Have you ever known someone and then not talked to or seen them for a while and then, when you do see them again, they just seem... broken? (I'm talking several months or years, not just days or weeks.) And it just seems like something has changed this person - a serious life event or maybe just the passing of time - to the point where they're just not the same as you remember once knowing them? You're hoping they're going to be the cheerful, hopeful, fun person that you remember and instead, there's just an awkward shell.
I went to Boston a few weeks ago and I saw Jon for the first time in at least 6 years. The last time we saw each other was about a year after we had broken up and we told each other how well the other looked, how great it was to see them and how they were doing. But then... everything changed.
He came inside Erin's apartment and could barely meet my gaze. When we got in the car and we were catching up he just seemed cold, pre-occupied, distant - not because of me, but something deeper. The conversation just didn't seem natural. Something just wasn't right, like a light had been turned off inside him; the flame of the young, bouncy, fun loving boy I knew when I was 19 years old had vanished. Sure people grow up and age and mature but that wasn't it. That wasn't how I knew him. He had never been awkward. He had always been outgoing and able to make friends in seconds and talk on an array of topics with passion and intensity. We had shared two years together filled with adventures and intelligent moments and philosophical pondering, intimacy, giggling, expanding our minds with drugs and research chemicals and loud electronic music. Maybe we weren't friends in the technical sense anymore but we still knew each other... didn't we?
Inside the club we got some drinks and caught up some more, saw old friends and bopped our heads to the music and he didn't dance. It was the first time I'd ever seen him just not immerse himself in the beats, feel the rhythm, see the way it let his body flow and ebb like a river. That had always been my favorite thing to do: watch him dance. He always looked so alive; each bass line controlling him like a marionette. At some point a girl had come up to him and talked to him and when she walked away he told me, "That was my ex.... She ruined my life." I laughed because I could relate.
He told me whenever I was ready to go, he was too, so I said I was ready and we left. We drove around in the late, dark night of Cambridge, looping through supermarket parking lots and idling at red lights. He asked me to come back to his place and cuddle and I obliged (even after he had told me earlier he was dating a really great girl - but they were in an open relationship which apparently he didn't abuse the privilege of). Once inside, he told me the story of his ex and I could see the pain, the emptiness so much clearer now. Could see how broken this girl had made him. He was always the nicest, most non-confrontational person. Everyone loved him and he loved all. He made friends with anyone and everyone. And yet, this girl turned his life upside down in such a malicious manner. I couldn't wrap my head around how anyone could ever do that to someone like him. We climbed up into his loft bed and he put on a wave light. I laid down 6 inches from him on his mattress and then, without warning, he pulled me close into him, sending me back in time.
It's so weird to think that someone who you used to kiss and hug and hold and love and make love with still exists when they're not in your life anymore. Even stranger still, when you reunite with this person and they touch you, it just feels like second nature. You can recall the way this person has stroked you in the past, the softness of their lips, every curve of their body, every scar and birthmark. And yet, he still allows you a bit of modesty to change your pants in his room while he waits outside even though he could probably close his eyes and still remember you naked. We laid in bed together, skin on skin, his arms around me spooning me from behind and suddenly, there it was - he was back. He slipped into this voice that I always remembered him using with me: soft, sweet, childlike. "I'm so glad you stayed", he whispered in my ear as he kissed my shoulders. I playfully bit him on the arm like I used to and he held me tighter, snuggling into my back. That bed became a time machine for the night.
In the morning, we woke up and were back to square one. He let me change in peace and drove me back to Erin's place. We gave a quick hug and waved goodbye and said how nice a time we had had and how it had been so good to see each other once again. I wish I hadn't had to lie. I wish I hadn't had to see him that way - vacant eyes and lost inside. It really pained me to see him so different and broken. But at least for that one moment at night, we were able to relive the past and put our present aside.