You asked what I would write about. Right now, this moment, here. What would the first sentence be?
I told you it doesn’t work like that, even though it does.
I told you to give me a pen. You said to write out loud. But there is no such thing as writing out loud. Writing is the one non-out loud thing we are able to do. You laughed at my capacity to disagree and I wondered if you were the type of boy who liked disagreeable girls.
I sat down and you followed.
You said it was strange, being back here. Here, as in New York? You said yes, but also this park, this river, this bench. Here as in home.
I nodded like I understood.
You told me I looked happy, happier than last year. I smiled. I don’t know if my smile was a reaction, or a kind of nonverbal confirmation.
“It’s funny,” I said. “I’ve gotten that a lot lately.”
You told me that’s not funny. That’s great. You looked out toward the Queensboro Bridge and there was silence. I think that was the saddest I ever saw you.
I felt a tinge of guilt then, like I had somehow stolen your energy. Like you had drifted into my old world of sorrow and I was responsible. I knew what those quicksands were like and I wanted to drag you away.
You asked if I was supposed to be somewhere right now. I told you home. Neither of us got up to leave.
I stared at the East River and wished I could drain the scene to black-and-white. I made a reference to Woody Allen’s Manhattan but you had never seen it. I paused and wondered why I was always so desperate to live in a movie.
You asked me about beliefs. About religion. You told me about Greek and Christian philosophy while I smushed cigarette butts further into the concrete. I thought it was interesting how the ground was covered in cement hexagons instead of squares. Hexagons that tessellated for miles. I thought about learning the word “tessellate” in math class and how I would never have to take a math class again.
You turned to look at me. I think you were expecting some kind of rebuttal, but I hadn’t been listening and I wondered if part of you knew that.
I thought back to when we met, both of us home for the holidays. I thought it was funny how we had completely missed each other in life. How I moved to the East coast when you moved West. And how we met in an elevator, a place that is constantly moving between places. A place that doesn’t really exist. Now, here we were again, one year later. The same season, the same bench, the same useless river. Nothing had changed— except for us.
I told you that terrified me, the fact that people are always changing. I asked how you can possibly commit to loving someone when you know they will be different in a year. I said that was like committing to love a stranger.
You said I have a problem with trust.
I watched the Roosevelt Island Tram travel back and forth across the river. You said I am the only girl that can sit down and actually have a real conversation. I said you need to meet more girls.
I enjoyed watching your mind stray. I liked that you were a transparent thinker because everyone always tells me I am opaque. Eventually, you commented on the stars. I laughed and thought maybe this was a Woody Allen movie after all.
On our way back, I made a point to walk on the cracks of the sidewalk. It was childish. You made a remark about how it’s not everyday you find someone that favors the broken parts. I said that’s probably a good thing.
You told me that if you had been smarter, you would have asked me out a long time ago. I think you meant it to be flattering, but it sounded more like an apology. I wondered what I might have done if I had been smarter. I guess we live most of our lives this way, wishing we could go back and draw strong Sharpie lines through the things we regret.
If I could go back, I would ask you to tell me something that nobody knows. I would ask you for information, however mundane, that could be solely mine. I want to feel like I am one secret above everyone else in your life.
If I could go back, I would ask about your sisters. And what it was like to be the youngest person in a family. And if it ever felt like you had to obey the advice and wisdom of four adults instead of two. And if that was hard.
I never asked you. Instead, I thought about the cold. I thought about how quiet New York can become after 2am. I thought about December. Mostly, I thought about the Tram as it floated silently overhead. I said we should do that. You said we should do a lot of things.
I realized the uniqueness of our relationship then. It wasn’t about the elevator, or about irony. It was about momentary connection, something fleeting. It was about impermanence. You were here, I was here, and we talked like two strangers that had crossed paths during Christmas vacation because that’s exactly what we were. Tomorrow, we would both be gone.