You: The two women from my past who I judged too quickly during a chance brunch encounter
Me: The dyke who apparently projected her own hangups about middle school onto you
It’s 2017, and I’m picking up a to-go order from the neighborhood Mexican spot for my girlfriend and I. Our usual order: a chicken milanesa torta to split. On the short walk back home, I’ll also pick up two iced lattes. At home, I’ll fry an egg for our sandwich. We’ll eat on the couch she’ll soon win in the breakup. Things haven’t erupted between us yet, but there are cracks in the foundation quietly spreading, and it’s making me cling a little obsessively to routines like a torta and iced lattes and eggs sputtering in oil. By which I mean, things aren’t always what they seem.
Here I go, rambling about myself, which really was the whole problem with this chance encounter. My self-absorption. So back to you two. As I wait at the host stand for my order, I see you sitting at a high top having brunch. Two smiling, lanky blondes with instantly familiar faces from my middle school years. We’re 348 miles from that middle school, and you both look exactly the same as then, and perhaps it’s the collision of those two truths that briefly knocks me out of time and space. I feel dizzy. I feel like something is wrong.
It’s all so dramatic and stupid, this way I’m so suddenly affected by seeing you both again. We weren’t even exceptionally close throughout middle school, though one of you was in my brief but intensely bonded sixth grade girl gang made exclusively of girls with K names. You also came to my birthday sleepover that year when I made everyone watch Singin’ In The Rain. It’s you who looks at me, and I hold your gaze for a moment. I feel like you don’t recognize me at all. Eventually, I won’t be able to trust any of my perception of this interaction, which let’s be real, isn’t even an interaction at all, because I never approach you. I never give either of you a chance to be known or to know me.
I convince myself you don’t recognize me in that split second we lock eyes. I think about all the ways I’ve changed. I look different. I feel different. I am different. This is what I’ll say to my mother when she admonishes me for being rude by not saying hello, though it isn’t much of an explanation for my behavior. A friend will also ask why I didn’t say hi given the small worldness of our encounter, and I will think I’ve arrived at some wise truth when I explain to her I don’t know how to interact with people who knew me before I came out. I will explain I have a bizarre compulsion to scream I’M GAY NOW when I do.
I take my food, sign the receipt, and step back out onto a sunny and bustling Saturday sidewalk. It would have been so easy to walk up to you both, to point to myself and say, it’s me, Kayla, remember me? To awkwardly reminisce. To talk about what brought us to right here right now. It could have smoothed over the time ripple that made me so disoriented. It could have made me actually see you instead of just spying on you and then bolting.
But because I didn’t stop to say hi, remember me?, I become lost in my own brain spiral. I feel unhinged when I try to explain the encounter to others. No, you don’t get it, I insist, it was so weird because they looked exactly the same, they were exactly the same. They’re still best friends—isn’t that weird?
None of this was fair to you. Why was I so freaked out by your sustained best friendship? There shouldn’t be anything wrong with lifelong friendship, with staying close to the people you grow up with, but I was judgemental. I foolishly conflated it with a lack of growth, of expansion. I’m not the same person I was when you knew me. Seeing you together after all these years, I assumed you were unchanged.
Worse, my middle school baggage burst to the surface when I saw you. You two suddenly became a representation of every blonde white girl who made me feel like an other in those years, even though most of the specific examples I can recall weren’t things either of you did or said but merely things done and said by girls in your orbits. Conflating them with you, making you complicit in something in my mind, all of it has everything to do with me and my issues and nothing to do with you. I’m sorry.
Maybe it would have been annoying for me to interrupt your brunch by saying hello, but I do regret it. I regret not approaching you, and I even regret not making my big awkward I’M GAY NOW declaration. Because it turns out I was wrong about so many things about you two. Almost everything actually. Because thanks to another chance encounter, this time on social media, I eventually found out you’re not best friends anymore. You’re girlfriends. In all my tunnel vision, I saw your intimate body language over brunch and assumed friendship when really you had fully been dating for years by that point. Not only did I misjudge—I misjudged FELLOW GAYS.
Me. Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya. The person who famously thinks everyone is gay and has to often be reminded that heterosexuals do indeed exist. I’m the one who foisted this assumption upon you. I’m mortified by it. Who knows how things would have panned out if I hadn’t been such a hypocrite? Maybe we could have bonded over being closeted and queer at our Virginia public middle school where conformity was the law of the land. Maybe we had crushes on the same teachers. Maybe we could have formed an entirely new friendship that had nothing to do with the past. Or maybe I’m yet again offloading too much on you with these fantasies. Maybe it would have still been as simple as a brief and chance encounter, a little nod to the past, and then we all moved on.
Who knows what might have happened? But the fact that I didn’t allow for any of those possibilities was a mistake. I was so busy protecting myself from being known that I assumed I knew you, which couldn’t have been less true. The past doesn’t wholly define me, and it doesn’t wholly define you. I’m not the main fucking character of life, and I shouldn’t have acted like it.
I hope you two are happy. I hope you two sincerely don’t give a fuck what some selfish and short-sighted asshole you went to middle school thinks about anything. We all deserve to be at the helm of our own narratives, and I’m sorry I attempted to usurp yours.
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