where i am.

by Michael King

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I met the morning slowly, pulling my second pillow up and stacking it so as to prop my neck up. An episode and a half of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Season 3. The first fall of Carmen Carrera, a major hit to ‘the Heathers.’ Gradually, the laziness grew stifling. Get up, I urged myself. With reluctance, I listened.

I waited a bit too long to run, only 45 minutes or so away from lunch plans, but I put my headphones in anyway. I jogged around campus, the sun overhead, the breeze gracious. Backwards cap, blue dri-fit shirt. Why didn’t you meet that guy who hit you up this morning, I wondered. Maybe you’re just going to be alone for a while.

The student I met for lunch seemed enthusiastic to see me, but unsure of what to say. She introduced me to her girlfriend, a perfectly nice woman with a sleeve tattoo. We sat and discussed the state of the world, our lives at a glance. We have a way of doing this, don’t we? Of boiling our lives down to something manageable? ‘Ah yes,’ we say to each other, prepared for this question, ‘Things are fine. I’m doing well. I’m enjoying my job and I’m hopeful about where my life is headed.’ No one sits us down for lunch to hear us unpack the steady, nagging worry that we’re wasting our twenties and we might end up alone.

The idea of coffee struck on the way home, and I texted a friend, rousing him from a listless morning on the couch. I told him I’d be there in five minutes, a jolt to his expectations. ‘Just leave the door open,’ I texted with a smile, ‘I’ll stretch out on the couch.’ This captures friendship well: the willingness to wait and stretch out for a moment until our friend is ready.

Over coffee, we discussed the weekend, the day to come, the state of our lives. I mentioned my ex, a nod to my preoccupations as of late, and told a story about my ex being concerned about a friend of mine not liking him. ‘I like him,’ my friend told me. Warmth spread over me. ‘I like him, too.’ I felt multiple things, as adults do, but mostly these: (1) guilt for telling a story to make my ex look needy, (2) pain at not having my ex in my life anymore, and (3) happiness at acknowledging that he’s a good person that I care about.

My friend is leaving soon. Within a year, he will graduate, he will job search, and he will lift off from this place. No more last minute texts and stretches on the couch while he gets ready. This came up between us today, and I felt a little premature sadness settle over us. He told me that I inspired him forward, both to come out and to pursue new goals. I told him that he has been my comfort zone through the changes of my life, and he has. He has steadied me twice through a broken heart, has championed me through learning a new job. I have never known this place without him, and the thought of it makes me sad.

He shared some nervousness about what’s ahead, a rare glimpse of self-doubt in a defiantly independent person. I affirmed to him what I’ve always seen: a person who becomes known to people quickly, who is deft at navigating relationships and convincing people of the value of his niche. He is a big fish in any pond; but even big fish must occasionally give pause before swimming out into the abyss.

We walked campus for a moment. The sun was glorious, the trees whisking the remainder of their leaves in the wind. We talked, but our minds were elsewhere. He was considering many things, perhaps – his future, his homework, our friendship – and I was reflecting on similar things myself. This is another part of friendship: existing in the same space while thinking ourselves out into different worlds.

We concluded the walk, I drove him home, and I made my way back to my apartment. I turned off the A/C unit in my window, tired finally of its endless roar, and cracked the window. I plugged my phone into my speakers, began a playlist of acoustic music. The absolute best for shameless contemplation. I cracked my laptop, pulled open an empty page, and typed.

And it struck me, as I did, that dipping into the present is critical to life every now and then. Our pasts emerge to remind us of the life we’ve written thus far, the best hits and the failures, through photographs on our social media and encounters with the people we loved once and the songs and settings that pull our memories back. Our futures lay ahead, occasionally provoking us to question all of it, our reasons for being where we are and whether or not we’ve set ourselves up to achieve something meaningful. Looking around at the present, however, reminds us of the things we will soon miss, of the power we still hold to move our lives in new directions.

I thought, also, of the power of our passions. They show through to us, I believe, in the ideas that won’t leave us. The thought processes that rob us of sleep, that greet us in the morning, and pull at our attentions. If we sit with ourselves for a moment, if we listen, we will find our next steps. Being fully present in our lives, if only for an afternoon, shows us exactly where we are.

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