My best friend growing up was the most beautiful girl in the world, even if she wasn’t. She was the kind of girl who said things that were never definitive and always intoxicating. She was honey whiskey and chamomile tea, at the same time. She had beautiful eyes and big boobs, which goes a long way in high school.
After you and I had parted ways, you almost immediately fell in love with her in a way by which you had never loved me. I think, in my little girl heart, I had always known of your potential to become infatuated with her and maybe that is why I left. Maybe, even then, I knew the difference between what was mine and what was not. For three years, you dated her and I listened to her tell me about the night when you had lost your virginity to her, in the back of a big red pick up truck parked in the middle of a field of weeds and clovers. I bit my tongue and grinned at her. You never sat on the swings with Liz, never listed all the reasons why you liked her and asked her to do the same. You never shared lollipops with her, or clambered up trees to hide in the early autumn branches. You and her talked about literature and music and the philosophy of your souls. I saw my own inadequacy and hated you, hated her, but primarily could not forgive myself for my shortcomings.
Then, for the first time in years, you called me one night while I was graphing calculus equations and asked me to go on a drive with you. I brought five crumpled dollar bills for gas money and we wandered the nighttime streets until we finally parked in a great looming parking structure and climbed the narrow stairs down, down, down into a valley that led to the railroad tracks. You and I sat on the rocks, both facing the horizon (cloudy, this time, a great haze of blue-black that blanketed the soft sky) and you started to cry.
“It’s over,” you tell me, angry. “It’s so over.”
In the darkness, I took your hand in mine and traced little circles on your skin with my thumb. A thousand revolutions later, you spoke again but quieter.
“I’m here though,” I told you quickly lest I lose the courage to do so. “And I could love you, maybe. I could love you.”
My 17th birthday came upon us shortly thereafter and you were my boyfriend again, which saw my wish come true, but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. I did not understand your rules but every morning I woke up and was elated by the prospect of our happy secret so I did not question it. My friends threw me a boozy birthday bash with liquor we convinced the homeless men downtown to buy for us from the neighborhood liquor store. You did not want to go because you didn’t get along with my friends, you said, and I didn’t question that, either.
At one in the morning, I was drunk off of Smirnoff and mojitos and vomiting in the bathroom at the pool. I called you to come pick me up and you showed up, sober and impatient, ushering me quickly into your car. I wanted to go home and, with my cheek pressed against the cool glass of your window, I closed my eyes. When I woke up, we were parked in an unlit lot behind a warehouse. Things happened, were done to me and were done by me. I don’t remember. I don’t remember. Do you remember?
In the morning, I woke up at home to a text message from you that read “Haha, no hard feelings.” Shortly thereafter, you met a very beautiful girl with whom you had no uncomfortable history and you introduced her to your family as your girlfriend.
Years later, I have left and roamed the world. We have not been a part of each other’s immediate realities for four years and I have forgotten what your hands look like. You have forgotten what my hair, which you used to like so much, smells like. Our single point of contact all these years have been the static-ridden phone calls that happen in the middle of the night, both of us in forever changing, anonymous parts of the world and connected by a fragile length of digital back-and-forth. Springtime in Berlin, I’d crouched in the cold outside of a McDonalds that was closed in order to use their WiFi to talk to you, calling me from Canton, Ohio, about what it meant to be free. “You make me so happy, Heidi,” you had said to me then. “You are the only thing that makes me happy now.”
Men and women have found their ways in and out of both our lives. I have loved another and have known contentment independent from you, but I have never forgotten you. I spent last Thanksgiving on the eerie nighttime shores of Key West, Florida. Neon lights aglow behind me, I heard you calling but did not answer. You left me a message to tell me that you are still and perhaps always will be in love with me, oh and happy Thanksgiving. I listened to it twice and then deleted it, letting the roar of the ocean and the beer in my brain drown you out. I did not think I would see you again.
I have left and returned, an adult for the first time in this place that we had shared in our childhood, but you are not here now. You are still gone, you are still away, you are still wandering. Then, abruptly and via a text message that does not betray emotion, you tell me, “I’m coming back to Fullerton next month, for just a few days. I need to see you.”
We have one chance, one day, to do it right. We have one shot to love each other properly. In eight years, we have loved each other and lost each other, then loved and lost again as different people. We have hurt each other enormously and, some may argue, beyond repair. But while the you that I met eight years ago may no longer exist, the us that has always been shall always remain. I write now, hesitantly, on the eve of our reunion and am struck by how dearly I have held you to my heart. And I wonder, and I wonder, and I wonder…