When the laughter’s gone
What is left?
When the fun has stopped
What mem’ry is kept?
When two becomes three
Who will have to go?
When the warmth has gone
Will chilling tears flow?
When change comes around
What can stay the same?
When trust is betrayed
Who is to blame?
When we can’t hold on,
Should we let go?
When we can’t let go,
How do we hold on?
When friendship fades…
How do we say goodbye?
by Isabelle Tan
I remember the summer you left me.
I can still feel the salt in the air, the sand in the wind, and the sun in my eyes. I could taste the summer through the rolled-down car window as I stuck my head through it, the car breezing down the cliff-side road.
I was so excited back then, coming home from my summer vacation. I couldn’t wait to see you and tell you all about my two months in Dallas. After the blistering heat there, I was once again falling in love with the misty cool of San Francisco.
The moment I got home, I threw my bags in my room and dashed out those front steps. I walked the fifteen minutes to your place. I was all glowy and giddy. I couldn’t wait to see you again.
I rang your doorbell. Three times, I remember. I had a present for you. It was this gigantic, cowboy belt buckle, easily bigger than my fist. It was all wrapped up in this brown paper bag, making an odd-shaped bulky present.
You finally opened the door, and I was hit by this blast of music and noise coming from inside.
You were having a party—one that I hadn’t known about. One that I hadn’t been invited to.
Finally, I shook off the shock, and I looked up at you. I remember having to crane my neck even higher than I normally did. God, in just two months, you’d grown at least a couple inches. I barely reached your collarbone. Your shoulders seemed bigger, too, your chest looked wider, and you didn’t look like the boy I knew.
I smiled at you…I felt like sunshine was coming from my pores, I was so happy to see you.
But you just looked at me. No, worse, you looked right through me.
“Hey, Dave, who is it?” Someone called out from inside.
And in that moment, that exact, precise moment, you left me. That summer, just before we became Sophomores in high school, you outgrew twelve years of friendship—twelve years of us. You outgrew me.
I had too much pride to let the tears fall. I had too much pride to let my voice break. I shoved that stupid present into your hands. “Here.”
That was all I said. That was all I could say. Back ramrod straight, I spun around and walked away from you as slowly and as dignified as I possibly could. I couldn’t show you that I wasn’t breathing anymore. I couldn’t show you the tears that were slowly falling down my face. I couldn’t.
Oh, hell, even your voice had gotten impossibly deeper.
I kept walking away. I almost missed your whispered, “I’m sorry.” But I heard it, because I’ve listened to your voice since we learned how to talk. I heard it because I had learned to pick out your voice from anywhere, through anything. Twelve years of your voice, and I heard.
But I just kept on walking away, knowing that if I somehow stopped, my legs would turn to jelly and I would fall flat on my face. I wouldn’t be able to get back up, because you had gone, and you had always been the one who helped me up. So…I kept walking.
I still remember the day I walked away from you.
It’s three years later, and we’re about to graduate. We’re sitting in Chem class, you’re three seats behind me, one seat over. You’re draped over your chair like you didn’t give a damn about the class. Except that, I know by the way you’re tapping your foot, that you’re anxious to know if you passed the class or not.
After all, you need the passing grade to graduate.
A ball of paper flies through the air and lands squarely on my desk, rolling and teetering over the edge. I hesitate, but I catch it just as it falls over the side. I unroll the crumpled paper, and I recognize your handwriting instantly.
Three years hasn’t changed your handwriting much. You still have that funny little loop on the ‘J’ of my name. You only ever use that loop on my name. You knew you didn’t need to sign the note.
Jess, wanna go to the Spot?
I could feel the old pain and anger rise. We didn’t have a spot anymore, much less The Spot. I remembered the old oak tree that stood across the street from my house. It still stood there, bordering the park, a wooden bench ringing the trunk. We used to sit there and talk when we had problems. It doesn’t exist for us anymore.
I slowly wrinkled the piece of paper and shoved it in my pocket. I turn my head and look at you over my shoulder. Your head is resting on your arm as you lay over your desk. You must have been waiting for me to turn around, because our eyes lock instantly.
Your brown eyes are warm, the way they used to look at me. Funny how a person could change so much so fast, but how the eyes never change. I still know your eyes. I can still read the hesitation and the hope in there.
And I’m sure that you can see my eyes. How they’re cold and unyielding, and how I narrowly frown at you, just before I turn back to face front. No. Clearly I have no intention of going anywhere with you.
The bell rings, and there is the usual chaos of people leaving their desks, gathering their books, and the instant noise of chatter, as if the slumberous ice of class had been broken by the shrill sound.
I hurriedly shove my books in my bag, and toss it over my shoulder.
I hit you with the weight of the backpack. You make a little ‘oomphing’ noise, and I glare unapologetically at you.
“Jess,” You say again.
I hate that you say my name the way you used to—like you know me and care.
“What?” I sigh, turning abruptly, almost bumping into your nose—a painful reminder that I had grown up, too, but that you couldn’t wait for me. I start walking out of the classroom, not really caring if you were going to follow me or not.
You trail after me, sort of keeping your strides shorter so that you’re walking just at my periphery. You used to walk beside me.
“Will you stop that, Dave!” I cry in annoyance. I turn around and put my hands on my hips. I’m glaring at you, because even though it’s been three years, I’m still hideously mad at you. You hurt me in a way that just doesn’t go away.
“I…” You look kind of lost, and I almost feel sorry for you. “I just wanted to know if you were gonna go to…” You almost choke on the words. Neither of us has said the words since that summer. “The Spot?”
“No.” I reply coldly. “Is that all?”
I continue walking towards my History class. You’re still following and I’m getting angrier. The old anger is still there, and you’re just re-awakening it.
God, I hate how you say my name.
“Stop it, Dave! What are you doing? We’re not friends anymore.”
You look so hurt, and your mouth opens and closes like you have something to say but can’t find the right words. Finally, two words come out of your mouth in a rush of air: “Why not?”
And it feels like you just punched the life out of me. “What?”
“Why aren’t we friends anymore?”
It really feels like the whole world stopped right then and there. Or maybe, that the whole world was zooming by, past us, leaving us in this weird limbo where we’re in the present but also in the future and the past.
There’s this thing about you and me, and being best friends. It’s like a first love. No, scratch that, you are my first love. Everything just hurts more than it probably should have. At least, it hurt more than it ever will ever again. Everything is bright and painful, and even though it’s three years after the fact, it feels like the pain has always been there, as fresh as can be.
“That’s a stupid question,” I retort. I turn away from you and start walking away, as fast as I can without actually looking like I’m running. Lord knows I want to be running.
Your hand closes around my elbow, just as the bell for the next period rings. I’m late for History class. I try to pull away, but you’ve gotten stronger than I remember.
“I just wanna know one thing,” you say, and your voice sounds kind of scared and desperate, and just a little shocked. As if you can’t quite believe that you’re touching me again. I can’t quite believe it either.
Three years, right?
My eyes are tired, but I raise an eyebrow, waiting.
“Why’d you leave me?”
And again, there’s that curious sensation of losing my breath and dying inside. It’s like my heart just withered and stopped functioning. “Excuse me?” I ask with as much dignity as I could muster. “I left you?”
“You stopped talking to me.” Your voice is so sad it almost breaks my heart.
I shake my head. “You left me,” I clarify, but my voice breaks. “Remember that summer? Remember how you called me ‘Nobody’? Remember the stupid gift I gave you?”
You have the decency to look away and clear your throat. You have the decency to blush and run a hand through your dark hair. When your brown eyes meet mine again, I feel like I’d been transported back in time. Those times when you used to look at me like that, with vulnerability, and honesty, and trust.
The way you should have looked at me back then, that summer. But now, it was only too little, too late.
“I’m sorry,” you whisper softly. “I tried to talk to you the next day, remember? But you wouldn’t. You disappeared from my life.”
Now it’s my turn to look away. I feel a sort of burning in the pit of my stomach. I feel a tightening in there and this funny feeling like I want to throw up all over you. I had disappeared from your life. But it was the only way I could survive how much it hurt when you shut me out.
“You hurt me,” I admit softly. My voice feels rusty. It’s been a while since we talked this way.
“I made a mistake,” You confess. Your voice sounds as rusty and hollow as mine. “So many things changed that summer, and I…I was just stupid.”
I rub my face with my hands, still not believing that we’re actually talking and it feels so wrong now. I want to cry because it feels so wrong when it used to feel so right. We’ve lost it, you see? We can’t be friends anymore. We let too much time and too much pain pass. We let the pain fester inside and it’s a scab and it’s too hard to remove. And even if we manage to take it off…there’s always, always going to be the scar.
“It doesn’t matter anymore, Dave,” I tell you, even though my voice is really sad and distant. It’s like I can only hear an echo of my own voice. “It’s been three years.”
“We’re about to graduate, and…I—”
Suddenly, I’m filled with rage. “So you wanna graduate with a clear conscience, is that it?”
You look taken aback, and you actually do take a step away from me. I’m unpredictable to you now. You can’t tell what pisses me off anymore. It hurts, doesn’t it? Knowing that you don’t know me anymore.
“No! It’s not about that!” You yell back at me. “It’s about—”
“Hey!” Someone is yelling from the end of the corridor. We both look at the approaching figure. It’s the Assistant Principal. He’s taking angry strides towards us. We both can’t afford to be in trouble now. Like you said, we’re about to graduate. “You’re both supposed to be in class right now!”
I throw one glance at you, and I start walking away. You grab my backpack and pull me towards you. “Here,” you say, just before you shove a small box into my hands. I had not even seen you take it out of your backpack.
I hold on to the box as I go to History class, and it’s the only real thing in my consciousness for a long while.
When I get home, I run straight to my room, disgusted with myself for feeling so eager to find out what is inside your box. I carefully open the brown paper bag wrapping. It looks like it’s been opened and re-taped. The inside part of the paper bag is darker than the outside. It looks like it’s old and has been wrapped for a long time.
Inside, it’s a red journal. I’m kind of curious for a moment, until I remember that it is the exact same one I had wanted many years ago. Three years ago, to be exact.
There’s a post-it stuck on the front. It says, “Welcome Home, Jess.” It’s your handwriting with the loopy ‘J’. I want to cry, because your handwriting is from three years ago. I fight back the tears. I don’t know if I’m crying from regret or sadness or hope or all of the above. It’s just emotions, lots of it, spilling out.
I’m about to toss the journal into a drawer and never look at it again, when I realize that there’s writing in it.
I carefully flip the pages, and find out that there’s writing on all the pages. Your writing.
I slowly open to the first page. It’s the day after you left me. It’s the day I left you.
I still remember the day you left me…
I read through all of the pages. By the time I’m finished, the room is dark, and night had fallen outside. I’m also crying. Because you wrote everyday in the journal, and you told me everything about yourself, as if I were still your best friend. You let me know you again, and you made me love you again.
The last entry has lots of tear blots on it.
We’re about to graduate, and I guess it’s really goodbye this time. For some reason, it was okay that you left me while we were still in school. I could still see you everyday, and I could still see you were okay. It made me feel like we could still be friends again. I know that it’s not the same now, and I guess it can’t be the same ever again. I don’t think you like Butterfingers anymore, and I don’t know what your favorite movie is these days. I can’t say whether you like that new band, Twister, or whether or not you suddenly like Prince—or whatever his name is these days. Point is…I used to know everything, and now, I can’t even guess.
I just wanted to give you this journal. It was always meant to be yours anyway. I wanted to say that I’ve never found a friend like you. We’re different now, and I don’t know if we’ll ever be friends again…but you were my best friend, and that hasn’t changed.
I just wanted to say I’m sorry I screwed up. I wish I’d said something else that day. I remember it clearly, you know…the day you walked away from me. I’m sorry that I let you.
When you lose a friend the way I lost you, it never seems okay like things can be fixed. There’s always that gap, and there’s always that wondering if it was your fault. I know that in the three years, I never stopped wondering about you. We’re not friends anymore, but maybe, we could be again. Because I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry I didn’t let you walk back into my life.