Please welcome today’s guest writer, Michael Kelly. Michael graduated from Calvin College in 2014 with a double major in psychology and writing. Shortly after graduating, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts to begin his graduate level study of educational research at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. When he is not learning or teaching in formal education settings, Michael strives to learn and teach through stories and writing—fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy, and everything in between.

With acquaintances and strangers, I pride myself in my ability to apply the golden rule: treating others how I would like to be treated. With friends, however, I tend to apply a more pyritic rule: treat others how I would like to be treated, but it’s okay to jokingly treat them however I’d like.

In other words, I’m one of those people who gets a certain pleasure out of mildly irritating my friends, especially when I think their irritability is irrational. For example, a few weeks before my graduation from Calvin, I started saying things like:

“Dean, I forgot, when am I never going to see you again?”

In response to my sarcastic cynicism, my friends would respond with some variation of:

“Let’s not talk about it.”

I’m not sure why all of this was so funny to me. I think it was because I didn’t understand their irritation. Sure, I was being overly cynical, but that’s why it was laughable. It’s not like any of what I said was really true, anyway, so what was everyone so upset about?

I didn’t have to think about this for long because I was too busy with final projects, final exams, final parties, final meals, final moments, final—

My finals were interrupted by a Facebook update from one of my closest friends from high school. She said that she would be in town for the next couple of days. I hadn’t seen her in over a year, and we hadn’t spoken in at least seven months. But I knew that once we were together it would feel like no time passed at all. We had that eternal type of friendship where ideas of “pause” and “hesitation” were nonsensical because there were much more pressing issues at hand:

“Did you hear what Susie told Cody told Carrie told Hannah told Joe told Brittanie? Like, no way, right?!”

I sent her a message, she replied, and I started down 131-S toward Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo.

***

We hugged, and sat down, and smiled, and ordered, and chatted, and sipped, and smiled, and chatted, and… paused.

Something had changed, and it wasn’t for the better. It was hard to hold our eye contact for longer than a sentence or two because we didn’t want to see it sitting there between us, but in the pauses—between our words, our sentences, our stories—the decay became too noticeable to ignore.

I thought back to two years earlier as Staci and I reclined beside the sparkling pool, bathing in sunscreen and sunlight as we incessantly gabbed about dorms and drinks and drugs and grades and guys and sex—ok, maybe stuff that wasn’t really sex, but was similar enough to mention—and now we sat quietly at a half-full bar sipping Bell’s brews on a summer night, sharing just a few highlights from the year because we hadn’t spoken in so long that the too-many memories had already been forgotten.

Let’s not talk about it.

I didn’t say anything. Not yet. But I was getting drunker. Not off the single beer I had to drink, but off the flood of potent memories over our last eight years of friendship.

The time we met.

The time we said goodbye.

The time that I told her I liked her liked her.

The time that I told her I was gay.

The time we talked on the phone for three and a half hours straight.

The time we didn’t talk because I had wrongly assumed the worst of her.

The time we knew every menial detail about the other’s life.

And the time in this moment:

“What’s your major again?” I asked.

“Did I tell you that I dated a guy for ten months?” I asked.

“Don’t you feel like something’s…different?”

Let’s not talk about it.

While I didn’t ask the last question, I couldn’t stop myself from ruminating on it. I thought about it so much that, after we said goodbye and left the brewery, I called Staci as soon as I got home to ask something like, “…are we ok? Did I say anything that offended you or anything?”

“No…?” she responded, confused at what I was feeling. I explained some of my thoughts, scraping to identify that thing I might have done wrong and could correct, but all that Staci said was that, to her, I seemed like, “the same old Michael.”

I returned to Grand Rapids with my uncertainty. After a few days of obsessing over how this friendship seemed to change, I tried to force my attention to focus on something else, like saying something sarcastic to my closest four-year friends—the friends that I’d accidentally run into in clubs, and concerts, and coffee shops; the friends I’d incessantly talk to so that I’d be informed of even the most menial details about their lives; the friends that I’d hold and hug and kiss; the friends that I’d smile with, cry with, laugh with, and be with every single day—and, though others may not understand, I had to make these quips because otherwise I wasn’t saying anything and I never wanted to not say anything again because the silence of the pauses pained me and I didn’t know how to stop them and how could I fix it if I didn’t know how to and what if, after graduation—

Let’s not talk about it.

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