grace, have killed you.

Even years later, the memory of it makes my chest feel tight all over again.

◊◊◊

It was not three days before you let me know you’d been sick the last time that my friend Elle, at the time in the throes of logistical madness that was wreaking havoc on her nerves, told me she was thankful for me… that I was her soft place to land. She and her husband had told me previously that being around me gave them a certain sense of peace; at the time not something I was ready to embrace as necessarily a good quality. Who wants to be peaceful, when one could be exciting?

Still, peaceful is often what I am, and no amount of wishing otherwise will change it.

Her description on that day, riding from wedding to reception where a thousand details awaited, threw my lifelong perspective of “bandage” into sharp relief. A bandage is temporary and disposable; a soft place to land retains its value, even if only needed once in a while.

Everyone needs a soft place to land from time to time.

Your message came those few days later. You’d been sick, very sick indeed, and not realized it. And I should have, because for some reason that is the pattern between us.

This idea that you most long to talk to me when you aren’t entirely well is not necessarily one that pleases me – I suspect you would deny it with your last breath – but it is senseless to reject the truth. This may not be the only purpose I serve in your life, but at least for now it is one. And it, like your well-being, is far too important for me to ignore.

◊◊◊

And so we find ourselves here, with my lips pressed for fractions of a second to your temple. I feel your tension, your confusion, your displeasure at this turn of events. It can’t be helped. I draw away from you, back toward my seat.

You’re a little warm,” I inform you, touching my fingertips nervously to my lips, as if to emphasize the point. “And unless I miss my guess, you’ve been feeling  almost just on a subconscious level – a little out of sorts.” 

You’ve lost the wary look and now simply look shocked.  You are a man who likes things to happen on your own terms, and this has you severely at a loss. You’re wondering how I know this about you, and it’s freaking you out even more than the kiss did.

You should probably check with your doctor when you get home. Just to be safe,” I tell you. I look down, embarrassed, and blush. “Oh, and I’m sorry if my taking your temperature that way weirded you out.

You stare at me for an unblinking, breathless moment, and then you laugh. Suddenly I am more like the version of me you know and have expected: likeably strange, awkwardly sweet.  Your laugh washes over me, and I join you in it. In a moment we are at ease again, the strangeness of the thing past, though I still hope you remember the import of it.

You must, after all, take care of you. You are too important not to.

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~ by lorakceel on September 16, 2012.

2 Responses to “A soft place to land”

  1. What a lovely site you’ve made – full of rich writing.

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