It was past midnight.
We stopped on the street outside the Globe, basking in the victory of a small campaign race that at the time, felt like the scale of the moon.
Grace handed me a letter, insisting that I read it when I got home.
"I wrote you one in case you lost, but... now I get to burn it!"
She wrapped me in a bear hug and we said goodnight.
Our first meeting did not mirror that same warmth.
We were in a large hall.
As I introduced myself and asked if she was there for the same event; she replied somewhat curtly, “why else would I be here?”
“Fair enough,” I replied.
As you can imagine, that wasn’t the start of our friendship.
Heck, we didn’t engage with each other for much of that year.
Yet somehow, we found ourselves at the very centre of each other’s lives.
I read the letter when I got home.
At the very end of it, scribbled in a postscript:
‘If you’re interested in reading the letter I wrote in case you lost, you’re out of luck because I knew I won’t have to write one.”
I held the piece of paper in my hand for minutes after reading it and a sneaky tear rolled down the side of my cheek.
We were both very different people then, more aware of the other.
There was love in that friendship and I hold that letter as a token of that.
To this day, it rests in my writer’s journal, travelling with me everywhere I go.
That memory hit the back of my mind with everything that came after.
Having moved halfway across the world, the pandemic raging like the never-ending shitstorm it seems to be, but perhaps more importantly due to the growing distance in our friendship, I forgot about the letter.
Safe, but out of sight.
Present, but just about.
When I met Vaibhav, I was drawn to his intellectuality.
He had the brightest mind! Sharp, information at the ready. Weaving intangible networks at any given second.
He matched my curiosity for the creative arts and left the best of us debaters and self-proclaimed intellectuals scrambling for words.
The first to journey into my many worlds, meet the characters that never saw the light of day and through it all, helping me better understand the art of creative expression.
He encouraged my literary pursuits, read my journals, engaged with my work.
He introduced me to Milton.
I lost months to Paradise Lost.
On days when the fort felt too small, we would go for a walk and dream of the lives we’d live beyond the four walls.
“You’ve got to translate your emotion into words. It’s the only way to get people to connect with your work.”
“I’m not sure if that is possible.”
He shared his collection of poems with me.
I cried reading the first.
His childhood, his trauma, the death of a friend… bared on pages with such vulnerability, such attention to detail.
The words flowing from one to the next.
He had a knack for this.
If I was starting to build myself into a creative, he was already born as one.
On the odd evenings, smoking a joint in our windowless study room, we would share our lives, our hopes and dreams.
He was free-spirited, untethered, too cool to care for the rest of the world.
But for a select few he was his unguarded self.
He battled demons of his own.
It sounds so dramatic when that phrase is thrown around, but he did.
Very real ones.
On most days, a couple of joints in, Battle Studies playing in the background; we would get a glimpse at his fears, his insecurities, the boy behind the facade.
Those moments were rare.
Moments like that helped us grow.
Our friendship as natural as breathing.
Far removed from families of our own, we became a family to each other.
Six months after graduation, when he published his collection of poems, none of us was surprised.
I was filled with pride.
He had a vision for the beyond, a strong creative voice, and was finally part of a world that he’d dreamt of since those first scribbled words.
Our friendship faded after school.
I was well aware of the possibility all those years on the fort.
He was flighty.
Never the one to stay too long and yet...
I felt that we shared a friendship that meant more.
I’d built up this false idea that somehow I’d be spared that fate.
It hit me hard.
I felt abandoned.
I grieved the loss.
I tried to make my peace with it: Our hug the day I flew to Dublin, the last I saw of him.
In time I learnt to accept it, but moving on was still a process.
Years later, my ass firmly plonked on my desk in Dublin writing an international relations essay, I was caught by surprise when he reached out.
It was a barrage of texts.
One after the other.
My phone pinging frantically on the table.
Panic coursed through me.
I knew he hadn’t been in a good place lately and this was him sending out the Bat-Signal.
“I need help.”, he chimed in on our call that very evening.
He wasn’t in a good place and needed money.
I sent him money later that week.
"This is all I can manage for now.”
That is the last I heard from him.
I cursed myself for repeating the same… again.
Yet, with time, I learnt to move past the abandonment.
That understanding of it all, the time, it helped.
As I write this, a lot of those feelings come up, but I choose to remember the good.
I choose to remember not the poet, but a friend that so significantly impacted me and my creative journey.
There is a scene in Season 4 of Parks and Recreation, right towards the end of the season when Leslie Knope wins an election following a close race.
As she's waiting to be called on stage to make her speech, her partner and campaign manager Ben, tells her how proud he is.
“I look forward to reading the concession speech once I’m not so emotionally unstable.”
"I never wrote you one." He replies.
“I knew you’d win,” he replies.
Tears well up in her eyes.
I mirror her reaction, every time I watch that episode.
Watching that scene makes me think of my friendship with Grace.
The letter she wrote me.
I'd like to think we connected like Ben & Leslie did, with an added balancing act.
Ever so careful to never cross that line that grows intimate with every minute that you spend beyond it.
The last time I saw her, we were very different people.
The tacos we'd had countless times before weren't the same.
The conversations weren't filled with the all too familiar gut-wrenching laughter of the simpler times.
Even the bubble tea cafe that we'd frequent, a cornerstone of our friendship, had closed shop.
Something had changed.
The closing of the shop was symbolic.
Our moments of care and comradery replaced with moments spent watching Tick-Tock and scrolling through BBC articles on our separate pocket worlds.
We outgrew each other.
As she left my apartment the next day I wasn't filled with sadness.
It would be a while before we shared the same space.
If we ever did.
And... I was okay with it.
I just wrapped her up in a hug and wished her safety and growth.
I miss her.
I miss the people we used to be.
Part of me wants to edit this essay to a place where fact and fiction get blurred.
Bring it to a point where anyone reading this can’t tangibly discern whether this exists as a work of fiction or whether it is the honest truth.
Being vulnerable is HARD AS NAILS!
This is a tough essay to write.
Not that any piece written from a place of true vulnerability can ever be easy.
Yet, I think this one is especially difficult because I’ve always struggled to let go.
In a very real way, writing this feels like putting to rest the relationships that I have come to hold so deeply in my life.
So what have I learnt in letting go of the two most important humans in my life?
What do I have to offer?
My 5 step guide on how to make friendships last!
See your friends.
Make an effort to connect.
Sorry, that’s just a load of bullshit.
There’s no 10 or 100 step program that could ever make any relationship last.
I’m certain BuzzFeed has one waiting to be read but we all deserve better.
I can’t offer you a guide.
I really wish I could, but I'm afraid that would be a disingenuous attempt.
All I can offer to you dear reader is my truth.
The big takeaway if you will!
I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for the friends I lost on the way.
In their obvious and incredulously mind-bending ways, each friendship that we come across is a cosmic hug.
Supporting us in our time of need, inviting us to grow, and hopefully leaving us better than we were at the start of it.
Leaving in their wake some incredible memories.
There’s no tips or tricks here.
There are still days when I miss my Leslie and my Poet.
Our friendship as it was.
There are days when I think back to our moments and go… that was a beautiful day.
The change in the nature of a relationship doesn’t take away its significance.
You get angry,
You take a pause,
And in time, you learn to appreciate them for all their worth.
The optimist in me sometimes slowly whispers:
“Maybe, in time, you will find a way back to each other.”
Maybe, there is a very real possibility that that may come to pass. But I’m okay if it doesn’t.
I am learning to be okay with it.
Some days I'm more successful than others, but when those doubts gather around I remind myself of something Vaibhav used to say:
“The future holds for each one of us, what is ultimately the best of us.”