reunited, summer 2016

-I can’t believe you’re actually coming

– Ugh, I know, right? What a drag.

Catching on to my sarcasm, you text back:

-Lol. Yeah, can we just get this over with?

“I’m driving to Mark’s place,” I giggle to myself during L.A. morning rush hour.

-I’m here

I get to your place somewhere in Inglewood.

-Ok give me a second

You open your door and slowly walk down the long concrete driveway, smiling and never breaking eye contact with me.

“Eyyy” You laugh.

For the most part I’m convinced it’s you. I will always remember these first moments as you open your gate and we walk up your driveway, several feet apart from each other, looking up and down at each other, remembering each other.

We get to your door and I feel stupid when I hear you say,  “Relax, why you in a rush? Let’s chill outside for a bit.”

We sit outside and you show me your skateboard and explain to me that you recently found this garage apartment. I tell you I’m happy for you.

Inside your place it’s dark. With your bed occupying most of the space, we barely fit but we make it work. You sit on your bed and I sit on the chair next to your bed. We talk a lot of small talk.

When you ask me if I want to watch a movie I say sure. When the movie gets boring you turn to me, blushing. “I just can’t believe you’re here,” you jump out of your bed and onto my lap. Naturally, I pull back. I’ve never had a grown man sit on my lap before. But on second thought, it’s not weird. It’s you.

“Ok, come here you big baby!” I laugh and completely give into your affection.

“You just don’t know what you mean to me,” you stand up.  “I was going through some old stuff the other day and found your papa bear note,” you tell me as you search your wallet.

But you don’t have to show me, I know exactly what you’re talking about— the blue note I gave you with a picture of the Bernstein Bears family. With your big cheeks and your wild, grizzly hair you used to remind me of the poppa bear in that cartoon. But now you’re thin, and completely bald, and you seem older than you actually are.

I start to comprehend the lens in which you view me when I see you’ve attempted to laminate my poppa bear note using clear masking tape. Memories of our teenage days whirl inside me: the day we met walking up that hill in the Palisades, the first few times we hung out when you were so shy you could barely look me in the eyes, our first kiss in the darkness of the beach.

And now you drop bombs about your life: getting kicked out of your parents’ place, living through a less than ideal childhood, your loved ones shutting you out… the times you’ve slept on the streets…

I try absorbing the shock of it all. How did I not know any of this?

“During those times I look at your poppa bear note” you confess. “I remember back in the day, I would just melt every time I’d see you. You have no idea. I was all about you. I even had your birthday as my pin number on my debit card.” 

I stay locked in my seat— fixed on you and the words coming out of your lips, hearing your thoughts and your feelings for me for the first time.  And you don’t stop. You continue striking every rusty chord inside of me.

“Whenever I think of you…” you look off into the distance, then slowly and deliberately choose your next words, “I think ‘Damn. I’m not—I know I’m not right for that girl. But if I were… that’d be awesome…’ ”

Suddenly I’m gasping for air.

“Aww, why you cryin’? You’re genuinely surprised and you try to comfort me but every word you speak only makes it worse.  Concerned, you lean towards me, “Karen, what’s wrong?”

I hide my face inside my palms and curl into my own lap. I don’t want you to see (a soul grieving for something, or someone, an era, a lost possibility).

You give me a few moments and repeat your question. I finally look up and see your bloodshot eyes. (I know you’re somewhere else.) “Nothing,” I manage to whisper.

I tell you I feel bad for not being there for you. I should have been there for you during those hard times. I wonder if your life would have been different had I stayed. You contemplate that thought, as if things could have actually been different for you. I quiver. I break again. And I fully accept the guilt of leaving your life.

When you go into the bathroom I notice things. Candles with the picture of the Virgin Mary, a letter from a hospital, empty beer bottles.

I push myself to ask you a prying question. “Have you been drinking this morning?”

“Just a few beers. Don’t tell me you don’t like to drink a beer every once in a while.”

You tell me of your latest discovery: you just saw yourself in the bathroom mirror and realize you’ve aged quite a bit. You ask me if I think you should shave. You talk about plates flying across your room the other night, that’s why you had to buy Virgin Mary candles. When you start talking about things that don’t make sense I know it’s time to go.

“I have to go.”

“Ok, let me walk you out.”

We step into the morning daylight and you kneel on the ground, “Get on my shoulders, I’ll carry you.”

I get on your shoulders and for a moment you’re 16 and I’m 18 and we–

say goodbye.

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