Saturday, August 8, 2015

the monsters turned out to be just trees

I walked out and said I'm setting you free
"Keep in touch, I can't wait to see the person you become." I was tracing the word "best" on the condensation of the van window ten months after those words had been written when it finally occurred to me that we didn't stay in touch after all. It was past midnight and everyone else in the van was asleep by then, but instead of letting the warmth from my Calvin Klein parka and the heater on full blast lull me to sleep too, I let my mind wander because I wanted to understand what I did wrong.

I used to wonder if things would have been different if I made more of an effort to meet you half-way but now I realize that maybe it wouldn't. Falling out was inevitable but I was too young to know that back then. For a while I used to daydream about what I would say to you if we saw each other again, but then one day I did see you and you walked straight past me as if I wasn't even there and that's when I knew that I would never be able to ask you if I made you proud with what I'd accomplished and who I became. I kind of wish that was the last time we crossed paths but of course it wasn't.

I tried to write to you once, over a year since the last time you wrote me back. A part of me kept hoping that entire year that your next letter was on its way but as the months went by and no letter appeared in my mailbox I started to accept that maybe you weren't going to write me back anymore. It had been four years since we last saw each other in person, but you were still one of my closest friends and I wanted to talk to you more than ever. I had so many things to tell you about, so I decided I might as well try writing to you again. Even though I had your address memorized, I double-checked it with one of the dozens of letters you sent me in the past just in case. I needed to make sure that my letter got to you.

It didn't.

I got it back a week later, the words "WRONG ADDRESS" stamped across the bottom of the envelope. A few months later, someone at school told me that he heard you moved away but he couldn't remember where it was you said you were going. I hoped that wherever you went, you still kept the letters I wrote you all those years ago. I still have all of yours, including the one that said: "say you'll never leave me...that we'll always be friends."

But the monsters turned out to be just trees

Some of the most important goodbyes I've said are ones where I didn't recognize that this was it, this was the last time we'll share something like this again. Those are the most merciless kinds of partings because it takes months after the fact that the moment or conversation was really the end: too much has changed for us to go back to the people we once were when we used to share the same space, and once you do move on it becomes that much more difficult to go back again. It took me too long to realize I couldn't keep holding out hope forever for a chance to return to that space before with all the people I eventually lost. I thought that the lack of a formal acknowledgment of goodbye was akin to pressing pause when I should have known that there is no such thing: the reel plays on because time stops for no one.

But then there are the goodbyes we say that we're hyperaware of, those daunting, imminent, epic goodbyes that you start dreading the second you realize that the moment will end. There are procedural niceties to be exchanged, promises to cherish what you once shared. Sometimes you really do intend to keep those promises: stay in touch, I'd love to hear from you / if I'm ever in town we better make time to catch up / don't forget me / you know this isn't the last time we'll see each other, right? / I'll always remember this

please don't forget me.

By the time we finally formalized our goodbye I was exhausted. I had to let go of more people and places and memories that week than ever and even though I wrote you the things I want you to remember me for three months earlier, it didn't hit me that this was the end of the line until we didn't make any promises we couldn't keep. This was it, indefinitely. This is where we go our separate ways. I didn't know what to do with the restlessness that followed; I didn't understand why I insisted on walking so far when I could have taken the bus instead; I didn't realize I would be facing one week without food until I finally got home by mid-afternoon, too exhausted to even close the blinds and block out the unrelenting rays of sunshine from my west-facing window.

I discovered Marina and the Diamonds' "Obsessions" that week of our goodbye, a song that is at once invasive, anxious, and tenderly vulnerable. The Family Jewels is an album of unforgiveness, but the monstrosity of ambition is precisely the point. That album and this song in particular had a way of reminding me that as much as I would like for everything about myself to be clever and pretty, I am also a product of every nasty thought that bugs me every day of every week. I found myself in the erratic lyrics that didn't seem to know which story to tell, only to settle on giving glimpses at all of them: the result is fragmented, confused, partial. And yet the music video of "Obsessions" is the exact opposite: it centers around the literal piecing together of nonsensical metal bars and fairy lights forming the artist's titular diamond by the time last night's love affair is looking vulnerable again. It doesn't matter how scattered the pieces of ourselves we give to other people end up being: goodbyes, no matter how mundane, complete us just as much as new beginnings can make us see the things we never knew were missing from our lives to begin with.
When the sun came up you were looking at meAs much as I wish that time I saw you outside the public library was the end of our particular story, life has a funny way of not adhering to the neat little narratives I like to tell myself. In my mind I had already said goodbye to you (probably at least half a dozen times) before the afternoon you quite literally walked back into my life like you'd never even left. I always associate that afternoon as the end of an era, but the thing you have to understand is that it wasn't as much about you as it was about me. I no longer needed your pretty words anymore even though I clung to all those new promises you made (and didn't keep) all the same. Our paths crossed yet again through a coincidence of mutual friends not too long ago, but each time I mentally say goodbye to you I am even more sure that what made this particular relationship important is that it simply couldn't exist beyond the time and space we used to have in common. 
I sometimes wonder if you still have that picture of me beneath the faded letters taped to the third-story window. 

"I was looking through some old things and I found that letter you first gave me and I thought I need to get in touch with Vivian, I miss her!"

6 years, 860 miles, and even different names stood between us when you finally found and got in touch with me on social media last fall. We stopped writing right before either of us had convenient access to the internet, and even though I tried to look for you over the years I didn't know I was searching for the wrong name until you told me your story. A part of me still can't believe that we managed to reconnect in spite of everything, and when I went home in December I pulled out the mooncake box I kept all your letters in from underneath my bed and reread them all.

"Don't forget me when you get famous or something," you joked once. As if I'm the kind of person who forgets people that easily. I promise I'll still remember you if/when I go on to do big things.

I hope you're well.

xoxo, vivianPhotos taken on a hike on the Strawberry Canyon Fire Trails in Berkeley, CA | July 2015.

1 comment:

  1. OMG you used the pictures from our hike & tswizzle lyrics ��