It was only a matter of time before we ran into each other. I mean, we were best friends for nearly ten years; we lived next door to each other for Christ’s sake. I had just started taking classes at the local community college and you, well to be honest I had no idea what you were up to. We hadn’t spoken since junior year. Four years had passed since then, four really important adolescent years.
It was the first day of the semester. As I shut the door to my red Saturn I took a deep breath of the thick August air, pissed I had to press the reset button on my academic career. I wasn’t at a “real” college like most of my friends. I had to take “Introduction to Algebra” because I fucked around during my first three semesters at Central, forcing me to take classes at Tunxis while I got my shit together. The refreshing air from the air-conditioned building instantly began to dry the sweat built up on my neck and face that had developed on the walk from my car to class. I climbed the stairs to the second floor, and made my way towards our classroom.
You were the last person I expected to be in remedial math. I had thought you went off to one of those big colleges, Bentley or something. That’s what you said you wanted to do anyway. You were an honors student in high school, you took multiple AP courses.
The professor started taking attendance. I raised my hand when my name was called, and began to daydream as he read down the list. Your name electrified me, the hairs stood up on my arms. I thought there was no way it was you, there had to be another kid with your name. I slowly turned my head to survey the classroom, searching for your face. There you were, exactly two rows over.
I remember the first time we met. I was six years old. Construction had just started on our new house on Larkspur Lane. The smooth concrete foundation of the house freshly poured, peeking its head just above the surface of the earth. You wandered over to our yard from yours, I think you were walking your dog. Summer was coming to a close; we started talking about the upcoming school year. We came to the realization we were in the same class next year. My anxieties about switching schools began to fade, as I knew I had already made a new friend.
For the remainder of that summer we shot hoops in your driveway, our skin darkening with each passing summer day. We had sleepovers, staying up late watching stupid YouTube videos, drunk on soda and junk food. We gathered loose change and one dollar bills and rode our bikes to George’s Market, spending all the money in our pockets on beef jerky and Arizona iced tea. My rambunctiousness matched evenly with your shyness, making us an inseparable duo.
We shared a love of music. It seemed like each week we had a new band we wanted to show each other. I introduced you to Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, Journey. You taught me about Ozzy Osbourne, Linkin Park, and Rush. We both started taking guitar lessons, I had started about two years before you did. Once you got good enough we jammed our favorite songs together, dreaming of starting our own band and ripping blistering guitar solos like Slash, Mick Mars, and Zakk Wylde.
As we grew older, the same qualities that brought us together started to tear us apart. You were so reserved, so quiet. Granted, I did enough talking for the both of us. I mistook your silence for disinterestedness, your humbleness for weakness. Our kid discoveries turned into teenage discoveries. Mountain Dew had a different taste when it was mixed with vodka, and your personality came alive with every sip. You were different when you drank, for the first time in our friendship I was the one that was silenced. Instead of sifting through drawers to find quarters for iced tea, we asked our parents for “pizza money” so we could pay your brother to get us another bottle. It was fun, sure, but I didn’t need to drink to have fun. Part of me just wanted to have a normal Friday night playing Xbox and watching WWE, like we used to.
We began to drift apart, I stopped inviting you to outings with our friends. I had a new excuse each weekend as to why I couldn’t hang out. You told me you had recently got into smoking pot with your brother, and while I didn’t have an issue with that, I knew you were heading down a road I didn’t want to travel. You weren’t stupid, eventually you caught on. I had been dodging you for weeks and it had gotten to the point where you were getting angry with me. Eventually we had a conversation about how different we were, and how I thought it was best we maybe stopped being friends. You asked why I’d want to throw ten years of friendship away now. I honestly didn’t have an explanation. I was young, naive, and all I knew was I didn’t want to drink every weekend and I definitely did not want to smoke weed (yet). I didn’t realize the decision to discard a friendship at sixteen would stick with me for so long.
I was hell bent on not making eye contact with you that first day of math class, I’d successfully avoided you for a few years and I wasn’t ready to give in. And yet, I wanted to say something. I just didn’t know what to say. It all ended so awkwardly. The guilt haunted me like a ghost. And now my ghost sat two rows over from me in math class. I knew I had made the right decision, but it never really sat with me the way I thought it would. I thought I missed you, but I think I just missed the early years of our friendship.
We didn’t talk that semester. Not even once. Occasionally during class our eyes would meet for an awkward second. I haven’t seen you since.
You weren’t there at my high school grad party. You weren’t there when Nana passed away. You weren’t there when I started playing in a band like we one day dreamed of.
Today you’re not here to meet my girlfriend or to go out to bars with me every once in a while. You won’t be there at my wedding, standing behind me with the rings in your pocket. You won’t be there to hold my first-born child.
I just don’t know whose fault all of that is.