The cathedral stands as a fallen empire over the ruins of what once a place I called home. She waits at the top step wearing that white bridal shower dress that ten years ago would’ve aroused my attention, fluttered my heart. She’s older, then again, so am I. Older. Grayer. A misanthrope drunken by the feel of the crowd.
I see her and think that if things had gone a bit different. If only, right? That’s the problem with looking back while walking forward. You always wonder what might have played out, while missing out the images the reel is playing.
At nineteen, I set off to make something of myself. A failed relationship. A few journals. A romance with do-not-resuscitate tattooed on its chest. Ten years later, I’m making meager wages. And I haven’t left any evidence that I existed. That I lived. There will be no section dedicated to me in the history books. I’m lucky if I become a footnote in someone’s autobiography.
“You’re haunted by ghosts,” she told me ten years ago. We were sitting on the hood of her car, staring at the little stars that push through the deafening city lights.
“Sometimes I think that I died,” I admit. “And that all this is just those visions we’re told about. Instead, it’s not my life flashing before my eyes. It’s more of the life that I could’ve lived.”
It occurred to me that I hate people because they always leave. In kindergarten, I made friends a Carlos Perez. I considered him my first best friend. He moved away before the year was out. Even before him, Javier moved on. Then there was my grandfathers who died while I was still young. The friends I made in kinder, well, some of them transferred to other schools. And in third grade, we were all split up. Juan and Daniel were friends I made to replace the others. I imagine Juan is either dead or in prison or dead in prison. Daniel, he could’ve become anything he wanted to. His heart was good, but I imagine his world was torn asunder. That he was used up and left on the streets. I imagine Roberto, who moved to Michigan in the ninth grade, as some pencil pusher whose wife hates him, whose children loathe and disrespect him.
And then I remember Teddy and wonder what he would’ve been like had he not died.
It’s selective memory that has me writing and rewriting and revising all the same details. I remember the parts that meant something, the scenes where they left me and not the other way. Because it’s easier to hate them that way.
“What if I was not your only friend in this world?” I asked. “Would you take me where you’re going if you’re never coming back?”
She smiled and turned away from me. “It’s nice out here,” she said. “Maybe someday.”