I hadn’t spoken to Dan in almost a year. Towards the end of his senior year, we had a huge fight. Huge for us anyway. Usually when we fought it would end in saying something snarky, mild anger might be involved – I might just look at him and walk away. Likely I’d be annoyed enough to not talk to him for a week. He wouldn’t talk to me either. Not the silent treatment per se… We would just not call each other. I’d avoid his presence at school.
Eventually we’d both give up the pretense of anger or annoyance. One day, usually a week later, it would all be okay again. As if we had a magical “make up” button that we could press and pretend nothing had even happened. Whatever the argument was about would not be mentioned. No apologies. Just back to status quo.
This time was different. This time I was done. D.O.N.E. DONE with the asshole. I cared too much. That’s what my problem was, I was sure of it.
We had discussed a couple of times the possibility of becoming an official couple. He was hesitant because of how things had ended with his last girlfriend the year before I met him. Fair enough, but I promised him I wouldn’t ever threaten him with suicide.
He discussed it with his friends, apparently, as one of them approached me about it one day – mentioning that he was hesitant because he assumed I was looking for a full on committed relationship. I scoffed at that, telling them I never said such a thing and I had no idea where he got that idea from. At that point, I hadn’t even brought up the thought of being his girlfriend. I honestly think it was something that weighed on him personally. Awhile later we did start talking about it.
“You need a serious relationship,” he said, “I don’t think I can handle a serious relationship, Emma.”
“Who told you that, Dan? Relationships don’t start serious – they grow that way or they don’t. I don’t expect to make it the long run with you… I just like you, Dan. I just care for you, that’s all.”
“I dunno, I’ll have to think about it some more,” he told me.
“Fine, you make up your mind and I’ll be around.”
Then he made up his mind. He was a royal asshole when I came up to him one day and said “Hey.” He told me this day to go away, he didn’t want to be friends with me anymore. No explanation, nothing.
“What the fuck, Dan? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Leave. Go. Away.”
“So you don’t want to be with me, so what? We can’t even be friends now?” I was yelling at him.
“No. I just don’t want to be your friend anymore. I don’t like you anymore.”
“Screw you, asshole.” I said as I turned on my heel and walked back into the building.
I texted Maja to meet me… choking back tears until I made it to the ground floor bathroom where I hit the wall with my fist, then slid to the floor and sobbed as soon as I got inside. I made it there before he saw my tears. I never ever let Dan see me cry. Maja saw me cry. Maja was there within a few minutes, hugging me and telling me he was an asshole I didn’t need in my life. After a little while she excused herself saying she had to go take care of something and told me to stay and wait for her – at least until I was decent.
What she didn’t tell me at the time – or even for a good decade or more after the fact – was that she was ragey and went to have it out with Dan her own damn self. She marched out to the courtyard to have it out and avenge me. What a BFF, hey?
She was in attack mode, but her rage quickly disseminated when he told her that he really cared for me. He felt I deserved better than him and I wouldn’t look elsewhere if he and I were together. He said he had already fucked up his own life and didn’t want to fuck mine up as well.
She never had liked Dan, but only tolerated him for my sake, so when he admitted all that to her she calmed down and agreed with him.
I didn’t talk to him for nearly a year. I didn’t watch him graduate. I didn’t call him over the summer. I ignored any pesky thoughts of him that would pop into my head. Our mutual friends, at least some of them, did not realize what had happened. I’d get questions about what he was up to or whatever. I figured if they didn’t know already, I’d just gloss over my responses giving no real answers.
Finally, it was spring of ’02, just a few months before my own graduation day. I happened to look out a 6th floor window that overlooked the courtyard and saw Dan sitting down there, in his usual spot. I had long since stopped scanning the yard for him since he didn’t attend anymore – so the sight of him made my heart lurch into my throat.
“Maja, what the fuck is he doing here?!”
“Just ignore him. He’s just here visiting his friends, we’ll just not go out there today.”
“Damn it, Maja… I wanted a cigarette.”
I avoided the courtyard for the next few days, because he kept showing up. Then I started to see him in the school itself, walking in the halls. I turned and walked briskly away before he could see me – at least that’s what I attempted to do. At the end of the week he showed up in my history class. He sat next to me and watched me, waiting for me to acknowledge him. I gave him no such satisfaction. I had a nervous energy and a million things running through my head. My foot was shaking releasing only some of the nervous energy. As soon as the bell rang, I bolted out of the classroom as fast as I could without a look back.
At lunch, I sat alone because Maja wasn’t there that day. Dan showed up in the cafeteria and walked straight for me. I realized now he wasn’t going to give up, so I gave up instead.
He sat down across from me and just started talking like no time had passed at all. It was our pattern. Fight, ignore, everything’s fine. He asked me how I’d been, made pleasant small talk. He showed me his new phone. New for him – it was a super old model.
“I thought you didn’t believe in mobile phones, Dan.”
He told me he changed his mind as it had turned out to be useful. Then he gave me his number. He said he’d like to hang out with me sometime. He said he still had my number, but asked for confirmation of it. I gave it to him.
After he was done his food, he got up and left. I sat there wondering where the hell Maja was when I needed her and what the hell just happened. Presumably Dan and I were friends again.
I didn’t call him immediately, but my friends agreed that maybe I should meet him. Lay things to rest. I was going to leave the country after graduation and maybe it would be a good idea to fix up my relationship with Dan in order to leave on good terms.
The first thing we did was to go out to a park near my old house, by this point my family had moved back to the US and I moved across town. We laid out on a large flat rock, his arm around me, and my head on his chest as we talked and enjoyed the sun. I learned then that, at the time, Dan had an interest in horticulture and wanted to study that in University. That was a surprise to me. It was lovely. We lay together, we kissed in the sunlight. I silently noted that he didn’t look very healthy anymore – the smoking at the very least was catching up to him. His cheeks were sunken and his gums discolored. It made me a little sad.
We talked on the phone a few more times after that, but didn’t end up seeing each other for a few months. Finally we arranged a meeting – it would turn out to be our last. I met him at T-Centralen. We walked around, did nothing of consequence. I noted he already looked so much healthier and he told me he had been trying to quit smoking. We ended up in an art museum, and decided to take a rest on the bench inside. He sat down and I informed him it was “my turn” to lay my head in his lap – after all the times I held his in mine.
He allowed me to do it, and lightly stroked my hair as we talked. Somehow we got onto the topic of personal relationships. I said something to him about people that cared for him. He scoffed and I said “For real, Dan, don’t you think anyone cares about you? You’re parents even? Me?”
“I dunno, I’m sure you can say my parent’s care I guess.”
“I care about you, Dan, I always have. I can’t help it. That’s why I got so angry when you said you wanted to die by smoking unfiltered cigarettes that one time.”
“I was JOKING,” he claimed.
“It wasn’t funny. You said it seriously and the people that care about you don’t want to think about you dying, Dan. I don’t want to think about you dying.”
He apologized and said he hadn’t realized.
I looked up at him, “Well now you know.”
When it was time for him to go, we walked back to the train station. I asked him if he wanted to arrange one last meeting before I left. I only had a month or so left. He said definitely, we’d arrange a time.
A week or so later Dan called me and apologized. He said he just didn’t think he could do it. He couldn’t meet up with me again before I left, he needed to back away while he could.
I understood. Good byes are hard, I’d learned that many times over the years. So we said our goodbyes over the phone, exchanged contact info and promised to stay in touch. Too soon it was time to hang up…
…I’ll miss you.