I sat next to a girl who had been my friend.
‘Do you remember,’ she started, ‘back in the school days when we used to exchange notes in math class? ’
‘Or when we used to sit on that green old bench and play matchmaker to form some of the weirdest class couples?’
‘I remember, yeah.’
‘Or when we used to skip physics classes and philosophy classes because we never did the homework and we wanted to escape the teachers’ wrath?’
‘It seems those were simpler times,’ she admitted. ‘They were times when all we worried about were grades and transcripts and getting through last period gym class every Wednesday and passing our exams.’
‘And now I’m almost an engineer and you’ve set out to become a writer…’
I thought of myself as more of an alcoholic than a writer.
‘Strange how time drifts and we drift along with it, until we are nothing but a vague image of what we used to be,’ she said sadly.
It was true that things had changed. Looking back and thinking about the things she spoke, the memories she evoked, I could recognize those two high schoolers strolling down the school corridors, passing by the principal’s office with an air of invincibility. I could see them holding hands like true high school sweethearts, kissing on the stairs when the supervisor was busy talking down to some eighth-grader for the shenanigans he’d caused. I could see through the school walls and remember the projects, the lectures, the homework, the exams. Simple times that were only meant for simple people.
Back then nothing was too difficult for us to handle. Everything was traced for us, like a path carved in sand for us to follow. The path was clear and well surveyed by those who acted as our caretakers.
But now, looking back at this haven, it hit me how much things have changed. There was a rip burning through my chest, slicing my body and cutting through my organs. I felt an ache in my gut as if I were about to suffocate or explode. Of course the girl was still sitting next to me and I didn’t want to raise any suspicions concerning my uneasiness. After all, she’d evoked memories that were long-gone and dead now, and the slightest sentimental reaction from my part would have appeared foolish or suggested I was too soft.
But we must accept these were different times. They belonged to another era, to another timeline. There were no decisions to make, no responsibilities to assume and no actions to be held accountable for. Anything we botched or flunked or messed up we could go back and redo.
Where had it all gone? Perhaps with the wind blowing in my face?
I looked at the girl again. I remembered her under a different light – the innocent light that was still untainted by life and its horrors. She was all grown-up now and she looked prettier than ever. She was a college senior and an almost accomplished engineer. She was very different from the high school sweetheart I remembered and carried good memories of.
Here was a girl who had entered life and was now swimming in its ocean. She had forgotten the innocence of love and had instead fallen captive of society and all its vices. She had chased sex and slept with many men. She had sought lust and pleasure and obtained them. She had been used, misused and abused. She had become a pawn placed upon the chessboard of society, an irrelevant piece devoid of uniqueness and originality. She had lost her virginity and her individuality. She still kept the same kind face, but somehow it had toughened up a bit. She smiled a lot less and her voice had seemingly lost its melody.
And what about me? What about the road I’d set up to follow?
I’d realized the end of high school meant the end of a phase. I had also hoped it meant the start of lifelong dreams worth pursuing. I’d bid farewell to my innocence on my last school day and chose to take off that cloak and leave it behind as well. But I had never predicted the bygone memories of that forgotten era would resurface in my mind someday.
It feels as though I haven’t left. I can picture it still – I can see that kid back in math class sending love letters to his girlfriend while the professor explained integration by parts.
But now it had all changed. After finishing high school and being exposed to the horrors of life, I had decided to become an envoy of the truth. I had set my sights on becoming a writer to speak the unspeakable and tell the horrors of the world we lived in. I was convinced that was my true calling – the vocation I was promised by the gods and was destined to accomplish.
But instead I became a bum who got too attached to alcohol and addicted to various substances – none of which had anything to do with writing.
I tried to stick to college classes but somehow I could not summon the spirit of that kid who found joy and bliss in high school learning. I tried my hand at writing but it never really seemed to click. And that’s when I figured I never really had it going.
So now I found myself sitting next to a memory of mine – flirting with a piece of the past that just seemed stuck to my heart and wouldn’t go away. It was like a piece of smudge you couldn’t wipe off your cheek. The girl next to me – the girl I remembered from my school days – was as confused as me. I could’ve sworn there was a time when she even looked more lost than I was.
But now, she seems to have everything under control. She seems to be navigating through life, cruising through that obstacle course with the confidence and brashness and expertise of a professional driver. She seems to have finally found her way.
I, meanwhile, was still battling my hopelessness. I was still stuck in the past, stuck at that crossroads between high school and life, undecided and unwilling to cross over to the other side.
This was where we had parted ways; her, to go on and blend into a society that expected so much of her, sacrificing her innocence and purity for bigger projects; me, clinging onto my childishness and substituting my future endeavors for memories that provided temporary consolation.
There was sweetness in the air, a sweetness that reminded me of the fragrance of high school kids and their clothes and hairs and attitude. It reminded me of the lousy cafeteria food, the science labs, the school uniforms we tried to get out of wearing every day.
The girl next to me was quiet…perhaps lost in reminiscences of her own. Her eyes were empty seas looking to be filled by excited waves and deep blue waters. Her calm was troubling and worrying, but I repressed my urge to inquire about it.
For now, I was satisfied with the trip I had taken. I was content with the way she had lit for me. The road back to my school days was still paved with great scents and images, and it had led me back to that familiar crossroads where I once stood.
I guess the truth is I never really left. I just drifted a bit – back and forth – having been sent hurling through the wild hurricane of life in every direction.
Parting ways is a cruel experience – but a necessary one we must undertake in every journey we choose to embark on. Some follow the path of enlightenment and go on to achieve greatness. Others set themselves up for failure and are quickly erased and forgotten. Some walk on the path of uncertainty, still clinging on to the fact that their destiny is within reach and awaiting their call.
And there are others – a few select – who desperately try to fight it all and restore things to the way they were. Those rapidly realize they are fighting a losing battle. Sometimes they end up falling and are destroyed by the severity of their own bruises. And sometimes they manage to just get up and pick up a thing or two from the battle –a sort of reward like a precious memory or a fancy college degree or a simple talent like constructing a couple of lines together to form a well-crafted sentence.