There’s a you that’s 44 who is kind and thoughtful and quiet. You have a whole life, sense of self, a career that suits your abilities and quirks, a marriage with a unique and independent woman who really gets you. You’re simply happy. And that’s the you I wish I knew better. That’s the you I could be very happy to have back in my life.
Because all I’ve got now is the memory of the 1.0 version, the one that exists in journals and memories. The one who couldn’t deal or articulate. The one who couldn’t ever be the bad guy. So instead you asked me to lie. And when everyone found out, guess what? They forgave you and not me. “That’s just him, That’s just how he is.” Indeed. He does what he does and you accept him on his own terms or he’s dead to you. Blows away on the breeze, disappears.
I had to realize this was not sustainable. So I let it go. And then I threw it all away in bitter embarrassment, pushed it all away with the same ferocity with which I’d once held on to it. I threw away every letter – not just yours, but all of them. Any letter anyone ever sent me. Out with the old.
And when J came to
all those years later and called me out of the blue…all I felt was annoyed. It
was just like something you would do.
Just drop in with no plans, no consideration for the fact that maybe I might be
doing something other than hoping you’d call; that maybe I couldn’t just drop
everything because my absentee friends had suddenly decided I was worth their
time. So I said no, sorry. As it was, Mr. Black and I were on our way out to
celebrate our “night we met” anniversary. I said no. Seattle
And the next time I saw J was 12 years later, when he was recovering from his latest bout with Hodgkins. And now…well. Now. Let’s just say I wish I’d saved the “too cool to care that you’re too cool to care” act and admitted that I did care. Was it self-respecting to push away a friend like that? Did I teach him anything? Did I somehow repair any old wounds with that move? Why didn’t I just make plans to meet him the next day?
Notice how I was talking about you and then all of sudden I was talking about J instead? That’s how it is for me, the way those memories are stored, tangled up like necklaces in a drawer. You and me, the group of us, that place, that time. When J died, I went digging through my old notebooks looking for him – notes he’d written to me in class, hilarious quotes of his I may have jotted down. What I found was that his memory was tightly, tightly intertwined with yours. And in pulling out my feelings about him, well, I coughed up some old feelings about you, too.
“Why do you still care?” asks Everyone.
“Because I’m not a robot, I guess,” is my reply. Turns out I actually have feelings – and an awesome life 20 years later isn’t enough to cancel them out entirely. I care because I care. You were one of my best friends. We thought we understood each other so well. We made each other laugh endlessly. We lit each other up. You don’t just forget that.
I guess you’re ashamed. Not ashamed about our lame little non-relationship anymore, so long ago that was, but ashamed by the sober knowledge that you hurt my feelings. And how could that be when you’d aspired to be such a Great Guy? I like that you’re happy for me, but honey it’s so patronizing, too. Like there was ever any doubt I’d find my path. Of course I’m happy. And of course I got there without you.
I don’t want your apology. I don’t want your guilt. What I wanted, my friend, was to see you again. Not the 22-year-old you, but you, the sadder, wiser, better version of yourself. And I needed to show you my older, better self too. I hate that the only “me” you remember is the pre-Seattle, pre-family, pre-career, pre-Zoloft version. Geez, no wonder you never want to see me or talk to me. Who would? But if we could have stayed friends somehow, there’d be so much more in the box besides the old broken pieces of our failed little attempt at a relationship.
That memorial service was beautiful and intense. A little awkward at times, too, all of us together again as 40-year-olds standing around with easy tears and lumps in our throats, happy to see each other after all this time but absolutely devastated by the circumstances. It was hard and sad and loving. And hard and sad and loving some more.
I wish I could have seen you. I guess I understand why you didn’t want to go. It’s just so stark. So hurtful. It’s like…I have one friend who died tragically, long before his time. J is gone, gone, and I will never hear his voice or see his sweet, affirming comments on my Facebook posts ever again. Lost. And I have another friend who simply chooses for things to be that way.
Yes, yes, you say maybe you’ll come to
some day to see your other friends.
And maybe this time you’ll make some time to see me, too. Maybe you’ll buy me a
pony while you’re at it. Isn’t it pretty to think so. Seattle
Pretty, indeed. Let’s face it, I’m never going to be that cool and detached. I’m always going to hope that somehow, after all this time, an easy, grown-up friendship will bloom between us and grow to cover all the scraps and scars of the earlier time. Like it or not, you still matter to me. Losing our friend just blew the cover right off it and makes me understand and accept that. You matter. That’s all.