Alison rifled through the detritus littering the bottom of her purse a moment longer before giving up and dumping the whole mess on the coffee table.
“I can’t find the tickets to save my life, Liza, I’m so sorry,” Alison apologized to her friend. The tone of her voice was contrite, but the fury with which she continued to shuffle through her belongings betrayed another, overbearing feeling of discontent. “Let me check my wallet again.”
Liza leaned back into the waiting comfort of the couch and continued to watch the scene unfold, feeling completely disconnected even though without her presence, Alison would still be asleep. She kept her mouth shut, knowing better than to waste her breath on sentences that Alison would never hear in her current emotional state.
“Ta-da!” Alison called in a sing-song, bursting with pride to have found the tickets that she was sure she’d thrown in the trash with the series of receipts that marched constantly through her belongings. “I was positive they were in there!”
Liza smiled mildly, more amused by Alison’s reaction than impressed by the actual discovery of the tickets. She pulled her feet back and stood up, arching her back in a stretch that popped her back three times in a row, like gunshots in the new silence. “Let’s go then,” she said.
Alison cocked her head to the side. “Don’t you even want to know what we’re going to see?” she asked her friend.
“Nope. It’s more fun when it’s a surprise. And besides, even if it turns out to be some horrible hypnotist, if I don’t know who we’re going to see, I can blame all of my discontent on you.” Liza smiled again, more sweetly this time, but with a hint of venomous honesty.
“I swear, Liza, I’m through apologizing for that lackluster son of a bitch that we wasted nearly a hundred bucks on. That was three years ago, for crying out loud, and he was so highly reviewed in that Examiner article. You can’t put all the blame on me. I won’t take it.” Alison was so upset that she was mangling those poor abused tickets in the hand fisted at her side. Her purse swung loosely from her shoulder, empty of her belongings.
Liza scooped up Alison’s wallet from the mess on the table. “Put the tickets in the change compartment. I’ll grab your keys.”
Alison’s jaw dropped when she realized that Liza was utterly refusing to rise to the occasion and fight about the ventriloquist they’d seen at the Lake Theater. It would have been the fourteenth time they’d fought about it; two more and Alison would probably have paid Liza to drop the whole thing once and for all. But she didn’t consciously understand that. It was more a feeling of poison ivy, itching just behind her right temple every time Liza brought up that spectacularly failed girls’ night out.
A reflected flash of light blinded Alison as Liza paused at the door, swinging Alison’s keys around and around the first finger of her left hand. “Get it, girl. Shoes on, show’s starting.” Liza winked and walked out of the apartment without bothering to make sure that Alison was following instructions.
Alison slipped into her pumps and trotted obediently behind her friend, locking the door behind her on her way out.
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.
Tonight was a decent night at work. I had an amazing customer. When I asked her what occasion she was shopping for, she told me that a friend of hers had just had a miscarriage and that she was looking for something with angel wings.
I showed her a heart shaped necklace with a pair of wings over a heart, but when I read her what the insert said about love (because she forgot her glasses) she shook her head and asked what else we had.
I knew exactly what I wanted to show her, but it took me a minute to find it since we have to rearrange everything once a month.
It was this necklace with three charms, one blank oval for engraving, one oval with a stylized angel, and one wing. When she saw it, she knew that was what she wanted for her friend.
She didn’t get it engraved; she planned to give it to her friend blank and bring it back herself if her friend wanted something on it.
As I rang her up, I told her I was very sorry for her friend’s loss, and that I was glad she had such a kind and understanding friend. She thanked me, then looked at me, a little worriedly, and asked if I thought she was doing a good thing.
I knew she was one of us. And I grieved with her, and for her.