She knows way more than me – better than me, too. Sitting on a bench before the New York skyline, I comment on feeling like we’re in a tourist area, that I shouldn’t light a cigarette. “It is.” She responds, and points to butts filling gaps in the sidewalk. “Everyone else smokes around here. Nobody cares, dude! What’s the problem?” Each word leaves her mouth with conviction, every response has been thought about before our meeting, long before she even knew me. From the simple to the sublime, I can’t manage to say a thing she can’t learn me on. In the sun, her hair looks purple – but I’ve been told I don’t know my colors. She laughs, “It’s mauve ya dummy!” To which I reply, “But isn’t that pretty much purple?”
From our bench, people pass and glance our way. Her skin is much darker than mine, her hair up, flashing streaks of white against a cloudless sky. My hair, held down by a dime-size of goop, looks removable; fake. Though without control over it, I’d panic and press down with each gentle breeze. Always patting it back down, always conscious of it. Unlike me she’s mostly motionless. The heat is killing me, but sudden wafts from the Hudson cool us down for a moment before a blanket of heat and humidity regain coverage.
For hours we chat and sit in silence. Sometimes there’s just not much to say, other times, the world. When she mentions friendship, I quiet down – it’s never come easy for me. I’m headstrong, pushy. My principles bind me – and those around me tend to believe I project ideals onto them. Though it’s not an intention, it is something I do. I’ve been called everything from the waist down. Other times, I’m expected to be OK with something I fervently stand against. When that happens, I understand it’s time to go. I make myself OK with their behavior – while I’m expected to change my own. She knows all of this. It’s a lot. “So are you finally done being friends with that group?” “Yeah, I’m done.” I say half-heartedly. Three minutes later I’m retracing my words, “I’ll never be done, I guess. It’s complicated.” She shakes her head, her upheld curls wafting a cool breeze my way. “So what if your only friends are me and Gina?” “No, there’s no problem with that.” I say, but I’m nervous. It’s a mask I live in.
She talks about her father, family, and relationships. I keep focus on my friends and father. Unlike her, I have nothing to offer when she finishes speaking, no deep well of knowledge accumulated over years of difficult experiences and enlightenment, just nods and “I hear ya”s. Without getting over my own garbage, I’m garbage at offering anything to the friends I do have. It’s a padlock I’ve placed on my mouth. When removed, a flash flood of words stream from my mouth until I panic and stop things abruptly. “It feels so weird smoking with my left hand. I’m a true righty.” She says. It’s nonchalant. In response, I catapult into a steady stream of things I do with my hands, because I don’t know, “I’m OK smoking with either hand. I throw a baseball with my left, hold a hockey stick with my left. I write righty, though. Most sports stuff, with my left hand.” Aware of my words but incapable of controlling them, I conclude myself, “I’m all screwed up.” Friends before have told me they know nothing about me, only to use precisely what was said in response against me at a later time. Whether it be depression, familial problems, or various issues, it was a trap then, and my brain continues to think it’s a trap now.
Oh, my brain. Gotta stop worshipping thoughts and instances of bleakness. She’s in a similar boat, but she knows much more. She’s been through this, she’s seen the difficult. She’s faced it. I’m still here, I have too. But she’s reserved; I’m reactionary. She’s comfortable with the uncomfortable, I’m bound by emotions. I worry myself because I know I need her in my life, but I’m not sure she needs me. I don’t know what I bring to the table; and if I don’t bring anything – is that OK?
We’ll figure it out. After a few hours we get up, a rush of intoxication flows back into me and temporarily the dull becomes interesting again. Medals shine off adolescent baseball uniforms. Shadows collide with people. It lasts a block and a half before sleepiness sets in and I’m back to thinking too much, seeing too much, wanting too much. In the car, she balls her hand into a fist and places it gently against my cheek. This happens often. Maybe she’s fake punching me because I’m an asshole, or maybe because I’m one to myself. “Enough deprecating humor. You’re a smart person.” She’s wrong, but she knows way more than I do. I don’t know.