I know I usually refer to you by your last name and first name together but please understand that things change and greetings are just one of those things. Today you bore witness to all its mutability: I shook your hand when I greeted you and asked how everything was. I used to not have to shake your hand when we met and I’m sorry that I did. Worse yet, I’m sorry that you did too.
You see, Daniel, I’m not as young as I used to be though I pretend to be. That is not to say I’m old, just that I can’t exactly remember what it was like to be eleven to eighteen, and I don’t think you can either. I mean: look how your hand shakes when you extend it my way. Look at mine.
It’s a tired phrase to say that we grew up together, but you and I did. We outlasted the pimples and the pops, the girls and the lack thereof, the multitude of sports and the teams we didn’t make. We combined our dreams together – stupid little dreams of becoming a hockey player or writing a novel or doing both – and we never questioned one another. And somehow after it all, how are you doing was the first thing I asked. I didn’t know.
I like to imagine that in doing so, and maintaining the eye contact that every formal engagement requires, you would see everything that I saw and still see. I was hoping that you’d see how a food fight in grade eight had weighed on the hold of my ice cream even to this day or how those times we tried to pick up girls would balance out in the edges of my smile. I wanted you to see that I was still the same person I was once back then even if I wasn’t and so were you if you wanted to be and though we could never go back to those moments, they were us entirely and can’t you see how we blossomed? Can’t I?
But your handshake was weak and you avoided my eyes and you tried to end the conversation in a minute and a half. From spending nearly every day together for eight years we became a lifetime described in ninety seconds.
I want you to know, Daniel, that everything will be all right. I want to believe my words too, but I don’t know if I can. I told you that things change and that cliché may change all the same. Things may not be all right and I’m sorry that they aren’t for the both of us.
This, though, is often the case is something you’d tell me back when we were cradled in sunlight and the lightness of nothing but ourselves. You’d look at me and say that not everyone can have happy lives. You would have probably smiled afterwards and I would have done the same.
As your hand left mine today and the bits of sweat on them slowly evaporated in the heat of the frozen yogurt parlor, you barely smiled. And I didn’t either.
I want to tell you that this is okay – maybe even just a mistake of circumstance – but I don’t think it is. We’re getting older, and soon we won’t even recognize ourselves when looking back at this age. Then I’ll see you one day and maybe we’ll be in a shopping mall or maybe we’ll be buying groceries or maybe you’ll be sitting beside me on a plane and I won’t even say a word. We might not even shake hands and that scares me.
I don’t know if it does the same to you, Daniel, and I think that makes it worse. Maybe really that’s why I am referring to you only as Daniel: I’m hoping it wasn’t you today.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t see you as the person who you thought you would become; maybe it’s because those aspirations you once had clash with the person you are now; or maybe because the same happened to me, but I am hoping that we were just two strangers passing each other by at a yogurt joint and the handshake was just a mistake of happenstance where we noticed another’s presence only briefly, like a person who stops to gaze at a footprint on a sidewalk and thinks about the universes of lives that once stepped there.
And when it was over, and you resumed your discussion with your friends and I did too, friends that I could easily lose as I did you, we were already far away – entire worlds were between us with steps we couldn’t retract or recall. In ninety seconds, we were gone again and here I am trying to remember it all.
One thing comes to mind as I do haphazardly. There was a play you used to run in football called the Hail Mary and unlike the name suggests, it was absolute hell. As the quarterback you’d throw the ball as high as you could and we’d all rush out to get it. Chaos erupted and it was easily the worst play in the books as far as strategy was concerned.
I remember the coaches berating you and telling you how foolish it was. “That’s not how you win games,” they said.
At the time, no one said anything because they were certainly right and we were just kids anyhow but in the huddle during the next offensive down, you turned to us and said, “Let’s play it again.” And we did and it failed and we lost the game and we laughed about it all afterwards.
Though we didn’t laugh today, the hand I shook, with its grown hairs and fat and sweat, once threw that football that made us realize that a game wasn’t always about winning. There were times when failure was the best choice and that was okay.
As we went our different ways today, you and I both may have very well become those failures. But I want you to know that even if we are, I am reminded of that play and the absolute helter-skelter nonsense of it and I’m comforted by that fact that even if we haven’t turned into the successes we thought we’d become, we’re still here, still chugging away, and still throwing the ball high in the air to see if it’ll land.
I just hope that when it does because it most certainly will, someone is there to catch it. For both our sakes, let’s pray that it’s someone from our team.