by Michael King
Happy anniversary, the text reads. Around me, my coworkers and friends are laughing, connecting, reuniting. It’s a golden evening in July, one of summer’s final love letters, and, eleven seconds ago, I was lost in all of it with them. Suddenly, my body’s gone cold, and all of them have blurred into the background.
A year ago, he left, shattering me and a hundred closely held illusions. On the first morning after, I embarked on a run, four miles under the summer sun, making it home just in time to collapse in tears on my yoga mat. Getting better was a conscious, stubborn process.
One text message, and my armor unravels at my feet.
I make my escape, bidding everybody goodbye with a wide smile, and walk to an empty parking garage. I stoop down on the concrete, reread his message a few times, and finally ask him: Why?
At first, he is aloof, as though I’ve simply missed the joke. When my indignation builds, so does his: It’s been a year since we talked, which shouldn’t be true, but oh well.
And here we are again, the Scorpio, after stinging, reveals his own injury: Even after a calendar year, I haven’t taken him up on the offer to be friends. I see him now, in blinding, shaking clarity. I rise, shaky breaths, and walk right back into the sun.
But, hey, we can always be friends.
In some form or another, the sentiment seems to creep its way into the conversations whispered at a relationship’s burial site. The floor has just fallen apart beneath lovers’ feet, tears have leaked their way through the hollows of all bodies involved, and everybody’s reacquainting with the world in raw, exposed skin. Let’s be friends.
After much consideration, I reject any notion of it as ‘the right way forward.’ For a thousand reasons, not all of them mature or fashionable, but all of them honest.
Because my friends tell me everything –– their anxieties, their joys, the sex they’re having or want to have, their bad dates and good dates –– and I’m really not interested in hearing about those from somebody whose face I had to take down from my walls.
Because my friends rescue me when I fall, see the worst of me and stay, own up to their failures and stay, show up on my hardest, ugliest, messiest days. And stay.
Because the whole idea seems to be predicated on the notion that to be a lover is a simple stairstep above being a friend, that at least we can be friends, that, somehow, somebody’s decision to go means they are entitled to step freely among my friends.
Because friendship is not a consolation prize for you finding the courage or cause you need to stick it the hell out and stay.
I’m not saying it can’t be done, not criticizing anybody’s friendship with somebody they used to love romantically, but I am saying this: It doesn’t work for me.
Love letter to you, wonderer, who wandered into my pages carrying new definitions, the way the letters on every page before rearranged themselves upon your arrival;
to you, boisterous joy, whose laugh was the sun on so many bleak evenings, avocado and lime on the cutting board and music painting the air golden;
to you, examiner, eyebrows furrowed as you study the best and worst of me, your love the color navy blue;
to you, soldier, sharpening a machete on my behalf the moment my voice trembles, we both know you’ve got a bad habit of finding yourself in battles, but pinky-swear we will see every last one through;
to you, magician, whose spirit contains some of the same DNA as my own, we are mysteries to so many, but, to each other, a series of private jokes;
to you, tree with deep roots, steady in every storm, dropping fruit in my hands on the days I believe myself unworthy of nourishment;
love letter to you, to us, to the improbable miracle of existing at the same time, to rescue in the form of staying, to love itself.