I have a guy friend who happens to be a diabetic. He is good and generous and makes me feel worthy of extraordinary friendship. Or unworthy, depending on the day. He works out every day, sometimes twice a day. The only reason I’d ever work out twice in one day would be short-term memory loss.
We got close in college. Over carafes of coffee in a sleepy diner and late night bar runs. We mostly talked about God. He was so sure of his faith, and I was skeptical at best. But I felt like something was missing in my life, and he was kind and convincing. His eyes wrinkled in the corners when he laughed, and I was good at making him laugh. When I tired of the Jesus talk, I’d do an impression of a friend or tell him another story about my grandma. He didn’t push me, but he always brought the conversation back around to spirituality. He was easy to confess to, so I confessed to him every fear I had about who I was and what would become of me. He reached across the sticky diner table and held my wrists in his large hands.
“Everything you’re saying is normal. You’re going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”
We kissed once. It was summer in our college town and I was coming up for air after an entire school year of depression. I was still unsure of myself, but I’d lost thirty pounds and found new confidence in my body, even if it hadn’t reached my head. After a night of karaoke, we returned to a friend’s empty apartment to wait for the rest of the group. The door was always unlocked, so we let ourselves in and made a beeline for the alcohol on the kitchen counter. I was already drunk, sweaty, and brazen. He stood on one side of the counter and I stood on the other. We took shots. I leaned toward him.
“Don’t you wonder what it’d be like to kiss me?”
He smiled. He even had the nerve to blush. I wiggled my eyebrows at him. It was silly enough, and so unsexy, we both burst into laughter, the natural state of our friendship. When we stopped laughing he reached across the counter and grabbed my hand. I leaned forward again. He closed the space between us and we kissed.
It was a good kiss, and the passion it ignited frightened me. Had we always been this close to the fire? And what did it mean that I’d never noticed before I was sloppy drunk and covered in a sheen of perspiration? I was neurotic, even while inebriated. Our friends stumbled in and I reflexively straightened my dress, as if he’d touched anything other than my arm and face. I was painfully aware I’d just tried to seduce the kindest Christian boy I knew in a dress I’d stolen from Target earlier that week.
I wandered outside under the guise of needing some fresh air. I did need to breathe. I stepped out the door and just kept walking toward the house I rented down the road. Later, he’d leave a voicemail asking where I’d gone, why hadn’t I waited for him when he always walks me home, please let him know I was safe, was this about the kiss? He’s sorry about the kiss. I replied to him in my head, “It was a nice kiss. It was a really great kiss. I didn’t deserve that kiss. I never want to kiss you again.”
We didn’t mention it the rest of the summer. I let him believe I was angry with him, so he just wouldn’t bring it up. When he moved to California right before August, I didn’t cry. He said he’d stay in contact, and I trusted he would. He only ever said exactly what he meant. We texted, called, and messaged one another. It wasn’t that different except I missed those wrinkled eyes and the way he held me a second too long when we hugged. That second always full of affirmation. We’re all going to be okay.
He was right in some ways. I was still mostly skeptical about religion, but I was also okay. I gained back the thirty pounds (and then some), but I also got back a sense of self. The night we kissed, I was performing a version of myself I didn’t really like or want to associate with the gentler parts of my circle. He had always been gentle. I would have performed for him, and he wouldn’t have known. I would have tasted every inch of his skin. I did not always say exactly what I meant. I would have eaten him alive.
Two years ago, when he came home for the holidays, we spent the night in a friend’s new apartment. We were lying face-to-face chatting about anything at all. We hadn’t seen one another in a while. We were both single. I was better in body and mind. I could feel his breath on the skin of my cheek and I turned into it instead of away.
I asked if I could touch the place where his insulin pump is inserted. He humored me and nodded. I ran my finger over the translucent bandage that held the needle in place. His little lifeline. I thought, my friend is good and strong. He is extraordinary.
I wondered what happened in there, where everything went and how it fit. I thought about how his skin must wrap around the needle, how his flesh must accommodate these tools of survival. I let the back of my hand brush against the point of insertion again. He shivered and smiled, the skin around his eyes folding in the corners. I laid my hand flat against the bandage, gently, so as not to disturb what lay beneath it. I moved my mouth closer to his ear.
“California doesn’t deserve you.”
Ashley C. Ford is a staff writer at BuzzFeed. She has published in PANK Literary Magazine, The Rumpus, Necessary Fiction and other places. She likes Kenny Loggins, ginger ale, and trees. She is writing a book.
Bio photo by Nick Turner
–Art by Marta Bevacqua
–Art by Alphan Yýlmazmaden
–Art by Seamus Travers