Anticlimax: A Reunion that Could’ve Been
“And when she finally had the courage to tell you that she isn’t ready, you couldn’t even be bothered to listen!”
The other night, I had this oddly photorealistic dream about Ginny and her friends. It was all sorts of terrifying and fascinating, mainly because it felt very real; I actually ended up sleeping in the next morning because of it. I spent the last two days before that imperceptibly looking through their recent vacation photos in Japan so I guess it was bound to happen eventually... or perhaps it was just the usual gnawing guilt and self-hatred visibly manifesting themselves all over again, accompanied by the painful reminder that I was truly my “father’s” demon spawn of a daughter and an awful, awful human being. I’ve made nasty mistakes, brutally hurt loved ones, and this dream seemed to be my mind’s unconscious attempt to help me fix them.
Too bad it really was just all a dream.
Anyway, it began with my friend Briley giving me a ring on the phone. She asked me to accompany her to a batch reunion our high school was having over the weekend. I told her it was very uncharacteristic of her to want to go, after she’d said many times previously that she would never attend a single one, but she explained that she was going to see someone in our batch that she’s sort of dating, and that also was a surprise so I said “ok, fine, I’ll go.” She said Gina couldn’t be bothered to go (“Flarrowverse marathon”), and Lisa and Bertilde were busy with work, so that just left me. So yeah. I wanted to be a dependable friend (for once), plus I didn’t really have anything else to do, so I went. In return, she promised me she’d be on the lookout the whole while for Ginny and her friends. She knows about the problems I have with them; I’d explained to Briley that they literally hate me now after how much I fucked up in front of Ginny, so it would be to everyone’s best interests that we didn’t cross paths. I explained too that I’d promised Ginny I would distance myself permanently from her from now on—which is to say it would be completely bad form to be seen within a mile radius of her by her, even if accidentally, after I’d just sworn never to show my face in front of her or contact her ever again. I didn’t tell Briley this, but I was also frightened to even as much as glimpse her and her friends, considering I still felt massively guilty over what I’d done and said to Ginny over the past seven months. I was afraid of her. Fine, there. I said it.
Unfortunately, however, Briley ended up pulling a Joey on me and disappearing from my sight the second we got to school. I know. “Damn you, Briley,” amirite?
Before I knew it, I was alone and surrounded by all these people I didn’t even remember knowing… (They probably don’t remember me either.) Our old teachers arrived, a few words were said, after which I quickly found myself being herded into one corner of the field along with my old classmates. I froze in place, terrified. I could see Briley hanging out with some guy at the far end of the lawn, seeming to have completely forgotten about me, and I cursed.
The teachers were having us assembled chronologically based on our last names. I protested, lying about why I was there, that I was just “coerced into it and this is all a big mistake,” and saying I couldn’t stay long, all the while covering my face, but nobody was having any of it. Before I knew it, I was being shuffled behind Ginny—and some others from the same letter category—of all people just like in the old days (my last name is Harper and Ginny’s is Gadbois), with Ginny’s other friends behind me. I shivered. What little I could still feel off my skin felt increasingly cold—and clammy—to the touch. Ginny didn’t say a single word—she didn’t even bother to turn around, which was expected—but I could hear her friends mumbling behind me.
And then it happened.
FUCK SHIT FUCK, I thought. My shoulders stiffened.
It wasn’t Ginny; it was her childhood friend Gwen. Still not good news. “Hey Francis?” she said again. She tapped my shoulder. I flinched. I wasn’t sure if she’d noticed but if she had, she didn’t say anything.
“Hey, how are you? I haven’t heard from you in a while.” She sounded like her usual self, pleasantly nonchalant and chipper, but from my end, mentally I was breaking; I hadn’t been paranoid in a while, but at that moment I was 100% certain I was. I felt like I was going to pass out from the equal parts paranoia and anxiety.
“I...” My voice sounded uncharacteristically croaky. But as it happens, I was never able to finish my sentence.
She and I turned at the same time. I gasped.
“Devi?” Gwen said, blinking.
Devi is Ginny’s friend from elementary school. They’ve known each other since they were around seven or eight—their fathers used to be business affiliates in the same industry (soft candy production)—as it stands, they’ve been inseparable since. In fact, they were the original “Grupo Alhambra.”
I stared at her, completely dumbstruck. So stupid! I suddenly felt like bashing my head cleanly on a rock. You fucking twaddlefuck, Francis— why did you have to turn around?
Devi glared at me. I paled, quickly turning once more. I started walking.
“Don’t ignore me, Francis,” she called out, sharply. I could hear her following.
I wasn’t able to get very far—perhaps just a few meters. I’d abruptly stopped, completely frozen in place. At this point, I was too disquieted and emotionally bedeviled to take a single step; I trembled, clenching my fists. Without looking back, I shook my head importunately in defiance.
“Francis.” I felt her grab me by the shoulder and shake me half-firmly, half-violently, like she wanted to do the latter but also felt it would draw extra attention to them that she wasn’t sure she fancied. Or thought was a particularly good idea. “Francis,” she said again. “Look at me, you fucking shitface.”
I didn’t budge. I just kept my gaze firmly down on the ground, frozen in place.
“After all the crap you had shamelessly put Ginny through, the least you could do is face us, Francis.”
I could hear Gwen pushing through the ranks behind me. “Devi, stop—”
“Be quiet, Gwen,” Devi snapped. I had never heard her this angry before. It was terrifying. “Your plan was stupid from the get-go. Clearly, you don’t know who we’re dealing with. Francis is the quintessential asshole who thinks she can get away with every single violent outburst just because some doctor claimed she’s very sick. I’ve had enough of this bullshit. A jackass must be dealt with exactly like a jackass. Otherwise, you just let them get away with everything.”
My eyes stung. I gritted my teeth, my face quietly contorting into a cry.
“Ginny has been right in front of you this entire time, fuckface, and you couldn’t even say hi, or ask how she’s doing, or apologize straight to her face. You knew she was there. And yet you were just unabashedly standing there, trying to blend in and pretend you’re not even here.”
“You don’t understand,” I answered, my voice breaking. “That’s not what she wants.”
Devi clicked her tongue derisively. “She is very hurt, Francis. She is very hurt. And you just couldn’t keep your filthy mouth shut, or hold yourself back, after she’s already told you how she feels, and you think you know what she wants?” she said, her tone rising to a bellow.
“You’ve been ignoring her cries for ten freaking years because you’ve been so busy thinking only of your misfortunes—” she roared. “—and when she finally had the courage to tell you that she isn’t ready, you couldn’t even be bothered to listen!”
“Devi, please,” Gwen insisted urgently. “Can’t we take this somewhere—”
I could hear Devi impatiently shoving Gwen aside. “Why can’t you just tell us? Francis?” Devi said, her voice lowering to a dangerous whisper. “Why you did that to Ginny. I—” I could hear her trying her best not to choke up. “She deserves so much more than this.”
I looked at the ground bitterly. But Ginny already knows why. I hung my head sadly. You do too. Parts of it. All of you.
I know you do.
“And spare us the mental health bullshit,” Devi continued. “You know we know she’s always meant the world to you. You’ve never made a secret of that before; you were always the sweetest little thing. It was difficult to hate you. And she too has always thought the world of you. And yet—” Devi clicked her tongue again, bitterly. “—yet for the past many months you’ve treated her like trash.” Devi momentarily fell silent. “You didn’t see her those days. She couldn’t… She was in pieces, Francis. And she still is, all because of you. Some stupid, useless, self-indulgent jackass she never should have met, or even bothered to have made friends with. She took everything you had said to heart… Ginny trusted you, you know? She trusted you, Francis. What you did, what you said—that was the first time anyone’s ever spoken to her that way, and it just had to be the one person who—”
Devi couldn’t continue.
“Devi…” Gwen sighed, deeply. She too sounded very sad; that was the first time this entire dreamscape—and in real life—I’d heard the hurt echo in the typically carefree Guinevere’s voice.
Devi muttered bitterly, “What in fucking hell happened to you?”
Again, I didn’t answer. How was I supposed to answer that with everyone within earshot of whatever I could possibly think to say? How could I possibly answer with the truth with everyone else who wasn’t supposed to be there hearing what should only be Ginny’s to hear?
Ginny… She was right up ahead of me; I could see the small of her back just a few meters off from me. I could tell she was listening… just deliberately choosing not to respond, or react, like always.
This dreamscape had been exceedingly pitiless to me, however, as it wasn’t long before Ginny’s other friends got wind of the hubbub, found us, and came to play.
At this point, I wasn’t even paying attention anymore. Little by little, I was breaking down. Crumbling. All their voices were coming to me from very far away.
“—we were so wrong about you—”
“—we thought you were different, and then—”
“—what a psycho—”
“Guys, what the hell, this wasn’t the plan—”
“To hell with ‘the plan’— I don’t fucking care, this bitch fucked up our Ginny and—”
“Devi, Kate, didn’t I already explain when we were in Osaka that mental illness does not work the way you think it works—”
“That’s not an excuse!”
The people that were arguing behind me—I knew who they were. The first one was, of course, Devi, then Katherine and Sabrina interjected, then Gwen tried to hold them back, then Rebecca Rodriguez—who surprisingly understood what was going on, maybe because she was studying to be a psychiatrist and likely already read about people like me—tried reminding them not to lose perspective—
I felt like I was about to collapse and pass out. My rapidly building anxiety was drowning out their voices, until all I could make out was a gasp and squeak here and there. I looked up in front of me and saw Ginny quietly sneaking back a look. Our eyes met in a flash motion and I froze instantly, my pupils quickly expanding into saucers.
That was the first time we had ever acknowledged each other’s presence in real time for years. Expectedly, my heart almost stopped. I opened my mouth and tried to speak, but no words came out. Time felt like it was slowing down between us... I could feel my pulse racing and my skin growing colder and colder, my face paler and paler. I knew it was only a matter of time before I collapsed into a mentally suffocating heap... If I didn’t get out of there now, I knew for sure I would. The anxiety was maddening. My breath caught in my throat for a second—and there I took the chance and ran for it.
I didn’t look back. When I reached the ground-floor girls’ bathroom in the high school building, I collapsed into the floor in front of one of the cubicles and cried. I sobbed loudly into my oversized mesh cat bag and cursed my life, and all the mistakes I had stupidly made in the past. Why did I have to send those stupid emails?! Why didn’t I just listen to Alan and my mother when they cautioned me and told me to hold my fire? I bashed my fist into the tiled wall and muffled my own gasp as I felt that familiar searing pain travel down from my knuckles to my wrist, causing my hand to rapidly swell. Tears streamed down my face as I bit my tongue, forcing the white-hot pain and my whimpers back down my throat. I drew my hand close and saw a familiar black, red, and blue-violet mass drowning out the icy cold, pale-white skin of my knuckles. I choked.
I sniffed, nursed my hand close and shakenly got up to face the mirror. I turned the faucet on and let the cold running stream numb my hurting fingers. I watched the bruise along the base of my knuckles turn into an even bigger mound of black and blue ugliness, and I whimpered. Trembling, I pushed my better hand inside my pocket and searched around for my phone.
As my god-awful luck would have it, it wasn’t there. “Then where is it?” I whispered.
I gasped, again, in tune with my next realization, but this time the sound came off muffled, uncomfortably catching in my throat and forming a lump. Don’t tell me I have to go back out there to find it...
I was going to call Alan and ask for help but seeing as my phone wasn’t in my pocket, that was, at the moment, out of question. I didn’t want to come back to where all the people were; I was afraid of facing all these people I’d hurt. Even after having already formally apologized to her, I still wasn’t ready—but I guessed I had no choice. I couldn’t go home without my phone with me either.
So I ducked out, all the while carefully nursing my paw, only to come face-to-face with the very person I’d been avoiding all day instead.
What was she doing here? Had she been watching me all this time? Did she hear me? Did she see—
My gaze trailed down to her hand, which I was shocked to see tightly holding on to my phone.
“W- why do you have that?” I took a couple steps back, terrified of what she might have done with it, or seen while it was accidentally in her possession. “Did you take that when—”
“No, it fell on the grass when you ran.”
I swallowed, beginning to sweat. “Um, can I have it back?”
She quietly handed it back to me. I lifted my hurt hand accidentally to take it and winced.
She raised both eyebrows, drawing her gaze down to my swollen paw. “The other hand,” she said, almost as if to passively scold me. “I saw everything.” She took my other hand gingerly and placed the phone screen-side down on my palm. “You didn’t have to do that.”
Embarrassed and humiliated I had been seen—and heard—I looked to the side, clicking my tongue. “Well, that’s what I do.” I let out an angry pout. “What, you have a problem with that?”
My eyes went wide. She didn’t even hesitate… It was almost as if she knew from the get-go what I was going to say, and already had a response ready. Once again I couldn’t even begin to guess what was coursing through her head right that moment… Unpredictable as always. (But this time I mean it in a good way.)
Confused, I stared at her. “What?”
“I read everything. While you were in there, I read everything.” She gestured at my phone. “You really do write a lot.”
My eyes widened. But I was still embarrassed, so I just stubbornly huffed and looked again to the side. “Like you didn’t know that already.”
“Well, I guess I did know.” She tucked her hand inside her back pocket absent-mindedly. I looked up. She was staring out into the field where all her friends were quietly, almost wistfully. “But for some reason the experience then and now? —don’t quite feel the same at all.”
In my discomfort, I huffed again, looking away. Initially, I chose not to answer. I didn’t know what to say without accidentally recalling painful memories. So I ended up saying what I thought was the next best thing: “It’s rude to look into other people’s phones and go snooping into their journal entries.”
She tore her eyes away from the field and deadpanned me. “Like you never sent me any of yours before.”
“That’s different! I sent those particular ones willingly…” My voice suddenly sounded small. “I was trying to make things better.”
“Well,” Ginny said slowly, “it’s also rude to write ruthlessly unkind emails one after the other to people important to you who you know would never talk to you the same way, especially after you’ve already been told that they don’t feel strong enough to see you and yet were still willing to hear you out regardless of their emotional readiness or lack thereof, because one—they still care for you, and two—they still care for you.”
My chest hurt. It felt so different from how I’d always envisioned to just suddenly be told all that directly… My sins, how much of an asshole I can be, how hard I’d screwed up, and my countless mistakes… This is one of those moments where you know what’s coming but when “it” actually arrives, you realize you were never truly prepared to hear any of it after all. That trainwreck of feels hit me like a big yellow school bus crashing into Regina George’s neck. I looked down, my throat knotting up, and silently hoped to all the gods in heaven and beyond for the ground to just swallow me whole and allow me to disappear forever.
“The others, they already know,” Ginny suddenly said, clearing her throat. “It’s okay. Actually, I just came here to return your phone and ask how you are.”
My eyes widened again and I looked up, quickly scanning her expression for any sign of insincerity— For a second there, I was afraid she was just screwing with me as payback for what I had done, like any regular hurting human being, but she seemed quite genuine, albeit in pain, yes, and her smile all the more so, and it was then I realized, she wasn’t that kind of person. At all. I was the vengeful one… She was never anything like I was. Or still is. Somehow even within that dreamscape, I keep forgetting.
I shook my head. “No. Why are you here to ask how I am? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Is it enough to apologize through text and email and WhatsApp? No. Is it enough to say sorry now? No. But I don’t know what else to do and I already distanced myself and now I failed and—”
She shrugged, showing me a hint of a smile. “You can tell me how you’re doing.”
I blinked, unsure for a moment if I’d heard her right. “What?”
“What? You’re not the only one who’s…” She shrugged again, looking to the side. “…all sorts of worried about her friend.”
I stared at her for a few moments with my brows raised in complete disbelief, and then when I realized she wasn’t kidding, I smirked, and looked down, shaking my head. Typical Ginny.
“Well, I’m… I guess I’m okay.” I winced. “Well. Swollen hand aside.”
She chuckled, openly. I held back a gasp, my eyes widening further. “You’re laughing,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, is that so weird?” She smiled.
I raised my eyebrows, unsure initially of how to respond. This was so surreal... I thought. I slowly, gradually felt my guard beginning to fall and before I knew it, I was smiling too. “Yeah.”
Ginny smirked. “I wasn’t laughing at your swollen hand though, just in case you had that impression.”
At that exact moment, however, my phone suddenly began to ring. “Oh!” I said, squinting at the screen. “It’s Alan.” I looked at Ginny, unsure if I should pick up and answer.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” she asked.
“Is it okay?”
“Sure.” She grinned. “I’ve been getting phone calls from my end myself.” She showed me her phone and the other guy’s name on the centerpiece. “Can we catch up afterward?”
“I... sure, I don’t see any problem with that.”
“Good.” She paused, seeming to be carefully picking her next words like she always did. I looked her over and I swear I could almost see the gears in her head turning…except like always, I had no idea what they were on about. And then she said it. She finally said it.
“I’d like to start over from scratch,” she told me, her voice suddenly coming off a bit raspy. She looked away briefly before—seeming to reluctantly—meet my eyes again. “If you’re ready—I mean—I don’t want to force you.”
“Are you ready?” I asked. “That’s the more important thing.”
“I am now.”
I smiled. She promptly waved and ran off. After that, it was a mess of us—within that dream world—taking our individual calls, and before I knew it, in the real world, I was finally awake.
It felt horrid to feel the harsh, cold (and ultimately more unkind, in terms of my past) reality—starkly different from my dreamscape—setting in. If only life was so much easier. That dream carried both my fears and hopes about high school and my recent mistakes; of course it had to have been all a dream.
I sighed. What a mood killer. I got up and got dressed and went down to have late brunch.
© Dylan Balde, 2016, 2018.