I was around five shots of local rum into the evening when I spotted her. Gracefully, shamelessly, regretfully her. Scrolling between decorated faces, high expectations, and unruly comparisons, I used the new social media to search for a friend amongst foes. Instead, there was only her. The lights, something trendy and cheap, illuminated her face in tacky lilac. The photo had blurred at the edges but was clear enough to see that long blonde hair and charismatic grin.
Everything had been going so well. I’d made my peace with childhood memories. I’d gotten better at answering the invasive questions my mother’s friends asked me. I’d even started nodding at old classmates across supermarket shelving. My deeds were done, so why was God punishing me now? She glowed with life. Responsibility etched onto my face in deep lines of worry that settled above my glasses. Adulthood was wearing me thin, and she was a historical artifact from my youth. Her presence radiated off my phone screen, and suddenly I was sixteen again. Hand in hand, in darkness. A secret universe for just us both.
Somewhere in between graduating from my masters and implementing a daily routine, I found something one might call happiness. I’d been working on myself, because if there was one thing being an adult was teaching me, it was that life wasn’t plotted by the fates. Funny that. All the fiction I consumed had me believing in order and higher purposes. I depended on life plans and opening doors. But I was no one and the fates, if they really existed, were nothing more than a bunch of bastards.
Before the office job, before the photo, I’d started to forget about her, leaving arguments behind and unanswered messages in the past. She was something hidden in a box, only to be looked upon when the winter nights were long, and it was hard to remember the rite of spring. But the photo was vivid and real. I started checking back, adding another step into my daily routine. Humans love conflict, so I stared and stared, solidifying the photo into my brain. Some masochistic part of me craved attention and anger. Some cruel part of me was loving every second.
Memory had always intrigued me. I could barely remember what I studied at school, but I still knew her house number and road. I met her in senior school, when life was less online, and I didn’t know who I was. I had forgotten the faces of people I had known at university, but I could visualise her teenager bedroom, the colours of her walls, the patchwork of posters, and the way her computer whirled. Most days, I could barely remember what I’d had for breakfast, but I could recall being hand in hand, together in the darkness of my room.
I told myself that I’m not a sentimental person, that my selective memory was accidental rather than intentional. My reminiscing about childhood tended to be light and idealised, whilst my teenager years were clouded with greys and blacks. She always remained golden. At sixteen, school seemed like forever, and friendships were meant to stand the test of time. I met her when we both didn’t know what we were, or that there was a name to describe us.
I used to look out windows and make guesses at the lives of the people I was watching. It passed the time well. I wondered if people would guess at my life and future, sat high strung in a high street coffee shop. Maybe someone out there predicted my correct future?
There were many ways to process her photo. I developed it in my brain, perfectly focussed in a darkroom careful to not let the light ruin her face. Don’t overanalyse it. Let the curiosity kill you. Something about her made me so mad I could barely function. The photo made me hopeful and wistful. She made me stupid and insecure. The photo was a reminder of what I should be achieving, and suddenly I became the asshole I’d built myself into being.
I had been known at university for my research skills. A new job. A new house. A new life. I balanced out her accomplishments with my own stories, but I was running out of sweet anecdotes to tell myself in between the torture and self-inflicted destruction. This wasn’t a journey of self-discovering and reminiscing. There were only so many proverbs that you could tell yourself. I was miserable.
Sometimes, you encounter a person that slots into place like a missing nut or screw. They enhance your experience of life and make you want to be better. You share your secrets, and in return you gain access to their hidden faces. Together you make a jigsaw puzzle of a whole being. You can’t imagine life without them. My person was her, and together we shattered our puzzle, pulling pieces apart, disfiguring them in the process. Once, we tried to shove it all back together, piece after bent and broken piece. But our once beautiful puzzle was now just a heap of broken parts, not worth the bill of repair.
The question was, where did I go from there? In search for a friend, I found an old foe, and had started to recall all the misdeeds that had once been buried deep. Do nothing. Reach out. Remain no one. I wanted to tell her about everything I had imagined in secret as a teenager, in a darkened room, hands barely touching. I wanted to ask her. Hand in hand, in darkness. A secret universe for just us both. Side by side on the pull-out. Parents sleeping next door. If only I had had the confidence back then, to reach across and find you.
If it had been hard to exist in this space as an oblivious child, after that photo something repressed was slipping though again. I’d warn myself that I didn’t want to know, didn’t need to know the answer to the decaying question. But day after day, I’d always end up on her profile. I’d always tick off my checklist of things she had that I was yet to know. That was my problem. I dreamt things. I imagined things. I acted with no concern of real life.
Black coffee and 00s teen movies hung around my memories of her, of that evening. Hand in hand, in darkness. In innocence sat our sadness and shame. I’d reimagined that moment again and again, so much that I didn’t know what was true, and what I’d made up to comfort myself, to give my life a higher meaning.
In my dreams, we were side by side staring up at the stars. I would shuffle in the blankets, trying not to breath too fast. Slowly she would place her hand closer to mine. In some dreams I frowned, and in others I blinked and fidgeted. Calmed by the illusion of prophecy, I’d slip my hand in hers and squeeze tight. Weeks and weeks. Days and days. Hours and hours. Confusion and adoration, all mixed up in my stomach. Embarrassment overcoming shame, and suddenly I was yet another teenager, not an abomination.
I would wake, alone and confused. Each time more and more disgraced and dishonourable. I’d hear the lingering sounds of the rain battering down against my window, and forget the brilliant feeling of honesty and pride, of being needed and loved.
Another photo appeared, months later, in a higher quality. Arm in arm. Hand in hand. A sight like no other. Another woman stood by her side. Something never seen before. Suddenly, I was searching through my history trying to remember any clue I had missed. Hand in hand, in darkness. What had it all meant? The problem with being a self-centred artist, was that I tended to have a selective memory. Closed eyes. I came up blank. I shook my head as my sins made themselves known. In my memories, there was only her. Wronged. Bitter. Unjust. She was the one, the girl who decided I wasn’t enough of anything.
A woman stood by her side in the new photo. She was dressed in white. Who was I now, in her story of being? Years of friendship ended by cowardice curiosity. No big falling out. No public fight. Just bitter rivals, trying so hard to not be the one who got left behind. Insecure kids, so far in the closet, they forgot the warmth of the sun.
How did you learn to move on? How did I learn to leave this all behind me? One yard at a time. I never wanted to feel like this again. I was no saint. I’d have dreams about a moment of confrontation, of telling her everything. I’d admit my sin to see if she’d still love me. She’d brush her hair around one shoulder and I’d anticipate what she had to say. Some nights, if I closed my eyes and blocked out my thoughts enough, I thought I could transcend into a parallel universe, one where we stayed friends, stayed together. If different words had been uttered under the moon, maybe something would have ignited. Maybe, it wouldn’t be her and another, rather you and me.
I wanted her to know. I wanted to know if she knew. Years of pinning, of hoping and wondering, could be answered in seconds. Yes or no: spoken in retaliation to the decaying question. But it was never going to be. It never could have been. I was guilty and she would always be her. The question was left empty and unanswered.
Who was the first to say goodbye? Who spoke the last word? Would it have been easier if we’d know? Were we worthy of this knowledge? I don’t remember the last time. I don’t remember who said goodbye to who. It was around my twenty-first birthday. Her face emerged from the unknown. Shamelessly, truthfully, annoyingly her. I wish I had known.
No more. Life was too short. There was to be no more time spent gazing upon her. There was to be no more time spent philosophising her. I needed to strive for closure. I needed to fix this absence if I couldn’t fix myself. The seconds it took to unfollow her profile, were shameful and filled with betrayal and pettiness. Maybe one day, I would be able to comprehend her without the undoing of myself. But not now, not today.
And with that, she was gone. And with that, there was something resembling closure. And with that, I was alone.
Humans were purest when they were left without knowledge of the performance. When instinct took over from all the trying, a being was finally left to be. I was one of those: a part of the masses who read between the lines of ancient scripture and modern propaganda. We found coded messages in places others didn’t know to look. Sometimes, everything seemed impossible and improbable. But then you learned to breathe, and so I breathed, counting suggestive adjectives.
Sometimes I saw pictures and videos, heard songs or speeches, that I wanted to share with her. Only silly things, that we might have once laughed about. If I was a better person, maybe I could have swallowed my pride, my resentment, and my need to be a victim. I would reach out to her and apologise for some of the things I said and did, even if just to clear the slate and shame. If I was a better person, we could meet and comment on each other’s lives, without resentment. But I was not a good person, because I didn’t do anything of those things. I unfollowed her profile and took her out of my daily routine.
We would never see each other again. If only I’d known when our last meeting was, I could have said something witty and wise. We wouldn’t ever call each other friend again. We had fulfilled our roles and now all we could do is look back and hope to whatever God that made us, that we would have no regrets and no shame to carry over into more lifetimes.
For a second, a simple moment in time, we had existed together. A friendship that I once thought to be deeper than anything the philosophers I was studying preached, documented in private messages and dusty photographs. In all human history, we had once existed together. There were so many things left unsaid, words fell off the tip of my tongue, dying in the history of us.
Sometimes, I catch myself at my writing desk, pen to paper with eyes on the ambition. I have a lapse in judgement. A smell. A sound. A taste. The thoughts start to pile. Hand in hand, in darkness. Surrounded by innocent shame. Do these thoughts plague her waking hours? Hands barely touching in the darkness of a closet only big enough for two?
Leaves are on the turn, and nostalgic sometimes seeps into dampness of my bones. No longer a shameful unknown, there are nouns and adjectives to understand what I am. Does she know of these words too? I find poetry that inspires heartbreak, and the stories of men and women who came before us provide the instructions on how to fix a broken puzzle. But what’s the use of this information when half the pieces are gone? Hand in hand, in darkness. Possibly, we could have been saved by a small act of everyday bravery. Does she have this knowledge too? We could have been saved by quotes of belonging and an ancient word purposely created for likes of us two.
But thoughts pile. So, I shake my head. Stop. No more.
And then I move on.
Meghzie D. Peach is a graduate of music and media from England, who is inspired by history and nature. She is currently studying for a Certificate of Creative Writing with the University of California, Los Angeles Extension School. Meghzie's non-fiction work has been published on Gay Times, and with the UK-based charity, Just Like Us.