I THOUGHT OF US THE OTHER DAY. You know, the “us” we were back then; one and the same in the eyes of the world.
It always feels like a lifetime between my travels back home, then double the gaps that seem to pass for when our visits overlap. Every so often, though, our worlds find reason to collide: be it a wedding, funeral, or something less extreme and in between like right now over Thanksgiving. The holiday we spent five of our seven years together in joint celebration.
The pilot taps through the intercom, advising we prepare for landing, and I find myself stunned with a new revelation: I have no idea if you are even in town this year. We haven’t spoken since you moved to LA in the spring.
The aircraft jolts abruptly then, and I’m quickly forced to acknowledge that in this moment – turbulence or not -I could puke on my boots if I really wanted to. How many seas far away might you be? Though perhaps you’re no further than one plane behind me. And which would I prefer, most importantly?
I cringe out the oval window at the walking cliché this moment has made me.
I decide to take my yoga instructor’s advice and block out the noise. I clench my eyes shut and grit my teeth all the way to landing, though unsuccesful in clouding you out. Instead I repeat the words I’d say if you were in front of me, chanting over and over like the Rosary: “Remember when I never didn’t know where you were? Funny thing life turns out to be.”
I’m instantly met with the same strange feeling as always the moment I step into Terminal B of my hometown airport. It’s the one that developed in the instant you and I took off in two different directions two years ago.
It starts with a sneaking suspicion that I might have somehow traveled back in time. Then comes that sharp shock of loneliness, serving as a stern and nostalgic reminder that all my memories of home come woven as one by the thread that is you. I feel you in the wind, but you aren’t here anymore. Not really, anyway. You could be anywhere on the planet right now and I’d be the last to know. That’s where we are these days, I guess.
Nobody warns you when you’re young that finding a way out of your youth having salvaged a relationship with your parents and maybe a friend or two is about as good as anyone can hope for. Forget the ex boyfriend of 7 years; he’ll be gone soon enough.
And so, I stumble back for a second in sadness. Because in my own life in my own city at my own job with my own friends, you do not exist. I don’t have to think of you all the time. But when I am here at home – our home – every storefront, each coffee shop and all the side streets scream to me with memories. Each corner I turn reminds me of a million little things I never knew I remembered until right now.
There is something beautifully sad about riding along in the backseat of my parents’ station wagon, remembering the strangest little things that somehow stayed stuck deep down in me all these years, yet only now revealing themselves again, like distant dreams all but lost in sleep.
And suddenly, tears bridge the lids of my eyes as I wonder how all of those little scraps of time found a way of adding up without my realizing it. When was it exactly that all the those tiny details found a way to spin themselves together and become the parts of the past I now long for most? They aren’t even events, really. More like a montage of places and ideas and feelings and people.
People like you, having moments with me, feeling all the feels young lovers do.
If I knew then what I know now, would I have watched you closer? Kept you nearer to me? Made sure our heartbeats stayed in gentle rhythmic sync each day and all through the night? Would I have shown more appreciation for all the chunks that made you into you?
Like the way you doodled on diner napkins and listened to songs they never played on the radio. Whenever strands of hair fell loose into my eyes, you’d tuck them behind my ears. Inside me now and then, I am hit with a wave of that warm and tipsy way you made me feel. Still I wonder if there is anything more perfect than how it felt when I really deeply knew you and let you know me, too.
If so, I’m still searching for it.
We were only kids back then, but you made me feel so safe. And I miss how alive I felt riding in your truck on Friday nights, never doubting you’d protect me if trouble were to meet us.
It’s the butterflies that surged through my belly that first summer when you and me became a “we”. Standing together in the center of your room for the very first time, you’d announced with pride having read every book that lined the shelves. I borrowed all of your favorites that year – absorbed the lines of each by flashlight beneath the sheets – simply because you loved them all so much, and I loved you.
It’s now that I recall the way we’d lie on our backs side by side in the summer grass, our fingers intertwined. You taught me about the constellations and how to spot each one in a gold-specked sky. I’d watched your face in awestruck wonder over how you ever got to be so smart. The Big Dipper still reminds me of you.
You loved your mother – like, really loved her – and I loved that about you. Remember the way your big brown eyes grew twice their size when you talked about the things that mattered?
Mostly, I remember that it took me less than three and a half minutes to fall in love with you. And here I am, a decade later, falling in love all over again as I think back on us..as I think back on you.
I rang your doorbell yesterday afternoon. I stood there for a good five minutes, feeling about eight years old again, praying you’d swing the front door open, then come out and play.
But no one came. I felt a strange pit in my stomach, like I really was back in the third grade and my best friend had moved away. It felt unsettling to be back in our place and not know where you were, even though we rarely speak outside of the times that bring us both back home.
Later, over dinner, my mother tells me that you have taken your new girlfriend on vacation with your parents. I am happy for you, though I still feel my cheeks flush red with some sort of ownership – a jealousy – for you. I wonder if that will ever pass and if you feel it for me, too, when you hear I am with someone who is not you.
I suppose I’d rather not know the answer to that, though. To me, you’ll always be mine. You were all of my first feelings; all of my first fights. You knew me inside and out and still chose to love me in spite of all my flaws. Time and distance drove us apart, but still I carry you with me.
And I wish you sunshine and every ounce of goodness this world could ever offer. You are a chunk of who I am, and without that chunk, I’m simply not me.