Last week, after work, I bumped into the girl who called me "Mad Dog Number 2", among other names, years ago in a FB message-- the message had been meant for her friend, but she had sent it to me by mistake. I never got the chance to ask her who "Mad Dog Number 1" was, because she deleted me from FB.
So anyway, we were at the train station. I spotted her first. She looked familiar but I didn't quite recall who she was. Time has made me more forgetful of people and events from the past, has blurred the edges and peeled away the details of memories that used to leave me with a blinding pain, making them a little lighter to bear. At the same time, it has loaned me retrospection for the things that I do remember, allowing me to be more forgiving and kinder to myself and to those around me.
I wanted to say to her something along the lines of, "Hey. I'm sorry. Is there anything I can do to fix things between us?" But social etiquette dictates that you don't say that to someone you haven't seen or spoken to in years. In my moment of uncertainty, I smiled politely at her. In her moment of confusion, she broke into an affable smile. We were as good as two strangers, performing the rituals of hi and bye with each other.
I was reminded of a quote by T.S. Eliot from 'The Cocktail Party': “We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”
I think that was a pretty nice way to sort of make peace with each other. In that moment, there was a distant but palpable possibility that we could have rekindled our friendship with each other, but of course, we just moved on in opposite directions. Still, I find that possibility very magical because to me it represents the hope of reconciliation and renewal in all my other friendships that have ended.
I read a comment that someone left on an online article, where he said that making friends is like falling in love, and breaking up with friends is like falling out of love. And you never forget the ones you've loved and lost. From time to time, you find yourself thinking of them with fondness, wondering how they are and hoping that life is treating them well. Sometimes, you even catch yourself surreptitiously searching for glimpses of them in new acquaintances. Sometimes, you are tempted to contact them and say something along the lines of, "Hey. I'm sorry. Is there anything I can do to fix things between us?" But social etiquette dictates that you don't say that to someone you haven't seen or spoken to in years. So I quietly think of them and feel grateful for the friends who still love me, believe in me and stand by me, in spite of my flaws and great big blunders.
There was once though, that I decided to screw social etiquette. I emailed a friend I hadn't spoken to in a long while and told him that I was sorry, for whatever I did to hurt him. He asked if it was a joke, but then one mustn't doubt one from the get go. He forgave me, even though he didn't think there was anything to forgive. He couldn't remember what had happened between us. Perhaps, he mused, he had deliberately made himself forget what I had done. He hoped I wouldn't be hurt by his response of indifference. I could sense that he had changed, that he wasn't who I remembered him to be. Yes it hurt a little, I confessed, but I was glad that time had made him a little more forgetful. I guess I had needed to apologise more than he had needed to hear it.
He never replied back after that. It was just as well. I hadn't realised that we had died to each other a long time ago, and what I was clinging on to was a shadow that with each repeated visit of nostalgia, I had carved a face and a body for.
Now such ghosts only appear when my mind goes round and round in circles before I sleep. But I actively remember not to forget that they are not real, that they belong only to the deep recesses of my haziest dreams.