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We Were Both Dreamers Once
I was always a bit of a dreamer—the kind that would look up to a sky of countless stars only to watch them fall one by one at her feet. You were too, but you believed in reaching up and grabbing those stars—the whole world was your sea of possibilities. And I could only smile and watch behind the scenes as you shined, so bright you blinded me.
Back then, in the midst of immaturity and silly insecurities, I realize I wasn’t really able to love someone, but I couldn’t help but want to be loved. At the time, I truly believed we were destined to meet each other—that God somehow tied and fastened us together, so tight we could think as one. But I was wrong, like I am about so many other things.
For the year that followed the day you left, I didn’t spend a day without thinking about some part of you. I kept trying to get back to you—fought the urge to call you so many late nights, but gradually, over the years, I found the life I had without you. I immersed myself in acting—refusing to let anyone or anything keep me from it. Because in the end, no matter how close two people get, everyone has their own life to live. Just when I had found a comfortable spot for you in my chest of bittersweet recollections, I hear your voice over the phone for the first time in ten years.
“I leave for San Francisco next week and while I was packing, I found some of our pictures together,” you say, “I’ve been meaning to call you for some time now.”
His voice is just as I remember it—confident, firm and coated with rich ebony. Hearing his voice leaves my mind pulsing with memories of “back then’s” and “the years that feel like centuries ago.”
I grip the phone tight. What do I say? Can he still think my thoughts and feel what I’m feeling, even though he’s halfway across the country?
My voice comes out shaky, shrill. “It’s nice to hear from you, David.” Ten years and now suddenly this? This can’t be right. Why are we acting like this is nothing, like we just saw each other yesterday? “It’s been ten years, you know.”
You laugh, a little too cheerfully. Can he hear my heart racing? “Yeah I know, it’s crazy. So how’ve they been for you? Life treating you okay?”
He’s still the same person I remember him as. I still recognize everything about the way he talks. The slight rolls on his “r’s.” The way he playfully lifts voice when he asks a question.
“Yeah, they’ve been alright.”
I’ll never forget our junior year together when we first met. You’ll never know just how far up I flew on cloud nine when you said you liked me that Valentine’s Day.
Before we knew it, summer came, and we spent more time with each other than ever. One day, you brought me to the roof of your house right when the sun was about to set. We lay and beheld the full multitude of the sky, streaked with fiery brushstrokes of pink and orange. For a long time, neither of us spoke a word. Often, we didn’t need them. Silence could unite us in a way words could not. You got up and looked at me, face lifted to the twilight, and I wished that time would stop. Right then. Right there. So I could bottle up the look on your face and keep it by my bedside for the rest of my life. I got up too and we sat there on the shingles, talking until the night blackened, about our futures, as if we even had a clue.
I told you about my dreams of Broadway. I wanted to be an actress—to live and breathe someone else’s life. As I talked, I subconsciously ran my hands across the hollow area below my waist where my hip poked out—felt the concavity of my stomach. You must’ve noticed too—the sag of my skirt, the way my top draped despairingly over my frail frame. Or perhaps it was just because I wasn’t a good enough actress at the time to hide the anguish from my voice.
“Dammit Liv,” you said suddenly, making me catch myself to keep from falling off, “how can you expect me to love you if you don’t even love yourself?”
I froze, my eyes fixed in your angry ones. Then you softened and tucked a dangling strand of hair behind my ear.
“You’re perfect, okay? Broadway will be lucky to have you.”
I nodded, but I didn’t believe you.
Does he know that I’m dwelling on his every word? You casually reply, “I’m happy to hear that. I always knew good things were in your future.”
I sit and wait. Wait for you to say more.
When you don’t, I feel cheated. Does he really know nothing? If you had paid any attention, you would’ve known. All my friends called me, sent me congratulation cards—even the ones I barely knew. I made it to Broadway, did you know? I played Anne Whitefield from our favorite play, “Man and Superman.” That was the role I always wanted, remember?
“I—I,” I catch myself, too shocked, too hurt to explain, “Thanks.”
I press the phone hard against my ear—listening to static and his breathing. I wonder if he’s listening to me breathe too—my nervous, anticipating breaths.
“So, I heard you became a professor,” I say finally.
“Yeah, I teach Physiology.”
“I thought you said you wanted to be a playwright.”
You laugh again, “You really take me back, Liv. But that was high school. It isn’t the practical thing to do.”
But we made plans—we would start a company together and you were going to be the playwright and I the lead actress.
We used to poeticize almost everything. We could both recite by heart lines from T. S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath. But it was you who was blessed with a gift, not me. My heart swelled with admiration as you effortlessly delivered flawless lines of poetry. I always knew that out of the two of us, you were the only writer; you must’ve known it too, but still you encouraged me as I regurgitated clichéd, half-baked drivel in my notebook.
I remember our senior year when we were in your room, amidst scattered acceptance letters from Harvard, Yale, Stanford. All the schools I hadn’t the nerve to even apply to. We were listening to Mozart’s seventh—you always preferred his sophistication and fluidity to the restless, jarring notes of Beethoven.
I pretended to be doing my English homework, but I was actually trying to draw you in my notebook—tried to capture in my silly scribbles the whole of your perfection as I saw it. And I just couldn’t. While I stared frustratingly at a blank page, you were frantically scrawling words down as if your pencil couldn’t keep up with your genius. I was in love with the way your eyes followed your pencil—eagerly, intensely, expecting more.
The music stopped as it transitioned into the overture of the Magic Flute. I felt you leaning in. God knew how long I had been waiting for this moment, but I thought about your acceptance letters, your dreams of setting up schools in Zimbabwe—and I realized, I just couldn’t do this to you.
So I pushed you away and that’s when we fell apart.
Harvard was waiting for you, David, and I just couldn’t see how I could ever be a part of your dreams. But I let you go because I knew you were going to write something big with them, something that could make me feel proud I once knew you. But how can I now? I was always the shy and insecure one, David. How is it that I followed my dreams while you ran from them?
This silence is going to go on forever. Even as I end the call, even as I will probably spend the next days thinking about how I let you slip away again, you are gone to me now.