He's a silent sort of fellow, my friend is. He's the type that you would never be able to see in a crowd unless you had been acquainted with him before. I could stand with a group of people and he could walk through us and no one else would take any notice of him except for me. But that's because he has introduced himself to me before.
He looks different every time I see him; I do as well. You cant stay the same between seventeen, twenty one, and twenty six years of age. Your hair will be different, your clothes will have changed; there will even be differences in the way you stand and the way you talk. But people always know who you are. No matter how much you change your genes are the same, your chromosomes are the same.
No matter what he wears, no matter how he comes, I always know my friend when I see him. Its the way that I feel when I am around him.
I was seventeen when he first introduced himself to me. I was late to school that day, I had just finished passing my drivers license exam. It was a few days before my birthday. I was standing alone in my high school hallway and he shocked me; it was as if he had just appeared in the spot where another friend has been previously standing.
He held his hand out to me, his clothes matching the greyish blue of the carpet underneath him. He didn't smile. “Hello,” he said.
He stood by me for a long time- maybe a month or so. He was very silent. I was very silent. We never touched.
After that month I grew tired of him stalking me like a shadow so he handed me a pencil and he suggested, “Try this. Maybe then I will leave.”
It worked; he did leave. I didn't really see him again for four years- not until I was twenty one. That time I was in the room I had lived in when I had lived at home. I was alone, sitting on my old bed. It was late at night. He opened my bedroom door quietly and sat down next to me on the covers without a word.
I started to cry at the sight of him. I knew who he was. I wasn't sure I could handle his company again like I had when I was younger; I wasn't ready for him to take a place in my life once more. That night he wrapped his arms around me and despite my reservations I gave in and embraced him. We fell asleep together like that.
We fell asleep together like that for many nights. For more than a month this time. Every night and day of that month and a half he held onto me, tightly, every where I went. And I held back; I wrapped myself in him.
That time my friend was the one to tell me that he needed to leave. “You cant hold me like this,” he said. He looked sad. “Otherwise you will become me.” He handed me a pencil again. I ignored it; I wouldn't take it.
Finally one night he forced it into my hand. “I don’t care if you don’t want it,” he said. “You have to use it. You and I are not meant to be lovers like this. And last time we met this was the only way to get me to leave.”
It worked again- just like it had before. It took him longer to go away; neither of us were willing the separation but later I saw how much I needed it- the break from him. I had needed him with me that first night that he held me in my bed, but after a certain amount of time he worked for my ill instead of my good.
The last time I saw him I was almost twenty six. I had just come home from the hospital that morning, and now it was night. I was tired. My son was in bed, my husband was studying, and I was sitting on our second hand couch reading. I heard my friends footsteps as he approached me. We both smiled sadly at one another as he sat down next to me, his gray shirt and dark pants mirroring mine.
“Hello,” we said to each other. It was as hard to see him this time as it had been the time before, but I knew him now. After holding him the way that I had in the past I understood him now. That night he put his arm around my shoulders and we settled back into the cushions for the night.
That was the shortest amount of time any of his visits have ever been. I needed him for the week that he was by my side, following my daily habits, but I knew from times past that I didn't need him longer. We were both ready when he handed me my pencil.
“Its time,” he said.
I sighed. “I know.” When I took the pencil from him he leaned down and kissed the top of my head in a familiar way, in a way a good friend says a good bye to another good friend, and I heard him walk out the door.
When I finally take his proffered pencil and my friend leaves me, he never really leaves in the way you think. He doesn't come to talk, or to sit, or to hold any longer. But I glimpse him sometimes. When I smell razzelberry pie or when I hear the name Sicily; I can always be guaranteed to spot him near by, sitting and looking at something that isn't me.
When I hear a skateboard going by or see an old white truck pass I can usually be sure to see him, riding on top or inside, his face turned from me.
And recently, since his last visit, when I smell baby powder or see letters from formula company’s in the mail, I realize that he was the one that delivered the letter or handed me the powder but I always notice him too late. He's left before I can really look at his face.
Its hard for those who have never met him to understand him. Its hard to believe in our relationship. Its makes me so mad sometimes how judgmental a person can be about the two of us. I know better; I know my friend. We aren't new chums he and I; no matter how different he looks in the future I will always know when he has come because of the way he makes me feel.
And the thing is, you cant ever really understand him, or us. Not until you know him for yourself. Not until that day when he comes to you and holds out his hand, unsmiling, and says like he did to me when I was just seventeen:
“Hello, my name is Grief.”