He was prepared for everything else, but not for this. He was prepared for hard work, for sacrifice, for long hours. He was prepared to do what’s right, what’s necessary, what no one else would do. He was prepared to go unnoticed, to get the blame, to go without. He was prepared for a fight, for war, for death. He was prepared to ignore the pain, work through the injuries. He was prepared to never understand why.
But, he wasn’t prepared for this. He wasn’t prepared for the softness, like a faint perfume stirring him awake. He wasn’t prepared for this racing heart when he heard her voice. He wasn’t prepared for this tight feeling in his chest when he saw her smile.
He’d built himself up tall and strong on principles and commitments. Everything he wanted, he got because he worked hard. Everything he’d achieved was because he kept distraction at bay. He was logical and calculated. He sacrificed so he could have more. He did this, he got that. Results.
Before her, his life was like a tall building that had floors added every year. The foundation had to be impenetrable, inflexible to hold the weight of the floors above. He had emotional cement poured, with re-bar and reinforcements. The materials of thoughtfulness, planning, distance, solitude and self-reliance were developed to hold infinite amounts of pressure, to withstand explosions with massive amounts of force. He himself was impenetrable, bulletproof and with every goal he reached, every milestone, he crossed reminded him that this stoicism was the material of his success. It was what he himself was made of.
And then she smiled at him and touched his arm and kissed his neck. He caught himself humming. He caught himself smiling. He caught himself yearning. He wanted her the way he wanted to breathe.
So he did what he knew best. He leaned into the tenderness as if walking into a gust of wind. He resisted it. He relied on what he knew. He relied on what had always worked. He leaned on his stoicism and his self-reliance and his solitude. He leaned into love like a man leaning into a storm.
But she was no storm. She wasn’t a gust of wind. She was just a woman. She was soft. She blushed when he winked at her. She laughed at his jokes. She nuzzled under his chin, threw a leg over his and twitched in her sleep. She talked at length about tomatoes. She worried.
Is it any wonder he lost her? His was no way to love. She was shocked that her tenderness was met with distance. Alarmed when her smile was met with a grimace. What had she done? What had gone wrong? Even in her sadness, she committed to giving him what she thought he wanted: her absence. His solitude. She retreated with embarrassment like someone who’d burst through the wrong door into a crowded room of strangers.
But the thing with buildings is the higher they get, the rules change. What works for the foundation fails at height. The tallest buildings need to sway. The highest floors need to bend softly with the wind. They need to be flexible and malleable to sustain the strongest forces to avert a painful snap and collapse.
He blamed himself for his weakness. He blamed his softness. He blamed the unpredictability of the winds of love. He blamed his tools. He blamed his preparation. He blamed her. He wasn’t prepared for this. He wasn’t prepared for love.