We met freshman year at this university. He was from a small school, no more than 20 students in a grade and I was from an all-girl catholic school. He read Gaiman, I read Winterson.
Somewhere between discussing those two writers and a bunch of bands (Dave Matthews and Incubus included), we found our common ground in Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Bill Watterson.
We never gave each other books. We took turns borrowing and lending from each other’s personal library and spent hours talking, laughing, and debating about books.
More than books, we gave each other words. Words spoken out loud in broad daylight, whispered in secret, and words that have been said and written (and in some cases sung) by someone else. It was the best gift in the world knowing that only we could unlock what the words meant to the other and it was also the worst because the exact same words whose presence and absence lingered long after we’d left each other’s lives.
I couldn’t bring myself to read books by writers that reminded me of him for years. Gaiman, Winterson, Watterson, and Marquez gathered dust on my shelves and would always make me feel wistful and nostalgic every time I took one from my shelf to attempt to read it and would instead end up staring at the cover for a few minutes before putting it back.
We saw each other twice after university. Once in another country 7,000 miles away from where we both lived, a year after graduation. The other was three years later, just a few blocks from our respective offices. We were both within three blocks of each other for two years. Both times, we took note of how much we’ve changed and how we stayed exactly the way we remembered the other and strained to keep the conversation going while stared at our own drinks or at the pavement while we smoked our respective cigarettes.
One of us would always think it was our turn, that maybe THIS TIME it would be right and that maybe we’d both stay. Instead we walked away. At every turn, we walked away, me from him and he from me, both fearing the awkwardness and the absence of apologies from years ago.
I wondered about him again when I read about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the abrupt end on his writing career. Bill Watterson stopped making comic strips years ago, and hearing about Marquez felt like losing one more thing that connected me to him.
It took a very long while, but I suppose that’s my cue to never forget that there was no ‘maybe’, there was no ‘THIS TIME’, there was no ‘right’ and there was no ‘stay’.
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