On Distance

I hate seeing his screenname. Every morning, there it is—under “Quick Contacts” on G-mail: a new status message grayed beneath it, a green dot indicating his chat availability beside it; if I roll my mouse over his name, a box with his picture appears next to it, a picture he changed after we broke up a month and a half ago. And even though I’m over him for so many reasons, I wonder if, for him, I was that easy to get over: click, and upload a new file—a brand new beginning as simple as changing a G-mail profile picture.

His new picture was a reminder of how long it had been since we had talked. Keeping in touch was his suggestion to begin with; he said during our break-up conversation: I’d be devastated if we couldn’t be friends. We may not have been The Ones for each other, but there were aspects of each other that made our short relationship worthwhile. He wanted to keep those things, and so did I.

For a while, we did well: he’d call me in the weeks after our split, wondering if I was awake for work or spotting my car’s twin on the freeway. He shared musical discoveries he thought I’d find interesting and offered to have drinks, a movie, or a meal. Every morning, I’d turn on my computer, check my email, and boom—a message about something happening at his work. He’d keep typing his stories even as I, busy at work, was unable to respond. He even added me to his MySpace Top 12, an event, he said, only reserved for the closest of his friends.

I never reciprocated as much. I called him awake on a day he had to be up early; I looked over some drafts he had due. But I didn’t feel the need to update him on work. I didn’t want him to be the recipient of my first “hello” every morning. I didn’t even want him in my Top 12. I had placed him so close to the role of boyfriend that once he was no longer occupying that position, I found it difficult to give him the attention I used to give him. Once he negated his position of +1, he had no place to go but zero. I couldn’t give him any other role.

I think my lack of responsiveness grew too much for him. A week ago, he messaged me, concerned about my distance. He said he even talked about it with his best friends. I assured him it was nothing, but he concluded I was mad at him. The next day, he sent me a short message on G-chat. This time, he sounded cold. His last line: “One day, maybe we’ll hang out again.” User signed off.

I had my excuses. Legitimate ones. I keep a hectic schedule, juggling my job with advance planning for a summer operation, and he was just being immature about it.

But I couldn’t lie to myself: if I really wanted him as a friend, I would’ve made time. I didn’t. I had to get away. I needed to grow away, so far away that any chemistry I had with him would evaporate. Only then would I be ready to come back from a different point of departure—friendship.

Earlier today, after two weeks of non-communication, I gave in. With my evening conference calls postponed, my roommate out of town, and my friends busy with work, my choices were to sit at home alone or take him up on his long-held offer of dinner. See him for the first time in one and a half months.

I called him. His phone rang. (I bet he let it ring after seeing my name.) All for the sake of dinner company, I left him a winding, beat-around-the-bush message that screamed nervousness. I hung up. It’d be nice to see him, I thought. My heart started skipping a bit. After a month and a half, yeah—I thought—It’d probably be really nice. Maybe friendship will work out.

He called back fifteen minutes later. (I let it ring a bit before responding.) I answered cheerfully. Excitedly, even. He said he couldn’t make it to dinner, and I thought: well, okay. At least I tried. That’s when he dropped it: He was leaving the city. He’s been looking for jobs in places thousands of miles away. He was done with his employer. He was done with this town. He needed a new start. And as much of a non-planner he is, he set a date for himself: August 1st—goodbye.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to see his screenname on my computer: a new status message will appear; a green dot will indicate his chat availability. He will not message me; I will not message him. And it will bother me—this time, though, because I feel responsible. Like I, somehow, played and continue to play a role in pushing him away. I needed distance and enforced it upon him. Now, as I find myself growing just far enough to pave a return route to his friendship, he’s imposing the distance I had wished for all along. Actual distance. And that’s very different from the distance of the internet or the distance of silence.

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