Arms Wide Open

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This post was first published on Dear Damsels.
 

We wake up early on our last day, and fittingly, it’s a Monday. It’s also uncharacteristically grey and cloudy, which might be San Diego’s way of saying Don’t go. I like to think so.

While she’s in the kitchen, I sneak into her bedroom to leave a couple of boxes of tea on her nightstand, together with her favourite chocolate digestives – because having a friend who lives in London has got to have some perks – but then she goes back in to look for a necklace and my surprise is ruined. It’s the thought that counts, I tell myself.

We make a gallon of coffee and drink it in the car. We listen to a podcast I haven’t heard of, complain about traffic, stop to get petrol. My coffee’s cold by the time we pull into the station, so time must have passed even though it feels like we only woke up minutes ago. Maybe I’m still dreaming. 
 

She helps me get my luggage out of the trunk, and we walk to the platform in silence. It’s sunny now. Don’t go.
 

We hug but don’t speak. Touch but don’t move. Then:
 

‘Come back soon, yeah?’ she says.
 

Yes, I nod.
 

‘Thanks for the visit. Love you always,’ she adds.
 

Miss you already, I think. Or maybe I say it. I think sometimes with us, there’s not really a difference. And then I blink and she’s gone, so I stand on the platform with my eyes on the car park and my heart in my throat.
 

We’re lucky, I think while I gulp and try to hold back tears. We’re lucky to have this, something good, and we’re lucky we met because the way we did is so improbable that it could easily not have happened, and then we’d have been robbed of moments like these. Years like these. 

We’re lucky, I tell myself. I just fucking hate goodbyes.
 

‘There’s nothing quite like sisterhood, is there?’
 

I turn in the direction of the voice and find a woman’s eyes on me. She’s sitting on the bench by the vending machine, shielding from the sun, and looks like the kind of grandmother you’d love to have over for a drink, or two; a warm, kind smile on her face and a big red poncho covering her shoulders. 

‘You ladies have something special. It’s beautiful,’ she says.
 

I smile a big smile, full of teeth and teary eyes, and she smiles back like we’re sharing secrets. 

‘I’m going to see my daughter in LA, and from there flying to New York to visit my sister. We’re very close, me and her, very close.’ Her hands move with her mouth, her long silver strands are in her face, in front of her eyes, still she smiles big. Secrets. ‘Are you going to LA, too?’
 

‘Yeah,’ I nod. ‘Going back, actually, I was just visiting.’
 

‘So you live out there, uh?’ she asks.

‘No, I— I live in London.’ 
 

‘Did you have a good time?’
 

‘It was wonderful.’ 
 

‘What was your favourite part?’ She looks at me like she wants to know, like she’s actually interested, and I haven’t seen that in a while; not in London. 
 

I guess for all its faults and cars and false bravado, America’s still a place where people ask questions like they want to know the answers. Funny.
 

My favourite part?



When we hiked while listening to a 2010 playlist and laughed ’cause we still knew all the words to that one Owl City song. When her parents had us over for dinner and made pizza from scratch because, ‘It’s in your honour, Anna’. When we saw a movie under the stars, and I met her friends and ate a burrito so big it took me 45 minutes to finish it but by the time I did I was smiling so wide you wouldn’t even notice that I’d spilled sauce everywhere and got pieces of rice between my teeth. When we sat on her couch and watched The Office all afternoon, because real friends are the ones you can spend an afternoon doing nothing with, and still have the time of your lives.
 

‘We saw some seals. That was really cool,’ is what I settle on. Then, ‘But I think— I think just being here was my favourite part. She always comes to me, you know? This was different.’ 
 

‘It’s very different. I love it over here. I’ve lived out East, too, but I never . . . I guess it depends on what you like. What you need. It can be everything, you know. Do you know what I mean?’
 

I nod. I do. It is everything.

‘What’s your name, dear?’ she asks, eyes wide open. 
 

‘Anna.’
 

‘Oh, my grandmother’s name was Anna, too! She was so beautiful. Like you, you’re very beautiful.’
 

I smile another big smile. I knew it was coming. This is California, after all.
 

Welcome home.

This is how we slip away

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First, it’s a missed phone call. You’re distracted, on your way somewhere, it’s rush hour and raining and it’s only a missed phone call. But you stare at the screen until it stops ringing, and only then look away. You will call back. 

 

You forget. 

 

Nothing’s wrong, is the thing. You have a lot on your mind, it wasn’t intentional. Why would it be?

 

You’re busy. 

 

Next, you reschedule a coffee date because something came up, but the truth is you woke up in a foul mood and just want to stay in bed and cry a lot. It’s not her, it’s not, it’s just -life. 

 

Raincheck? you ask. Sure, she says. 

 

But you don’t set a date, and neither does she, and it doesn’t happen.

 

Nothing’s wrong. 

 

You leave town for a day, then for a week, and send a picture of a sunset because you think she’d like that. She replies with a smiley face, and it’s fine. It is.

 

You start saying things like, I think she went to some party last weekend, and, I guess she has a new boyfriend. You’ve deleted Instagram but check her profile on the web version every day, which is something you wish they’d have warned you you’d start doing because, wow. 

 

You wince when you see new pictures with new friends in new places laughing at new jokes but maybe that’s the whole point of Instagram, really, so you let it slide. It doesn’t mean anything anyway.

 

You get mean and jealous and stroppy, and it’s ugly. You hate the words coming out of your mouth but it’s too loud in your head to stay silent. You repeat it doesn’t hurt enough times that people start believing you.

 

You hear about her big promotion and wish you could text but it’s been so long you wouldn’t know what to say. You hear about her breakup and wish you could call but you still hang up after the first ring. 

 

Nothing’s wrong but everything’s on fire.

 

Someone asks you about her weeks later and you catch yourself in time, but it’s a close call. You smile a good smile and say she’s doing fine, and it’s believable, really, it is. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you didn’t miss her at all. 

 

You find a note she wrote on a napkin months ago, tucked between the pages of a book you haven’t picked up in a while, and it falls out as soon as you open it but your breath doesn’t hitch, it doesn’t. You’re just surprised, that’s all.

 

You’re my best friend and I love you a lot, the note says.

 

Your breath doesn’t hitch. It doesn’t.