I ran into used-to-be-me the other day on my way to a gallery opening. I hoped she wouldn’t recognize me, but she caught my eye. “Going this way?” she said. “So am I.”
Used-to-be-me had half an inch of dishwater blonde showing at the roots of her red hair and was under-dressed for the cold. We’re like each other that way. She asked me what I’m up to even though she knew I dread the question. Maybe she hoped I don’t anymore. “Oh, you know. Rolling along,” I said. I’m rolling along a lot these days. It seems less dishonest than saying I’m fine or I’m good and it’s less humiliating than giving out details. She asked what I’m working on. I told her “Nothing right now.” Right now is a useful set of words because it implies I’ll be doing something else soon or I was doing something else recently. I asked my Uber driver last week what he does when he’s not driving. It’s my go-to for avoiding awkward silence, but he went quiet anyway. Then he said, “This is all I’m doing right now.” I could’ve hit myself.
Used-to-be-me wanted to know if I’d finished the play she’s working on. I knew she’d be disappointed, but she didn’t seem surprised. She still asked me all the questions I hate to answer– the ones that make me duck my father’s texts and phone calls. No, I’m not writing much of anything. No, no progress on grad school and please don’t read between the lines and realize I’m not sure if I want to do that anymore. Yes, my relationship’s fine. No, I still don’t want to talk about the details. I waited for her to lecture me the way he does. She went quiet. Then– “It’s okay,” she said.
I would have taken a lecture.
I didn’t have to ask her any questions. I knew what she was writing and how she was doing. She hadn’t hit the point of almost failing out her last year after being an A student yet. She hadn’t lost most of her friends just from pushing them away. I didn’t need tell her it was coming. She’s smart. She could figure it out.
I saw a lot of old acquaintances at the opening, people I hadn’t seen in almost a year. One was a wonderful young woman who I remember as always having a good word for everyone. I asked her what she was up to, wondering whether she dreaded the question as much as I do. Things were going well for her. She works for our alma mater now, she told me. She’s a community outreach coordinator. And what about me? I told her I work for Hy Vee. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Before used-to-be-me and I parted ways, she asked me– “So do you miss me?” she asked me. She had a wry smile already in place, thinking she knew the answer, thinking it wasn’t going to hurt because she wasn’t going to let it. Used-to-be-me doesn’t think anyone would miss her. Used-to-be-me is pretty sure no one thinks of her at all when she’s not in the room. We’re like each other that way. When I opened my big mouth and told her, she got this look, like it was the saddest thing she’d ever heard.
“Yeah,” I said. That’s what I said. “Yeah. I do. I do.”