“You’re a liar. You said you would wear the blue one and you said you would wear your hair down. I’m beginning to think that you just tell me things to shut me up.”
I step in the front door, kiss my accuser on the cheek and bear hug her to change the subject. Darian doesn't hug me back. A punishment. She looks at me with feigned disapproval but her eyes dance. Her eyes always dance.
“Fine. I knew we should have met at your place so you couldn’t trick me. Come. Help me pick out accessories.”
Darian shuts her front door and drags me up the steps to her bedroom. Help me means watch me. We both know that I will not be much help and besides, Darian is a stylist – one of her many hustles – and she makes her own clothing, jewelry and handbags. Accessorizing is her thing. But she loves to include me. That's her thing too.
We grew up together. Darian and Leah. Never one without the other. I was painfully shy and she was shamelessly expressive. We both wore our hearts on our sleeves but I layered up to cover mine while she craftily embellished hers to draw attention. She had a beautiful soul and she was my person.
I don’t know what I would have done without her in middle school and especially high school. I was so awkward. Never knew what to say. Always doodling and daydreaming. I had other friends, but Darian was the glue between us. She always included me, dragged me here and there, showered me with love and loyalty. I thought things would ever change, but I should have known better.
“Okay, so I’ll keep my jewelry simple since my hair is so extra big tonight and my shoes are an outfit all by themselves.” Darian stands in the full length mirror making faces at herself, wiggling up and down, snapping her fingers, feeling herself. I smile wistfully, already missing her.
She catches my eye in the mirror. “Don’t you start! You’re going to make me cry too. We’re going to have fun tonight. We can cry later.”
Her going away party. My Darian is moving all the way across the country. What will I do when she’s gone? She’s the only one who really sees me. She sees more in me than I see in myself.
“What’s the matter, Leah?”
Damn. Can she hear my thoughts too?
“Nothing! Can we go? I’m getting sleepy.” I’m not going to make tonight about me. My pity party is already scheduled for the night she leaves.
The morning after the party, Darian and I sit in her kitchen eating breakfast. Egg whites, turkey bacon, crepes and strawberries. Our ritual. The food tastes bittersweet.
I can tell she has something on her mind. Her eyes are far away. Still dancing, but somewhere else.
“OK. What’s on your mind?” I ask.
She scrunches up her face. “I’m worried about you.”
“You’re not happy. I’m not just talking about this move. I’m talking about in general. You hate your job. You’re not interesting in dating or going out or doing anything ever. Nothing excites you. You have to want it, Leah. You have to participate in life. You can’t just expect all the answers to fall into your lap.”
“Right. Because that only works for you. Everything falls into your lap, Darian.”
She holds my gaze, but with just a blink, I can tell I hurt her feelings. I wasn’t being fair. Darian puts life and energy into everything she does. She seems to have an endless supply of optimism that remains unshaken throughout life’s ups and downs.
“I’m sorry.” I put my fork down and think for a minute. She waits for me to gather my thoughts. She always waits for me.
“You have something I don’t. You see the good in everything, in everyone. Even in the shittiest situations, you manage to find some lesson. I’ve tried so many times to believe and every time, I’m disappointed. I know things don’t just fall into your lap but because you have this positive attitude all the time, things always seem to work out for you. I’m not made that way. I can't help it. I always see the bad in everything.”
Suddenly, Darian gets up from her stool and lunges at me, hooking her arm around my throat and tackling me off my stool and to the ground. A blur of hair and silk scarves, she pins me down, takes both of my wrists and makes me slap myself with my own hands.
“GET OFF OF ME!!!! WHAT THE HELL???” She’s small but feisty and she gets in more slaps than I care to admit.
I finally kick her off of me and wiggle myself away. We sit on the floor huffing and puffing, glaring at each other.
“You need to slap yourself for that bullshit. I’m tired of it, Leah. Feeling sorry for yourself. Building everyone else up and breaking yourself down over and over and over. What do you mean you tried You haven’t tried. You see the bad because you choose to, because you always have and you don’t want to really, seriously, completely commit to seeing things differently. I thought you would outgrow all of this. We are almost 30 years old! Are you going to be miserable for the rest of your life? If that’s what you want to do, fine. Keep doing the same shit. Keep thinking the same way. Keep looking for every excuse to give up on anything that could bring you some happiness.”
Darian covers her eyes dramatically and shakes her head back and forth. “I can’t watch. I can’t do it. I’ll be in California and you can come see me when you decide to crawl out from under the covers and start living your life.”
That's when I catch her eye and I see the truth before she can dance it away.
“Wait, did you take this job to get away from me?” I don’t know how it didn’t occur to me before. She said she was moving to California because when she settles down to start a family, she wants to be back here on the East Coast. This is her time, she said. She has to do it now.
It made sense, but underneath it all, I suspected she wanted to get away from me. I'm dead weight. She has so much energy and potential and still she always feels obligated to wait for me. I've been holding her back.
She looks away. I wait for her to respond. She says nothing.
Her silence answers my question. We begin to clean up the kitchen, going through the motions, but saying nothing. Within the hour, I am out of her house, in my car, on my way back home. Still no words.
Sometimes you go into a conversation as one person and come out as another. I shed a layer of skin that day and I had a feeling that it was just the beginning.