When a City Reminds You of Those You’ve Lost

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I had a best friend a few years back. A straight guy. Which maybe should have tipped me off. But I’d known him since middle school. We’d been chummy for many years, and he had gradually become a second brother to me.

Year after year, we ambled down Third Avenue in chilly November rain and down Broadway in July heatwaves, discussing books, our histories, science, religion. Everything that mattered. My then-husband and I had him over for Saturday brunches. He returned the favor.

And when I moved out and the divorce began, he was there for me, too.

But then the divorce was finalized. I briefly dated a guy that my friend didn’t think much of. And then my best bud was accepted to a grad program on the east coast.

Suddenly, all bets were off. 

One night when we were square-dancing at one of his favorite haunts in Ballard, he cornered me and grabbed me. I told him to back off. He held me tighter. I pushed him away. He pinned my arms to my sides and told me to let go, just give in.

That was when I started to panic. He had effectively pinned me. I couldn’t move. Neither of us had swallowed a lick of alcohol, but there we were in a dark bar where I knew no one and everyone around us assumed we were a couple. Which had been a joke between us for years.

Suddenly, it wasn’t so funny.

Trapped by the closest thing I had to family within a thousand miles, I looked into his face and told him to let go. He smirked. Then he ran his hands over me.

Compared to other assaults I’ve experienced, it was mild. He didn’t choke me. I didn’t have to call the police. He just let go after he’d made his point, I tried to act like I was fine, and we politely said good night. But it was still devastating. More so because of the deep trust and affection I had invested in this young man.

For me, Seattle is populated by the ghosts of dead friendships. Bookstores, soccer fields, city streets, restaurants. Not all ended so painfully. Some, we just grew apart. Others moved away. A couple died.

But I’ve learned some valuable lessons from being haunted on every corner in some neighborhoods. I’ve learned who to hang onto and who to let go of and–better yet–who not to befriend to begin with. Because I’ve also learned that love sticks. Once your heart is sunk into the mulch of someone else’s soul, it’s done. You love them. And that love goes on living. With or without them. For better or worse. Whether they’re just down the block or six feet under.

I still love all of them, even the ones I’m better off without. I never again saw that best friend after the night he grabbed me on the dance floor and felt me up. I wrote out my anger and sent it to him over email. He never responded. It was the higher road. We both knew the friendship had died that night. And I don’t want it back.

But sometimes, when the light is a smudged charcoal and low in the sky under steel clouds, and someone shouts across Third Avenue while the pigeons bob at my feet–sometimes I remember what fun we had and how young we were back then. And at those moments, douchebag or not, I still love my then-friend.

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