Before and After

Thursday, January 17, 2019 / 9:34 PM

Under the broken floor lamp by the living room window, I held out my right pinky. “Wanna make that a promise?”

He switched his drink from his right to left hand and hesitated.

“You don’t make promises?” I asked, swaying briefly from the last sip.

In an instant, he gripped my pinky with his. I smiled and started to pull away, but he held on tighter. “Bite your thumb,” he said.


“You have to bite your thumb, or else it doesn’t count.” He stuck his thumb out and leaned forward. In the background, the scratching of the record player became more noticeable as Side A came to an end.

I raised a skeptical brow, but complied. When we let go, I laughed. Was that how it was supposed to work? And who would hold us accountable?

“Is there a deadline for this?” I asked.

He looked up at the popcorn ceiling. “February,” he decided.

I nodded. February.

"If" became "when" as the night wore on, and the plan became a map before I could question it. But what if I broke it, I wondered? This felt too familiar, only now I wasn't the one staring at the ceiling making promises.

February gave us 2 months. It was enough for him to find an out, but I knew he had more faith than I did.

"How do you know?"

“Because,” he said, as someone finally flipped the record on the player, “we bit our thumbs.”

The music continued, a new song began.

The next morning, a text: "We'll be the kind of people who run into each other in Central Park."

In the years that followed after it all ended, we never did – but it was a nice thought at the time.

* * * * *

The way he scowled.

I think that’s what caught my attention the most. Scowling usually denotes something so unappealing, but it looked different on his face. I had never really known someone so expressive in just who they were, not what they hid behind.

When I would mention the name of the boy who broke my heart, he would scowl and I'd brace myself for the usual lecture everyone else always gave. Except a million emotions would seem to cross his face instead and he'd say, “That guy’s a jackass. You're awesome."

And I believed him because he was recovering from heartbreak too. He understood.

Through the bottom of an empty pint, I looked at him and I think I loved him.

But I wasn't in love with him. How could I be? I already knew it was about to end.

* * * * *

I'm not quite sure what we're supposed to talk about. 

It's December and this scene is familiar: We're sitting across from each other, recapping the year that was and talking about what possibly could come. We've been here before, there's a break of silence every other sentence – not the kind of silence we used to be comfortable with, but these large canyons of dead air that are more present than ever.

From the outside, it looks like we're two people who've simply run out of things to say.

It isn't that I'm desperate for change. In fact, there were more days in 2018 where I wished for a 'pause' button, if only to collect my thoughts.

But here's the thing I think we sometimes forget: People don't outgrow each other. They just grow at different rates, on different paths, toward different futures.

In 2016, I put Richard Linklater's Before trilogy on my "Things You Said You'd Watch But Haven't Yet" list, but only sat down to watch the films a week ago – and there is something so gripping about the pain of what aging does to a relationship. Who hasn't had a drawn-out conversation about life the way Jesse and Celine have while wandering around Vienna? Who hasn't looked back on what could've been had one event gone differently than it did? Who hasn't had to learn about love – whether it be romantic or familial or platonic – the hard way?

It was after marathoning the films that I realized what I've always known, but that had bothered me these past few weeks: I don't want to have movie 1 conversations at a movie 3 age.

And that's what that dinner was: an attempt to pick something up again that's changed so drastically the last decade – only, we've been avoiding how it's changed.

I've been so anxious the last month trying to blog again, but I always stopped myself from diving in because I wasn't sure who I was writing for or why (even though the answer has always been that this blog is for me and no other purpose). When I opened up a now-inactive blog archive last night, I was flooded with reflections of a different person – a younger and more immature one, to be honest; one who wrote pretty much whatever she was thinking or whatever she experienced the next morning – and it felt jarring to be frozen in time in such a way.

As much as I didn't sit with this before, I think that death has fucked me up a lot. And it feels selfish to think, but saying such permanent goodbyes in the last 4 years pushed my brain into thinking my broken heart was the cause of why I felt so lost.

But willingly exchanging pieces of ourselves with the people we build connections with is an important part of life, and just because those people are gone, it doesn't mean we ourselves are too. It doesn't mean we've become stunted at the age and place where we said goodbye, and it doesn't mean that that feeling of being trapped needs to extend into every other corner of our lives too.

We can grow. We will. And the people and the places and the memories we loved will still exist, even if the immediate circumstances have changed.

I don't love the DC living room or Brooklyn bar or California sidewalks, and the people in it, less either – just differently. 

And that's OK.

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