I am writing this though I recently tried to contact you. Truthfully, I didn't try that hard, but it's been a long time and I haven't kept track of all of the various phone numbers and e-mail addresses you have had. In fact, I've let it slide. Our whole relationship. I've let it slide.
A day or two into the new year a friend asked if I planned to see you. I was half-hearted. I told her I was burnt out. I told her I didn't really know if I had it in me.
She said, "It's always up to the woman to make the first call. Men will never do it. Even men who are mostly women."
Truthfully, I felt some guilt then. Maybe it is my job to call and call and call. Maybe it is my job to keep better contact. And I think I used to do that. But now I have kids to keep track of and a husband and friends who call to check in on me.
In third grade you wore striped shirts like the kids on "Zoom." Your glasses were big and square and your head as round as Charlie Brown's. I was in second grade and reading "The Hobbit." You were impressed by that and I was impressed by your drawings. I invited you over to make salt-dough ornaments or to bake pretzels in the oven (both projects selected from the "Zoom Do" book.) We loaned each other books and though we lived less than a mile apart, you walked the hill up to my house more than I ever made the trek to yours.
For your birthday one year, you had an ice cream party and your father sang the birthday song in a deep baritone. Every head in the restaurant turned and your face reddened. Your father sang often. At parties he wore crossed ammo belts like Pancho Villa. In place of shotgun shells, there were tiny bottles of whiskey. He would say "If you start having fun, do it real slow until you get used to it." He said this a lot.
When your father died, you called me. By then, we were grown and I was living in Los Angeles in a run down apartment where I had painted the wood floors turquoise blue. It was a full moon on the night you called and I had been sitting at my kitchen table working on a little watercolor painting. His death had been a long time coming but it was still a surprise. It wasn't until I was caught off guard by the death of my own father after five year's of Alzheimer's that I really understood your sadness. You knew for sure there was no chance to change. No more conversations. No more songs.
The next time I saw you we met for lunch and you were wearing the softest black coat. On the back of this coat, you'd made a constellation of little metal stars. I remember hugging you and feeling those stars under my fingers. You smelled of incense and your body was warm. The waitress wondered if you were my boyfriend and we both smiled.
The place where you finally came out to me was the Obama headquarters in Albuquerque during the election and now it's sitting empty. Twenty-five years ago, when we perched on little stools and sipped Italian soda, it was called "Notes." Pink and black and green, the little espresso bar was a first in our home town. I imagine that the Smiths were playing in the background. I know I was wearing a black dress and oversized white shirt, a wide belt low on my hips. Black rubber bracelets and metallic bangles were stacked on my wrists. I'd dressed carefully because even though I knew what you were going to say, the crush that started in second grade had never completely burned out.
When you went to college in the East, we wrote letters. We'd written letters for years, retrieving them from the post office that marked the halfway point between our houses. I keep these missives in a box in the closet. Your handwriting changes, grows more spidery, more elegant. Your drawings become darker and your language more flowery. You are a good writer. You are poetic and funny and have a good eye for detail. Of course you can write. Because you are gifted in all things.
I am sometimes naive. It was easy for you to keep parts of your life a secret from me because the paths you chose were not even on my map.
There are a lot of reasons I haven't called. Sometimes I think it's because I don't have the vocabulary I need to talk to you about what's really happening in your life. We skirt around the reasons you moved to Los Angeles and the reasons you moved back. Because I don't really understand the mechanics of the thing, I avoid questions that would clear it up. Needles? Powders? Pills? How does it feel? Does it feel?
When we do talk, you revert time and time again to the past, but my son is now as old as I was at our first meeting and I have a need to talk about the present.
I watch my son with his friends and I wonder if they will stay with him for all of his life the way you have stayed with me. I wonder if their paths will diverge and twine together in the way ours have.
I remember standing next to you once at a fair. We must have been about ten or eleven and without thinking, I slid my hand into yours. I was startled that my hand moved to yours even though that's what I longed to do. I turned away quickly, self-conscious in my need to connect.
It's been a long time since we shared a meal or traded books or wrote a letter. Too long to let more time pass. I'm reaching out a hand.