Every day on my drive home from work, I pass close to your house, close to the high school we attended together – the place where we became best friends.
Often on this drive scenes from our friendship flit through my brain. I see us in your car laughing with total teenage silliness. I see us in your room studying physics and eating popcorn and Doritos. “The heat from the popcorn melts the cheese a little bit,” you explained. I see your face, framed by your hijab or by your silky, shiny brown hair. I see you petting my dog at my parents’ house, even though you didn’t always care for dogs. “She’s such a polite dog,” you would say.
(How do you capture a friendship so that it doesn’t fade? I can make a list: she loved my handwriting, I loved her laugh. She loved my poems. I, like everyone else, was drawn by her magnetic personality, jealous of the way people admired her, but mostly just so honored that she chose me as one of her best friends. She had a way of making me feel how important I was to her.)
I get the impulse to call you. Why can’t my brain understand that I can never call you again?
I have dreams where you come back from the dead. I hear your voice when listening to certain songs. Is this what it means to be haunted?
(Maybe I can capture it with a photo album. Paste a picture here. Write a quote here. But the sentiments seem shallow and the quotes don’t reflect the depth of meaning without the context of the entire friendship).
In 5 years, my life has changed dramatically. I got divorced and got married again. I started my real life grown-up career. I’m researching Ph. D. programs. But I can’t talk to you about these decisions, these changes. I have emotions I want you to help me process, but you can’t. I want your advice, and you have no more to give.
We didn’t talk with each other constantly, and we didn’t need to. It’s not that I wish we had. It was the kind of friendship that we knew would go on for the long run. The kind where you pick up the phone and call me, no matter how long it had been, and the friendship is always the same, if not growing with time.
I don’t think I even have your old number saved in my phone anymore. Who has it now?
(How do you capture conversations? We talked about our parents. We talked about the expectations put on us. We talked about boys. We talked about career, school, ambition. We talked about relationships, friendships or romance, the different roles people play in a life. We talked about my divorce, my life being shaken. We talked about how life can be so hard sometimes. But so many words are lost, and though I can still hear her voice, it does fade with time.
And I continue to grow, but she’s left behind at 23.)
I’m not crying all the time anymore; that only lasted a few months. I’m not carrying around the hurt, a black tightness in my chest which left me feeling heavy and hollow. The experience of grief isn’t constant sadness. It can be longing, sorrow, disorientation. Confusion and non-acceptance, needing to replay the events and understand that they were real. There I am, at the hospital after you died. I hugged your cousin and a friend and then we left, without words, because there was nothing else to do. There I am, at the funeral, needing a man to walk up to the graveside with me due to cultural tradition. There I am, hugging that man, a friend I was in love with who was in love with you, sobbing at your graveside. Laying on a couch next to your sister. Pretending like my presence at your family’s house was at all a comfort to anyone. But it was a comfort to me.
“Why hasn’t it gotten better?” I asked my husband.
“Because she still hasn’t come back.”
(A timeline? Here’s when we met. Here’s when we worked on a project together and she admired my handwriting. Here’s when we started studying together. Here’s when I first went to her house, first saw her without a hijab. Here’s me attending an “Arab girl party” as they called it, and feeling very honored by the inclusion. Here’s when we discovered how similar our home-lives were, our relationships with our parents, how her family’s Islam and my family’s Christianity lined up at x, y, z. And on and on until our lasts texts of “I love you!” just a few days before she died. The end of a friendship, still uncaptured.)