Next of kin

I try, I do try, to forget her, because too much time has elapsed to force a reunion, because the distance is too vast to casually cross, because I am certain her feelings for me oscillate within a narrow range bounded by disdain and hate, because no pretense at rekindling feelings would be sufficient to deceive her, because she has grown into a person so different from the one I knew, because I question if I ever knew her at all. Most uncomfortable is the realization that I likely didn’t ever understand her on the level she deserved. We met during my blue period, when I was insecure, superficial, selfish, and motivated only by insecurity, superficiality, and selfishness. In my current phase of life, at least, I am aware of my deficiencies, even if I can’t fully cure them, and I can curtail them when they threaten to knock out the power to my better impulses. If we met today, I promise I would be a better friend to you. If we met today, I promise I would empathize more honestly, share more fully, and forgive more completely.

“Just forget it,” I think, as thoughts of her approach like a stalker at the window, silhouetted in lamplight, lifting a kitchen knife into my line of eyesight. She stares at me through darkness, through dirty, milky glass. I turn contemptuously from the girl-as-specter, as though the force of my disdain—sometimes so cool, so imperious, so lofty—alone could disarm her. “Just forget it,” when the pain refuses to pass, when it lodges like a gallstone in sticky tissue, when it accumulates like microplastic in fetal blood, when it won’t be evicted by any means.

In the map of our lost relationship, a forest of deepest green circumscribes a lake of clearest blue, and beyond the trees, there’s a grassy hill, bare of any flowers. I leave the lake, the edge of my skirt bunched up in my hand, trailing water onto the rocky shore. The old-growth trees offer imperfect, gentle shelter from the light of the setting sun, which falls through the branches and onto moss and leaves in dark-toned splashes of violet, magenta, yellow, silver, blood. I part from the protection of the forest and find myself at the bottom of the hill, holding my breath. The breeze moves through and heightens every splintered sensation. I don’t know what may come from cresting that hill. I don’t know what I will see from the height offered by that vantage point. It’s so hard to avoid the fear, here. But I do try. So I turn around: back through the trees, back across the shore, back into the cool depths of the lake. A hundred steps back until I feel the water cover me in consolation and return me to my familiar fiefdom of night-blooming flowers, icy sidewalks, incomplete declarations, and yellowed sketches taped to the refrigerator, which feel as painful, as crucial, as close to my heart as the profoundest regret.

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