So you see your friend again after a long time. You spend a day, maybe two — should’ve been five, a week, a month, maybe you should’ve never left again anymore — perfecting the art of tolerance — a relationship built on stone.
Where does sand come from, your friend asks.
You walk around a different city full of foreign avenues and unfamiliar forks in the road, enter a nondescript antique shop with a hidden book store, spontaneously decide to attend an event an hour away, make unexpected acquaintances, run out of money for the fare home, wish you were richer while thinking on your dinner. Right as you round the corner you see a mother and her child, sharing a siopao.
You question the meaning of home, and city, and friend.
The book store smell lingers; vanilla, dust, what seems like traces of coffee and hot chocolate. You pull out the book you bought — aged, tattered around the edges, the veins in its bent spine telling of the life it had before you — and find a signature.
To Charlee, it said, so maybe you wouldn’t forget.
sometimes it feels so far away, those days when i’d hang out with friends in that corner of our school with the huts, reading out loud to each other, and playing poker and getting caught, and playing tag around the football field, and sitting in the middle of that same field telling stories with flashlights shining on our faces, and getting told off by school guards because “there are snakes there, they might bite”, and claiming corners of the library for dnd while trying our hardest not to burst out laughing when the stupid bard decides to fight the troll with a song and fucking wins when he rolls a 20, and playing scrabble games at ignatius park under the searing heat of a setting sun just because it’s a space we tried very hard to own, and going ghost hunting at arrupe with a ouija board and a glass and a coin and a lot of disbelief, and sharing music and blasting each other for liking justin bieber and lady gaga and click five and the latest pop song that plays a hundred times a day, and hiding behind library shelves for hours looking for the next great book to read and show to everyone, and drawing ugly doodles of what it’s like for a bunch of bored teenagers looking to make sense of college and life in general, and writing terrible poems with violent line cuts and ugly rhymes and awful imagery, and screaming and cursing and throwing books at each other when the plot twist is revealed, and walking around the city when all the energy dies down and all that’s left is to eat together at mcdonald’s and get told off again for being a bit too rowdy, and going our separate ways but taking way too long to say goodbye because nobody wants to leave but they have sucky curfews and he’s got homework and the other five just really want to sleep, and then doing the exact same things the next day but not in the same order and not in the same way just enough to make it feel like we were doing something with our lives, and knowing that we were doing something with our lives that made us happy, or less lonely at the very least.
Beds are made for unmaking. Midnights are for sleepy secrets. You watch Dead Poets; you could never be one; you are not a poet and you do not try; you cannot die and you do not try. In your dreams you walk in a straight line off a worn path to only gods know where: you call out a name, sometimes, in these dreams; the echoes insult you. There is much work to be done. There is much work to be undone. The universe does not give a damn but I do and you will never know.
At once – yet seemingly decades in the making – the blanket remembers the body it is wrapped around. It is still warm in places no other skins have touched, though coldest where you used to bury your face, to hide from the monsters you think watch you when you sleep. It has been years since you last hid from them; they’ve become bearable somehow, company in the longest and quietest hours, a friend almost.
I don’t sleep well. Haven’t for over three years. Summary prognosis: existential decay; immediate cause: overthinking. I should’ve gone to medical school. Should’ve taken Biology for premed. Should’ve become a brilliant neurosurgeon. Maybe then I’d feel like I’ve done more for the world than it has for me, that I could at least reciprocate its efforts at keeping me alive.
The smell is the same but it doesn’t match the room you wake up in: early morning dew lifting from dusty streets, heat from unventilated rooms, the sweet smell of unfinished brandy. The heart remains vulnerable to such reminiscences, even as the brain constantly flushes it out of the cache. Memory is precious and the mind has too little of it to spare. If a large fraction of memory were to devote itself to the details of a summer years and years ago, it would forget everything else that does not come close – and doubtless nothing ever will.
I accept a lot of my faults, and the few I don’t I chalk up to my stubbornness, which I fully accept. I had imagined a different life for me when I chose to leave: perhaps a different city, perhaps a different person, perhaps a different mind that calls for different things. Perhaps a different heart that calls for different desires. I accept now that I was wrong: I was stubborn to think the human changes with the habitat. The human changes whether they stay in one place or another. Or it doesn’t, particularly when it’s stubborn to a fault, particularly when it sees its stubbornness as an excusable flaw, particularly when stubbornness is the least of its many sad realities.
Turn at the corner where you first met. Look past the lamppost, into the side street where they disappear every afternoon on the way home. Maybe it’s still there, just as it is still here.
I eat facing restaurant entrances now. I pay attention to the sounds of vehicles passing by. I chain my wallet to my belt loop. I sleep with the lights on. I don’t drink enough coffee. I don’t drink enough soda. I stay away from quiet alleys. I watch my steps when I walk alone. I don’t listen to music during daily commutes. I don’t walk for hours on the way home. I don’t wander the city alone.
This place sprawls with people; the faces are not that different, but the often glaring lack of familiar ones is bittersweet.
I asked for this. I love this big city, with its looming towers and skyscrapers and the undying throb of energy even past midnight, but I’ve always hated change and this city is demanding so much of it from me.
I light candles for the parts of me that never get it right.
He argues there has to be a point. She smiles, placating, that’s what they want you to think. A cat walks in their midst, having jumped onto the table, long tail towering over their heads and swaying gently side to side. Meow, the cat says, silencing them both.
Kitty swipes at his King and sends it toppling to the floor; Kitty swipes at her Bishop, which hits her Knight and her Queen, and sends all three pieces falling to her lap. Kitty walks in circles and settles on their chess board for another nap. Together they reach for the cat’s fur and scratch until they hear the purr of contentment; quietly he marvels at his triumph and she marvels at the wonder of his words ever being true.
We need to iron our clothes though. You will iron our clothes, right?
No, why should we iron our clothes, we both burn through them.
Well I burned my uniforms twice. So.