Kinney For Life

It was decided at dinner at Contigo.  Or, at least, I decided.  Jeff was still in survival mode.

I was filing for divorce, and Jeff had just moved out of the house that he shared with his wife.  As we both prepared for an unclear future and the realities of returning to single life, picking up pieces of our broken marriages and cobbling together new homes, we examined what was next.

My lease would be up in May, and his sister (and current roommate) was moving permanently to San Antonio in the spring.

“Perfect,” I declared.  “Then we can be roommates!”  It seemed so simple, so obvious, so perfect.

It wasn’t quite as obvious to Jeff.  He couldn’t think that far ahead.  Being my roommate meant a truth too difficult to process just yet.

He chuckled, shrugging over his crispy green beans and white bean dip, unable to think that far ahead just yet.  I understood, seeing the grief still fresh on his face.  I let it drop for the moment.  We continued to pick at a plate of marinated olives and sip our handcrafted hipster drinks, under a Texas sky punctuated by string lights.

Jeff and I were colleagues, then co-coaches, then critique partners.  We watched our middle school ultimate team win its first and only championship together, in dramatic and exciting fashion on one rainy spring day.  We sat in coffee shops on Sunday mornings, gently editing each other’s works-in-progress.  We didn’t know then where we were headed, and how our lives would collide, merge, and crisscross in startling ways.  Tragic, it might seem, but also revelatory.  Eventually and ultimately we were roommates, survivors, and friends.  We were wounded soldiers together, watching pets and spouses fade and disappear in the waning sunset.  We marked these transitions with well-planned dinners that lasted late into the night with probing conversation, embarrassing reality TV, blistering afternoons at Barton Springs down the street, and lots and lots of wine.

Living with Jeff was easy.  We fell into the routine of teaching and writing, running through our old-Austin neighborhood, checking in after long days and sipping coffee in the kitchen on weekend mornings.  One winter, when we were unexpectedly hit by a streak of “ice days,” we made pancakes and watched nostalgic movies in our pajamas, reminding me of snow days with my elementary school friends in Massachusetts.  Jeff took awkward pictures of me when I had a messy case of the flu and couldn’t get up off the couch. I regularly caught him drunkenly snacking in the kitchen after last-call.

Once, after an unusually long absence, he sent me a text:  “Are you ever coming home?”

He was teasing … but he also wanted an answer.

Because living with Jeff on Kinney Avenue, I was claimed again.  I had a person, a family, a partner.  Sure, I was embarking on a new romantic relationship, and Jeff was weaving his way through a shockingly unfamiliar dating scene.  But after cutting some of the ties, and mending old heartaches, and accepting the loneliness that came with divorced life, we belonged to a unit again.  Not a romantic one, and not the kind that comes with rings and strings, but one that was marked by kinship and commitment nonetheless.

As they tend to do, time passed and life continued.  Eventually I moved out, desperately putting my faith in an untrustworthy universe and a very trustworthy man.  The separation from Jeff and our house on Kinney Avenue felt like a breakup.  Like when “Friends” ended after ten years, and it seemed wrong that Joey and Chandler would no longer live in the same building, or that Monica was moving to Long Island.

Jeff left for Italy a couple days ago.  After crashing with me in my ‘new’ home for a brief period of in-between, he finally got on a plane without a return ticket, landing in Genoa to teach and write and make amazing pizza.  I imagine him learning (even better) technique from Italian chefs, speaking the language with stunning European women, and writing the great Italian-American novel.  I imagine him never returning to Austin, to the states, to our house on Kinney Ave.

But then again, it isn’t our house anymore anyway.  Someone else has already moved in, and now it’s theirs.  And one day it will be someone else’s, and someone else’s yet again.

There was no way that we’d live in that little green cottage forever, but some small part of me thought perhaps we could.  Had he not wanted to travel, and had I not been ready (however terrified) to move forward in love, maybe it would have been a nice little life.  With coffee and writing, front-porch sitting and Barton Springs; with happy hours and ice days and reality TV.

Or maybe it will always be perfect this way: Unchanged, finite, and just what we both needed.

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