I miss you. But that’s not surprising. I’ve heard that it’s always harder for those of us left behind. We’re forced to fill the void of you; the lights and shadows that make up the curves of your face, the width of your nose, the brightness of your eyes. We hear phantom laughter in your old haunts, the nooks and crannies of our lives that only you can occupy.
You face different challenges now. You have to shade your eyes from a new kind of unbridled sun – high in the sky, unimpeded by the skyscrapers and low hanging clouds here at home – until you learn to bask in it. You’ll be uneasy with the new-found silence, interrupted only by an occasional car, birds, and cicadas. Until the silence becomes the music to the soundtrack of your new life; until it becomes a lullaby that eases you to sleep.
What’s it like out there? I imagine you looking out on rolling hills of lush dark green grass, covered in dew in the early morning hours. I imagine old red brick buildings covered in ivy with dark wood floors and huge windows to let the light stream in; that lets your light shine out.
It matches you perfectly.
Devoted. I wait for you to return my calls while I sit in my cramped studio apartment, where we used to stay up all night laughing in my bed. We’d lament my 6-floor walkup and declare that one day we’d move into a building with an elevator. Or, better yet, we’d leave the city and take on suburbia together. We’d find neighboring homes with identical yards. We’d paint the walls whatever color we wanted. No board or management company could tell us whether or not we could have pets.
You’ve almost made it.
I want to believe that you’re just too busy with adjusting to everything that is so novel and unfamiliar, but I spoke with Julia the other day. She says she hears from you regularly, that you’re doing well.
What’s it like up there? I see on social media that you’ve been anointed, newly crowned. You’ve been chosen by the elites to ascend heights you could have never imagined. But, these are heights that I imagined for you. I like to think that my encouragement helped you get there, but I know you did it all on your own.
I couldn’t be happier for you.
Does the air smell fresher now? Do you feel lighter? Genuinely, do you like yourself more now that you have their approval? Does their validation protect you against the storms that are the only guarantee in this life? Does it quiet the tape in your mind that says you are unworthy?
I hope so.
And I wish I could have done that for you.
Do you ever think of us? The late nights tucked in dark corners of bars, sharing pints after pulling long days in the library. We’d hunker down, hunchbacked over our keyboards, searching endlessly for the right argument that would prove we were smart enough to be there. That we belonged in spite of their constant dismals due to the tone of our skin and the texture of our hair.
After a second round, we’d debate the utility of online dating, confiding in one another about our failed ventures and the potential partners that would never be. Another couple rounds and we’d share secrets and insecurities that only felt safe to speak under the haze of booze and low lighting.
Then we’d whisper conspiratorially about grand ideas, society, and the workings of things; how we could change it all, just the two of us. That we didn’t need to belong, to be accepted by them to do that, to make waves. How we were never meant to belong in the first place and nothing we did would find us worthy in their eyes. How we only needed each other.
But, I suppose, that’s no longer true. You belong now. You were handpicked to elevate, to bring in.
You don’t need me anymore.
You just need them.
In two years, we meet again at Julia’s wedding after sporadic correspondence; crumbs of affection and disappointed expectations. The light still hits you the same. I recognize the high angle of your cheekbones, the fullness of your lips. I recognize the timbre of your voice, the lilt in your laugh. But I don’t know the you that I see now.
You’ve folded yourself, shrunk and contorted in unnatural ways to protect your precarious status as one of the exalted.
You are someone new entirely.
Your eyes shine bright when you see me. You walk over, coming close. Your hand lingers on my waist after an initial embrace. You rest your head on my shoulder. You start telling me about your latest failed date, another person you met online. It’s an attempt to pick up right where you left us off. But I lack your familiarity, your desire for an old intimacy.
Are you lost? Are you trying to find your way back? There is an edge, a note of melancholy in your words. You cling tight. You tell me that you’ve missed me. Old, desperate feelings for your warmth stir quietly in my sternum, but I can no longer be a home to you.
I am someone new, now, too.
Your absence left me unmoored and I have had to make do. I’ve had to find my own footing, fight my way to solid ground. Root down deep so as not to be swayed by others whims. I had to become my own woman without you.
I would’ve followed you anywhere.
I no longer need you or the tenderness you assume.
I hope that you can find a home in yourself.