From time to time someone will pop into your head and you wonder whatever happened to them. And then you google them. Yes, you do, don’t deny it.
Memory is like the studio of a dishonest photographer, cluttered with altered photos he will proudly show the ego–and half-developed ones that might have told the truth. Those he usually buries.
In my own memory are those half-developed photographs of friendships that weren’t, that never really took off, and remain unfinished, leaving me with a slight question mark.
Such a one came into my mind.
It was during my first year at my second try at graduate school, in the insecure huddle in the back corner of a classroom, that I met a girl from Chile. I say “girl” but I think she was actually a year or two older than I was. (You have to be at least ten years older than me to no longer qualify as “girl.”) She hadn’t been here very long.
She had very dark hair then. Now it’s blonde.
There was something fragile about her, so small and so far from home. I remember how, without even asking, she would push her puffy winter coat into my arms when she’d go to the restroom. There was one time when, out of curiosity, she entered one of the bathrooms designated for sixty or more genders (our school was very ahead of the curve). She walked in and came right back out. I never knew what it was she witnessed in there.
The details of lunch or coffee meetings are almost nonexistent in my mind now. I remember smoothing out non-native grammar at one o’clock in the morning of the day papers were due.
Now that I write all this, kinda sounds like I was used a bit, huh.
We were both waitlisted for the Ph.D. program. This was a blessing for me because I realized I didn’t want to continue, making it easy to quit when the eventual admittance came. She was admitted as well but switched to Sociology—I think Politics was too difficult but I don’t quite recall the reason why. I think the research methods course demolished both of us.
It seems she is now “ABD” (all but dissertation) and is an adjunct professor at a couple of good universities in the city. She receives glowing reviews about how challenging, yet compassionate, she is. I cannot be jealous—for once in my life–because she worked hard for it. And wanted it far, far, far more than I ever did.
I wonder, idly, if I had stayed, would we still be friends? Would we read each other’s papers? She is engaged–so am I–would we both be making plans? Probably not. I flee from that stuff.
The last time I saw her was after we submitted our final papers in the spring. We walked to a well-known local park and sat on the bench under some trees on a quiet path, and watched the weirdos in the open square. There is never a shortage of dangerous weirdos at these parks. I can’t remember what we talked about.
After we parted, probably promising to get together again soon, I walked back the other way to a used bookstore, looking for what, I don’t know. Maybe some old book, unopened for years, that would describe exactly what I was feeling and keep me company on the train ride home.
I don’t think I found anything. Yet I know it’s not an uncommon experience, when the story just stops and it’s not clear whose fault it is. Though in this case, I believe it’s mine, because I just disappeared. It’s probably for the better in the long run, because I know that the political differences we had but didn’t discuss eight years ago (eight??!!) are a chasm apart now. So it would have petered out anyway.
Sometimes it’s better to quit while you’re ahead.