I’ve decided this is what I’m calling you now, though you know you’re not, and I know you’re not, and we’re both OK with it.
But they tell me everybody needs a name, and everybody needs a friend, so I guess I’m just killing two birds with one stone.
I’ve been meaning to write this for a little while, but I hadn’t yet decided what to call you, and you need to at least know that when you start a letter. So I didn’t. And then last week Facebook said you had a birthday coming.
So here it is, my birthday gift for you. A name and things you never knew.
You only met me a few months ago.
It was the day of the ten years high school reunion and we were making our way up the stairs towards the atrium, a couple hundreds of us fully formed human beings, kids half our age holding flowers over our heads. I stumbled and reached for a shoulder to lean on, and there you were. I mentioned my dangerous shoes and I guess you felt it was an intimacy you could live with. Did you think I was hitting on you? I wonder. You’d only just met me and here I was, all wrapped around your arm, nothing but a couple of layers of canvas keeping our skins apart.
We sat in opposite corners of the room, never to touch again. Hours passed. Speeches, clapping, the Gaudeamus. When it was time to go, we dropped by our old classroom. It seemed smaller and the walls were painted a different color. You couldn’t find your old desk. I found mine, they’d moved it further back. I recognised the scratches.
At the party, they’d sat us at the same table. Sure, I said, I’ll move so you and your friend can sit together. We didn’t speak again. There was dancing. Drinks. People to smile at.
It was almost closing time and I was chatting to someone I used to regularly crush on back in the day. You interrupted. Brought a chair. Wanted to know what it was all like, leaving the country. We talked for a while. I told you about the longing, the loneliness, the freedom, about how nothing is ever the same. You listened. It was time to go, they were turning off the lights. You said let’s walk, let’s walk you said, though we were three miles out of town and I was flying to London in the morning, and I had my killer shoes on, and you’d only just met me hours before.
I carried my shoes in my hand. The sidewalk was smooth and cold, like a fresh bed sheet. For the longest time, I listened. There was rain in the air. I’d turn my head towards you but you just kept talking, staring ahead. Once or twice you stopped and waited for me to speak. You looked at me then, and I looked back, and I said the words I’d rehearsed in my head as you’d been telling me the story. You were unhappy. It wasn’t just something, a relationship, a mistake, a thirst. It was a million things, and I thought I understood, though I wasn’t unhappy for a million reasons then and there myself.
You wished we’d talked before, you said. All those years. Even in school. Why hadn’t we talked, you asked. Why hadn’t we met. Oh well, you didn’t think we could have been friends then anyway. I said I didn’t think it either. But I lied.
I met you in the autumn of ’99.
We were fifteen. They sat you at the desk behind me and I turned to shake your hand. Hitting on you and I’d only just met you, you must have thought.
I’d let you copy off me in Chemistry and you’d lend me your CDs. You had a Korn T-shirt I really liked, a brown one with a cartooned version of the band members on the chest.
One day they were teasing you in front of everybody, your friends. You liked this girl and were too shy to tell her anything, but you’d blush when she walked by, and you’d even followed her from a distance to find out where she lived, and I guess that was weird, because everybody laughed. I felt like you could use some cheering up so I gave you my Snickers bar. Take it, I said, I’m on a diet, and you didn’t even say I looked fine, but it didn’t matter.
At our graduation party we danced our last dance just before the night was over. Your shirt was covered in red lipstick marks and you said you’d asked all red lipstick wearing girls in school to kiss it, and you’d keep it as a souvenir. I laughed. My lips were pink. We’d see each other at Uni, you said, and I wished it true, but you hadn’t even met me yet so what were the chances.
Six or seven years later I saw you again in a nightclub. I was waiting in line at the cloakroom, sweaty paper ticket in hand for my winter coat. I swear I felt someone’s eyes on me. I turned and there you were, hands in pockets, leaning against a wall. I went over everything in my mind. What I was wearing, how my hair looked, how much care I’d put into my makeup that evening. Was I slouching? Was I biting my lip? You walked over and we talked for a while, about our jobs and how it would soon be ten years since graduation. You’d gotten fat, you said. Snickers bar, I remembered, and said you looked fine. The girl was handing me my coat by then and her hands were skinny and full of blue veins, as I imagined mine would turn in my seventies. I was twenty six. I could have grabbed your elbow with my white, vein-less fingers.
My girlfriends were waiting for me in the street. Short skirts and beautiful legs. Colourful and loud under the streetlights, laughing. We hugged and I felt one of your buttons pressing cold against my collarbone, leaving a mark.
I met you again after our friend A. had his accident. A bunch of us were visiting him at home, everybody was laughing and drinking and A.’s dad had just sat him in his chair and was wheeling him out of the room. A million tears started dripping down my cheeks and I quickly turned my head to hide them, and there you were, sitting nearby, and you passed me your napkin. I’m an idiot, I said. The napkin smelled like chocolate.
It’s been almost 15 years of us not meeting each other. I know some people may like this story better than the alternative of a boring, straightforward relationship. It is, after all, classic Young Adult novel material, and I guess we should feel special or something, but you know what? 15 years is more than half our lives and that breaks my heart.
As we were making our way towards town, me barefoot and quietly listening as you talked and talked into the night, I could see it happening. Any time now, any time. We’d finally meet. It wouldn’t be a big thing. I mean, it wasn’t like we were in love, or had ever been. I wasn’t your one who got away and you weren’t mine. We were just a friendship waiting to happen. I smiled. There you were, telling me about how depressing everything was, and I was smiling. I’m an idiot, I thought, but it didn’t matter. We’d be friends now, we’d finally be friends, and everything would be all right.
I don’t remember any thunder. Just a million drops crashing against my eyelids. I must have cursed like a drunken sailor but you didn’t mind. You’d grabbed my hand and were dragging me towards the taxi stand, the soles of my feet soaking wet and my blood pumping with infinite hatred. I’d have punched the storm in the chest with both fists. Fuck this rain, you said, leaning in through the window to hug me goodbye. Your parents’ house was only a couple blocks away, you’d walk, you said. You can’t walk now, I yelled, but you didn’t get it, it was just a little rain, you’d be fine. We’d see each other soon, you said, you’d come and visit. Yes, of course, I whispered, we’d see each other really soon. But I lied.
Writing Soundtrack: James Vincent McMorrow – We Don’t Eat