I remember the drawing I did of our apartment in San Francisco when I was 12. The one I thought we’d have one day. A view overlooking the city. A sewing machine. A bookshelf hung on the wall that curved like an s. That was when I still wanted to be a fashion designer, and you an artist. The dream was to move to the city and go to art school, and obviously live together.
I made it to the Bay Area for a degree, but not in fashion. You never made it there.
It took you a while to even get to college. I went right away. I didn’t have a choice. You waited. You had moved back to Pennsylvania, to the creepy brick house with the Horning landlord, and the bedroom with the dusty mustard colored floral print wallpaper. The commercial for the York Art School came on, and you felt that was your sign.
I don’t know how to not be friends with you. You have been a constant in my life for 15 years. I don’t know what to call you anymore. I don’t call you my best friend. You lost that title, but you don’t even feel like a friend anymore. What are you?
You were the kind of friend that was always down for an adventure. Last minute beach trips, late night Wal-Mart excursions, tennis in the rain. You were down for all of it. We got each other because we both loved searching through Goodwill and garage sale-ing.
I remember when it started to fall apart. You’d been with Him for a while. We were sitting on my bed, and you called the school in California, and they told you that they couldn’t offer you scholarships, just a life savings worth of loans. You balked. You panicked. You told me He didn’t want you to move with me to California. I knew then you wouldn’t. That you would choose him over education. That you would choose him over bettering your life. That you would choose him over me.
We have so many inside jokes that I don’t know how to explain to people, to my new friends. How will anyone ever understand “it’s like a sweater for your butt” when referring to soft leggings? I don’t think people will get that. Do you have these problems? Have you had to explain to a new friend one of our ridiculous phrases?
I don’t know if there was anything I could have done differently. I wonder often about that, because this isn’t the first time you’ve made me feel like our friendship was over. I hate that I relied on your friendship, and let you break my heart like this, over and over. I should have let you go years ago.
I remember when I sent you the birthday text. Even though you hadn’t talked to me in almost six months. After you missed my birthday, and Christmas, and me going back to California. I tried to do the right thing. You called the next day. You told me that you and Him had been ‘technically’ homeless for a while. You were living with His brother and sister-in-law, with all their little kids. He had gotten in a car accident. But you never had found the time to call me. I told you, as I paced my bedroom, that it hurt my feelings, that it made me feel like I had done something wrong, that it made me feel like I upset you when I didn’t hear from you for months on end. You said you knew that, but didn’t elaborate. You said, at the end of the call, you’d be better at keeping in touch. That was March, I didn’t hear from you until May.
You and I have had our own language for as long as I can remember. We would start a sentence and the other would answer before it was finished in another fragment. It made everyone around us crazy. They could never understand us, and would miss all the jokes.
I miss it being like that. I miss having you understand me. I hate being the only one speaking our language.
I texted you about the job. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to help you anymore. You had promised that you’d be better about being in contact. But you said that in July, and it was four months later, and I hadn’t heard a word. My friends told me it was the right thing to do.
Sometimes the right thing to do sucks.
I texted you something basic, something generic, something boring like a, “Hey, the place at the bottom of the hill is hiring. Just thought you’d want to know.”
You never responded.
The first time it happened you were dating the other Him, the one we went to high school with, and you ghosted me, the general fade out. It happened so gradually, and so subtly that I didn’t even know it was happening until it was too late. You and I became You and Him. I don’t remember how we made up, but I do remember sitting in the car with my college friend, before we reconciled, crying as she drove through Salem, asking if she would be my maid-of-honor someday when I got married because I didn’t think you would be there for me. I think I was right.
I don’t need you all to myself, but I need us.
I was at Value Village when I saw you last. When I realized that it was really over. I was walking in, you were walking out. You looked up, I saw you, and all I could say was “hi.”
A “Hi” was all you said back, giving your telltale, awkward wave. The one where your hand stays close to your body right at boob height tucked in like a chicken wing, then suddenly you were walking away, quickly in the direction of your vehicle.
The signs said yellow tags were discounted 50% off.
That was when the tears started. At least the ones I’ll talk about. It took me time to reach out. To admit to the hurt. I hid it inside. Until I couldn’t. So I cried. I cried standing outside in the dark night, staring up at a clear sky, and watching my breath make foggy clouds in front of me. I was grieving you, and all the memories. 15 years is a long time — over half of our lives. The grieving was a hybrid grief, somewhere between a breakup and a death.
I don’t want to let go of these moments. It feels like if I stop writing it’s really over.
It’s really, really over. For good.
It’s over for now.
I’m still working on accepting that.
I remember when we first met, sitting outside during the first recess of the day on the steps with the lemon colored edge, staring at each other wondering if we would fit in with all the kids that had been together for years, who had already formed such tight bonds. We were both new 6th graders at Perrydale. Both outsiders. Both weird in our own way. I remember the first time I saw your hair down. You were still Mennonite then, and it was crazy hair day. Your mom had braided your hair into two long French braids that went almost to your butt. You were wearing a yellow t-shirt with a denim skirt and had a tiny paper clothes line on the top of a yellow brimmed hat. It was so creative. But you’ve always been creative.
I don’t know how to not be your best friend. I’ve held the title for so many years. Who am I if I’m not your best friend? I don’t know what that person even looks like. I know that no one will understand. They weren’t your best friend, how could they?
I remember driving back to California when things were kind of rocky before, and thinking as I drove out of Salem on I5, how would I ever survive if something happened to you? What would happened? Who would fill the best friend void if you suddenly died?
This is worse.
I remember the yellow colored dress. I never saw it, but I remember the story, and we always said that I remember the dress better than you do. You had gone back east for one of the Mennonite cousin’s wedding. You and your sister had to stand at the gift table. You had to wear the horrible daffodil colored dresses with all the ruffles. You and your sister had matching ugly dresses. I don’t know why I remember that so well. I never even saw the dress. I just remember sitting at the lunch table in the old gym in the 7th grade and I never forgot that moment.
I ran into someone from high school and had such a strong urge to call you. But why bother? You wouldn’t have answered anyways.
Who will I share my moments with now? How will anyone understand like you did? They don’t know me like you. You know the dark corners and secrets. They don’t.
It’s a daily struggle. Things happen constantly that I want to share with you. People I want to tell you about, stuff I think you would like, and I can’t help but wonder, do you have those moments?
I have a hard time thinking about replacing you. It is a struggle. I know no one will ever fully replace you, they’ll never get it, you know? How will I explain the vortex to someone who can’t feel it? How will I explain Jeremiah K. to someone who would have never have seen him? How will I ever explain to people how sometimes I just know things? That’s where I struggle. I could find another friend, but not someone who understands that side of us.
Who will you go to when it starts to happen again? I hope you know how to handle it now. I hope what happened in Pennsylvania, in the house that was haunted, the house that haunted you, the house next to the graveyard, the house with the window that all the bad things go in through, I hope that doesn’t repeat itself. I hope you’re smart enough to not let it get out of hand.
I hope you leave Him. He can’t treat you the way He does forever. I worry you’ll realize it, but it will be too late — two kids and five years of marriage too late, and you’ll be stuck with a shit degree, two little kids, and a husband who drinks too much and makes shit comments to you, and a house you can’t afford and a car that he’d been saying He would fix for six months, you’ll be stuck and you’ll call me and it’ll be too late.
I was supposed to be the maid-of-honor at your wedding, and your kids and my kids were supposed to grow up together being best friends maybe even ‘cousins.’ We always talked about buying property right next to each other, and building houses with backyards that touched so that your kids could play together, and we would be able to see them from either house and know that they were safe. We could leave our backdoors unlocked, and our kids could run from one house to the other. Mine would be buttercream, and yours white with a pretty accent color on the trim. We would be close enough that we could borrow sugar or milk, or just have a cup of tea in the afternoons while the babies napped.
I don’t think that will ever happen. I don’t think it will ever be something that you could afford, and that makes me so sad. I know how much you wanted a better life for your kids, and for you.
Remember that night that we were eating the cake? The good gooey chocolate cake? And you seamlessly dropped the “in a past life when I was fat” line. So classic. I worry about you, and your body image issues. I still think when you lost all that weight you were starving yourself. I worry. You gained so much of it back. I don’t want you to struggle anymore.
What do you call your best friend when they’re not your best friend anymore?
I think you’re a coward. I think you’ve always been a shit friend, and I just never noticed. I hate how that makes me feel. It makes me feel like I wasted my time. Like I could have saved myself some heartache if I’d figured out more quickly that you weren’t a good friend.
“We’re going to hell,” you said. We sat in the red vinyl booths of the rundown all-you-can-eat buffet in Circus Circus in Reno on a Wednesday. We were full, too full, from traveling for a month. I watched the small Asian grandmother jack a small plastic cup and walk out the door with it.
“Yeah,” I said, “And when we get there our pants won’t fit.” We started to laugh, deliriously.
Do you remember how we planned for the road trip? We got the idea on a Wednesday, and left the following Monday. We just went. Sunglasses on, hands out the window, music loud, and you snapping landscape after landscape picture. I drove, you shot.
There was the sketchy motel in Boise, where you walked around barefoot and your feet turned black on the bottoms, and the shower curtain that we couldn’t decide if the stains were mold or blood — we decided it was better left unsaid, the old man who watched Cops all night with the volume maxed.
Salt Lake City had the overly attentive missionaries, the Mormon secret service, and the guy who was surely homeless with a bomb in his backpack.
“What do you think they make in that factory?” I asked pointing to the big ominous looking building.
“I think that’s where they make the Mormons.”
“Oh my God, Oh my God, he has a gun.” I was pointing to the guy in the truck next to us who had the shotgun propped up in the front seat, “Oh my God, we’re in Utah.”
Wyoming brought snow and negative fourteen degree weather, The Gas Lite motel (lawn animals go to die, with over a hundred scattered around the building), and Altitude Chophouse and Brewery which had fried cheesecake served with dulce de leche ice cream,
“What do you call a person from Wyoming? A wy-gnome-ian?”
The response of the poor confused server, “umm a Wyomingite.”
You and I both slumped, that was not nearly as cool as we thought it was going to be.
In Colorado, there was more snow, our first trip to IKEA, and our stay in Trinidad the allegedly the sex change capital of the world. We saw the Grand Canyon, drove through Sedona, and then stayed in Phoenix for 10 days, where we got stuck in a sandstorm, drove through the desert on an ATV, bought a lot of cacti. We named them, of course, Carlito, Haldor, and the old nose penis cactus.
“Shoot, we were going to go to that nursery, we missed it in our shoe quest.”
“Well, you can’t wear a cactus.”
I celebrated my 22nd birthday, and you found a scorpion in the bathroom.
California brought Encinitas and Cardiff where we dreamed of all our Scandinavian favorites: Torstein, Iikka, Lauri and Eero. We experienced sunny warm beaches, a completely different experience from the Oregon coast which is cold and wet most days. We traveled north to stay with Aunt Jan before heading east to Tahoe.
We saw Kandee Johnson at Target in Carson City, and then ended our trip in Reno where we learned that a day could feel like months when you’re in a place where the lights don’t shut off. We spent a whole month together, day in, day out, and never got sick of each other.
Do you remember the time that we walked to Safeway from my house? It wasn’t that far, maybe a quarter of a mile. But we were only 12, and it was our first time venturing out alone like that. We were so sure that something bad was going to happen, then when that car full of teenage boys pulled in front of us we were sure we were going to get kidnapped or worse. But they were just turning and we made it to the store and back unscathed.
I yelled at the pickup that went out of turn. “Excuse me, sir. You do not have the reet-of-wah!” You laughed, “Yeah stick that up your four by four!” Neither of us made any sense, but everything was understood.
When you moved backed to Pennsylvania, after we graduated high school, I was the last person to know. You waited until you had to tell me, after you had told everyone else, and make them promise not to tell me.
I remember calling you after I got off work. I was going to ask you if there was a time that we could get together before your family left that we could get together one last night, and hug it out. We promised that we’d write, but I wanted more time before you left.
When you answered you said that you were sorry, but you had already left. You felt it was easier that way. It was easier to just ghost out.
I saw the yellows.