I hadn’t seen her in more than 20 years. I had to ask for a hug. She paused, as to think: Did I pack one? She looked the same; her body neither overstuffed nor sickly. Her hair is different. Long & sinuous. And she’s still sexy. Over breakfast, the great shifting of gears of family drama. All centered around her families only boy and his pack of dogs. He was the last to sit at the table, making long strides with New Girlfriend in his wake. He hugged me, auxillary uncle, longtime friend of his aunt and adoptive mother. 27 now. He has kept the same face and eyebrows of his 8 year old self, only now his cheeks run wild with springs of curly hair. Pussy and sake a mystery no longer to his lips. He laughed easily since his mother had all the reasons to frown. And at breakfast she stopped speaking after he sat at the table. She took the check as if it belonged to her and in turn, was offered not even a crumb sized thank you. Anyway, my friend said. Back to me now. And she passed her phone around the table, showing photos of her standing alone at Niagra Falls and photos of her zoo’s white tiger cub since back home she claimed no pets or children. There was a story attached to shots of her brother and mother taken at the same restaurant where years ago she’d once, foolishly, gotten married. Nevermind that, she said. But anyway, she said. We all ate. And when the waiter impatiently reached for her half full plate with its range of cranberry scones and unexplored valley of eggs and turkey sausage, she growled at the man, unironically, and kept talking. The boy and his lady laughed. His mother paid the check, financial problems or not. Coffee flowed until I begged them to stop. But my friend could not stop talking until we all could do nothing but stare at her and wait. After breakfast, the boy showed off his pitbulls. One socialble girl, one suspicious boy and one blue eyed puppy left shivering in my arms. The only one who survived, the boy said as his girlfriend lifted the puppy out of my arms by his neck. My friend and I waved goodbye and drove across a town she hadn’t seen since high school. It was the same and not the same. As we both were. She said she forgot something at the hotel and we went there. Me, rushing through my story before she snatched back the conversation and ran. The loneliness of the long distance conversationalist. I, the repository of words. I followed her back to her room and realized I’ve been here before: sat on a twin bed across from a woman– not as a man, but a friend. That other woman tossed questions at me from beneath the security of her comforter. Her fingers summoning only herself to attention, to order. To her I was everything, anything except a dick. A safe, pro-bono escort. And to my high school friend, I was audience that needed no introduction. She could just run over her action items of responsibility. Her life brimming with them. I raised my hand and asked What keeps her grounded? How does she let go of all the arrows of attention fired her way? And she boldly marches over to the dresser and holds up a small, white bottle. This is her God that flattens whatever mountain appears, she said. In her palm was the secret. And she held it up, a white bottle with a blue top. She asked her doctor for either the answer to everything or to make everything stop, and her doctor said: Take These. And she kept talking– through me, as opposed to with me. She compressed the word suicide into something so small I nearly missed it. But it was there, like the screen of dust beneath a bed. I felt sad, somehow. She looked remarkable– cursive hair, summer melon hips. She was very much like herself, the self I’d known and loved so much. Yet I could never know all of what squirmed beneath the surface. The friend I knew who dated her back when we were all but children, asked why I never was with her like that, why I never tried to hit it. I never understood either, until now, 20 years later. And I still don’t get it. I loved her first, perhaps more than I’d loved anyone. Yet being with her made me so lonely. We were but inches apart and I could not reach out to her. Whatever I was to her over the years, was nowhere near as good or faithful as what rattled in her tight little fist.
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