The Popcorn of Our Relationship

I am really starting to regret not studying abroad in college. It was one of the few things I applied to that I didn’t get into, and now I think it must have been because of my low GPA.

At least if I had gone abroad, maybe she would have wanted to come with me. She doesn’t answer her phone when I call her on the way home. She must be asleep by now, so there’s no way to talk it through with her. For a second, I almost open up an Uber app as a joke and see if anyone will drive me out there tonight instead of back home for sleep. But then a red light reminds me it’s two in the morning and too late for anyone but drunk idiots stumbling home from bars. Besides which, she would never forgive me if something happened on my way out there just because she wasn’t awake to talk about it first.

Instead of Ubering myself out to her house in the middle of the night, I decide to just call over again when we wake up in the morning — even though that means another night spent alone. I don’t know what else to do though — it seems weird to just come out there unannounced when she won’t answer her phone now even if we used to be really close and all.

I try not to think too much about what she might be doing instead of answering the phone when I call again in the morning — maybe sleeping in or taking a shower or brushing her teeth — but it makes me anxious anyway. Finally, after four rings, she picks up the phone and says hello in that same bored voice that makes me feel so far away even though we live only an hour apart now.

Still, when I ask if it’s too late for me to come over tonight instead of tomorrow like usual, she doesn’t hesitate before saying yes even though it will mean staying up late for her too — probably more than an hour past our usual bedtime together. And something about how easily she agrees makes me suspicious that maybe she was awake all night just waiting for this moment where we could finally talk about it.

When I get there, her driveway is dark, and she opens the door only after I’ve knocked three times and called out her name twice. She’s wearing pink pajamas that show off her arms and the tops of her breasts, but when she sees me looking at them, she crosses her arms over them self-consciously.

It seems so unfair that someone can just go on aging while you stay frozen in time forever at your last memory of them. Sometimes it almost feels like a betrayal to be reminded of how close we used to be — if only because part of me wants to hold onto this moment forever as one where nothing was wrong instead of going back again for all the rest of our moments together where something always seemed off but I never said anything about it because sometimes people don’t want you to see when they’re not happy.

Still, I can’t help but remember all the times she used to say that people never really change as they get older — only the way they present themselves changes over time so that even if you see an old friend again after many years apart, it will still feel like them even if they look and act totally different now than they used to.

When she sees me looking at her arms and the tops of her breasts, she crosses them self-consciously over herself again.“I’m making popcorn. Want some?”

She doesn’t wait for my answer before walking into the kitchen to putter around with the microwave instead of inviting me in or asking me to sit down or anything like most hosts would do if you showed up unannounced at their house in the middle of the night — even though we used to be really close when we were kids together back when I slept over almost every day after school and before dinner time came around. The only other times I ever slept away from home were on vacation trips with my family, but our houses were close enough that she was usually the first person I thought to call whenever my parents drove past the driveway we shared when they took me on vacation trips during elementary school.

It seemed like a bigger, more important thing than it probably really was — even though on the surface you might think not much could be closer than two houses separated by just one driveway and a couple hundred feet of grassy lawn. But somewhere deep down, I always knew that it wasn’t really about proximity or convenience or all those other obvious things people say when talking about how close they are to someone else. It was about something else entirely — something that I never fully understood until much later in life but which I think now must have been love or some sort of derivative thereof; something so powerful and mysterious that it can sometimes exist even without the understanding of either person involved in the relationship knowing what is happening or why; something that can make people do things with no clear purpose beyond continuing in this powerful relationship together even if maybe they don’t want to anymore; something where one person might know exactly what they feel while having no idea at all what another person might be feeling.

Sometimes, in moments of weakness or insecurity or whatever, you might wonder if maybe your parents passed her house that day on their way to a different destination because it was easier for them or quicker to drive past than in through the neighborhood looking for a place to turn around — and if they had done so, would she have answered her door when they knocked instead of me? Did they ever wonder why I was always at her house every time they took me somewhere as a kid? Did something special exist between us that I didn’t even know about until much later in life? Or did everything really play out exactly as it did because there are fates and destinies and kismet governing human relationships the same way they do everything else in life according to some unknowable, mysterious force?

The whole thing — from my parents driving past her house that day to us reconnecting here at her house now as adults — seems like a real moment of destiny or fate, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

It makes me feel like maybe nothing really matters all that much in the end after all if it turns out we were always meant to end up right back where we started together again years later no matter what else might happen between now and then; it makes me wonder if maybe even my decision to come over tonight instead of tomorrow morning was already determined long ago when things had already played out exactly as they did; it makes me question whether free will exists at all ever anywhere in the universe despite what people say because otherwise you’d think God or whoever would have put a limit on how powerful these forces could be so that people could at least try to determine their own destinies with some degree of agency for once.

Overall, I'm glad I came over — and I’m tempted to ask her if she always knew we would end up together again like this when we were kids. Instead, I let the moment pass without saying anything because it seems almost sacred or special in a way I don’t quite understand. Maybe part of me thinks it might make her uncomfortable; maybe part of me thinks that maybe it was just as much of a surprise to her as it was to me; maybe part of me wants to preserve the magic or mystery surrounding our shared destiny for myself because sometimes people don’t want you to see when they’re not happy.

It's weird how things work out -- and now the fate of our relationship is in the hands of a microwave while I sit here watching it run its cycles waiting for popcorn that already exists inside its metal innards.

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