the short story project


Joann Joseph

Us Young Ones

They started dating over a year ago.  

It was evening and he was driving; they were carpooling with their college friends, she doesn’t remember what event they had just come back from, but she remembers the look he gave her after he came to a stop.  

He turned around, smiled lightly—warmly, like home—and she told her friends about it.  When she told me about him I could imagine the glitter in his eyes, the warm summer-like breeze, and his smile—the movie scene—but I had never even met him.  

We sat parked in her blue PT Cruiser outside my parents’ place, and I watched her happiness pour out of her like liquid gold; she beamed like nothing I’d ever seen, and for the first time, I really truly understood what it meant to be happy for another person. When she smiled and laughed I smiled and laughed too; my God were we smitten by it, love for the first time, up close.         

I hadn’t heard from her for a long time after that; not because of him, it’d just been a while.  

I moved in with her at some point; at the time, I was just beginning to realize the realities of friendship— the massive comfort and acceptance that comes from it.  I didn’t know what it was like to really care about someone who isn’t your family, so I was surprised by how worried I was when I heard her cry.

He came over a lot and she shined bright but independent; it was as though she were a different person.  All of a sudden, the seeking dreamer that I had once known became the future wife, mother, and responsible 9-5 careerist that I only saw somewhere else, like on Facebook or in mom-type characters on TV shows.  What a strange thing it is to be the standstill observer and friend to such vivacious change and movement. The feelings that you get are mixed when you’re in this position; you love your friend so you’re happy, but then you look at yourself and wonder, shouldn’t I be moving too, why am I not moving too?        

Just as I was beginning to think “maybe being alone isn’t so bad, it’s not easy but I can eventually get used to this—I’ll find some hobbies and I’ll find a purpose, my purpose, even if it has nothing to do with becoming a wife or a mother or a careerist”—I walked along the same path as a guy from my senior high school.  

He used to date this girl I used to know, but she had moved away and they had broken up years ago.  I’ll be honest, I always thought he was sweet and good-looking; he has this goofy I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing relatability that I like, but I didn’t think I’d spend three hours walking around and talking to him.  

We spent time at the center of campus where our student union center is and we talked about a lot.  Our majors had changed from what we thought we should do with our lives to what we actually want to do.  While we played foosball, he told me about how he had lost weight recently (he was embarrassed when he showed me his little-bit-bigger image of himself on his phone, but I still thought he was handsome, although I didn’t say so).  I made a fool of myself when I tried to be cool when he asked if I was interested in the new Avengers movie (I said something like, “yes, is that a thing?” because I had no idea what he was talking about), and then we went to the technology store on campus to enter into a drawing competition.  When it was time to leave, I waited for him so that I could say goodbye—we did say goodbye, and it was awkward because I felt like there was something left to be said that wasn’t–something like “Thank you”, maybe—and then we went our opposite ways.

As I walked back home, I felt like something had shifted in me.  I realized that I do want another person’s company in my life—whoever’s company that may be—but that I do not want that person in my life yet, that I actually want to take my time and enjoy what I have now; I felt my mind say, “I’m not ready yet, there’s so much more that I want to see, there’s so much more that I want to do, I’m not ready for anything more, not just yet.”

When I got home, my friend seemed melancholic, and I didn’t know why; I looked at her face and she stretched out a smile for me that said “I’m good” but she wasn’t, so I started talking.  

Normally, I find that when I start blabbering, I end up saying something ridiculous or interesting enough that the person I’m talking to relaxes.  This time I mentioned talking to “this guy from high school” and “do you remember him”. She said “no” but I kept going, saying, “I don’t think he’s into me, but we spent three hours together and it was fun, it was ok”, and she said, “that’s cute.” She went into her room and later that night she cried.  

She cried really loud and my first thought was that someone had died.  She cries the way a woman cries in a movie when something she depended on being there for her disappears; it’s a loud and full cry and there is no inhibition, she cries without notice.  I knocked on her door and saw her completely broken—an emotion I had never connected her with—and I asked her what had happened. She took a while before she caught her breath between gasps and told me that they had broken up.  It was a day before their one year anniversary.

The young couple that I had skeptically taken interest in, then fully believed in, and finally could assuredly see walking down the aisle, had fallen apart.  It didn’t make sense, but I hugged her as she cried and asked to be alone as she spoke to her mom on the phone. I passed her a note under her door and suggested some serials and movies that I’d watched repeatedly through lonely moments; they’re about being independent and enjoying your life, and I’ll admit that they are all cliché, but isn’t it the cliché stuff that gets you through life? I also told her that she’s a “beautiful soul”, that she’ll be ok, and that he doesn’t deserve her; I told her the stuff that I had only seen friends tell each other in cheesy movies, but I felt myself really mean it.  Later she told me “thank you” and “I love you”, but that week was covered in loud sobs and desperate conversations with her ex.

She hoped that they’d get back together—that he’d get over the (what I see as) excuses and empty reasons why he left her (all of which served as a cover for his 20-year-old confusion and naivety regarding a concept as complex and grown-up as love), and she still sometimes admits, even after having spent months apart from each other, that she hopes and dreams that they’ll find their way back to each other.  Perhaps someday—when we get a little bit older, and a little bit wiser—they will, but I think there’s someone else better for her out there. Such is the way with us young ones, we hold onto our hope and dreams for forever.

I should say this, though—she’s laughed, literally danced, gotten into auspicious internships, and won first place in a tournament since her break-up.  

Maybe we aren’t hopeful as much as we are aspiring of our dreams; us young ones—we’re brave and we’re strong, sometimes more so than we even believe ourselves to be.  

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