by Anna Vita
Falling in love and friendship.
| I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, and you were sitting, staring at the wall and at me and at the bookcase and at nothing in particular.
“Do you want to hear a story?”
The story was about your 8th grade trip to Washington and how you made paper airplanes in the Air and Space Museum and saw through the tourist traps and ran your poor chaperones ragged. I listened to most of it, and it made me laugh. I laughed partly because of the way you kept glancing at me and then away, checking to make sure you weren’t boring me. And you weren’t, of course, and you knew you weren’t. But it was nice of you to check. Ridiculous, but nice. And it was a nice story, I think. It was nice to hear you tell it.
It was later and now I was wandering around your room, examining old pictures and homework and CD’s and video games, and you were still sitting, watching me and reliving your childhood as I picked it up and set it back down piece by piece.
“Do you mind if I tell you another story?”
“Of course not.”
This story was about a picture I had just found, a homerun you had made in Little League and how impressed all your friends were and how your parents treated you to ice cream after the game. You were proud of your 10-year-old self and so was I. And again I laughed and mostly listened, and again you were so anxious that I be content, and again we both knew your concern was unnecessary.
It was later still, and now I was sitting on the floor, lazily scratching your dog’s ear. You were lying on your stomach, your head supported by your arms, your feet beating the floor occasionally in no particular rhythm. You were yawning compulsively but continually insisting that you weren’t tired. And that was good, because if you were tired then it was time for me to leave.
“Want me to tell a story?”
“Sure, go for it.”
I don’t remember what my story was about, just like you probably don’t remember telling me specifically about D.C. and Little League. I do remember that you laughed and you looked like you were listening, mostly.
It wasn’t necessary for us to fill the silences with the stories. We didn't speak because the moment called for conversation, or because of any discomfort in the emptiness; there was no awkward tension to be relieved. The stories were simply the method of learning each other that we happened to pick on that particular night. And it wasn’t through the stories themselves that we learned, but through ourselves as the stories were told. I discovered new pieces of you not so much in your past baseball prowess as in the way you tilted your head as you talked about it, and in the way you lifted your eyes to the ceiling and then lowered them to find me and reassure yourself of my approval. We told each other stories that night for the sake of laughs we hadn’t heard before and facial expressions we had never noticed, but also for the more familiar smiles and shrugs that we knew so well how to elicit.
We learned each other that night, and the nights and weeks and months after that, and yesterday, and we will again tomorrow. Years from now maybe you won’t speak to me and I won’t see you, but we will remember the smiles, the shrugs, the sighs—the lines between the stories. And maybe then our stories will be about the way we knew each other. And maybe as we tell them we’ll find that we’re still learning.