Different Lives

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Izzy is really into excavating everything right now. The other day, I walked in my bedroom to find a pink envelope laying in the middle of the floor. I opened it up and found that it was a letter my ex had sent along with flowers for my college graduation. I was on the ten-year college plan, in and out of school and work, so by the time I graduated, my ex and I were old enough that he was already married and I was living with my fiancee. Still, my ex and I remained close, despite the fact that we now lived on opposite sides of the country. For more than a decade after we broke up, he was one of my very best and most valued friends. I always knew he was there, no matter what.

It wasn’t until my brother died that our friendship started to drift. I didn’t hear from the ex for several months until, finally, I called him.

“Where have you been?” I asked. What I was really saying (but didn’t) was, “I needed you.”

“I wanted to give you your space,” he replied. I’m sure that what he was really saying was, “I didn’t know what to do.”

All I could think was, “You are a coward.”

I was hurt by the silence, so I allowed distance to come between us. We never fell totally out of contact, but our friendship was certainly not a constant like it had once been. In fact, even when we ended up living in the same city again several years later, I saw him all of once.

Reading that letter reminded me of what a big figure he used to be in my life. It reminded me not that I had loved him, but that I do love him. Not in a romantic way—that hasn’t been the case in a long time. Perhaps in an even deeper way at this point. He came around at such a pivotal time in my life right as I stood on the threshold of adulthood, and impacted who I would become. I had always walked a straight and narrow path, but he showed me how to let down my hair and have fun; how to embrace the ridiculous and turn even everyday situations into an adventure. Even if he wasn’t there when Nick died, we’ve been through a lot together—more than two decades’ worth of life.

I texted him and told him about the letter that Izzy had found. I told him that I missed him, and I was sad we had drifted. “We used to be so close. But you’re still one of my favorite people,” I wrote. I had barely put my phone back down before his name popped up on my screen. We talked for more than an hour, about big stuff and stupid stuff. It reminded me of who we had been so long ago when we first met, and alternately tripped me out by how we have both evolved, and provided some comfort and solace in the things that remain the same. What I found through this conversation is that everything in our friendship is exactly how we left it. Sure, our lives have moved forward, but the connection is still there. Our history is still there. We are still there.

I found myself wondering why I had never reached out to him when we lived in the same city a few years ago. I had so desperately needed a friend and a safe place. He has always been that. Still, never once did it occur to me to run to him. I know that he would have been there—he would have taken me in, he would have gotten me out of my situation, he would have done anything. Looking back, I suspect it’s because there was a sense of shame. After all, we had once dated and he would have never treated me the way I was currently being treated. I guess maybe there was part of me that didn’t want him to see that, to see what I had become. He is someone who I have always wanted to be proud of me. And, up until that point, I knew he was. Even if I didn’t feel like the same girl he had dated and been friends with for so long, I still wanted him to think I was that person. I needed to hold on to her however I could.

After my ex and I got off of the phone, I went and pulled out that old box Izzy had discovered. It was full of trinkets and notes and cards and photos from my life in Cambridge and New York from 2003 to 2006. Many of the people represented in there are no longer around—some people have died, others are no longer in my life, and even the ones who are have evolved immensely since that time. There has been so much life in the past twelve years. As I looked through the box I realized that, in many ways, it didn’t even feel like I was looking through my own past. It felt more like sifting through the sentimental remnants of someone else’s past. It was a past that I knew well, but I was just an observer. It was strange.

The whole experience made me realize that, almost before I know it, right now will fade into “back then” as well. The days will all muddle into a sweeping memory of places and people and situations that were. I will know how everything that I’m in the thick of right now turned out in the end. And I will look back affectionately at this version of me who still had so much to learn.