Speaking of the Devil

Today I saw a friend of a friend. We chatted for a few minutes, and I learned that my friend is still working at the same donut shop where she’s worked since we were fresh out of high school.

I remembered writing about her, so I searched through my archives until I found the post.

And I’d only given her a paragraph.

I thought about my best friend from when I was 16. We lost touch, but I saw her again, intermittently, after I moved back here when I was 21. The last time I saw her was probably 2004, eight years after high school. She had a son, and a job, and a garage apartment, but she was exactly the same person. The same priorities. The same personality. The same first world problems.

I imagine that she’s still exactly the same.

But I am vastly different. Different from the person who wrote that post; different from the person she knew in high school. And even those two people were worlds away from each other.

Today, would I only give her one lonely little paragraph? Were I to write that post today, I can definitively answer no. I would give her much more.

But are my reasons sound? Are they acceptable? It’s easy to say yes and then abandon that line of questioning. Far too easy.

Yes, they’re my reasons; I don’t need to justify them to anyone. Their existence is justification enough.

And that could be the proverbial that, but it isn’t, because why stop there? I think, therefore I am.

***

As I write this, sitting here in my kiosk, she is here. She just walked by with two young men, young enough to be her children, but closing in on their own majority. If I hadn’t looked up at the exact right instant, I would have missed her.

But I chose the right time.

And I looked back down to resume writing, lips pressed together in silence tempered with the smallest amount of shame. Such a minuscule amount of shame. Hardly enough to be worthy of mention. Or–no. Not truly shame, only the sense that if I were an honorable, decent person, by society’s definition, I would feel shame.

The weight lifts.

I don’t need a mask of false shame to feel good about myself, or to justify my decisions. I don’t need to look up to be a decent human being.

And I’m not a bad person for not talking to her. Or for not talking to her even as I write about her.

It doesn’t matter.

Not in the grand scheme of things. That feels so freeing.

But oh, the world works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? I meant to tell you stories of the girl who went on so many adventures with me.

***

Another twist from the cruelest mistress.

She came back.

We made eye contact, and I held out my arms. It was a good hug, a welcome hug. Why did I turn the other way when I saw her before?

And she looks exactly the same. I told her this, and she laughed and pointed out her wrinkles. But as I’ve watched my own face age in the mirror, day after day, so her face has aged in my memory. She does look the same, just a different hairstyle. She’s beautiful, and I still love her for the friendship we had.

Her mother died a year and a half ago, she tells me, and it isn’t false grief that I feel. Her sons are sixteen and thirteen, and both had a basketball game tonight, and it isn’t false pride I feel.

I tell her my parents moved in with us, that I’ve been married nine years, that I have no children.

And she tells me that she sees Jessica* all the time at her job. The light bulb goes off over my head. This is where the split is, the place where our lives diverged and will never rejoin. I am on the side of the chasm with Jessica’s husband, with my friends who stayed on my side. She is over there with Jessica and their friends.

On my side, we made the choice to grow and change and live our lives in a well-rounded way.

On her side, they made the choice to reject growth and change. They stayed the same.

I don’t regret not calling out to her the first time I saw her. I don’t regret welcoming her with open arms when I made that choice. And I don’t regret not asking for her phone number, or offering my own.

My life is full, and while my memories of us are a part of that fullness, I don’t have the room to spare right now to include her as a reminder of what might have been.

*Name changed, for the rare few who know me in real life.

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