By Elissa Wald
When I was in the eighth grade, a boy in my class (let’s call him A.) stopped talking to me. We’d “gone out” for maybe a week, which meant we’d couple-skated at the roller rink once or twice, and my mother was supposed to drive us to a movie the following Saturday, but I called it off before that could happen. I liked him but I felt squeamish, not yet ready to do things like hold hands or kiss.
A. was slightly pudgy with tinted glasses and listless blond hair. I’d known him for years. Even in elementary school he used words like “relatively” and knew facts like the speed of light. He could play “Another Brick In The Wall” on his trumpet and it was from him that I first heard of the game Dungeons & Dragons.
I don’t remember just how the breakup went, but soon afterward he stopped speaking to me altogether. He wouldn’t reply if I spoke to him. He wouldn’t even look at me. If I tried to badger him into answering, he’d look skyward or off to the side and start whistling through his teeth. If I called him, he’d hang up.
Soon I could think about no one but A. Sometimes I would console myself by imagining a chance meeting with him on the street in 30 years. I took a certain strange comfort in the idea that when we were in our forties, he would surely not still be holding onto this grudge from boyhood.
At that age it didn’t occur to me that reaching 40 was not guaranteed to us. I assumed we had vast swaths of time. I also seem to have assumed on some level that our connection would endure, no matter how many years or even decades it spent on ice.
As it happens, A. and I are in our forties now, and we talk – with mutual warmth – all the time. But by now I’ve come to understand just how far from a foregone conclusion this was. Just before our college graduation, his best friend from those middle-school years – a boy in our class — jumped off a bridge that spanned a deep ravine. And whenever I think of this, the same phrase always comes to me: no water under that bridge.
When I was forty-three, a man – let’s call him B. — unfriended me on Facebook. We had known each other a long time by then.
We’d gone out for maybe a year when I was twenty-one and he was twenty-six. The relationship ended badly and we didn’t see much of each other again for the next decade or so. He was angry at me and it seemed he meant to stay angry. He didn’t want to be friends
Then ten or eleven years after breaking up with him, I was in my neighborhood library when I saw a book he’d written on the “New Releases” shelf. It was a hardcover, deckle-edged and drenched in sepia. I checked the book out of the library, crossed the street to my apartment, and found his fledgling author website. In the event section, it said he’d be reading at a midtown pub later that month.
During our relationship all those years ago, we’d each had dreams of becoming an author. Secretly I’d thought of myself as the better writer. I didn’t think he was especially talented and I didn’t think he would do anything with what talent he had. When he was stressed out, he would lie on the floor of our apartment and crayon aimlessly and this – among many other things — made me squeamish in much the same way that A. had once made me squeamish.
Since that time, I’d published two books. The first one made a racy little splash and was generally — in its small-to-moderate way — well-received. The second one made a lot of the people who knew about it very angry and was a deep source of heartbreak.
B.’s book, on the other hand – his first serious book (as opposed to a couple of packaged ones he’d written for money) – seemed to have every critic in the country prostrate with adulation. The week of the reading, it was emblazoned across the cover of The New York Times book review.
I read this (very fine) book and wrote him a fan letter in response to it. I brought this letter with me to the pub on the night of his reading, wishing to keep a low profile until the moment toward the end of the event when he would be obliged to sign my book. One look at the crowd assured me this would not be difficult. B. was standing in a throng of people at the bar, deep in conversation. I began making my way past them with my head lowered and my face averted. Without a break in whatever he was saying, without even looking in my direction, B. reached out and grabbed my arm.
When I woke the next morning, an email from him was in my inbox. He thanked me for coming and for the letter I’d written him. He suggested that we meet sometime soon and catch up on each other’s lives. He wrote: I’d like to see what the last ten years hath wrought. Continue Reading…