Old Friend

October is my favorite month — and not just because it's the month of my birth. Maybe it has something to do with the crispness of the air contrasting the warmth of woolen hats and scarves, and the teas and hot chocolates that become temporary extensions of my right palm. Or something. I find that even the most casual and swift embraces bring about stronger buzzings in my stomach and in my chest than they normally would. My body appreciates the warmth. Anything radiating heat, as autumn weather at first relishable in its freshness becomes increasingly unwelcoming, provides me deep comfort and relief.
I tend to get cold very easily, so I am overly prepared for the weather, perspiring as my jacket clings to my torso, readily stomping fallen leaves in my path, and yearning for the satisfaction of an extra crunchy one. Hot chocolate in hand, hat firm on head, one foot in front of the other, boots on pavement. Crunch. Crunch... yes! My armpits are slippery and tingly. It's the kind of sweating unwarranted merely by the heat radiating from within my jacket. I am heading to meet my Old Friend. It's been a while. Crunch. I adjust my glasses, they slip down the bridge of my nose. Sweaty girl. Chilly day. I take a swig of hot chocolate. I love chocolate. I love eating chocolate, I love drinking chocolate. Only two more blocks. My heart threatens to explode from my ribcage, to crawl up my throat and expel itself onto the ground, sad and deflated. What a sight that would be, though I'm sure the average city goer has seen worse. Almost there. One more block. Crunch. I see the bench that Old Friend occupies. Hot chocolate in hand, hat firm on head, one foot in front of the other, boots on pavement. Old Friend and I briefly lock eyes as I approach before they turn their gaze to study an apparently deeply fascinating nearby tree.
In a way, they are the eyes I used to know, but also different. Tired, jaded, emotionless. Very unlike the lively, sparking, caring eyes that would later morph into those of deviousness and indifference. Are they the eyes of a changed person, I wonder? I cannot tell. Old Friend shifts on the bench. I can tell that this is outside of their comfort zone, but oddly not so much out of mine. I've been ready for a while. Years actually. I take my place on the opposite side of the bench. I do not want to get too close. I am in the presence of a stranger. Old Friend speaks first.
"It's been a while".
"It has," I respond.
"How've things been with you?"
"I'm fine, can't complain... and you?"
"Not bad."
Old Friend is incapable of making eye contact, though they've always been this way. The ground becomes vastly interesting when you're in a situation you'd rather not be in. I speak again.
"Do you know why I asked to meet you here today?"
"Not really," they reply.
The ground is quite captivating. It's as if Old Friend is seeing a sidewalk for the first time. Suddenly it becomes difficult to speak. Maybe I shouldn't. This person has caused me so much pain and yet I would never want to inflict pain on this person. I consider calling it off, excusing myself, walking away...
"I know it's been years and I'm sure this seemed very out of the blue because well, it was...but I just feel like I might've spared myself some pain had I done this sooner. I think that doing this now could help me clear up some things that have been bothering me for a long time."
I tend to talk too much and this situation is not an exception. It's not exactly a quality I take pride in. I know Old Friend doesn't like it. They never have. A moment passes and with an air of what seems like genuine concern, I am asked to elaborate further. Old Friend has always been the curious type often boarding on nosy, so I'm sure the anticipation is not faring well on their nerves. My mouth goes dry, I second guess myself briefly, and then...
"I would just like to know why you did those things. I need to know if you knew what you were doing — although, in all honesty, I'm not even sure you know what I'm referring to..."
Old Friend's eyes avert yet again, ancient sidewalk gum has never been more riveting.
"I really don't know what you're referring to," they say coolly.
They take a few guesses, speculating old disagreements and expired incidents that they knew upset me in the past but fail to name the ones that affected me most deeply. There is a part of me that hopes maybe Old Friend has done some soul searching over the years. My throat tightens. I feel a strong urge to just shut up — a rare and unfamiliar sensation for me. Old Friend's eyes remain glued to the gum that surely used to be fresh and pink, now withering, crumpled, colorless... resilient still.
"You really don't know what you did?"
It was less of a question and more of a statement. A conclusive one. Old Friend runs their hands through their hair.
"I really don't, I'm sorry."
I am making them anxious. I shouldn't feel bad considering everything this person has put me through— but I do. They really don't know what they did wrong all those years ago. And it was, so many years ago...
I bid Old Friend goodbye. Goodbye Old Friend. My stomach is a jack-o-lantern, hot chocolate sloshes around the hollow cavity. I rise from the bench, away from the fascinating tree and the ancient sidewalk gum, and the even more ancient sidewalk. Away from Old Friend. October is my favorite month. Crunchy leaves, warm drinks, warmer hugs. Hot chocolate in hand, hat firm on head, one foot in front of the other, boots on pavement, I seek out crispy leaves and avoid sidewalk cracks.