Sometime in high school, I chanced upon the book The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. It’d been misplaced at the bookstore and stuck out like a sore thumb, but everything about it — from the cover to the title, and the fact that it was hardback with a proper jacket — drew me in. I fell in love the moment I flipped it open.
Now, it still easily makes the cut to be one of the six books I will always take with me to include in my personal library. (And yes, it has actually traveled with me several times when I visited home from Berkeley, even if was only for the weekend.)
The Lover’s Dictionary is labelled as a novel, but it’s not actually a story. It’s a collection of memories, imprints, and windows into the love story the author shares with his wife, and it isn’t as cheesy as I might make it sound. Levithan writes the dictionary to his wife, but within its pages, he also confesses to and acknowledges all the unspoken concerns, fears, worries, doubts, and arguments he’s ever had while being with her.
This week, in honor of a five-year-anniversary I’m celebrating with the woman who is my co-everything, I decided to revisit it. This one’s for you, love.
It felt strange to be dropped off in the middle of a hallway, to give you a hug of just an acceptable length, to watch you walk back down the hall and disappear down the stairs. The unfamiliar feeling didn’t come from my surroundings; these were familiar from years of memories of us crashing here because it’d been late and your friends insisted that we spend the night because they cared.
It was unfamiliar because I had gotten so used to staying.
You stayed with me, or I with you, or us together here. You’d never liked it when they insisted on us sleeping over, always said I deserved better than sleeping on a lumpy couch (which, based on often you slept through me climbing over you to get to the bathroom in the morning, is not that lumpy) in the middle of someone’s living room.
But the location had stopped mattering to me long before it had stopped mattering for you.
You’d always thought I deserved better. I’d just wanted to stay with you for a bit longer.
You’d always wanted to spare me the walk of shame when I stepped out of your friends’ apartment in the morning with my clothes from the night before, you and all of them in tow.
I’d just wanted to stay with you for a bit longer.
My only worry had been that your friends didn’t want me crashing in their bro cave, (“We’re not eligible bachelors anymore, it’s not a bachelor pad.”) but even they were easily won over by free coffee and homemade baked goods whenever I “passed by.”
At that point, the Saturday morning employees at the bagel shop around the corner already knew all of us. We were part of their crowd of weekend regulars and they recognized us by our orders. You’d always thought one of the younger employees was flirting, because he liked to try guessing which of my four “regular orders” I would choose that day, so you’d always make sure to kiss me — just once, never enough to be annoying — each time we went.
Standing there, in the hallway by the familiar door, knowing that same bagel shop was still down the stairs and around the corner, made your leaving all the more strange.
It didn’t matter that we had agreed, 14 months ago, to not see each other again until now.
You should’ve stayed.
I just wanted to stay with you for a bit longer — but for once, I wasn’t sure if my wanting it was enough.
The apartment was now a “br-achelors’ pad” — because one of its three residents was now an eligible bachelor — but the others were still taken. I still remembered their coffee orders, though sir bachelor was cutting sugar out of his diet, so I had to re-memorize his.
But everything else was the same.
In the past few years, minus the last 14 months, sir bachelor and I had gotten to be pretty close. You’d called our camaraderie strange and claimed to leave us to our devices, even if you were secretly pleased that we did get on so well.
In the unfamiliar space of you leaving and me staying, it became even nicer to return to the familiarity of his friendship and his lumpy couch — and to ask him where your mind was.
He told me to wait until the morning.
It was 12:03 am by the time we finished talking, so I couldn’t help but point out, “It’s technically the morning.”
He told me to wait another eight hours, “give or take.” Apparently my early rising habits died hard, even when my body wasn’t there jostling you just enough out of your little sleeping wedge to wake you.
The Saturday morning bagel shop employees changed. I think the manager was the same, based on what I could see from the back of his head when I stood at the register.
Based on your order at the restaurant and the way you’d eaten your food the night before, I could tell little had changed of your personal habits. But still, I could feel my hands shake a little as they accepted the plain bagel with cream cheese and lox, and the black coffee you always ordered.
I arrived at the front door of your complex just as my cell phone turned from 8:59 to 9:00 am. The buzzer code hadn’t changed, and I knew you hadn’t moved, but I still worried that my feet wouldn’t be able to lead me to you because you somehow didn’t want to be found, even after everything you’d said last night.
The 8 of the 8A on your door was still flipped upside down. Sir bachelor had done that one night. None of you bothered to fix it, and so here it hung, evidence of your past drunken adventures as I stood by, watching and reveling in the fact that one loose screw on a door was enough to amuse grown men.
You opened soon after I knocked. It felt a little too quick for you to have checked the peephole. Maybe sir bachelor had warned you that I was going to stop by, unannounced.
“They told me you were coming over,” you said, by way of greeting.
“I wanted to continue the conversation we had last night.”
Your eyes drifted to the coffee and bagel that were keeping my hands from shaking.
“I brought you breakfast,” I said.
“You didn’t have to.”
“I wanted to.”
And there was a pause, so I forged on, as I’m apt to do with both recklessness and heed, “It is enough.”