Remember Billy Crystal’s classic line from When Harry Met Sally? He said, “What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”
For a while, I thought this was true. I’ve never been one to keep in touch with exes. Except one. The invisible one. Let me back up.
One night in 1997, I played some songs at The Full Moon Cafe in Virginia. Sweet sound, wild crowd. When I looked up, still trapped in the music zone, I saw a skinny fellow leaning against the bar. He was half-smiling — that is, the smile was in his eyes, not the mouth. Like a cat. His eyes were full of light, large and looming, shooting a sharp gaze at the stage. And I knew that the leaning man would soon become my heart-close friend.
I met J.J. (name changed) minutes later. We shook hands. Then we never shook hands again — always nervous hugs that lasted a moment too long. Knobby, knocked up and callused, his fingers reached out crookedly, like thin kindling. His hands were much too big for his wiry body. Like a puppet.
Soon after, we dated and played together in a band. He played wicked keys. I hacked at guitar and sang.
During days I visited J.J. at the camera store where he worked. On his breaks, we sneaked behind the mall, smoking cigarettes. In winter, his chapped lips stuck to his Camel Wides.
Nights, J.J. and I jammed at the guitar player’s house. We got drunk and stoned. Sometimes we hung out at the Waffle House, writing songs about Joanna, our down-and-out waitress. Later, J.J. and I passed out on floors, couches, guitars, lazyboys. It never mattered where we rested our heads.
Not long after, I got sober. In a panic, shaking, I called J.J. to tell him, expecting he’d ditch me. Instead, he quit drinking too.
We spent many nights sleeping in my attic room, listening to the Virginia rain hit the roof.
I learned about his quirks. Mainly, his speed. J.J. guzzled caffeine. He drove fast and furious, changing lanes with no warning. Rides with him were reckless and jerky, a hot beeline trip to Hell. We were daredevils searching for a crash.
He smelled strong and sweet. Despite his insane driving, his voice was calming, and his tone wavered when he said my name. He paused continuously, carefully choosing words. Gently.
Nothing freaked him out more than seeing one hair stuck to a bar of soap. A talented photographer, he played piano like a master. When he squinted, it seemed that he might squeeze out the whole world through his eyelids.
But newly sober, I couldn’t handle a relationship. One morning, when light was seeping through the shades, J.J. and I sat on the floor, still awake from the night before. Struggling, I broke it off. The sun leaked out over us. The room was all yellow.
J.J. stared at me dry-eyed, taking it all in. He always took it all in. Despite the tricky times and the breakup, we hung out, writing songs as usual. We became intense friends.
When I moved to Cincinnati and he moved to Atlanta, we kept in touch. Once, I visited him there. He had shaved his head, and his eyes appeared even larger, like two deep ponds placed on his face. Immediately, we started playing music.
J.J. always made me feel like a Rock star. We had the strangest connection — I loved him like a soul friend, a brother. No expectations, no resentments, no regrets.
Later, he moved to Virginia Beach. From afar, he read my writing, e-mailing comments. He became Buddhist. I became a yogi.
We bitched about relationships. We celebrated new ones. His stomach always bothered him on a bad date.
But about a year ago, something weird happened. One day, out of nowhere, I emailed him, and it bounced back. I tried again. Nada.
There had been no fight, no unusual conversation. Confused, I called him. Phone wasn’t working. I tried it all again. Nothing. He simply vanished. Finally, I gave up.
Sometimes, the silence eats at me, worries me. I rarely raise my voice, but I wish J.J. would raise his voice at me. Even that would be welcome.
I selfishly miss being
a part of my friend’s life. I have no dreams of romance. It’s not about
that. It’s about two people sharing pain, beauty, music, history. People come and go, but some live on. Within. He is one of those ghosts.
People come and go, but some live on. Within. He is one of those ghosts.
But he wants to be the invisible one. And I realize I have no idea what’s going on in his life. Perhaps he’s been struck by illness. Perhaps my presence in his life would fuck up his current relationship. Perhaps he’s desperately happy. Or mad. Or drunk. Or depressed. Off his rocker.
Maybe he doesn’t want to remember the goodbyes. Maybe he’s sick and tired of saying hello. I don’t know.
But I do know this: I won’t easily forget the sound of the Virginia attic rain. I won’t easily forget the way J.J.’s fingers stroked piano keys with careful speed, as if his life depended on each touch.
Some people fiercely crash into our lives, creating an irresistible storm. Happy havoc. Perhaps they continue the downpour for years and one day disappear when the sun comes.
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