He was in my dreams last night, moving with the crowd who prowled the milky-white outskirts of my fabricated reality. His hair was long, his clothes pale, but even in my dreams I can pick him out of a crowd. He stopped, just for a moment, and turned to look at me. His face and expression was empty, revealing no emotion, but his eyes—oh, his terrible eyes—held so much that I think I might have stopped breathing, just for a moment. He didn’t say a word and a moment later he was pushed along by my dream-crowd.
I didn’t move. I didn’t run after him. I just stared and watched him fade away into white.
When I woke up, I ached. I felt the impulsive need to call him up and clutch that bit of Japanese-made plastic and wires and ask, “Alexander, you remember that day when I came over and instead of doing dishes like I said I would, we ate lemon drops and watched The Day the Earth Stood Still? That was nice.” And “Do you recall when you and I fought in the middle of the library and I made you cry? That was awful, but I miss that.” I wanted to do that, but I didn’t, because his number had changed and I promised him a long time ago that I’d only call if I really needed something.
Maybe he needed to hear that, but I don’t think he’d want it.
Alexander is not my ex. He was my friend, but I don’t know the word for him now. In autumn of 2007, he was dating my friend, Sarah. We bonded over sci-fi television, we could complete each other’s sentences, we laughed at the same jokes. If I didn’t think he was such an idiot, I would have probably dated him myself.
Alexander, Sarah and I spent the better part of a year and half with each other. We were seventeen and eighteen and taking our first foray into the big, bad world. We were defying convention: him a Catholic, she a Jew and me a “she’s-just-Ani” and we thought we were just oh-so-cool and original for doing so. I remember sitting in the piano practice rooms, curled up behind the door in the dark and watching them desperately mashing their lips and noses together, writhing strangely on the carpeted floor as the room temperature grew warmer and began to smell more like Alexander’s cologne and incense.
It’s funny how much I believed that this perfect feeling would last forever. I felt like I belonged, like I was watching something amazing grow, both in our friendship and in their relationship.
Of course, things don’t work like that.
Life happened in a flurry where we laughed and danced and sang and stayed out late and got a little bit drunk and lived like this was it, that we only had these years of youth and they would go stretching on forever and ever.
I recall one night after a concert, where we went rushing down the street, singing oldies and I felt so happy. Life was intoxicating! And they took my hands and we went rushing across the empty street against the light, and leaped off the curb and for a just a moment, when I looked up at the night sky, it felt like I was flying.
Gravity, though, is a law of nature and I hit the ground a few months later as our friendship crumbled and Sarah moved downtown and Alexander left the country for a while. I still saw Sarah every Saturday and one day, sitting in a little room by ourselves I asked her why she looked so pensive.
"I’m worried about Alexander.”
“Why?” I asked.
She said she didn’t know, that there was something different in the way he spoke to her. That he was definitely depressed and that something had happened. And because Alexander and I were so very alike, I knew, but I didn’t dare say what I thought had happened out loud.
Alexander is impulsive and impervious, sad and easily manipulated and they used that against him as he drank himself into a stupor at the back of some club where he didn’t speak the language. They pushed him down and made him do things he’d never do—terrible, half-recalled things that haunted his dreams the same way he haunted mine.
I couldn’t get a firm enough grip on the action, on that moment and that idea, to feel anything about. I was grasping at emotions that I didn’t understand, desperately going through the emotions of anger and grief of what my once-friend had lost. Still, I couldn’t begin to understand, except in my dreams, where he turned and looked at me in a crowd, in a milky-white fog and for a moment I stopped breathing. For just a single moment, I had a tiny scrap, an iota of emotion and understanding that nearly broke my heart.