An Uncertain Delta
“We were, the two of us, still fragmentary beings just beginning to sense the presence of an unexpected, to-be-acquired reality that would fill us and make us whole. The sad truth is that some things can't go backwards. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can't go back to the way they were. If one little thing goes awry, then that's how it will stay forever.”
-- East of the Border, West of the Sun
I met J in the flesh on a very cold January day in New York City. We were at the big Barnes & Noble in Times Square. I was only seventeen. I gave her my copy of Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun as a first-meeting gift. Murakami was an author that I felt a strong affinity to at the time. Maybe it was the way he painted his seemingly mundane realities with a subtle magic that I longed for, or how strangely I related to the characters as if they were the parts of myself I did not yet understand.
J and I exchanged messages strictly online. She was actually a good friend of my then-first boyfriend, who lived a state over in Pennsylvania. When we started having relationship problems, she reached out to me to help me understand what was happening on his end, then eventually, to help me reach closure. We quickly realized how similar we were to each other. We remained friends online for almost a year before we considered meeting in person. By then, we already felt a sense of closeness that I had never felt in my life.
Meeting her on that freezing day in New York City foreshadowed what was to be unraveled.
Time passed. We eventually both moved on to our respective universities. She would occasionally take the train from New York to come stay with me at my dormitory in New Jersey.
We were still extremely close despite our divergent lives. Close, like orphaned sisters, or alternate versions of ourselves. When she visited, we slept together, spooning, cozy in our separate dreams. We even took psychedelic mushrooms together for the first time. I remember that trip well: I was holding the tips of my fingers to hers, our eyes were shut. We were surrounded by the echoing sounds of summer insects and the sharp smell of grass. In that blissful state, we attempted to read each other’s minds. Perhaps it worked. In reality, we were further from knowing each other than we hoped to believe.
The rift between us began, I think, when I decided to open myself up (outwardly) to my immediate social surrounding, while she decided to explore (inwardly) within the caverns of her past.
Finally on my own, I began to realize the tangibility of my dreams to see faraway places, while she instead struggled with a dampening sense of geographical imprisonment. Unlike me, she was an “illegal alien”, disallowed to leave the boundaries of the United States because she had no passport.
All I know about her illegality is the story that her mother told her, that she told me. Long story short: “An immigration lawyer took everything.” Fake name, fake number, and no way to reach him.
To J, having no passport meant no cultural identity. She wanted so badly to have this.
A few years ago, J was deported from the United States back to South Korea. She was caught near the border of Canada. I pictured her sitting on that train, all bundled up, somewhere far along the snow-covered Adirondacks, fearful at the sight of the intrusive border patrol officers.
I found out later that she considered arranging a marriage in order to grant herself citizenship, but her efforts were futile.
The last time I saw her was in the New York subway. The serendipitous midnight encounter caught me off-guard. I had just seen The Go! Team play at a venue. Exhausted, we embraced and exchanged a few words, but that was it.
I never got to say a proper good-bye.
More and more time passed. More and more, I felt compelled to reach out to her despite our waning friendship.
One day, I finally did message her, just to say hello. And she wrote back.
20 September 2015, 10:08pm
I'm happy to see you're finding a home in California and in love. Is everything well? After all, Facebook is a small reflection of what goes on in actual life.
Years have passed since our first meeting and last encounter. From what I remember, you were always enthusiastic, adventurous, and deeply sensuous. Fond of nature and poetry.
But I must confess, Claire. There were times of disappointment as well. And I again confess my doubts on the nature of our interaction. I don't feel entirely comfortable. My heart is reluctant to trust you.
With time I learned to honor my intuition and body. I do not mean to insult you.
21 September 2015, 11:20am
Thank you for reaching out to me, and sending me your thoughts. Everything is well, in the sense that I have been confronting and dealing with the woman I have matured into. (It is so very difficult to confront your own mother within yourself). California is a state of mind for me. It's a place that winter does not touch. I think I can heal here. It's safe.
I am sorry for all the hurt and disappointment I put you through. I could have been a more supportive, best friend for you when you needed it the most. We were so young; our budding friendship at the ripe age of 16 and my introduction to the world of college at 18. I was immature, impulsive, and regarding our friendship: inconsiderate.
I understand why you still have doubts regarding our friendship. I understand why your heart is reluctant. So I want you to know, that as I move into the future, I would love for our future relationship to be positive for the both of us.
You are a recurring, inspirational entity in my life; you knew the person I was when I was raw and young, and it would mean the world to me if we could get to know the women we are today. I hope you have been well, too. You have not insulted me.
I do want to thank you deeply for honest words. They touched my heart, and from them I realized we have a lot to learn from each other.
It is difficult to confront the mother inside, the shadow begging to come out. For me, the biggest challenge was vanity. For many years I punished myself by repressing the more intellectual side of me. The superior and frivolous side—tendencies I picked up from my mother. With time I was able to work through shattered pieces of my psyche, and now my wisdom and the wisdom of my mother respond together in light and harmony. It's really encouraging, powerful, and new.
Initiation into womanhood was a series of dark, incomprehensible, and traumatizing experiences. Gender is still a strange matter to me, a thorn in my lips. Feminism is so necessary yet obscure at the same time. I do think I'm more androgynous than those who strongly identify themselves as women.
What do you do these days? Do you still dream of becoming a travel writer? Are you pre-occupied with love instead?
Again, thank you Claire.
I wrote to her once more, detailing a bit more about my new life, unexpected hobbies, and how I transitioned into non-monogamy. She did not write to me again.
I do not know if our friendship will ever be what it was at the very beginning; in fact, I know it can’t. But that's OK. We were starry-eyed dreamers seeking love and knowledge. Now, she is able to travel the world freely without the constraints of bureaucracy.
Occasionally I will notice some updates here and there: a music festival in Portugal, a lover in the mountains of France, memories with acrobatic-polyamorists in Berlin. She is finally free.
The independent lives we embarked on changed us at the core. The knowledge we sought cut deep into our entwined bodies, two curious rivers flowing down in separate directions from the same great mountain.
Perhaps one day we will meet again at the sea.
First published on 10 July 2016.