Celia rocked back and forth in the recliner, her toe tapping the floor with each heave forward, a deep amorphous feeling of absentness within her chest.
She stared blankly into space, her mind flitting and floating from topic to topic, the grasshopper that jumped on her when she was seven years old, the family trip to the mountains to stay at a ski lodge, her brother’s negligence when it came to calling and keeping her from worrying. She hadn’t heard from him in well over two months, and it was nearing the longest stretch of time in their lives to go without contact.
Her cell phone let out a long, jarring warning tone: a tornado touched down in her area and she needed to seek safety as soon as possible. She switched her volume off, and continued rocking, tapping the floor and tapping the floor.
The roar of the storm passed her by, and she still didn’t hear from her brother.
Facebook’s On This Day thing has its ups and downs, for sure, but one thing it has got me doing is checking back through my archives here once or twice a week.
Last year we went hiking and Ian rescued me.
It’s been three whole years since I did the A to Z Challenge, and I desperately need to get back to sewing, since I still have one of these fabrics.
Four years ago letrozole gave me bone pain. I do not miss that stuff or Clomid.
And of course, Facebook let me know that five years ago we went to Nana’s house.
Tonight I learned that a friend of mine passed away.
Not recently, no; it’s been nearly thirteen years.
When I was nineteen, I met a guy on the Internet. He was driving from Wisconsin to California. I talked him into detouring to Louisiana to pick me up and bring me with him. This was the 90s and we were teenagers; nothing bad could possibly happen. We were invincible.
Which makes what I read today all the more painful. He died in 2003 of sleep apnea, after falling and hitting his head.
We were invincible.
How many times has his spirit graced this blog?
I took a road trip to California with a guy I met on the internet days before. On the way home, his car died and we walked for miles in the middle of the night before a truck driver stopped to give us a ride. With a machete in my pants. Just in case, you know?
I walked three miles along I-10 an hour from El Paso with a machete in my pants at two in the morning because our car broke down (This was the one trip I didn’t make solo.). Who knows what could have happened instead of my first and only ride in an eighteen wheeler?
And dribs and drabs here and there in between.
Like when Mel at Stirrup Queens asked us who we’d like to call that we can’t just pick up the phone and call.
I would like to call the friend I met on mIRC about twelve years ago who took me on his road trip to California. It wasn’t until we were on our way back that I found out why I had to badger him so much to pick me up. He was planning on suicide, but changed his mind when I went. I received a wedding announcement from him almost a year after our trip with a picture of him and his wife, but that’s the last I’ve heard. I hope he’s doing well, and still beating his depression.
Mel and I had an email exchange about my comment, back then in 2011. I dug through my emails for twenty minutes tonight searching for it so I could tell her what I’d learned, with the context.
The whole reason I was determined to find him was my plan to write a memoir about our road trip. And now I have to write it. I have to do it right, and I have to do it well.
I’m sitting here on my brother-in-law’s couch writing this post, and Rammstein comes on: one of the bands in our massive CD playlist from the trip to California.
It’s just–I miss him so much more now that I know I can’t talk to him or send him a Facebook message. It’s so final. I cried for an hour. There’s a hole that I didn’t know was there before.
I’m missing the co-author of the machete in my pants story.
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.
She had such a collection at her house, and when we lost her, we learned how well she had paid attention to each of us over the years, and knew exactly which one to pass on to which grandkid and great-grandkid.
I always pretended I was the little girl, bringing my pet goose with me for a walk. Grandma remembered that, and it helps me to remember her. I miss her, but she still puts a smile on my face.
Today’s Daily Prompt:
Tell us all about the person you were when you were sixteen. If you haven’t yet hit sixteen, tell us about the person you want to be at sixteen.
When I was sixteen…my husband was nine.
We always have such a laugh about the 80s and 90s because of our seven-year age difference.
But no, that’s not the topic at hand.
When I was sixteen…oh. That’s the year I changed. I started out sweet and shy and studious and straight as an arrow.
By the time my seventeenth birthday rolled around, I was still mostly shy. But I was also angry and apathetic and angsty.
I was raped when I was sixteen, and that’s a pretty shit thing to happen to a girl. Or to anyone. I didn’t tell anyone; I didn’t have anyone to tell. My mother would have blamed me. She would still blame me, if I told her today.
I was angry about that, about being raped and about how I knew I would be treated because I’d seen it happen to other girls. Even though I wore hoodies and jeans and off-brand Timberlands and not much makeup at all. I was a girl, and I went to the wrong school.
And then I didn’t care anymore for a while, but sometimes I wanted to care.
We rolled the school once, and it was amazing. The cool kids invited me and included me and treated me like a person. I cared that day, and it felt good. I cared when we all got in trouble, because I was part of something, instead of just the quiet girl who slept in class. The principal called us all into the auditorium, because there was about thirty of us, and he saw me. I know it was because he had never seen me before.
That was a good day.
We got evicted when I was sixteen; that was my fault, indirectly. I used to be friends with a girl downstairs whose mother was friends with the apartment manager. We fought, and her mother complained about me enough, and lied about me enough, that we had to find somewhere else to live. She said I would walk up and down the street drunk.
I didn’t; it was still a few months before I started binge drinking.
But the week of Thanksgiving we did not visit my stepfather’s family as planned; we moved. And we had Short Stop burgers for Thanksgiving dinner.
This sounds so horrible, but it wasn’t, really. Not as much as it sounds now.
I had my little brother. He was two, and he was amazing. He was so adorable and wet-chinned. We were besties.
I spent three weeks of my summer at nerd camp, taking Expository Writing, typing up essay after essay to voluminous praise.
I don’t need sixteen back, though. Twenty-two was so much better.