Years. That’s how long it had been and she felt every one of them right now, every day really. It was incredible. It would have been so easy to skip this. Everyone was used to her not showing up anymore. The perfect excuse as she had moved away, to get away? Maybe. But that really wasn’t the point, was it? She was here now. She knew that she would be judged just as she knew that she was going to judge them. They had all been so close once. Or at least she had thought that they were, but maybe that was a lie that she told herself. Maybe she never really fit anywhere. Maybe she couldn’t fit because she never let anything get deeper than the first couple layers of skin. Ahhhh why now, she could either go in or not. It was that easy. Well, not easy. Simple. It was simple, either go in or don’t.
She put her head back and tried to remember the last time. Was there a last time in her memory, it was more like a dimming. A fading out. She had been in the center of everything, always. Laughing. Drunk. Stoned. Happy. Or at least something that looked like that most of the time. She didn’t remember everything about that time but she remembered that she was never alone. She would just get up and go to where everyone was. And if there wasn’t an everyone, she would go to a someone, to an anyone. Always. Now she would kill for some time alone. Funny how things changed. But not really, only in the first few layers. Deeper, things didn’t seem to make much of a difference. She had been so many people, and had lived so many lives. There were so many things that changed, but so many things that didn’t. She couldn’t imagine smoking pot now, much less carrying a bag and a few pipes with her everywhere she went. The thousands of dollars wasted. “Did I really think it was cool to pay more for a bag of bud than it would have been for a bar of gold?” She shook her head remembering it. What a waste. The money, the time, the places, the people? No, not the people. Her? Oh man, it was easier not to think about this.
Friday nights as she would walk home from her shift at Subway. She would run into the college kids and they would ask if she was coming to “the party”. Where is it, she’d ask… and then the lists. She’d end up with 6 or 7 on her list before making it to her apartment. She’d show the list to her friends when they would get together early for the “pre”. This one yes, these no, or maybe. The best was when their bands played. There will be bands tonight. Was it going to be the same songs from back then? Would it be amazing or sad? Would these people be amazing or…? What about me, she asked herself, would I fall back to trying to be something, trying to get their attention. Trying to be important. She didn’t know, but she wasn’t sure that she wanted to find out. She didn’t know if she was early or late. She had stopped a few blocks away so no one would spot her sitting in her parents’ Jeep Liberty trying to decide to go in or go home. “Home” even though her home was a continent away. A place where she had become a professional, an upstanding citizen. What was she doing back here? Why had she come?
Would she walk in and everyone would expect her to put on one of her shows? Would she slink in the corner? Would he be there? With his new wife? Would she be there, the ex-wife, the one who showed him that there was something better than me out there? God, why had she come? Would she have the chance to apologize for wanting something different, wanting to be someone different, for not wanting to be what she had convinced him, had convinced all of them that she was?
She put her head down on the steering wheel. 12 years. 12 YEARS! She’d traveled a continent so her daughters could get to know her parents’ house, her hometown, what it was like to swim in a river instead of always the cemented swimming pools in her tidy subdivision in a country where the disparities were glaring and obvious. Not like here where nothing is obvious.
What was she doing? She shook it off, false bravado. She reminded herself that she didn’t run, she faced that which scared her. Hadn’t she just spent part of the flight talking to N’aya about power and resilience? Hadn’t she just talked about how feeling awkward at 13 was normal? Didn’t she repeat what she read from Brene Brown, that normalizing these things made it easier to deal with? Why didn’t it feel normal now? Should she practice what she was busy preaching or could she just let it go? I mean no one would really know the difference. She had the 2 different Facebook accounts, the before and after. No one from her real-life had to know if she walked away.
“I feel like a hypocrite, like a fool.” She thought for about the millionth time. Fuck it, she started up the car. “What’s the difference? I'm going to have the regret wrapped around my neck if I don’t go and only will probably have it there if I do.” She drove the last few blocks, her hands stupidly shaking. This was ridiculous. She was ridiculous. How had she become a bad joke? She pulled up, of course not recognizing any of the cars but recognizing the song that they were playing. Holy shit, she hadn’t expected to feel so emotional.
She could see a few of the “kids” from the old days hanging around as she climbed out of the Jeep. “Is that Tori? Holy shit it’s Tori.” And suddenly she was surrounded. Pete and Mari and Jackie all reaching out, “is it really you” and then they were hugging, and maybe there was a tear. “Come on, hey guys, you’re not going to believe who’s here…” and it was weird, it felt weird. But it felt good. “I’ve missed you guys.” And that wasn’t something from the surface. That part went deep.