“They’re going to hate me.”
I laughed at you for that. “Pffft, no, they won’t.”
“Oh yes, they will.”
Because that’s how it works to you, how it’s always worked — friends of your exes hate you; it’s just how it goes.
It’s a good thing we’re not exes, then.
Even though “I feel like I should add you to my list of exes,” I said, watching while you self-consciously sorted and folded your laundry, hanging up one shirt at a time in that closet by your bathroom. “Because this feels like a breakup even though we never dated.”
“I don’t wanna add you to my list of exes.” You shook out another t-shirt. “That’s basically a list of people who really really hate my guts.”
“Fine.” I grinned. “You can put me on a different list.”
“You just…kind of exist in your own…separate, special space.” You looked down at the t-shirt you were folding, then turned and tucked it away on a shelf.
Yeah. That’s me. And now you too.
A friend of mine suggested that the word for it is “fling,” but that doesn’t do it justice in the slightest, doesn’t encompass everything we were, everything we became, everything we can’t be anymore. “Well, then you come up with a better word,” my friend joked.
“I don’t need a word. I know what it was. I don’t need a nice neat label for it.”
“What was it?”
“It was a friendship that we had to end because we both wanted more from it.”
There’s no word for it. It’s a lacuna. (I know you know what that means. If you don’t remember, just ask Hank Green to remind you.)
A different friend tried to solve the dilemma mathematically —
“Say it’s an omega function, where N is your desire to not have kids, and L is the amount you like someone, so if L is less than N—”
But it doesn’t work like that. The amount that I like you is not quantifiable. And my desire not to have kids isn’t quantifiable either. They’re both infinities.
“Well, if they’re both infinities, then the omega function is useless and I pulled it out for nothing. And the omega function does not like that.”
Oh boo hoo, the omega function will have to get over itself.
I bet that’s a sentence you’ve never seen in a love letter before.
I keep trying to think of a song that captures all of it, but nothing fits anymore. Not even the one I sang you a couple weeks ago. There are lines here and there from lyrics ranging from youtube originals (“We just don’t fit each other’s frequencies”) to country ballads (“I don’t love you any less/But I can’t love you anymore”) to out-of-context Adam Lambert (“Do you know what you got into/Can you handle what I’m about to do/Cuz it’s about to get rough with you”), but none of them are really about everything.
Makes me wonder if should write one myself. But I don’t want to write a song about this. I just want to write this.
I don’t know if you’re okay with this being posted, honestly. But I need to do this. I need to reduce you to something quantifiable, to just one more Facebook note, one more post. A mental exercise of pulling together various puzzle pieces of two years and transmuting them into art. I can’t just let you exist as this amorphous unquantifiable infinity. You blot things out with music and I blot things out with words. I need you to just be words on a screen. So I hope you can forgive me.
I want to write about the things I want to remember. Even I know I need to forget them.
I want to remember everything we were before we caught fire and burned out. I need to remember that we were so much more than just how we ended.
I want to remember the first time we met, when you were handing out those random surveys for some random class and apologizing right and left for doing it.
I want to remember the first time we really hung out, two years ago, seeing the zom-rom-com “Warm Bodies” with our friends, and sitting next to you and knowing you liked me in your quiet, repressed way.
I want to remember how you first put my number into your phone as “Essem” because you were a tiny bit tipsy and thought that was funny. (It’s okay; I was sober and I thought so too.)
I want to remember immediately establishing that we could not date because of our incompatible goals regarding children, and I want to remember you finally telling me so recently how much you appreciated me being so upfront about it. (“I love how straightforward you are. It’s such a breath of fresh air.”)
I want to remember how we fell out of touch, fell back in touch, and stayed in touch, with all those facebook messaging conversations when you were going through your various and sundry crises. Like cologne. Remember cologne and how much you were freaking out about which one to get to impress some girl you barely knew? (And then she dumped you anyway. Classic you. Sorry.)
I want to remember how for the longest time I thought you thought I was a narcissist and didn’t like that about me. Turns out you kinda do now. Turns out you kinda think it’s adorable. You kinda think I’m adorable.
I want to remember how I came to feel that you were too young for me, too green and lacking experience, that you couldn’t really be the kind of emotional support I needed, so I didn’t think of you “that way.”
I want to remember how much of your history, your baggage, and your pain you entrusted me with, and how you said you’ve never regretted it.
I want to remember how protective I felt of you, trying to caution you against getting too attached to your newest crushes too fast, because of how badly that always works out for you. Not that our slow burn wound up being that much better.
I want to remember all the times I knew all I had to do if I wanted a meal for Shabbos was ask you where you were going, because you were always happy to bring me along or direct me to other viable possibilities. I met so many people because of you; I’m not even sure I can count them all.
I want to remember introducing you to my friends, who were always so impressed at my ability to summon a dude to balance the gender ratio at a meal.
I want to remember how you were sweet even when you were drunk, like that time when I told you I thought the guy I liked was interested in a friend of mine and not in me, and you were all, “man, that sucks. But hey, you don’t know for sure, maybe he does like you.” (You were right. He did like me.)
I want to remember helping you move, how I volunteered to stay by the truck and flirt with anyone to distract them from stealing your stuff, because why yes, I am a narcissist. And I want to remember how you let me be the one to put your bedframe back together after the move because you know how much I love using tools.
I want to remember the night when you messaged me when you were coming apart at the seams, and I knew better than to let you go through it alone. I want to remember how when I showed up, you’d wrapped yourself in a blanket on the edge of your bed, fidgeting and twitching, and I remember how I couldn’t find my usual even, logical tone and that everything that left my mouth was vitriolic and furious because I was so pissed at whoever had hurt you like this.
I want to remember that time I met a great girl and thought she’d be perfect for you, but then I discovered that she was, alas, already married. Sigh. I don’t think I even mentioned that one to you, but you knew I kept an eye out for you, and you’d thanked me for doing that.
I want to remember introducing you to the Vlogbrothers youtube channel, and how you liked Hank more than John, because…well, of course you do.
I want to remember all the times we spent marathoning TV shows together, and how comfortable I felt with you, and I didn’t doubt that we’d be friends for long enough to watch the million bazillion things on our lists. I hope you still get to watch them all someday, even though I don’t remember what they all are.
I want to remember how you never made me feel like I had to impress you, how 90% of the time we’ve spent together, I’ve worn no makeup and been in sweatshirts and baggy t-shirts and my shapeless automotive school uniform shirt, and you still think I’m pretty.
I want to remember the first time after we finished an episode that you actually paused and asked, “So, how are things?” I think it was the first personal conversation we ever had that wasn’t about a crisis, just about you and me and our boring lives.
I want to remember how appalled I was when I found out people had stopped setting you up because they thought you and I were dating. I was so horrified at the thought that I might have gotten in the way of you finding your soulmate.
I want to remember the first time I let you see me bleed, the first time I truly relinquished my role as the supporter and became the supportee, how you stayed up an hour past midnight texting me even though you were exhausted and had work the next day, trying to help me stop crying.
I want to remember how I knew I had to tell you that my feelings for you were changing. I remember how tense I was, but how I knew that if I just talked to you, we would work together to figure out a next step. I knew you wouldn’t just bail.
I want to remember how when I started my rambling explanation of how my feelings sometimes do wonky things without my consent, you blurted out, “You still like me, right?” Oh you. Never for a second thinking that the problem was that I liked you too much.
I want to remember how when I decided I needed space from you, you gave it without question, and I want to remember how when we got back in touch, you were like, “Gosh, it’s been so long. How long has it been?” It had been ten days. Only ten days.
I want to remember how glad I was when we were able to talk about your dating life again without it being painful to me. How I gave you advice and how annoyed I got at all these girls who wouldn’t give you the time of day.
I want to remember how I finally broke it open, how after watching an episode where a character gives a big epic speech about choices and regrets, I turned to you and confessed that I wonder if I’ll wind up with regrets about us, and you said you do too, and that really opened the door to us thinking about and admitting how much we want to be with each other.
I want to remember how you said you felt so lucky, “because so many guys go after you, and you don’t want them back. I don’t know if I deserve it, but I’ll take it.”
I want to remember that time you told me not to come over, because you worried that being around me would just make you feel frustrated about all the things you couldn’t have.
I want to remember the last time I came to see you, how part of me knew it was the last time. I kept my eyes glued to the wheels of your swivel chair while I struggled for words, before finally picking up my head, looking you straight in the eye, and just telling you for the first time, “I love you.”
I want to remember how I didn’t wash my hair because I thought that being all oily and gross would make it easier for you not to feel tempted to touch me. And you rolled your eyes at how ridiculous I was to think that there is anything I could possibly do that would make you not want to touch me.
I want to remember how you had that zit on your face, and I pointed it out because I do that, I point out the elephants in the room to get them out of the way. “Don’t worry, I like you even if you have a zit.” You laughed because it was such an understatement. And then I tried to reassure you by telling you what terrible skin I have, and you looked at my bare hands and forearms in utter confusion, so I specified, “My face, I have terrible skin on my face.” “Oh, sure, your face is terrible. I am so not attracted to your face.” And I laughed because it was such a lie.
I want to remember how while those last hours together ticked by, you asked me quietly, “Is it okay that I keep looking at you? I like looking at you.” Of course. Of course it’s okay. And I told you about the first time I thought I noticed you repeatedly looking at me, and how I told myself it was in my head, that I was only seeing what I wanted to see. “I don’t think it was in your head,” you said. “Yeah, I don’t think so either,” I said.
I want to remember how when it was all over, you walked me home for the last time, at 3 AM in the rain. And somehow we were just quoting Galaxy Quest back and forth. And laughing.
I want to remember us like that.
I want to remember
I want to remember
I need to remember all of it. Because the end came so fast that it’s a blur, and it’s so easy to feel like that torrent of feelings that tore us apart wasn’t real. And I can’t let myself believe that I broke us over something that wasn’t even real.
You asked me at one point why we keep doing these things to ourselves, getting ourselves into these situations where we just get hurt.
I murmured in your ear, “I’m just too much of a masochist. It’s in my name.”
It took a second for that joke to land, but when it did, you laughed like I knew you would, a more genuine laugh than I’d heard from you in days. A laugh that trickled out into an “…Oh god.”
Oh god, you were gonna miss me.
Oh god, I’m gonna miss you.
Oh god, I’m so sorry.
“They’re going to hate me.”
No, they won’t.
I’ll write you into my history, and they’ll see how much you meant to me, and they’ll never hate you.