No, I wouldn’t say it was fate that we were born on the same day. It was just a dumb coincidence.
Coincidence, like how the first time our eyes met was mid-roll, listening to some manic pixie dreamgirl from our high school Psych class snivel some everything happens for a reason bullshit after a breakup. The other girls crowded around her, holding her shoulders and petting her hair, telling her it was going to be OK. As if OK was a desirable end state.
Neither of us liked consolation. We watched this scene unfold, mostly embarrassed by the empathy.
Neither of us believed in destiny, for that matter. Everything happens for a reason sounded so deferential and passive. So lazy. Just some moonsick excuse for lollipops who dreamed of being princesses.
I was so taken with her. How could I not be? When we first met, it was senior year of high school and she was still with this cute Puerto Rican boy, but I hadn’t been with anyone. I was still just a nobody. But she was all class. Captain of three varsity sports, president of our class. Graduated salutatorian — on a technicality — if I’m not mistaken.
We played the same sports, had the same friends, took the same AP and Honors classes together, where she’d sit there with her damn arm raised all the time. It was a little narcissistic how she liked to hear herself talk, sure. But, it was like — she lived to participate. Never had an off day. Always did her homework. Perfect attendance, too. I swear, the worst thing about her was her penmanship.
I wanted to be more like that. Wanted to be somebody. So, I stuck to her like a shadow. Like a thing she didn’t need but that was always there, lurking.
And yet, she was everything I wasn’t. Yeah, I had a mouth on me, but I mumbled. I had big ideas, but never acted on them. But her? She was so sure of herself. She moved in sunlight, glowing. Like prey, I hid deep inside the thicket so no one could see me. But she was on offense, baby. She was big game hunting.
She was so damn serious all the time. It was like, all she wanted to do was make the world better, in like every. single. way. Correcting people when they called things “gay” or “retarded.” Correcting grammar and syntax and spelling. And God help you if you sang the wrong lyrics. It was a constant filibuster.
She expected everything of everyone. Always ready to be offended, always up in arms. Always ready to grandstand and lecture. She cared about racism and sexism and environmentalism and athleticism and intellectualism and sobriety.
She weaponized her opinions. Turned into a crusader, wielding some outdated and brutal armament that she’d have to chuck and then retrieve. A spear. A hammer. An axe. She was too righteous to know she was self-righteous and not right. She voted for Ralph fucking Nader.
She tried too hard in gym class and they called her a man or a lesbian or whatever made them feel bigger. They wrote mean notes about her and circulated them in the hallways. Called her out in assemblies just to make a scene.
Maybe they were tired of being lectured. Maybe they were tired of being shown up. Maybe they were jealous. I still don’t really get it, to be honest. I guess I’m still defensive of her, all these years later.
She was getting shelled out there. She had the nerve to not care, but it hurt me. I was the one who felt it. I guess I could have stood up for her — told them to shut up and fuck off — but I didn’t. Because that’s not what I do.
So instead, she absorbed it all. Not like a sponge, getting heavy and wet and bacterial. Like a fucking avalanche, growing more audacity and reckless as she continued down the mountain. She thought she would just keep getting bigger and better and faster. Keep bulldozing everything. At scale. Everything she did was at a hundred miles an hour, no brakes.
She didn’t know there might be limits to her potential. And when something mattered to her, it wasn’t just wanting. It wasn’t entitlement. It was fighting. For something big. Like truth. She squeezed and twisted and choked until she wrung herself completely dry. There was nothing left. There was nothing else. That was who she was. And when she failed, her identity, like a bone break, took four to six weeks to heal. But no one else saw that. She wouldn’t let them.
I can count on one hand how many times I saw her cry in her parents’ basement. Hard. Ugly crying — snots and red blotches and swollen eyes. She didn’t want anyone to hear it, so she held in the sound until it shook her whole body. Until it gave her hiccups.
I think in many ways, seeing her spent, washed out, and broken like that made me the way I am. Stay level, I told myself. Keep the highs low and the lows high and you won’t be disappointed. I called myself a pragmatist. A realist. Level-headed.
I don’t know when it happened exactly. Things started to fray and cool toward the end of college, but I still followed her out to California. Because, well, I was too scared to walk away. Too scared of everything I wasn’t becoming. Scared of her fearlessness and carelessness and tirelessness. Scared she might actually succeed without me. Then where would I be?
I couldn’t match her, so I just stood there and let her flail her limbs until she bruised me. So I could call it her fault. That’s what I did.
Then, I left her out there in LA with her idealism intact, California dreaming, while I came back East to get a job that worked late. One that paid well. One that gave me experience. Stability. A 401k.
I often wonder what she’d think of me today. How I’d disappoint her. If she’d even recognize me, or if she’d just keep her head down, leaning harder into the boulder she’s pushing.
I still do love her, to be honest. She believed in me. I honestly thought it was going to be forever. I really really did. I couldn’t imagine it ending. And not because I was some lovesick delusional kid. Because we had so much in common. I thought she was who I wanted to be.
And still, there are parts of me that hold on to that ember and keep blowing on it, trying to keep it smoldering, wishing I had what it takes to burn at that temperature. Fucking pragmatists. We just don’t get passion.
And in the winters, when I’m cold here, I long for California out loud. But what I’m really longing for is her optimism. Her vim for life. Her general idealism. Her exhausting, unrelenting sunshine.
But I just left her behind in California. She belongs out there.