Woven together with black ribbon

Last night, as I was cleaning out my belongings in my room, sorting through relics of high school — loose sheets of crumpled graph paper, five differently styled black pens mostly out of ink, far too many notebooks bursting with random papers stuffed into them — I found a piece of black ribbon in an old backpack, flattened neatly at the bottom. It was about two-and-a-half feet long, long enough to weave into a hairdo or to add to an outfit as a finishing touch.

For someone with a remarkably horrible memory, I still remember so much of what transpired — cutting you a piece of ribbon that night, ostensibly to make you a corsage with the flowers they had there (really, I just wanted to tie it in your hair or on a gift I was planning on giving you), wanting to meet up with you for pictures and pointedly avoiding you the whole time, then telling you that you looked beautiful. I’d like to believe that you said “you too” in response to my comment, but I can’t remember if you ever did. I meant it every time. I don’t know if you ever did when you’d say that to me.

I remember you turning to me and telling me our team’s upperclassmen were like the older sisters you never had. I was flattered but I was also a bit heartbroken knowing you’d never be able to like me like I liked you. I thought what we had was special. I thought the hours of running together down concrete sidewalks and up dusty hills, the long late-night conversations over the phone and via text, the sneaky notes during class and, of course, our divorced-couple banter at practices meant something to you too. I thought you cared about me in the same way I cared about you, and I’m not talking about the romantic feelings I once had, feelings that are now long gone. I thought that our friendship was strong enough to last a romantic confession; really, I’d foolishly hoped you valued our friendship enough to not let it crumble after you politely rejected me.

Looking back, I was wrong about you in so many ways. I was foolish to believe that you’d ever care or understand, believing you were my platonic soulmate in this fairytale I’d spun. I was so hopelessly in love with the idea of you, this fictional person I’d created in my head, that I missed out on the very happening, very real world around me. While daydreaming about you, I forgot the real world with my responsibilities and loved ones, people who loved me for who I was instead of loving the idea of me, people who showed up for me when I needed them and let me show up for them.

I can’t count the number of times I begged my mom to let me meet up with people I tried far too hard to impress and try to squeeze myself into a group that didn’t quite make room for me to be there, choking down my self-respect to try to earn theirs, all for the prospect of trying to say hi to you. I try not to remember every time that I held off on scheduling plans with my friends to see you for all of five minutes, and I cringe every time I remember my face lighting up and my head turning when I’d see you pass by while I was with my friends.

I want to forget the Google Doc filled with plans we’d do one day “when the time was right,” “when our parents would let us go” (it wasn’t a problem on my end, I would have moved mountains for you), “when we were both free,” filled with plans added by me and only me because you couldn’t be bothered to add any. I tried so hard to weave you into my life that I dropped all the other ribbons already in place. I was so afraid at the prospect of losing you that I ended up losing myself trying to hold on to you when I should have let you go.

I’m exhausted from always trying to pick up your slack and to keep you happy and the mood good; I’m exhausted of having to be the bigger person and not give in to the doom and gloom you constantly exude; I’m exhausted of always putting more in and not getting much back. I am tired of chasing after someone who doesn’t want to be chased after. I feel stupid for ever thinking that you wanted me to come after you, that you wanted me to try to help and care about you, that you wanted me. 

I feel sorry for myself for always giving you a second chance, for defending you to my family saying “maybe this time will be different.” I would say I feel sorry for you too, and perhaps I do: you’re so good at pushing people away that you couldn’t even let those who wanted to help you do so. 

I said I thought we were soulmates, tethered together by some invisible string of fate. I thought we’d be the kind of friends who see each other randomly again after goodness knows how long and pick up right where they left off, everything falling into place just how it used to be. Perhaps, a part of me will always love you; you were the closest thing to my first love. But I now look at this situation and you with a mixture of sadness and relief: sadness because you hurt me so and you don’t even know it, and how, at the end of the day, despite my best efforts, I still want to run back to you the minute you come calling, and relief because I’ve learned something from all those years of being your friend and it’s over — I am finally free.

Maybe I’ll use the black ribbon in my own hair. Or maybe I’ll gift it to someone else. Or, I’ll just burn it, once and for all.