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Ten years had passed since I’d seen him. Ten years. There was a time when we spoke every day; we visited each other often—sometimes monthly—and we were very much a part of each other’s lives. Time can get to the best of friendships, though. Something happens and that last phone call never manages to reconnect again. Soon you say, “I need to call him,” but it never happens and that pause lengthens into days, months, and then years. Before long, the thought of contacting him has metamorphosed into discomfort. The discomfort disappears, though, as various other people float in and out of your life to distract the inner feelings. Little triggers make you jump now and then, and there’s a shot in the arm of sadness from the memory of him, but it fades quickly.
Then, on one very normal Tuesday, out of the blue, I received a text message from said stranger advising me that he’d be in Phoenix for some conference, and that he’d like to see me. An awkward question mark ballooned in my head as I wondered how this could be happening. We weren’t supposed to reach out to each other after so many years of adjusting to the discomfort. In response, I say, “Sure,” and we agree to meet for sushi in a week.
The week flies by, of course, and various memories fill my head all the while that I’d once discarded in a mental filing cabinet somewhere. Things begin to resurface that seemed unreal; things that were so deep within that I had to double-check if they actually existed. And then, as I prepared for our dinner, I conjured up so many questions; simple questions, and complex ones all the same. Realistically, though, I guess there was only really one question that I needed an answer on.
We awkwardly shook hands when I picked him up at his hotel. He had strong hands, and he looked the exact same as I remembered him. His dress style was the exact same as the last time I’d seen him, except that he now wore glasses. Immediately, I told myself that I like him in glasses, and suddenly I felt 22 again and pining after somebody who didn’t want my pining to begin with. It felt different now, though. I somehow felt stronger and held a clearer disposition. I thank maturity for that one. Fortunately for me, however, there wasn’t an awkward silence like I thought there would be; it was like we were still best friends after all this time. We still had that same boyish connection. This is how it would be if we still talked regularly, I thought, and if he wasn’t just somebody that I used to know.
Dinner was filled with strolls down memory lane in every which direction. Spicy tuna rolls, inside jokes and discussions of childhood follies seemed to rule the majority of the evening. We also talked coldly about life’s big moments that we had both missed out on; his wedding, the birth of his two kids, his home in northern California. I discussed my degrees, coming out of the closet, finding an amazing boyfriend—after dating countless losers—and the huge focus on my career. All the while, though, I knew what we both were thinking as little moments of silence surfaced between us every now and then; I knew we were asking ourselves why there was this empty galaxy between us now, and—more importantly—if were we happy with it.
After dinner, I knew his answer. When I dropped him back at his hotel, he sat in the passenger seat, not really even moving. He stared straight ahead with tears in his eyes as he confessed that he wasn’t happy with his life. Nothing in his life seemed right, he said. His marriage, his career, the people around him; they just didn’t work. He told me that he needed me around more. He valued our friendship the same as he did when we were kids. He told me that it upset him when I wasn’t at his wedding. Softly, I confessed that I threw out the invitation when I got it. He didn’t ask why. Instead, he asked if I’d continue to reach out more. I nodded.
As he exited the vehicle and we gave each other a hug, I knew I’d never see him again. I was lying about reaching out to him in the future; it’d be pointless and masochistic. I knew that our childhood memories would be the only breath of life between us. He’d probably never be in Phoenix again, and I’d never see any part of his life in that small California town. As hard as it was, that was my answer. Sometimes friends just grow apart, whether it’s because of grown-up commitments or altering personalities, but other times there is the more unfortunate ending and your old friend just has to become somebody that you used to know.