I’ll never know why it happens, but it happened again last week.
I woke up, rolled over towards my nightstand, grabbed my phone, and checked if anyone had tried to contact me since I had fallen asleep. Sure enough, I saw the usual one or two texts from my night-owl friends, but this time I had one extra.
The text was from a guy that I met almost two years ago. We’ll call him Jason.
Jason and I met online, and our relationship consisted of texting each other when we were bored or lonely and then finding a spot on campus to make out.
This happened exactly two times.
After each time, I think Jason felt a little guilty. Whatever his interest in me meant, he very much wanted to keep it a secret from friends, family, etc. So after we’d meet up, we wouldn’t talk for a while afterwards. I’d see him on campus here or there, but there would only be a quick hello before we went off in our separate directions.
Before I left for Boston, I texted him one last time to see if he was around for the summer.
He wasn’t. So, I accepted that it was over.
But what was over, exactly?
We definitely weren’t dating.
I couldn’t even call him a friend.
“Acquaintances” didn’t really coincide with the kissing going on.
“Strangers” almost worked. That’s what we pretended to be, anyway. And that’s what I assumed we’d be after I moved away.
But that didn’t work either because, for whatever reason, here we were: 9:09 a.m., after six months of not talking.
I tried to inch towards an explanation by participating in the conversation.
“Jason!! Haha not much…just woke up. You?”
“Hahaha how’s your year going?”
And that was it. The end of the conversation.
This wasn’t the first time that this had happened to me. During my second year of college, a friend from high school that I hadn’t spoken to in two years sent me a Facebook message:
We’d had a bit of a falling out, but I can’t remember why. It was probably one of those slow-dying relationships. Not unnoticeable—because you feel their disappearance—but ignorable—because those feelings are too complicated. It’s easier to push them aside.
She said that she messaged me because our moms saw each other at Walmart a day earlier. I laughed, briefly caught up with her, and assumed that that was that. Another fleeting conversation.
But four months later, she messaged me again.
“Hey, Katie! What’s up?”…
And then again three months later,
“Hey old friend”
“Hey Katie, how’s it going?”
“Good 5 more weeks left of my pregnancy. But for now life is good.”
After that, I thought I figured her out. She must have been reaching out to me in desperation. She must have had no one else to talk to, and eventually she would find someone closer and more tangible, and these brief conversations would come to an end, just like they did when I left for college.
But I was wrong again. The conversations kept persisting.
“Hey Katie! Congrats on having your baby!”…
“Hey mama how’s your baby?! Lol”…
“Hey stranger how are you?”…
She had called me stranger.
As if being strangers was now a joke because we’d been messaging for almost a year.
And for the most part, she was right.
We weren’t strangers, but we were never strangers.
Just pretending, as we do.
Over the years, my relationship with her undulated outward as the more convenient, nameable relationships occupied my consciousness. We moved from friends, to acquaintances, to memories, to essentially forgotten. While people like mom and dad stayed close in my heart regardless of distance, people like “that girl from my church that I was friends with in high school” and “that cute boy I snuck around with on campus” got pushed away by the natural forces of the social universe.
However, contrary to theory, that’s exactly what wasn’t happening. These two were resisting the push.
So what should I do?
What should I say?
What should I call these people now?
The “almost forgotten…but not quite”?
Whatever it was, Katie was right. It didn’t matter if it was easier: we weren’t strangers now at all. But I do say now—with more certainty than ever—that we are certainly strange enough.
Michael Kelly (’14) graduated from Calvin College with a double major in psychology and writing. Shortly after graduating, he began his graduate level study of educational research, measurement, and evaluation at Boston College. When he is not studying learning and teaching, Michael learns and teaches through stories and writing—fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy, and everything else in between.