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“Tell me a story,” Miller said, propping his feet on my dashboard as I careened off the freeway to the sloping curve of his exit. The clock radio read ten thirty as the darkness filtered in through the evergreen trees lining the streets. Stars began to appear one by one, like the lights flicking off in the apartments downtown. People are tucked in for bed, children are read bedtime stories.
“I don’t have any good stories,” I insisted, hands gripping the black leather steering wheel.
“Of course you do,” he was persistent, wanting to rip me from the enigma that I had become over the course of our friendship.
“What do you wanna know?” Of course my lips were teeming with words and images and patterns and shaped stories ready for deposition onto him. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to release them.
“What’s your biggest regret?”
“I don’t have any.”
“Who’s Sarah?” I froze. That name had stayed buried deep inside of me for so long, and vines had began their slow wrapping of a story better left hidden.
“How about you go first,” I suggested, and he didn’t hesitate.
“Drive over there,” he pointed down a sloping road leading away from his house.
“But that’s not where...”
“We don’t have to go home yet.”
So that’s where we went. And we sat in my car while traffic lights blinked ahead and stars fell from the sky and in through the cracked window. He spoke with more beauty than all the constellations of falling into arms that had only pushed him away. Of the loneliness that I had felt too, that infecting emptiness of summer sheets void of two bodies. Of distractions, of judgement.
“Why did you break up with Jack?” He asked of my latest boyfriend.
“I guess I only stayed with him because he was perfect. You know, like solid.”
“Stable,” he added.
“Yeah. Like when my cousin died, he was just there. Like a rock. I held onto him because I was scared of doing it on my own.”
Miller and I had met three months before, at a mental health seminar. I remember his smile, the way happiness was easy that weekend. I remember the way he spoke of a self-destructive best friend that I recognized from my life three years earlier.
“Mental health is a cycle,” he said, that shy smile forming on his lips. “Eventually a shirt gets dirty again and you need to wash it and maybe this time the delicate shirt goes in the wrong cycle or it’s harder than the last one. But at the end of the day it’s the same shirt and people need to stop looking at it differently.”
Other than a few scattered words, we didn’t speak again until two weeks ago, when he came to a bonfire in my backyard. We huddled under blankets and looked at the stars and the moon and forgot all about sadness and washing machines and feeling lonely. Because in that moment nothing mattered other than that we had found each other.
When I told him I was leaving to Paris in three months he was sad like I was scared. I had never wanted to stay as badly as I had in that moment. I used to think of leaving as an escape, but now all I thought of was what I would leave behind. I felt cheated out of our friendship, like I had missed years we could have spent together.
I don’t know what it is that causes two people to become best friends. I don’t know if on some intrinsic level our scars recognized each other and the full moon pushed us together like we had known each other all our lives. All I know is he is strength when I am empty; he makes playlists when I need inspiration, and he listens. He pulls from me the stories I have kept buried and he listens while I speak of demons and lightness and mistakes and every small victory.
I wish we had met sooner. I wish when I was fourteen and needed him more than ever that we could have sat in my car waiting for midnight like how we sat in silence and listened to “Futile Devices” after I told him my stories and how I love a girl I’m leaving behind. Because then I could remember them better. I wish we could have more time together. But then I remember that they wouldn’t be stories because they would still be happening and maybe we weren’t supposed to meet until those experiences had turned to stories so we could write a million novels together under the hood of my car.
I know that I will carry him with me as I leave this summer, as I ascend above the runway and I’m alone again. Because my stories have been set free and he has mine and I have his. I will miss him like a limb but I won’t be alone, not really. I will remember flying along the freeway as we cut out part of our hearts and told each other what we were scared of. I will remember his pain as he told me of the boy that tossed him out like a dirty shirt and how his father cried just as much when he found out about the boy as when he found out about the scars. I will remember telling him about Sarah and how I almost jumped and the way he told me I make him happy, and he hasn’t felt genuinely happy in a long time. But at the end of the day we lived through these experiences and now they’re memories. And we carry them with us until someone like Miller comes along to take them away and set them off into the dark until they melt into the stars and burst like a supernova.