After

One night I dream of foxes, of letters and essays never sent, the ones in drawers or the back of closets, that one too, inside my desk, the memory of a hotel room in another city, a man standing in a doorway and talking, how I had liked him better then, after. After that dinner with his friends, after those drinks, after.

After, and yet, also before, want to have left it there in that other city and not to have taken it home with me. Want to have, when he asked me to open up, not. Because one night on my couch, after being asked this, I will tell him that whether we are 17 or 38 I will always want just a few more minutes with him, and he will kiss me as though he understands, but doesn’t.

After, and yet, also before, because when he then almost immediately asks to go backwards I do not know where back to he wishes to go, back to the years we spent in silence, or the ones where I saw him maybe twice, or even further back still, the year I had been the thing he could always return to.

Is that when I had learned it? How to be a man’s comfort? To be consolation only, never prized? A habit I haven’t unlearned in intervening years, the way I keep giving others what they need so they can move on to their something better, keep nothing for my own, though I am tired of people taking only the parts of me they want and not wanting all the parts of me. And even now, when he asks me this, I will give him the easy exit he had hoped for, after, let him hug me goodbye, after, tell him, when he asks, that of course we can still be friends, after, and though I will mean it, what I have always wanted from any of my friendships isn’t something I think he’s willing to give.

Because I had liked him better then, after that dinner, after those drinks. That way he had laughed, unguarded. The way, after, he had stayed in that doorway.

For just a few more minutes.

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