Two stories involving people I used to know very well and hung out with like every day:
A few weeks ago I was at Trader Joe’s in Emeryville, a place where I am embarrassed to admit how often I go there, and I was walking around with my head down feeling like a real piece of filth on account of all the recent suicidal ideation. I got a bunch of vegetables and some quinoa and chickpeas, which is just about all I eat anymore, and I was walking to the checkout line when I saw a girl who completely vanished from my life some years ago now, never mind how long precisely. This was Lauren, who was one of my first friends in Oakland. We worked together at Donut Farm for maybe a year and a half until she abruptly quit. I still saw her a lot after that because she lived with my friend Rachel K., who was also one of my first and very best friends here, and who was the de facto manager of Donut Farm. Well, the thing is this: it had taken some time for Lauren to like me because she hates pretty much everyone. So she doesn’t initially give someone a chance—you gotta break through the ice barrier and maybe she’ll warm to you. I felt very glad when Rachel told me I had.
Lauren and I would drive around at night in my police car after that because neither of us could sleep. We went all over the place and I liked being with her. Sometimes we just did laps around Lake Merritt drinking coffee. This went on for maybe six months. Then, one day, she had some sort of falling out with Rachel and moved out. Overnight she unceremoniously dropped all of us and completely went away without telling us where she had moved. I think Lauren just had to completely wipe her life of what came before and start new. I never saw her again after that.
So at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago, there she was in the checkout line. She said, “Ryan. You’re back.” Somehow she had known I had been in Portland for a year, and was back in Oakland again. We talked for a little while and I felt like maybe she didn’t really want to. She had probably said hello to me automatically without thinking about it and immediately regretted it. Probably I’m just thinking of it that way, though hell, I can’t read her at all. She always scrambled my character-reading abilities. I said good-bye and hugged her, and it was real stiff. What was real for me felt perfunctory to her. She doesn’t strike me as someone who likes affection, so who knows. Man, I was so happy to see her though.
Before I left, I grabbed a teeny tiny little baby cup of coffee (TTLBCC) from the back of the store and then went out the side door. In my peripheral vision I saw her standing by the wall looking at her phone. I kept walking because I didn’t want to bother her again. I popped my trunk and put my grocery bags in there. I covertly glanced in her direction and saw her darting away like she didn’t want me to see her. I thought, you know, what the hell is that? We had been friends, for god’s sake! Well, she’s gone again, and I reckon I’ll just have to live with that. I guess I’m still allowed to miss her though.
• • •
I worked with another girl at Donut Farm, who was Amanda. She was tall and had short blonde hair and man I sure did like her a whole lot. We used to watch VHS tapes like every night. Like crappy ’70s horror movies and all that. She lived with Rachel K. too for a time, but moved out after she met some new guy. Before she quit, I gave her my old mattress. I don’t know why you’d want someone’s used mattress, but I gave it to her anyway. She moved to Richmond with her boyfriend and lived in some punk house with a bunch of punk kids. There were some other houses in this little corner of the Richmond Annex, and so they had fires all the time in the very center. I went to one once with my spirit-brother McCune. She took us along to Little Caesar’s to get some HOT-N-READYS for the party. She had just bought this classic car. I’d never seen one like it.
Anyway: The fire was OK. Truth is, I didn’t have a whole lot to say to Amanda outside of the Donut Farm house. I don’t know . . . I guess it had been some time since we’d spoken, and she’s real cool and nice and all, but I never really had any deep conversations with her. She did give me this elaborate tour. In her bedroom was my old mattress. I didn’t see her again at all after that. I didn’t know what had become of her.
Last week I went to get Thai food at this place called Tuk Tuk in downtown Berkeley. I got my take-out bag and walked out, and there she was on the sidewalk waiting for her friends to file out of a car. I walked past her without knowing for sure it was her. Her hair was so long, and I don’t know if I misremembered or something, but she looked shorter than before. I always thought she was 5’11” or something but she was definitely 5’9″. So I kept walking thinking it was probably just her doppelgänger or something. Well, they went right into Tuk Tuk. And I followed behind them and waited for them to sit down. On the street through the big glass window I recognized her boyfriend. I texted her asking if she was in Tuk Tuk and she said, “Yes! I had a feeling it was you, but it was dark. Come in!” I went in! She stood up and hugged me. I hugged her boyfriend too. I guess we’re gonna “get coffee” soon, which is something I kind of hate doing . . . I don’t like catching up. You know? What’s the point. But I do wanna see Amanda. She was very friendly, which she always is. It was a far different experience than seeing Lauren, who I guess inexplicably hates my guts, or at least still hates everyone on Earth, and I’m just caught up in the fray. . . . At any rate: Yeah! It was cool~
• • •
And what became of Rachel K., who was my best good friend? I was always around her house when I lived on Mead. I really did come over just about every day. I helped her with dishes and cleaning and I always chopped firewood I brought over from this underpass in West Oakland. She even asked me to come over one day because she missed her ex-boyfriend. She was pretty tough and I never saw her cry or get gooey until that day. She told me I was the first person to see her cry in probably ten years. I walked over to the stump where she was sitting and hugged her while she cried into my shoulder. And I remember staying over that night and sleeping with her in her bed so she didn’t have to be alone.
One day we just stopped hanging out together. She had asked me to watch her dog, and I couldn’t, having said I could before (Dante couldn’t take it!), and she got real mad at me and our friendship just fell into a pit. I missed her all the time but she ignored me, which, c’mon, is a pretty extreme reaction to have!
And then Christmas Day 2016, when I was alone in Portland, having spent the whole day watching movies by my fireplace, I got this email from her:
Maybe it’s because I just watched Swiss army man drunk on expensive white wine after eating Latkehs with my dad in PA, or maybe it’s because Zach sent out a Christmas wish, but I was thinking about you.
How are you? Are you alive? Well, even? Are you warm and tan? Probably not, I am cold and pale. Are you in Oakland, still, again?
I miss your evil, and yes I was pissed and considered you a bad friend because you ghosted me after you agreed to watch my dog and then I got mean and ghosted you. But hey, friends are hard to come by, and we’ll all be ghosts soon enough (not soon enough).
I responded, saying, Jesus God Almighty, I sure did miss you. I told her I was trying with all my might to come back to Oakland, and that when I did get back we’d be friends again. I was excited as hell.
In April I was hired by this real great publishing company in Oakland near Temescal. I told her we should hang out soon, and she said “Yeah dude!!!” I ended up being so busy with having just moved that I let a two months go by. I didn’t hear from her for some time after that, and I was distracted, and so on. Finally I sent her a text asking if I could visit her classroom, now that she was a high school art teacher, and she said: “No. You haven’t even made time for me since you got back.” To which I said: “That’s fair, yeah.” I never said anything again after that, and so I haven’t seen her again in all this time. I’ve been thinking about writing her a letter and leaving it in her mailbox for six months. I think I’ll do that this weekend. I suspect that Rachel is like Lauren in that she has very few friends by design, and to protect herself she puts distance between herself and you when she feels slighted in some way, accidentally or otherwise. Hell. That’s a real bummer.
• • •
Well, what else is there to say? I reckon sometimes you love people and they go away, and then somehow you end up seeing them or talking to them again, and you remember how much you love and miss them. I don’t know what will become of any of this, probably nothing, though at the risk of sounding sentimental I’ll say this: I sure am going to keep on loving and missing these fine people. They were my friends, and they were nice and decent to me a long time ago now. For whatever it’s worth now that it has ended, I still remember that feeling.