We Should Hang Out Sometime
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I’d like to think we were friends back in the tail end of middle school. None of us knew what to do with ourselves coming out of the haze of the pandemic, so our last year felt like coasting by a chapter of our lives that had long overstayed its welcome. Even the highs of end-of-year parties and the lows of nostalgic breakdowns felt muted, submerged in warm, chlorinated water. The end and the long, long summer afterwards came without a fight.

A ghost of that all-consuming haze haunts the corners of my memories. It’s heavy vapor that pools on the ground in the shadow of my footsteps with the texture of a blanket soaked in lukewarm water. Whether or not we all felt this, we commiserated over our lost years at lunch periods and birthday parties. In an odd way, the prolonged separation had brought us closer together. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Regardless, I forged new connections with the few people I knew who hadn’t trickled out through graduation or transfer.

There were people I called acquaintances, and there were people I called friends. The exits of the former from my life barely provoked a thought. Why should I care if somebody became a bodybuilder or an Andrew Tate fan? It’s not like I planned to talk to them anyway. The pang of guilt that arises whenever that thought crosses my mind has lessened to a dull itch on the inside of the skull as the years have gone by.

Friends were more difficult. Regardless of whether our connections were honest and sincere or just me trying to hang on to someone in a period of great uncertainty, those people meant something to me. I’d be lying to myself if I said they still do. Logically, I know that’s an inevitability, but in that world, logic doesn’t matter.

I don’t burn bridges. It’s far easier to leave them to rot into flimsy splinters and fall into the roiling sea. I spent the summer before high school watching from the cliffside as board after board gave out and plummeted into the churning void. The days without contact multiplied like rabbits, marked forever by timestamps on dead Discord channels. Once in a blue moon, someone would reach out to me and I would respond with some degree of enthusiasm. That same feeling was woefully absent when it was my turn to pick up the hammer and replace the crumbling boards like Theseus’ shipwright. Maybe I preferred time to myself. Maybe I was afraid. Maybe I just didn’t care. Why else would I not even try?

The summer came and went, and all I had to show for it was the culmination of my dread toward starting high school. Brick by brick, I expanded the milestone into an insurmountable wall stretching up to the sun and across to the horizon.

And then it started, and it wasn’t actually that bad. There were a few people I kept around me at first, my companions on the bucking lifeboat. By some ironic twist of fate, or an inexplicable prod from the powers that be, people I hadn’t meaningfully talked to in years were reintroduced to my life. Soon, the scuffed linoleum of the hall we sat in and the mediocre public school cafeteria fare became the pillars of my sanctuary. Time and time again I’d come back there to ruminate on the haphazard divergence and convergence of our lives. All the while, I was dimly aware that the gulf between me and my old friends continued to widen.

When the guilt over my dereliction of duty would become too much to bear, I would say something along the lines of “we should hang out sometime” or “man, we really haven’t seen each other in a while”. Naturally, the messages of agreement I received were as empty as the words I had sent out, full of unfocused, blurry longing. When I looked out across the water, the other cliffside was no longer visible through the mist. And so, life went on.

My birthday party was the last time we were all together. The fire pit lit up the warm October night and illuminated our faces as we toasted marshmallows for shoddy yet delicious smores. Friends new and old met and laughed together. For once, I was the center of it all. For a moment, the water receded, and us castaways made merry on the warm sands of our own little island. But, as predictably as the moon above sways the tides, it didn’t last. As fulfilling as it was, a quiet melancholy crept in as I said my goodbyes to the last guest disappearing into the night. It was the realization that I couldn’t be friends with all these people at once. Try as I might, I’d have to let some go.

I shunned the realization. I ran from it. Why couldn’t I have my cake and eat it too? I wanted to cling on to everyone, but I only had two hands and a vanishingly small sliver of time. The true irony was that in reaching for everyone, I came away with nothing at all. I was always moving from place to place, group to group, never staying long enough to form a meaningful connection with anyone. Popping in, saying hi, making idle chatter, and leaving became more than a cycle for me. It was an art, and I was a master.

I honestly can’t remember how long this went on for. My best guess is several months, but without milestones to keep the haze at bay, the months and years blur together like smeared watercolor on printer paper. I was content to keep to myself, and the people in the margins of my life were evidently content without me. If they wanted to see me, they would reach out, right? For a long time I believed I was happy, never mind the indescribable lack of fulfillment and the prongs of jealousy needling at my heart every time I saw them hanging out with other people. A part of me knew that I needed to either make peace with my solitude or do something about it, and I could do neither.

I wish I could say it was some sudden revelation handed down from on high that finally broke the cycle. Really, it was a slow acceptance punctuated by frustrations vented out to patiently listening loved ones and conversations over lunch with the friends I’d managed to keep. The truth was that relationships took effort, effort that I’d previously been unwilling to put in. Naturally, the guilt and regret over so much wasted time followed soon after. Beneath the murk, though, was a golden thread of untarnished determination. None of this was unfixable. Few things in this world are genuinely irreparable, given enough time and care. With clear eyes I looked around at my bridges, rotted to shreds, and chose which ones I wanted to keep. It was time to pick up the hammer and nails again.

As of now, I haven’t seen some of them in over a year. As of now, I’m okay with that. I never properly said goodbye, but I didn’t need to. I wish the best for them, but for me, I welcome the closure of the end of an era and the beginning of another. Our shared stories ended not with a bang, but with the soft glow of happy memories and good feelings. I wouldn’t have it any other way. A proper story needs an ending.

The end will come eventually for the friendships I cultivate now. I know that. But why borrow trouble from the future? When the tides of fate roll in again to upend my life, I will take them as they come. For now, we walk bare-footed on the white sand under the golden, splendorous sun.

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