In the late nineties, I took a lot of road trips. I mean, a lot of road trips. One was to Radford, Virginia.
I don’t remember it like this photo; I didn’t do anything touristy while I was there at all.
I went to visit my friend from mIRC. He was older than I was then, but younger than I am now: an interesting thing to think about. He seemed to know everything. Not everything in a book sense, everything in a practical sense. He knew how the world worked.
I looked up to him. I admired him. I possibly hero-worshipped him. I probably hero-worshipped him.
Anyway, he said that I could come visit him. So I was like, cool. Let’s do this.
I threw some clothes in the back of my car and hit the road. It was a long trip, but the leaves were just beginning to turn, and it was gorgeous scenery. And the gas was super cheap in Georgia. Less than eighty cents a gallon.
I failed to dodge a possum crossing the road. It was the first time that I hit something warm-blooded with my car. I cried.
I remember when I finally got to Virginia there were so many signs telling me that radar detectors were illegal. It didn’t matter; I’ve never had one. It seemed terribly unfair, though. It had never crossed my mind before that they might be illegal anywhere, let alone in the United States of America, the greatest country in the world.
Remind me sometime to write about the brainwashing to which we subject our children in this country.
Those signs were a slap in the face for me, the first in a series. It’s a challenge to overcome a lifetime of learning, but this was one of the very first times I was out in the great wide world all by my lonesome, far away from home.
But I finally made it, and when I pulled up in front of his house, I was floored. It was huge. Gigantic. Stupendous. Honestly, it probably wasn’t all that big, but I didn’t have any friends who lived on their own in a real house any bigger than a thousand square feet, and here was this two-story monstrosity with one single person living in it.
I was impressed.
I was pretty excited to meet him. But–and I should have seen this coming, since we hung out in the #depressed room on mIRC–he was so sad. Trust me, we can smell our own.
We did a quick lap around the house, and he showed me the room upstairs where I was going to sleep, since I’d driven straight through and was exhausted.
If I had to choose one room from all the rooms I’ve ever been in to spend the rest of my life, to spend eternity, it would be this room. I am not the nerdy teenaged bookworm that I once was, but that girl is still inside me, and her love for that room is still tremendous.
It was a mess, I’ll give you that, but it was the best kind of mess: a mess of books. I slept on the couch in the middle of the room, surrounded by teetering towers of books that I’d never read. Books that I’d never heard of. There were books on the floor and books on the end table. There were books in boxes and books in bags.
I immediately felt at home. I slept wonderfully.
I spent three days there, but I don’t remember much of what we did.
I remember that I cleaned the kitchen.
I remember that we went to the DMV because he had to renew his license. I was impressed with the technology there; heck, our DMV is still a completely disorganized circle of Hell, twenty years later. We went today, and it was closed for server issues. I also learned that some states don’t charge for vanity plates. He had one; it was his mIRC screen name, most of the vowels removed.
And I remember that we went to his ex-girlfriend’s house.
Everyone has that ex. The one that screwed up your life. Or the one for whom you screwed up your own life for love of them. She was his. And they still hung out, because he wasn’t over her.
She had roommates, other friends of theirs. They smoked some pot, and I declined.
There was this weird vibe that I didn’t understand at the time. It was months before I did understand, because that’s when he sent me a copy of his autobiography, and I found out that she was that girl.
And even reading what he’d written, and witnessing them interact, I went on to make the same mistake. Find someone, the wrong someone, waste time with them, lose them, pine over them, get them back, wise up, ditch them for good. That’s how my story went. I’m luckier than some.
I went to visit him again a few months later, maybe a year and a half. He’d moved to another state, a little closer this time, but still hundreds of miles away. He was better then. Happier. And closer to being over her. I was glad to see that.
I don’t remember who disappeared first, him or me. But it was perfectly in character for both of us. No goodbyes, just a never heard from again kind of ending.
He was secretive where I was open, but I did learn his real name. I’m afraid to look him up, though, because of Jeremy. I’m not so sure that I could find him anyway. He wouldn’t have a Facebook. Unless he’s changed so much I wouldn’t recognize him, in which case, I think we’d both rather I remember him this way.
Through the rose-colored glasses of memory.
Dang, I meant to do some character sketches at jury selection this morning.
But I had a good time. You don’t ever hear anyone say that about jury duty, do you?
When I got in the police jury room, where we have to wait and watch our video and make our lame excuses and get our numbers assigned, an old friend of mine waved at me from her seat.
We Facebook on occasion, but we haven’t really hung out in a while, since we had lunch at the end of March.
So we sat and talked and laughed while we were supposed to be responsibly paying attention. Just like we were in high school again.
Both of our numbers were high enough that we were dismissed early today, with orders to call after five to see if we were needed tomorrow, but all jurors were dismissed.
It was nice catching up again. And she told me my gold glitter brows matched my personality. Isn’t that a lovely compliment?
I have 408 words so far for my memoir about the trip to California. It feels good to finally be starting this project.
I’ve been listening to my new Garbage radio station on Pandora for a couple of weeks now, and the urge has built up to critical mass.
I can see him so clearly, wearing his black shirt with the pink G on it. I’ll get to that. I’ll get there. It was the most color I ever saw him wear.
But then, we only saw each other in a handful of outfits; that’s the nature of road tripping.
So many memories assaulting me, of him, of my mother-in-law.
So much grief; so much grieving.
So many more words to write.
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.
What do you do when you see an old friend? Someone you haven’t seen in years. Someone you used to spend so much time with. Someone who you once thought was your lifeline to the world.
I don’t expect people to recognize me. I’ve either gained a lot of weight or lost a lot of weight, depending on how long ago we knew either other. My hair hasn’t been this short in close to twenty years. I have visible tattoos. And I look happy.
So when someone I haven’t seen in forever is shopping, I’m usually the one who has to call out for notice. And I do, fairly often. I’ve seen former coworkers, former bartenders, even former friends. Usually, it’s a no-brainer whether to call out to them or not, a decision made in the split second before I realize I’m making one.
Today was different, though. Today I saw a different kind of former friend.
I saw him, and I recognized him immediately. He looks exactly as I remember him, exactly the same as he did twenty-something years ago. He’s with his wife and youngest daughter.
I talked to him briefly about a dozen years ago, and nothing since then. It was almost pure reflex to turn and put my back to him.
I don’t regret it. Even now, hours later, after reflection and writing this post. I don’t regret it.
Some sleeping dogs are better left to lie, and this was one. We were best friends once, he and I and two other teenagers, but when we split up, I was left on the other side of the rift for too long. We have little in common now, aside from being alive.
I think it would be different if circumstances had been different, if he and another friend hadn’t gone out of their way to make me feel like an outsider. I know that’s not exactly the case, but that’s how it felt then, and that’s what I’ve moved on from.
I know if I greeted him, he would have kindly introduced his family, and given me a hug, and we would have laughed about the time he told me that if I ran away and lived in the woods he would bring me food. And it would have been sincere, at that moment, but it would have rung false in my memory ever after.
We were all friends, and we all loved each other, but none of us is the same person we were then. I can’t speak for him, but it was easier for me to let him pass by without seeing me, to keep those memories as they are and not pollute them with false pleasantries. To remember what was and turn a blind eye to what might have been.
Easier, and sweeter, without bitterness.
So there’s this guy I know who just published his first book.
I’ve read stories that Jesse has written and thought of Bret Easton Ellis; I’ve read his poetry and thought of Leonard Cohen. He’s a writer. We haven’t discussed the mechanics of writing itself enough for me to know whether he has to tease and torture the words out or if they come willingly, but they read willingly.
JESSE NORMANDIN debuts with a gritty collection of autobiographical poems and vignettes. Equipped with a bare-knuckle style, Normandin opens up about his experiences with everything from teenage love to prison life. Sometimes radically hilarious, other times immensely dark, “ungovernable” is a refreshing debut from a rugged voice.
It’s funny how we went to school together, and so many of our individual experiences mirror each others’, yet we never really met until we were in our thirties.
Take CLYDE FANT. Superficially, it’s the story of a fight that didn’t happen. Beyond that, it could be anything and everything, based on your perspective when you read it. But I was there; I remember that happening. And I was on the other side. Through a series of events, I hung out with the cowboys at Clyde Fant. It’s intriguing, to say the least, to be faced with the other side of the story, because that’s the sort of thing that just doesn’t happen.
Too rarely do we have the opportunity to look at another human being and acknowledge their humanity, their sameness and their difference from our self. The separateness of a life that touched ours once and then never again.
Jesse has given me that, not just this time, but over and over. I read through his book in one sitting not just because I know him and respect him, but because his words meant something to me. They made me think about myself and the choices I’ve made. And I think there but for the grace of God go I.
And when I read, I consider Prufrock again–you know it always comes back to Prufrock for me–
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels