I remember snippets of you. Mostly from photographs, sounds of your voice.
You’re still here. Right. You’re still here.
I still think of you, in this odd convoluted way. Whiffs of trees in Rhode Island as I roll down my window and drive. Scorching sun and hot leather seats in the car, just driving. I think of you. Wearing jean jackets and doing cartwheels down small town hills, telling you about all the things I was scared about. Telling you about the boys I had fallen in love with, the things I was so scared of, the people that I met, the people I didn’t like, the people that hurt me. Telling you about me, stripped to the core. Me, raw. Me, unedited. Me, me, me. And you always listened patiently to my stories, giving me advice in a careful manner. You were not impulsive, you were not loud. You were you. Ironic. Ironic.
You were always a bit quiet, but brilliant. So brilliant with your words, the way you wrote. Your mother always said that you were going to be some moonlighting writer while you did your own thing, meandering. You fell down the wrong rabbit hole, into a Wonderland that was accidentally enchanting. And I have always felt like I was to blame, always, always, always. The guilt has followed me around every corner of my teenage and adult life. It still haunts me. It follows, follows, follows. Follows in threes, repeats. It never subsides.
We went to Nantucket together, you drove me. Do you remember that? Drove me there and back, and you would blast the radio and tell me to listen. You forced me to like country music, but you failed. And I want to run up to you and tease you with that, but you don’t understand anymore. We rode our bikes down the pebble path of so many places. North Carolina. East Coast. Up and down the shore. Just the two of us. You were like a brother to me. It’s so different now.
I… I’m not sure what I want to tell you. What is there to say that will mean anything anymore? Everybody grew up, everybody moved on, everybody carried on in their own way. It’s painful. We still congregate sometimes for someone’s wedding or engagement party or fundraiser and we will don our necklaces and dresses and starched suits. We pretend none of it happened. And sometimes I want to throw a chair, stand up and ring my glass with a spoon, and tell everyone that they can stop pretending, they can grieve, they can blame me, but could they stop doing it in silence?
Could they stop pretending that you haven’t changed? That something bad happened all those years ago? Can they stop nodding at you and actually talk to you? And would they look at me? Would they please look at me and tell me what their favourite memory of you is?
But you still love to dance. Muscle memory, that’s what the doctor said. You still remember the rhythms, now firmly engrained in your body. You can still move your feet in rhythm, you know the steps. You still smile, you still remember my name. I drive you to the beach, we stand in the Atlantic Ocean, and I tell you about the boy I am in love with right now, what happened, what I can remember, the people I love, the people I’ve met, the songs I sing nowadays, where everyone is off to.
I bring you to Alabama. I bring you to fucking Alabama. And we stand on the balcony of the hotel and look over the city and I tell you about Cincinatti. I tell you about my most cherished moment in my life, when we were little, and all the kids in the neighbourhood got together when the fire hydrant was broken, and you piggybacked me up and down the street. I recall the sounds, the smells, the hair stuck to my upper lip, my laugh, your smile. It’s my favourite memory, it’s the peak of my life, when we were blank slates. We had the whole future ahead of us! We were going to do great things together! We were so innocent, so young.
Then everything changed.
And I am so sorry. I am so sorry. So sorry. And I try to reminisce, I try to write new memories that are shadows of what we used to have. And I am sorry. So sorry. We go to Virginia. Remember Virginia? But we go to South Carolina. Oh South Carolina. Oh South Carolina. We go to South Carolina and we visit them, and they remember the ghost of you. They remember me, and they’re not sure what to think. We go home. We go home and pretend it never happened.
And in some ways, it never did.