We were in a bookstore once, you and I. You wandered the store, tracing your finger along the books. You scrunched your nose; you thumbed through a few books and talked about which your aunt had recommended.
Your eyes searched, punctuated only when we’d eye each other at the same time, the same way we would at a party, or a bar, or at your family’s get togethers. I looked at the whole store and thought it was so unfair that the world produces more than consume; that the world is writing faster than we will ever read.
Today I remember that scrunched nose. I remember those moments our eyes always found each other. And I think of the tragedy that fills what we had; I think of how you’re consuming the world in ways I’ll never see or hear about.
I think of the moments you have, you love, and you’ll forget. Of the moments I’ll never know. You used to be an open book. I’m sure you still are; you’re just not my book anymore. I thought I’d always learn from you, but at some point you stopped teaching.
That first spring, you taught me what butterflies were. You taught me the wonder of not knowing what the next conversation or walk or run-in would bring, the bewilderment of the tingling sense of something big coming on.
You taught me to open my eyes wide. To explore anywhere, everywhere. You convinced me that sleep was a luxury two just could not afford while there was the world to walk about.
You taught me hot chocolate on a bench can last for hours; to make out beneath a basilica, and to throw rocks into a lake in the middle of the night.
You taught me that the people we need, the ones we should want aren’t the ones that look like us, or act like us, or think like us. They’re the ones that complete us.
That summer, you showed me what love could look like. We talked every night, until eventually everyone started getting suspicious of all these drives I took ostensibly for a slushy.
You showed me just how much a person could look forward to a weekend and the prospect of holding you once more. You showed me how hard it can be to tell someone how you feel; to make a leap into someone else’s heart. So I delayed. I demurred. I failed.
Yet as we moved to fall, we got good at talking. You were 5,281 miles away, but I’d never felt closer. You taught me to overcome that fear; to tell someone how I felt. And I did. And you did too.
We know now that we didn’t know what we were doing; we didn’t know how to tame our hearts all those miles away. But I would never trade what I felt, even knowing now what you did in those months.
Fall turned to winter, and our cracks started to show. You taught me the warmth of meeting your family, of understanding you more completely. You taught me the feeling of a head on my shoulder on a train back from Valentines’ Day. You taught me the sadness of betrayal, and the pain of having to find out for myself.
But winter is not eternal, at least I didn’t think it was. And we hurt, and we cried, and then we smiled and we lived. We danced and we laughed, we listened and we talked. We went to see a lighthouse I’d kill to see with you just once more. We got better.
You flew away that summer all the way back to Dublin. I’ve never looked forward to something more than waking up to your picture and your thoughts, and the image of you driving that damn bus.
I remember your face when we met in the airport, the hug you gave me, and the way our eyes locked once more. I remember napping on the plane to Rome, thinking we were going to be alright. I remember two weeks of Europe, crazy train conductors, fake french accents, angry walks in Prague, and my amazing Irish dancing.
That fall, I moved and you went back to school. We’d cut the distance, now just 523 miles. We didn’t live next to each other, but we had our visits. We had Christmas. We had New Years.
And yet, somehow, we went wrong. We forgot — maybe just I forgot — how great we were. We let ourselves drift; to fight; to hurt and not heal.
I’ve never been as proud as I was watching you graduate; of hearing about the amazing things you did, the amazing people you knew, and seeing how an incredible person had only become more so. But that weekend couldn’t save us. Soon enough, you told me we were over.
Ever since, we can’t stop fighting. When you’re ready to try again, I’m gone. When I’m there, you’re not. We cant get ourselves on track. And we’ve hurt each other. We’ve lied; we’ve fallen short of doing what we’ve said.
We spent nights laughing and talking and blindly staring until we fell asleep. Now I still stare, just at a phone that doesn’t buzz and a void that will not fill.
And so I don’t know that we’re going to work. I don’t know that I’ll get to learn again from you. I see you traveling the world, and seeing all the countries and places and people I thought we’d meet together. I see your heart growing fond of others, a heart I thought would forever grow fond for me.
It will always be a tragedy that the world writes faster than we can read; it produces faster than we can consume; it expands faster than we can follow; we live faster than we can share.
I guess, my friend, you taught me that as well. One of those nights in Dublin, we read that plaque. Joyce wrote, “They lived and laughed and loved and left.”
We lived, my friend. We laughed. We loved. And for now, we’ve left.
Maybe someday I’ll teach you that leaving need not be forever.