she crumbles on the bathroom floor. her eyes dripping with the memories of times past, hoping to shed them across the linoleum so they will stop hounding her brain, spinning circles on the backs of her eyelids, coursing through to her fingertips so even her writing sounds like him.
she writes a friend. wants to explain but doesn’t want to. a friend who can’t remember what that feels like, that pain. not sure she’s ever known it, more wary than ever to avoid it. they ricochet off each other. neither is bulletproof though they could sing every verse of titanium off key.
they met in preschool. she and him. neighbors before they even knew the other existed, it was the start of a casual friendship. one that consisted and evolved almost entirely over the course of a twenty minutes walk to school, first grade to fifth grade.
during the years when boys have cooties and girls are icky, they collected chestnuts on the walk to the old brick schoolhouse. they didn’t see each other at recess, but they made friends with the crossing guard. they once walked around an entire extra block just to avoid a skunk skulking in the bushes. her brother, seven years older, teased her saying they would get married one day, he was sure. his big golden lab slobbered on her every morning. one time they made ginger spice ornaments for the christmas tree at his house. when they were both seven, tom became obsessed with butterflies. he went to the butterfly garden, but she wasn’t invited. he bought some caterpillars and this time invited her to his patio to see.
they say it’s hard for things to last. but somehow, it managed to persist. one living at the top of the hill, the other at the bottom. even when barely a-flutter.
through the middle schools years, they skirted each other running in different circles, studying different languages, separated by nothing but space and existing in a space nothing like before. still, they said hi, they evolved. he dated her best friend, as close to dated and as close to best friend as either could say to have approached in those early teen years of braces, glasses, bullies, being cool, being uncool, struggling to be, to grow.
in a spurt of inches and knowledge, highs and lows, they graduated into high school, were pushed together again in a reshuffling of the social order, separate puzzles recombined by a ball and socket - one individual unknowing used by the universe to unite them anew. and when that joint disintegrated amid accusations and assumptions, the puzzles retained their links, fused at new junctures, new notes jotted down in the chronicle of their lives. they laughed and skipped their way through chemistry, ecology, passed each other in the hallway, shrugged shoulders across lunch tables, fought their way into college. a friendship none the wiser, none the deeper, yet threading back to age three.
they went to college in separate states, each escaping a past they could not leave behind, a place they knew not how to discard. shoving it behind the piano, under the rug, into the closet (that was her, burying her secrets behind brick walls, locked away into all within reach), out of the closet (that was him, rediscovering, revealing, recombining), crashing through a window. they wandered the summer nights together sharing secrets anew, peeling layers off themselves to leave them bare, surprised almost to find the boy, the girl, the friend still there. their problems bigger now, their woes not fixable by chestnuts and holding hands. they dug up their roots and tied strings between them, weaving a web of wounds that they could laugh at. cry at. bury anew together. tease out the strands strong enough to be criticized, strong enough to make the other grimace, weak enough to need saving, there enough to just be them. they separated, they retracted. sometimes they spoke, sometimes they didn’t.
they found real lives. separate from one another, sometimes a distance of continents, sometimes of cities, sometimes only of miles, sometimes only of words. but if he was never the most important friend in her life, and whether she was never the most important friend in his life, they were something that extended beyond important.
not the chains of past secrets, not the suffocating ties pulling backwards, but the gentle tug of a person who was there when your heart was small and your problems innocent, of a thread that has been cut, broken, abused, repaired, mended, strengthened, dyed, transformed. they found magic. like the butterflies returning each year to the milkweed in his backyard.
there is something beautiful and innocent about young love. that is what everybody says. your high school relationship: a blur of firsts and emotional growth, a whirlwind of tough times and bright futures, of break-ups and getting back together, a haze of memories the good outpacing the bad in a land of nostalgia.
i think sometimes about the fact that my high school relationship was the longest that i have been in ever and while i’m not old enough to say that there is much to such a statement, what i do mean to say is that it means something. perhaps only because i say it does, but it still means something.
but as time grows more distant, i know why i was in love and i know why i wasn’t. i think it was love still to this day, but i know it wasn’t perfect.
usually i remember the silly things, the good things. the small touches in school hallways as we tried to keep it a secret. the time after our first date when you should have at least hugged me but you just said goodbye. the first kiss right before a halloween party, a surprise. i remember sighing, finally. the second kiss right after it. the lies i told my parents to get out of the house so we could drive around in your old acura, not going anywhere, stopping on a dark street and jumping in the back seat. fogged up windows. street lights. freezing on winter nights til we got smart enough to bring a blanket. the sponge bob jokes. talking about everything. staying up late just to chat you on google, waiting for the green dot next to your name. this is what i remember when i miss it. i used to want it back. i wondered what would have happened if college hadn’t broken up apart that last time. the time when i really knew that i was in love. but these days, it’s not like that.
sometimes i remember the bad things too, the things that made us cry. your head buried in my shoulder, not willing to let me see your tears. the first time you said i love you and i said it back, not realizing until months later that i didn’t know what love was, that i didn’t think i really loved you. the times i broke up with you. the times i was too afraid to break up with you. yelling at a computer screen because we said more there than anywhere else. frustration that you believed google chats were enough. being scared about what your parents thought, about the fact that you told me they basically hated me just for dating you. a birthday present you ignored. anger. depression. fear. vulnerability. emotions. tears. it wasn’t innocent, not really, not in that moment. not in how it changed me.
it’s always the quiet moments - the ones that sneak up behind you, wrap you up in a bear hug before you can even muster the breath to squeal in surprise. those are the moments i miss you the most. the times when twelve hour time differences mean i wait for when you’ll wake up as my own yawns grow deeper but i’d stay up for you even just to say hi, even just for you to tell me you’re too busy to talk. and as things crumble and break apart, it will still be those moments that remind me most of you, staring through cyberspace with nothing to say. but nothing is beautiful when nothing is just fine with you. i’m waiting for you to get my letter, i’m waiting for you to get up, i’m tired of waiting, what else can i do.
after clouds she told me, like i should have heard the phrase before. all i heard was a preposition and a plural noun, nothing real, nothing significant, nothing actual. when i asked her to explain, she said i would just know when it happened, after clouds. i told her i didn’t even know what verbs to use, were they going to come or go, appear or disappear, would they be running or singing or dancing on two legs. i was in the dark. i asked if there were before clouds since there were after clouds. she said she wasn’t sure, had never thought about it like that, as if too much logic and reasoning would ruin a good thing. that was when i realized that after clouds must be a good thing, whatever they were, whatever they meant. she said i’d only know it when i felt it racing through me - the sensation of clouds coming in a moment that was definitely after. after what i didn’t know. what a puff of condensed water with barely a mass of its own would feel like to my body i didn’t know. all i ever got was the magic of the words, placed side by side into something that meant something big.
sometimes i’m the girl with the wings on her shoes
collecting stamps in her passport
with an itch to keep moving
an island hopper in spirit.
but sometimes i’m the girl who wants to sit in bed
curl up with a book
open a bag of goldfish and munch all day on the comfortable things.
take in the quiet
say no to the invitation for drinks
sing along to blasted music without a care
say yes to wasting time without wasting it
feel the pressure come off
the pressure to move
the pressure to do
the pressure to be
well yes i’m fishing. i also call it playful teasing. but sometimes we need it. to hear those words that salve our egos, make our hearts beat a little faster. to feel the rush of blood rising past the cheekbones to flush some color into our lives. to know that even if you live halfway around the world, you can still make me sigh like a school girl in spring. so i’m fishing and i’d appreciate it if you’d oblige.
i wish i could have stood up there and told you my story about a battle with mental health issues. i would have admitted to you that it’s not always something diagnosed, that it’s not always something you can see, that it doesn’t have to be this so-called extreme for you to feel like it’s okay to ask for help. i would have told you that i hate asking for help, that i hate feeling vulnerable. i would have told you that i still hadn’t called psych services because i was too afraid to do what i thought many of my friends should also do. i would have told you i felt guilty for being depressed. i would have told you that i felt unjustified, that i felt like my problems were insignificant, that they weren’t worth fussing over, crying over, stressing over. i would have told you about how important it is to me to seem stable, to seem some twisted definition of normal, to be someone who listens to her friends, to be someone they feel they can unburden themselves to. i would have told you that i worried talking about my problems meant you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing yours with me. i would have told you what a big part of my identity this was, how scared i was to lose it, how much more scared of that i was than what the depression brought late at night when no one was watching.
if i had stood up that day, would i have told you these things? or would i have told you about how i had struggled, but it was okay? would i have lied so you wouldn’t worry about me?
it’s not always okay. it hasn’t been “fixed.” but it gets better. and it gets worse. and i wish i would have told you. just so someone else would hear it too.
if i could only imagine
what comes after the clouds
maybe it would crystallize into something
i could taste on the tip of my tongue
embrace its unique hexagonal design
feel the loss as it disappears
into someplace i can’t see
i can only imagine.