I breathe into the mug of hot black coffee and feel it puff back, warm and earthy. Black coffee does not make me think of my father — although I tell other people so — it makes me think of my best friend. Probably because it tastes bitter, dangerous – it reminds me of toxins, of cigarette smoke and rooftops and dark green shirts. It conjures up memories which aren’t real but could be, like sitting across from each other in a diner, clutching mugs of hot black coffee and grinning like con men, like the joke’s on the world. But I’m not supposed to say that. I’m not supposed to say that coffee makes me think of Ryan, to admit how intricately he has woven into my life, my thoughts, my habits.
On a Thursday night, my roommate said, “You two are so similar!” Ryan and I looked at each other, both dubious. We simultaneously shrugged.
Sometimes I resent him. The thing about a best friend is, you start to blur the lines between who you are and who they have made you. I scroll through my iPod and try to find songs not tainted by him, not discovered through his referrals, music that is mine and mine alone. A striped sweater hangs in my closet, unwearable, because of his voice — I like that sweater — and now to wear it would be intentional, to be trying too hard.
When I’m angry at him, I smoke cigarettes, because they make me think of him. At bars, I order rum and cokes, because that’s what he and I would drink at night, on the beach, out of plastic bottles. These are not things we discovered together; this is Ryan, changing me. His opinion goes straight to my brain, lingers in my systems no matter how much I try not to care.
“Just because Ryan thinks so doesn’t mean it’s true.” My roommate, my other best friend, advises me. I said I knew that, of course. She points out that I only started thinking our neighbor was pretty after Ryan said so, even though she’d been saying so for months. It’s true and I hate myself for it. But I can’t help how important he is to me, can’t avoid his influence. It makes me wonder who I am without Ryan, and who holds the power. Is our friendship equal? Do I matter as much to him? What are we, anyways?
He isn’t a replacement family or a support system. He isn’t a romantic interest or part-time boyfriend. Hell, he isn’t even someone I see all that often. But maybe that’s why my friendship with him is so important and so confusing – we don’t need each other for any specific reason. We just get each other.
He has blue eyes and I ask them, “How are we friends?” He shakes his head and laughs.
“You always ask me that.” I do, because I am legitimately confused.
“We have nothing in common.”
“We should probably stop being friends.”
We look at each other, grin, and shrug.