A Typical Conversation
“Good morning!” I said in a sing-song voice when he walked into the classroom, feet dragging softly along the floor. The frown he had been sporting when he entered the room dissipated at the sound of my voice, and I offered a smile in return. We sat in the back corner of the class, and he took his seat behind me as usual, slumping back in his chair. I turned to face him. It’s true that sitting side-by-side may have been easier, but we had taken these seats on the first day of school and I wasn’t about to change things up.
“So, how was your weekend?” I attempted conversation.
He shrugged and said, “It was fine. I went driving. But check out this app on my phone; it can measure your heart rate and test your stress level.” He instructed me to place my finger on the screen and hold it there for a minute. I used the back of my chair to cut off circulation so that he would think I was a vampire. It wasn’t like I needed an app to tell me that I was stressed; I had severe anxiety, so it wasn’t exactly a secret.
The bell rang, interrupting our discussion on the state of my vampire-ness. I turned to face our teacher as she explained that it would be a light tutoring day; most teachers didn’t assign essays during the winter months because of all of the snow days, and a lot of tutees cancelled sessions anyways. We were told to work on our writing portfolios, but the instant she sat at her desk, the class felt free to do whatever they wanted. The boy next to me worked on his pre-calculus homework, as he did every day without fail. I turned back around.
“Have you checked your Twitter feed?” I asked, watching him scroll through it as I said the words.
“You’re about to ask me about politics,” he said with a sigh. “Don’t even get me started. You know exactly what I’m going to say.”
“But it’s fun to talk about politics!”
“Emily, we’ll just argue.”
“It’s called debating,” I retorted.
“Not the way you ‘debate.’ You’re like some crazy person that thinks she’ll explode if people don’t agree with her.”
“That’s absurd. You’re just mad because I’m a conservative and you’re a liberal. I can’t change your mind; you can’t change mine; wouldn’t it be fun to just discuss it?”
“No, it wouldn’t be fun. It’s the same conversation every time. I say, ‘Trump said something stupid,’ and you say something angry about Hillary Clinton, and then I say that your party is backing a racist, xenophobic jerk, and then you concede that while that may be true in this case, not all of the Republican Party is like that.” He looked at me pointedly.
I shrugged. “Well, you nailed that one. Nice work; you could be the next Sherlock Holmes.” That got a smile out of him, and I beamed in return. I turned to my own phone and scrolled through my own feed, looking for something stupid to talk about.
After a moment, he said, “You know, if Trump wins the election, I’m going to move to Canada.” I had heard that one before, so I didn’t even look up.
“Say hi to Justin Trudeau for me.”
“You know he’s a liberal, right?”
With a small smile, I replied, “That doesn’t change the fact that he’s really cute.” He laughed a nice laugh that warmed my soul and filled me with enough happiness to quell the storm of anxiety that tended to rear its ugly head around lunchtime.
“Did you just call the Prime Minister of Canada cute?” His mock-incredulity made me giggle.
“I’m just calling it how I see it. I can’t help it if I like his face!”
My shoulder partner looked up from his pre-calculus homework and asked, “So when’s the wedding?” My face burned red.
“We’re not dating.” My smile had vanished. His had too. We both looked back down at our phones, allowing an uncomfortable silence to drape itself over us like a wet blanket. I picked up my signature blue ballpoint pen and tried to get some writing done, and I heard the scratch of his pencil behind me.
Finally, after several minutes of silence, he said, “‘and in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.’” I was still facing forward, so he didn’t see the smile bloom on my face like a sunflower.
“The Truman Show,” I replied. It was his favorite movie. When I turned back around, he had a Harambe meme pulled up on his phone, ready for me to look at.
Our friendship was predictable. Not every conversation was a stupid one; in fact, we had a lot of serious conversations. He was my best friend, so he knew everything there was to know about me. We became friends in October of that year, and there was a lot of ground to cover. We talked constantly and about everything, the way friends should. Now that he’s gone, I don’t know what to do with all of this stuff saved up inside of me. There is so much that I wish I could tell him, but I can’t, and that’s hard. It’s like I’m in a foreign country and I want to buy something but all I have are pennies which are entirely useless, not just in foreign countries but literally everywhere because they are a stupid form of currency. I just want to spend my pennies but I can’t and that’s so frustrating.
I couldn’t help but feel robbed when I found out. I hadn’t been able to say goodbye. I lost the person who knew everything about me, good and bad, and still put up with me and cared about me. I lost my closest confidant. He was supposed to graduate from high school with me, and buy lottery tickets with me on the first day of summer after our senior year. He never kissed a girl or went to prom, never bought his own car or opened a college acceptance letter. And now, every time I do something that I know he never had the chance to do, I feel guilty. I wish the guilt is the hardest thing to deal with because it isn’t something that I experience all the time. But the hardest part is the acceptance, realizing that he really is gone, trying to come to terms with the new reality. Grief never really ends, we just learn how to manage it and live with it.
He and I had many a conversation about Harambe and Trump and Justin Trudeau and The Truman Show. We talked about romance and books and movies and songs, about our childhoods and our futures. Those beautiful, stupid conversations never truly leave. The warmth of his smile is still there when I need it. I never realized that there was the possibility of a future without him in it, but his presence is still everywhere. His memory never fades.
“Who’s that cute frog on the unicycle?” I asked, looking at his phone screensaver.
“That’s ‘dat boi.’ It’s a new meme,” he answered with fake exasperation.
“So it’s like a cute version of that other frog?” I joked. He attempted to mask his smile with a sigh, and I knew that I had succeeded in making him laugh. I waited another moment, and he finally chuckled. I grinned.
“Maybe we should actually do some work?” He wondered aloud.
“Never. Want to hear about the time I got in trouble for stealing an eraser from this snotty girl in my fourth grade class?”
“Of course,” he laughed, “You know I love our conversations.”