thank you for this

by Elizabeth Cregan

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i liked that you loved me in high school. that was a nice thing to hold on to, not as a lifeline or a tether or a last resort but more like the strap of my backpack or the edge of my glasses where I came back to it constantly and was just glad that it was there.

and i loved you too: strange drawings scratched in margins and a small smile that stayed until after you left the room. in 6th grade i always liked looking over your shoulder in french class to see what worlds you would etch out: always far away—myself, a stranger—but i was happy knowing there was life on other dimensions as we conjugated verbs in that classroom on the second floor.

in 7th grade you got the synonyms and antonyms section of a vocabulary quiz mixed up and failed it. you got so frustrated, pacing near the fountain outside the auditorium, and everyone watched you as you almost screamed and it scared me a little but i knew that i felt like that too sometimes. it seems like this was the one time you failed and i felt sad but special that i got to bear witness. you turned a deep pink from the sheer frustration of it all and then you sat on the splintered bench and i broke a little for the both of us.

i hate myself here. and we haven’t talked in months, not since the new year’s eve party where i too loudly made plans that i knew we wouldn’t keep. and then i left without saying goodbye to anyone because it felt sort of pointless and tired and then i drank too much at the house down the street surrounded by strangers and didn’t think of you again that night, i guess for the rest of the year.

college seems to be treating you well. you’re the person you always were but this time the dean of students isn’t making you wear khaki shorts and so you dye your hair blonde and i dye my hair blonde and i get nervous that we can’t talk anymore.

i think i took shelter in the shy way you loved me. because it was quiet and warm and it was hot outside when you just looked at me across the table on the coffee date that wasn’t a coffee date because the text message where you asked for it to be a date hadn't gone through and so it was just coffee.

my memory of you here is one of a quiet listener, probably because i talked too much and so often felt too loud for my own head. i still talk too much and feel too loud but i also feel broken and i wish that part was different.

i talked too much that night on the edge of the party where i told you calmly and drunkenly that i wasn’t afraid to die. sometimes i get scared that you’ll think i’m boring, but then i remember the way the ground dug its way into my knees and my words dug into the roof of my mouth and how i spread myself out because it hurt to sit—and felt you still listening. still, listening.

we were sitting on a basketball court. i don’t know why that matters but it does. because it’s important to remember and i like remembering you, even if you aren’t that far or that far gone or that different and even if we aren’t that old, we’re still older now. and so i feel entitled to miss things like that one trip to the museum or my three years of taking choir less seriously than you. i miss when we realized we were neighbors. (or really when we said it out loud to each other: announcement of proximity, like a squeezed shoulder or a knock on the doorframe of an open room.) when i was seventeen i sat in an empty parking lot somewhere between our two houses reading a book about hollywood and the cold war and i had so many pages left but i didn’t mind. it was sunny and lonely in the pretty way that makes you inhale deeply and i liked knowing that i was close to you.

close to you. maybe i still am, i don’t know.

i just know that i don’t really like myself right now. but i liked that you loved me in high school.