usma

In ALL, BREAKUPS & BREAKTHROUGHS by Stephanie Klein

I pulled it out of a garbage bag in my father’s basement. At least half of our memories are hidden beneath beds or boxed into basements, even if the storage is tucked in a part of our brain that makes it easier for us to live in the present. Ours was never a hard or difficult past, and when I think of you, the specific list of memories kick up, and I smile, seeing you laugh. You were always easy with it, laughing often, especially at me. Never spiteful or malicious, not even mildly evil, one of your favorite things was to get a rise out of me, to see me flustered or even slightly defensive; you only once made me cry. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember where. In a restaurant, sitting across from you, tears marked my face. It upset you more than it upset me, seeing me cry. It was likely something you didn’t say that set me off. I imagine you now, with whomever you’re with today, trying to get a rise out of her, too. It was always your way.

How strange the way we can remember “us” as being this unique combination, a chemistry of steps, a dance of banter, but in reality, it wasn’t “us;” it was you, who you are, and who you’d continue to be with someone else.

Your USMA sweatshirt was in the bag. It’s now in my current closet along with Ron’s wrestling sweatpants and Abtin’s Duke t-shirt, a comfortable wardrobe of exes. We met at McAleer’s on Amsterdam, and you somehow got me to commit to a run the following afternoon, after which, once I was winded, red, and begging for death, you went for a “real run.” You also did a handstand. Years later you got angry with me for asking if you were gay.

You had lied to me about your age, fearing you were too old for me. Today you’re forty-six; I’m thirty-seven. We went to the Slaughtered Lamb Pub with your friends from business school, and I was carded. I flashed my fake ID and couldn’t get in. I was mortified and wanted to be devoured by the werewolf theme. You were hoping I’d notice your real age when I asked to see the photo on your driver’s license, but I didn’t. It would be drama for another day, where I’d throw my arms up, making general statements about lying and our inevitable doom.

Your grandmother loved me. She couldn’t remember any of your names, but on her deathbed, she asked you about me, the girl from Hilary’s wedding. What I remember most about the wedding was that I wore a white backless dress (technically it was off-white) that prohibited a bra. That, and how proud you were of your dance moves, which consisted of hopping on one leg, while holding the other back—a move that somehow trended that night. You took her remembrance of me to mean something more, as a sign or some hidden message, urging you to hold onto me.

We stayed at your place, the place you were renting from that strange roommate who stole your laundry quarters, the place with the stained glass window suspended by chains behind your bed. We ordered in Chinese food from Ollie’s. I had already eaten some of my doughy green steamed vegetable dumplings when I saw the cooked cockroach in my white carton. I’m pretty sure you tried to chase down the delivery man.

In your other apartment on the East side, the one that would come years later, I’d use the wrong tone when asking about one of the framed faces hanging in your entrance hallway. It was a guy wearing 1970s eyeglasses, they looked like clear aviator glasses, meant to be tinted. And the tone came from there, from a repellent reaction to bad eye wear. Defensive, you responded that it was your friend who’d died in the military, an aberrant bullet took his life during a routine practice exercise. Man did I feel like an asshole.

Once I’d lost weight you told me that my arms were three-times smaller than they were when we’d met. Man, were you the asshole.

Somehow, I remember you most with a closed umbrella used as a type of walking stick. I can hear your laugh, hear you cut me off on the phone, using trader speak to tell me you’ve “gotta hop.” I remember our shared incredulity over random things, like my Aunt’s behavior, wearing a red blouse to our Passover Seder, speaking of the blood of Christ; of refusing to return to a certain synagogue because during the High Holidays they passed around a basket asking for donations; being equally disturbed when we attended a wedding at an aquarium that served raw bar.

What amazes me most is how much I took our shared outlook and similarities for granted. There are only a handful of people who really get us, whose minds skip to the same spot, who are connected and held in our memories, and I should have held onto that. I wish you were still a part of my life, a kindred spirit and friend. The hardest part is knowing that there are still people in my life, on the edges, whom I hold too loosely. When you share a connection like this, you never really disconnect. I don’t. And yet, we continue to live very separate lives.