An Old Friend, or how I forgot how to love

Another old memory, for old time’s sake.


So what do we do now? she asks me, as all the world crumbles into a single point right beyond the dashboard. It’s a Saturday night, and we’re sitting in her car in the middle of a church parking lot. We’ve come here tonight to talk about the end. We’re seventeen. This is the last time we meet.

The first words out of her mouth: We’re just friends, okay?

Ah.

This again.

The funniest thing is, we’ve been through this before.  Both of us already know how this is going to end.

We were doomed from the start.

We’re fifteen. This is the first time we meet. Her name’s Tamara. She’s a photographer; she’s gorgeous. Tolstoy’s prophecy in the flesh. Meeting her’s like coming home after a long trip: in her, every warm comfort and gentle solace, the only bulwark from an ocean of grief and madness. I fall in love for the second time in my life – my heart in revolt. This is the girl, I tell everyone. She’s the one.

But on paper, it’s just another teenage fling – complete with awkward fumblings, flitting almost-glances, and embarrassed half-smiles. We watch some movies; we talk about things that don’t matter. We last about as long as the average shelf life of high-school romances permits. And then we break up.

Just friends.

The end.

What happens now? she asks again, tearfully.

Oh, Tammy. My love.

I can’t help but reach over to brush her hair from her eyes. She leans into me and falls into my arms. I have no choice but to catch her. I’m trapped.

What do I do?

Everybody tells me we’re destined to fail. My mother tells me I’m too young to know what love is. My best friend tells me that what’s failed before will only fail again. Another friend tells me to just dump the heartless bitch for good. Tammy herself tells me that we’ve tried it before, and look how that turned out. They’re all right, of course.

I should just walk away.

I should just give up, push her away. Take off my seatbelt, get out. Slam the car door in her face. Walk as far as possible, don’t look back. Forget her.

I should – but I can’t.

What does it mean to fight against fate? To stare inevitable defeat in the eye and say, NO? Some act of titanium-willed resolve, perhaps? A steely-eyed martyr with an unflinching gaze professing his faith before a firing squad?

But I am no holy warrior. I am dying for no cause. I’m just a kid wanting to love again but still too scared of getting hurt.

Oh, my sweet love. At last. My hope.

What do I do? If I fail you again –

We can’t keep dragging on, she says. We’re never going to work out. I need to do this before we repeat the same mistake. Before we mess up again. She tries to hold my eye, but her gaze falters. You know this needs to happen, she whispers. But her voice betrays her. She speaks of resolution, but she’s just as confused. Just as terrified.

She has no idea what she’s doing either.

A long silence follows. We came here tonight to make a decision, but we don’t speak with the confidence of people offering ultimatums. We speak with the fear of two stupid kids paralyzed by uncertainty, flinching before the firing squad, too weak to declare our faith. It will be the death of us.

The things I have to tell her. The things I hope she’ll hear. There are so many –

We’ll never be together, everyone said – and they’re right. And suddenly, I realize.

So what if they’re right?

Who cares?

She starts to ask again, but I hold my finger to her lips.

Shh.

I take her hand. I hold her close. We hang on to each other for dear life, and we wait for the enemy guns to cut us to ribbons.

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