I ran as fast as I could, off the bus, into the streets, into the rain, toward him. I ran through puddles, so many puddles, each deeper than the last. And with the rain came thunder, and with the thunder came wind, and the wind pushed him further and further away. I ran until I swam, until the puddles were ponds, lakes, floods, oceans.
I screamed for him. I screamed for him to Look This Way, to show him that I was swimming to him, to show him I was fighting for him, to tell him: Please Wait. Don’t Walk Away. Because I’m Coming. I Promise I’m Coming.
But the thunder drowned out my pleas, the sea filled my lungs, and I sank, still promising, still begging: Please Wait.
And I jerk out of sleep, soaking wet, gasping for air; I see a face, blurry but familiar.
“Justin, Justin, Justin…” The voice is high-pitched. It sounds concerned. Then, quiet. Arms wrap around me.
“It was just a dream,” the voice says, holding me, rocking me.
The voice belongs to a friend. My bedroom comes into focus. I’m breathing hard. My heart is racing. I can’t stop crying. I feel my friend’s neck on top of my head. I feel his jaw move when he whispers, “Shhhhh. It was just a dream, Justin. It was just a dream.”
He pulls away and sits in front of me.
“Girl, you are a tragic mess,” he says.
I smile when he calls me “girl” or “honey”—these words are his trademarks, what I first found odd but now find endearing. He takes a tissue from my nightstand, wipes my nose, sits back, and holds my hands.
“You’re like my mom,” I cry-say and fake-laugh.
“Oh no honey, I ain’t your damn mama. They ain’t no babies comin’ outta this womb, girl.” He knows how to make me laugh. He knows how to make everyone laugh.
Now we’re lying side-by-side on our backs, facing the ceiling.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I feel bad that you’re over here, watching all of this, having to ‘help’ me get through this.”
“Well, I would’ve been pissed if I came over here to watch after you only to have you ending up being just fine. I mean, I could be… Let’s see… It’s 2:00? Yeah. I could be with a man right now.”
“Thank you,” I say.
“It ain’t a thing, honey. Though I will say, you do look like shit.”
He says, “Do you want to talk about it? You were making an awful lotta noise.”
“For me to know exactly what’s going on, I’m gonna have to read it in one of your article things, aren’t I?”
I smack his arm and sit up. He smiles.
I ask, “Did you go through this when you and Paul broke up?”
He stops smiling.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to—“
“No, no,” he says, “I… I did, yeah. I guess. I just looked a lot better than you do.”
Yes, he can make anyone laugh—that’s his specialty—and he’s the most caring person I know. But he never opens up about himself. He’s never serious. He’s the regular comic relief, a funny keeper of secrets. Friends talk behind his back about it—about how unhealthy it is that he keeps everything “bottled up”—and have long devised sneaky ways to help him.
I say, “Don’t you ever want to talk about it? I mean, you know, to get it all out and break down and ugly-cry? You might as well join me.”
An unknown expression falls over his face. It isn’t sad, serious, sardonic, annoyed. It’s… absent. For the first time in the years I’ve known him, he’s blank… dark… sure.
Still looking at the ceiling, he responds, unblinking:
“We all have our things… We all have our ways we go about dealing. I open up when no one can see me. Like you. You have your writing—it’s so much easier being honest, crying, in front of a computer screen, isn’t it?—and me… I have my jokes. It isn’t that we’re hiding anything. We aren’t ‘shut off’ from the world just because we don’t say everything face-to-face—we don’t have the walls around our hearts that everyone says I do… We just open up in different ways. I’m happy the way I am. I’m not ‘opening up’ the way people say I should just because that’s the status quo. I do me. I wish people would see that.”
Then he looks at me and his glow returns.
“You’re going to write about this, aren’t you?”