The Great Wall Of Friendship

The seats in the car were closer than I remembered. Or else you were bigger than I remembered, taller than I remembered, wider than I remembered. All I know is that you seemed so high up there, gazing down on me, and I wondered whether you realized your face looked the way it did: so calm, so happy, or whether it was just an accident, pleasure bubbling up from some other unknown source: that you were happy to be driving, happy to be going somewhere, that it had nothing to do with me. No, I’ve seen the look of men who just endured my presence, or casually enjoyed it, let themselves be flattered by attention. This was not that.

There is a new song hovering between our ears that goes: The more that you want it / the more that you take it. It is not a happy song. It is a song about a destructive relationship, about a dependable antagonism between two people who have known each other too long, who communicate best in bed, whose physical desire for one another is the only thing keeping them together. I feel guilty when I hear it. I know, I know, I whisper to its singer. The more that I want him, the more that I take him. I am spoiled by him.

That’s not you. You don’t act this way, think this way about me. The only commonality in the blueprints of you and me is our physical forms and the earth that feeds us. We are human. We are from here. The similarities stop there. I try to learn from you how to be, how to regain a composure I know I had once, somewhere.

Throughout the day your words come to me. Words you said the night before, through a screened window. Words you said years ago. Words you said from a distant room, your deep voice breaking through the pine wall to my ears. But I can’t imagine an entire conversation between us, just a single exchange, like:

Me: You make me want to just leave everything.
You: Then leave everything.

Or,

You: I hate work. I wish I never had to work.
Me: I know.

Or,

Me: Your body is amazing.
You: You’re pretty cute too.

Forbidden places: there are fewer these days. But there is the twin bed you sleep in, your childhood summer bed. Your feet hang off the end of it, though you’re not technically taller than it, you just splay in all directions, buffered by too many pillows. A work of art, at least to me. A messy, fickly formed work of art. And your strength makes you seem taller: when we say goodbye there is so much muscle on top of your shoulders that I can rest on it for second, feel that it’s some perch, taller than my own shoulders, though we’re the same height.

I went in the room to get something, with your permission. I had not been in there in years. The bed had these seafoam-green sheets on it, and there were all these objects on it. It was unmistakably a boy’s room. You had all your laundry in a single plastic shopping bag. The bed, of course, was not made. And it just seemed like some kind of lair, the lair of a slow-moving, slow-growing creature. Dark and low-ceilinged with little furniture or space for anything but you, innocuous ogre.

Earlier that morning I’d written on the top of a post-it note stack sitting on my big kitchen table, which was devoid of almost anything but paper and pen: Waiting for the ogre to awaken. I am in a good mood but perhaps should not be.

I left this note with the others in a little pile I’d made. Some of them had been written decades ago. This is Violet, one reads. I am in the attic, looking for Cat, but he remains to be seen. The date is July 18, 1997. I was 12 then, but sound younger. Sound like I’m trying to sound older.

I wonder if anyone in the future would know who “the ogre” was referring to. The handwriting now is so much worse than it was in 1997, and again, I sound younger than I am. But now it’s love that governs me, not a child’s flights of fancy. Though there is something childlike about love.

You’re awake now, and looking at me steadily through a 20-mile-per-hour wind, so I’m happy. It’s dangerous to be so governed by another’s moods. I want to say the effect of you is like the effect of the wind on the sea, but that’s not right. It’s more like I’m the sea and you’re the moon, and maybe I have a lot of power — to give life, move, destroy, but without you I have none. The force of you comes from elsewhere, from outside us, from beyond, outside the invisible wall of what we know. It’s why when I look at the stars and the Milky Way stretching across and behind me like some irregular spine of a creature too large for us to make out its shape, I think of you. It’s something you appreciate more than most of us do. It’s a phenomenon that you take the time to admire, though one night I’d tilted my head all the way back to look at it and you’d asked after a time, What are you looking at?

That, I said. But you were busy grasping a tree branch downhill a little bit, in the dark, preoccupied by the earth.

A few minutes later we danced, if you can call it that. You reminded me of the horror film we watched years ago, and were frightened by, or at least I had been, because we were surrounded by cornfields, the setting of the film, the natural phenomenon from which the unexplainable villain emerged, so frightening because it at first seemed like part of the field, borne of it. Remember?, you asked. Then I moved behind you, the very source of my fear. You let the light of your flashlight scud across the tall army of corn in front of us, from left to right and back again, trying to evoke movement, to conjure up a creature that moved just like the light, to trick my eye. But you must have known that I would, ironically, turn to you to protect me, hide behind your solid body, act a girl, squirm, then shuffle back down the road to safety, though the road was also daunting, a black hole that I needed your light to guide me down.

But you walked the other way, to the very end of the road, before it curved into a grass path around to the isolated house on a cliff, and you stood on a boulder at the edge of the lake, its flinty bits of stone glistening in the flashlight, and you just said, That sunset, looking into the black in the direction of where the sun had been, as if it had been a great movie you’d just watched or a beautiful woman you’d seen walking down the street. Here, of course, nature is the only medium: not films, not art, not women. Unless you count me, which you don’t.

Yes, I said, but was convinced it would only be a matter of hours before that time we’d stood surrounded by fluorescence would be filed in behind all the other evenings, all the other remarkable sunsets. How could we be expected to distinguish this beauty from that beauty, yesterday from tomorrow? Maybe you’d remember because you and I had been the only witnesses to it. It would be lost somewhere amongst all your muted short-term memories, suppressed, quashed even, by too much marijuana use. But it wouldn’t be completely forgotten.

The water is so cold now that submerging oneself in it for a few minutes can be considered the day’s accomplishment, if you live as quietly and slowly as we have been. Hurry up, you said, because you’d already dived in, flicked your too-long hair back, drops of water arcing behind you, and I was taking my time wading in. It was black, like oil. I’m not going to be in here much longer. I responded petulantly: I don’t care what you do. Then you put your hand to your chest. Feel that? you asked. Heart skipping a beat? I asked. You laughed. It’s just tumbling over and over, you said. Mine too. There are things in here, you said vaguely, trying to frighten me again. Mmm, I said, and shoved my legs forward through the water to the shore.

The thing about friendship is that there is always a barrier of some kind, a wall of propriety, between each person. Maybe it’s as thin as a veil, maybe it’s as thick as a cinderblock wall. But it is there, warning us to tread lightly, to treat each other with care, distinct from the way we treat siblings or long-term lovers. That’s how I know, how you know, how anyone would know, in this silence and pitch darkness, what we are, that we are not siblings or lovers. We walked back down the road by the light of someone’s garage security light, which doesn’t look all that different from moonlight, at least when you’re high and very cold, and I realized that you hadn’t been wearing shoes this whole time, that you’d been walking on the muddy back road and the swampy grass surrounding our houses with no shoes on, like a hobbit.

I don’t want your dirty feet in my house, I said, meaning to joke, but you couldn’t see me, and apparently couldn’t hear the humor in my voice. Suddenly you were marching ahead of me, your feet sticky against the dirt, back to your house to get some shoes. I was too cold to think much, at that moment, about how fast you were moving, about how you felt you had actually done something wrong, about how you were doing something now for me. Friends.

You came back. Now there were two pairs of your shoes at my back door. The cold moved off us. I made a blazing fire for us to sit in front of, its view blocked only by a laptop screen, a little bit of civilization to save us from going completely crazy, though we chose something that melded the fantastical with the distant past, something that fits in this realm of roaring fires, wool blankets and fur hats. But there was space between us, so much space between us. The space that friendship opens up, the space that friendship keeps forever pushed apart with its two strong arms, like someone breaking up a fist fight.

I think that space has shrunken, and it has, but it’s still there. I thought of holding your hand, feeling your blood and my blood pulse between our fingers, and what it would take to do such a thing, walk through a wall. I think it must be like traveling to the edge of the universe, an unfathomable journey of a hundred years or more. Worth it, maybe, to see what’s out there. Worth giving up a lifetime of everything we know and love, just to glimpse it, though it may not even welcome us, though it may destroy us. TC mark

image – Ismar Badzic

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