The Walk of Death
And that walk...
Saying goodbye in front of a mutual friend who may or may not have been aware that we were more than friends, I gave him a firm hug and when he vaguely promised he’d ‘see me soon’, I grabbed the reins and said ‘We have to hang out at least one more time before I leave. No questions.” He gave an uncomfortable half laugh and turned away. I hated myself and sighed all the way home. When I got there, my mother added to my fire of uncomfort and asked if Evan was going to come over one more time before school. I shrugged and acted as if it didn’t bother me. Then, in a moment of weakness, “Could he maybe come over for dinner either tomorrow or the day after?” The answer was yes, of course. He was Evan. Everyone loved him, not just me.
So, I texted him. Again. “Can you come over for dinner either tomorrow or the day after?” Yes he could. In fact, he’d love that. Then, mom reminded me that my effervescent aunt and her two equally bubbly children would be over for dinner on that day. “Fair warning…” He was still up for it. Of course he was. He was Evan. He loved everyone.
He arrived perfectly on time, as usual. Dinner was late, as usual. I had a bowl of cantaloupe waiting for him, though, because I knew he would be hungry after a long day of work. He was, and he thanked me with a weighted glance. My grandpa arrived (Surprise! Another family member!) and immediately began to interrogate Evan about his truck and the mileage. My aunt and cousins all asked him separately about what he thought of the scandals at Penn State. Everyone we met did this. Every time it happened, I smiled privately and he laughed at my entertainment.
I loved that he let me get drinks for him instead of insisting that I sit. I loved that he returned the favor and knew how to fix my coffee. I loved that he ate every ounce of food that my mother heaped on his plate. I loved that he could look my grandfather in the eye and disagree politely but firmly. I loved that he sat close enough to me that it felt special and private, but far enough away that it was discreet. I loved that he ate the peach crisp I made and complimented me on it. I loved that he ate it the same way my dad did without knowing it. I loved that he was sheepish when he asked for a second helping. I loved that he teased me about how much sugar I put in my coffee. I loved that he then told the story of how he had been converted to a sugar user after staying with my family for a weekend. I loved that he sat for an hour after dinner without even looking impatient. I loved that he offered to help with the dishes. I loved that he immediately said yes when I asked him to walk with me for a while.
And that walk. That walk destroyed me. That walk was the definition of bittersweet. We walked for an hour, alternating between the sweet silence of comfort that I could only share with him and spurted, quirky discussions of whatever popped into our heads. He sang the same 20 seconds of a song until it was resolutely stuck in my head, and I shrieked when we found a dead snake. He told me stories about growing up, and I confessed to him I was incredibly worried and nervous for college. It was that perfect not night but not day shade of blue in the sky when, after a few seconds of quiet, he suddenly said
“So we should have a conversation about what’s going to happen during the school year.”
“Yes…I was just about to say that.” (I had been urging myself to bring it up, knowing it would weigh on my shoulders all year if I didn’t.)
I was prepared for the worst possible outcome: resuming being nothing at all. I was leaving it up to him though, because I honestly didn’t know what to think. I also honestly trusted him to make the best call.
“It’s just…this past year, doing long distance with Steph was miserable and we had gone out for two years before. I just hated it and it made me hate her a little bit. And you and I …we haven’t really even had the chance to do this right because you’re gone all summer. I’m afraid that trying to do long distance will spoil this…and I can’t let myself do that and take a chance that I might end up not appreciating you. And next summer, I already know I’m not going to have a lot of time…” He paused, and half glanced at me. I suddenly felt like I was 100 years old and tired of living. Weary is a good word. I knew what was happening, and that it had to happen, but I couldn’t help but mourn the inevitable.
“I agree. And you’re not the kind of person that does well being tied down. You need to go out and have a great time and just…not have to worry about someone who’s not even there.”
“This timing just sucks. The whole thing does. We didn’t even get a real chance.”
“The world is plotting against us.” I tried to laugh, and barely managed a smile.
He didn’t say anything, just walked.
I let out a defeated, hollow laugh. “We should just promise to meet somewhere in 10 years.”
“Yeah!” He said emphatically, and as soon as he did, I let out a horrified “10 years?!”
That seemed an awful long time. “Damn it.” I said quietly.
“I’m still going to talk to you like I talk to you now though. Like, honestly, I’ll never stop loving talking to you. And I’ll probably drunk call you a bunch of times too. Laura, I’ve loved this summer with you. I feel like I’ve married into your world, and I love your family-“
“And I haven’t even met yours!”
“Yeah, and I would love to come back up to the lake next summer if I can..”
“You’re most welcome to, anytime.”
“And we can always see each other as much as possible during breaks-“
“When you’re not busy being Mr. Murrysville…”
“-and you could come up to visit and I can come visit you. We’ll stay in touch.”
“We will. And who knows? Maybe I’ll even drunk call you one time.”
He laughed a gentle, wistful laugh.
“That would surprise me like nothing else. The day that happens…well. It’ll be a special day.”
And then we were back at the front door. The whole thing took only three yard’s worth of walking.
Then, instead of going running, Evan stayed and played cards with my crazy, loud, offensive family until almost midnight. And when he was on his way out the door, he hugged my mother, thanked her “for everything this summer and for feeding him all the great food” and gave me a short, quick hug. And then my best friend who I loved more than anyone walked out the door, and that was that.