Rehab Truth: The 20-Year Break Up

2nd grade

The first time we fought, I tell people we were in the 2nd grade.

Truth is, it might have been 3rd, but neither of us remember anymore so at some point we resigned ourselves to this story.

End of the day– walking out of class- you snuck up behind me and pulled on the tail of my backpack.

Your bag isn’t cool, you said, brushing past.

It’s Lion King, I said.

No one wears those. You pointed at your back. We wear Jansport.

I don’t like Jansport, I said.

Then you’re not very cool, you said.

What follows next is hazy – we’d admit – but after telling the story for 20 years, we’ve agreed that you were being obnoxious and at some point I turned, fist clenched, and socked you in the face.

“SHUT UP,” I yelled, bearing down on your cheek.

You grinned in response.

I glared.

Perhaps, I should have known then.

I’m on the way to Bradley’s parents house today when I think of that story.

Even now, I’m still not sure when you went from bully to friend- but we both reckon it likely had something to do with him.

Visiting home this weekend, it’s Bradley’s dad’s birthday, and while I hadn’t anticipated seeing you, here we both are.

I park my car behind yours.

Walking in, I notice you – sitting among our friends, wearing a familiar high school button-down.

Shirt still looks good.

I greet Bradley’s parents.

But Christ, you need a haircut.

As I hug our friends, I wonder if you’re sitting there, observing me too.

Is my ass getting bigger, I used to ask in college.

How would I know 50Cent, you’d roll your eyes. Your sweatpants are like 3x too big.

I hover over you, and there’s a moment we share– however brief- as my shadow collides with yours. I’m standing at the table and in another year I would’ve reached down for you;

We would hug.

But instead, we face each other today, and we choose not to.

It’s subtle- but we agree –
And as I take my seat at the table it feels like irony to agree on something.

So let’s see this new tattoo, a friend says- when the bustle of my arrival dulls- and the chairs stop scraping the tile.

Tattoo, someone asks. Another one?

I wonder if you know.

You hate tattoos, but you were with me when I got my first.

BMJ– I have inked on my wrist. It was the night after Bradley’s funeral and I asked you to hold my hand but the tattoo artist wouldn’t allow it. He made you stand behind the line and when I passed out and shattered my phone on the floor, I was told you nearly leapt across to help me.

You say nothing now as I slip out of my heel- but as I move around to show my tattoo, I accidentally nudge your foot with mine, and neither of us flinch.

The afternoon moves pleasantly after that. You and I– we hold conversations without the other. We encourage shared memories; ignore that we’re in them together.

It’s familiar to see his family; it’s good to be with friends-

And at some point- when the wine is flowing- I mention your name.

I used to steal his, I laugh- pointing lazily at you.

We were talking about homemade Chex mix.

That stuff was my lifeline in college, I say to Bradley’s mom as she sets the table. I wish you still sent us some.

You glance hesitantly at me then- but nod amicably anyway.

There she goes, you likely think. Twisting the knife. “You’re so manipulative,” you would’ve told me later, and often had in the past.

I did it to prick you- sure, I’d say. I did it to remind you that there were years before now where we weren’t so bad.

Later, as we wait for dinner to cool– someone brings up Bradley and I look at you.

I don’t mean to, but it’s natural.

Do you remember that night? Someone asks. That time you and Bradley almost missed your flight.

You smile. Sure do, you say. If it wasn’t for her we would’ve slept right through it.

You glance at me then- and I take the bait.

That’s right, I say- rolling my eyes. Bradley fell asleep and locked me out of the house. I had to crawl through the doggie door.

Everyone laughs at this- pre-emptively- because everyone always laughs about Bradley now that he’s gone I think, remembering that time we sat in your car and joked about how Bradley “probably wasn’t even that funny.”

You smile anyway now- but I wonder if you still think of him the same way I do. If we still pull from the same memory bank.

Getting up to grab a beer, you brush past his dad and I watch you put your hand on his shoulder.

Squeezing past you big guy, you smile as you suck in your stomach between the chair and wall.

In college, we used to take turns calling them.

You don’t call enough, I accused you that first year at Christmas.

It was late–and we’d been drinking here. They were on vacation and we were home for break.

Bradley had been gone 2 months then.

We missed him.

You don’t call unless I make you, I yelled at you that night. They’re his family and you’ve made his death about you.

It’s hard, you argued back– I’m not like you. I can’t live it over and over all the time Lindsey- I can’t do it.

It doesn’t matter what you can do, I snarled. It’s their child and he would’ve done it for us- I paused- He would’ve fucking done it for us.

Yeah well I’m not him, you said– standing up and pulling on your coat. You forget that- I’m not fucking Bradley.

You stormed back in their house- and I followed.

I called you selfish.

You told me I was judgmental.

I threw a remote at you and it slammed into the wall.

In retrospect, I think we’d agree both were true.

I look over at the wall now- and see the tiny chip where the remote hit. I offered to fix it- of course- but on it remains as a bruised reminder of that year.

Dinner’s ready, Bradley’s mom calls- and as we amble towards their kitchen, I find it’s comforting how familiar it all still feels.

Walking up behind you, you slip your phone into your jean pocket.

Ladies first, you say.

Thanks, I mumble- inching past.

Back when we were young- middle school or so- we used to spend whole nights on the phone, though you asked me not to tell.

It’s girly, you told me then- but you did it anyway.

In retrospect, it seems foreign now – for two people to sit undisturbed on their phones- but back then there were no iPhones and the middle of the night felt so much less crowded than today.

Even in high school- I’d sneak out to your car and hear the crunching of gravel on my feet.

18 and restless- mostly excitable-

We had graduated; we felt free.

And I’d wait till my parents were asleep to walk out the back door.

Where to? I’d ask when you and Bradley drove up.

Anywhere, you’d smile- turning up the CD volume.

We were incredibly invincible I like to think-

And then two months later,

We weren’t.

2am- popcorn butter smeared on your fingers-

You said you got the call that he fell and went to find me.

Asleep and half-sick, I missed it. I missed your phone calls, your texts, your panic.

When I awoke that next morning, you were walking barefoot in the parking lot- your arms outstretched.

Come to me, I’d begged you. Come here.

And when you did, we held each other on the grass near the sidewalk.

I wonder sometimes if we could’ve been easier on each other those years.
Maybe I could’ve been gentle on you-

People handle grief differently – but it seems we never could understand each other’s

We fought viciously in college – my hands at your throat.

You’re so mad, you said, eyes glassy and red. But I’m trying, Lindsey, I’m fucking trying.

You’re not trying enough, I yelled.

But at night, afterour friends had left and our eyes were weary-

We softened.

I want you back, I pleaded- snot on the back of my hands. It’s like I lost you both sometimes.

We fell asleep; legs intertwined.

As we sing “Happy Birthday” tonight, I know the anger between us is tired now.

For years, I wanted to talk about Bradley and you didn’t. I wanted to fossilize tragedy and you wished to ignore it.

We resented each other; it hardened.

You drank pain away; I starved it.

You dropped out of school; I forced perfection.

I called you pathetic; you called me controlling.

We were self-destructive individually –toxic together-

And often too sad to know the difference.

The truth is, I wish I could say to you that I know blaming you for our relationship is doing neither of us justice-

And when inevitably we did what we did that night in September, we both made a choice.

The lights blurry, music loud, locked in a haze.

It was Bradley’s anniversary– 4 years to the day- and when I found you in the crowd, you wrapped your hands around my face and I didn’t stop you.

Wait, you said- when I pulled away. Don’t go, you whispered.

And I didn’t.

We were drunk, we told people later. We were at a concert.

It was bound to happen- our friends agreed.

But that night, as the music faded and the crowd quieted, the truth is that we were both lonely- and likely sad.

We had a choice to preserve our relationship – and we didn’t.

Standing there, swaying, monopolizing thoughts – we chose to not protect it.

And we went on kissing instead.

It’s okay, we thought. We’ll fix it someday.

Later, we laid next to each other –staring at the ceiling– and you asked what he’d think if he knew.

I bet he’s laughing, I said. But I imagine he stopped knowing what to do about us a while ago.

You agreed and we giggled there in the dark.

I love you Linds, you said, arm around my neck. You’re my best friend- whatever that means.

Another year went by – and though we liked to think we didn’t alter history- we did.

We kissed lazily again- and then again because it became easy. We pawed each other when we were impulsive and drunk; when we were lonely and complacent.

We’re still best friends, we’d say to each other- but I think the words became chalk in our mouths.

Looking back, we wanted to think we moved past the resentment, but what we were really doing was redistributing it.

Why didn’t we talk about it? Why didn’t we draw the line?

We weren’t in love, but too delicate to admit it- so we forged ahead blindly, like two mice in the dark.

Don’t tell me how to live my life, you said soon after college. Just be my fucking friend- Lindsey- just be a friend.

My eyes lowered- claws out-  a dependency we created, but didn’t want-

Our friendship now an ”us.”

And so we lied about relationships; then we turned and lied to each other.

I didn’t want to feel tethered to you; you didn’t want to feel obliged to me.

Slowly- and then all at once-

We imploded.

I chose to move to New York. I didn’t tell you.

I shouldn’t have to, I thought.

Then go, you said.

One year later- your girlfriend asked you to let me go- and you did.

You’re mad at everything we did, you yelled the final night we spoke. You’re mad ’cause you know we both fucked it up.

Indignant and likely drunk, I glared at you. Slammed my hand on the table.

How can you do this, I slurred. How can you just stop talking to me.

You turned – your back to my face.

Do you realize we’re not even close anymore, you whispered. How awful we’ve become.

Stop, I said.

All we do is relive the past, you said – your hands clasped.

I want to move on.

Don’t bring Bradley into this, I hissed.

But you did.

We wouldn’t be friends if he hadn’t died, you said. Lindsey, we would’ve moved on before it got to this.

I cried.

How can you say that.

Do you even like who I am?.

I stared at you.

Think about your life now, you whispered.

I shook my head.

We’re different, you said. We don’t know each other anymore.

All we know is the past.

Our fingers shaking; we sat beside each other that night and we cried.

I love you, you said at some point. I will always love you, but I’m tired of us – you paused. I’m tired of what we do.

I’m tired of what we are.

And the truth is- I was too.

And I knew then- it was over.

I pass you on my way to the door, and as I stop to hug Bradley’s mom – I catch your eye.

There were a lot of bad decisions, I’d tell you if I could, but many of them seem careless now.

For a moment- we soften-

We always soften.

You nod.

Perhaps we’ll continue to soften in time.

As I pull out of the driveway, my purse sprawled on the seat beside me- I pass a girl and boy on a bike.

Go easy on yourselves, I wish I could warn them. Be gentle with the other.

Stick my hand out the car window– think of the drives we took when life was overwhelming.

Airborne, the wind between my fingers- you’d smile- we’re such a cliche, you’d say.

Ah yes, I’d agree- but if it’s a happy cliché then so be it.

I love you, I’d tell you now. Even if I still am not quite sure what that means.

Maybe what we’re building individually is better because of what we created together.

“It’s the three of us,” Bradley said one night. “You- me- and him- we’ll always have this”-

And I know, somewhere – no matter where we are –

That he’s right.

That all relationships have a chance to ebb and flow – even the most damaged ones.

And that my crooked little heart will always hold love for you both –