He asks a simple question and you let out a small chuckle before answering. You know what your answer is. It’s a simple answer. It sounds well-thought out and personal, but at the same time only touches the surface of your life. He looks at you kindly, inquisitively. Another question, somehow general and piercing at the same time. You know the specific type of answer he wants, and in any case, it is the only answer you can give to that sort of question. You feel hesitant, somewhat aware of the quicksand you might be getting in to, but optimistic that you will not sink. You begin to talk but by the second short sentence your voice begins to close. A sudden stop. You remember how you felt back then, remember vividly the way your heart dropped. The looks on their faces. How did he manage to exhume these thoughts? You wonder for a second before you are interrupted by your attempts to control yourself. A period of silence after you struggle to get the gist out, accompanied by a few untethered tears. He continues to look at you, a gentle smile, an intrigued look, perhaps a little relieved or happy he could evoke this response; but mostly empathetic. You are somewhat ashamed that you let yourself show what you perceive as weakness; you let yourself show that you have deeper scars than you let on, perhaps even to yourself. But you know he is trustworthy. The pause continues as he allows you to recollect yourself. Another gentle probe. A somewhat calmer response, although the tears are unhindered now. Let yourself go. You are regaining control and the conversation is being steered towards the future; actions rather than the past, the present, the emotions. You are glad for the pace. There isn’t enough time anyway. You are laughing and making jokes again. A genuine smile from him. The topic of conversation is completely changed to one where you are more comfortable, more able to laugh at your faults. He can patronise you now, and you laugh, because you deserve it, and both you and he just want what is best for you.
Weeks later and you see that moment of silence again, this time between two others. The stare. The struggle for composure. The empty space between them, heavy with… what? Trust? Or perhaps a mixture of patience, embarrassment, sympathy, acceptance. You find it strange, how open we are to strangers. But it makes sense. You have been there. You know what it feels like. And, just as before, the moment passes, replaced with the relief of being in more comfortable skin.