Choosing

We are out driving when he has me pull into the parking lot of our old junior high. I am 18 and dating someone else, and we aren’t supposed to be here, sitting on the cement in front of the school in the dark, shouldn’t be, if I am honest, alone together at all, shouldn’t have gone to a movie together just before this, just shouldn’t.  He keeps leaving me in the ways that teenage boys always do, all the break ups and the make ups and here he is, leaving me again, this time only for a trip, this time only briefly, but I am 18 and dating someone else, and he wants to blow up my life before he goes. He’s made a mistake, he says, still has feelings for me. I cannot give him any answer that will make all parties happy, and so I don’t give him one at all. Not then, anyway. And maybe the yearlong gap in journal entries from the one of that night to the next one I make is a testament to this, how I learn to hold some things back. Because I will eventually say yes to him again knowing that I shouldn’t. I am only 18, but I have never been stupid, know we are going nowhere. I am only delaying our good-bye for as long I can. And in the intervening years between that one and this one I will become no better at this, the saying good-bye part. I only become better at learning to choose what parts of me to give away, better at holding back. I only become better, even if just by inches, at hiding the parts of me they might hurt.

Last week when I am at a table in a restaurant in L.A. while we are waiting for two other of his friends to join us, another man I have known for half my life tells me he admires how in my writing I just put it all out there.  But I don’t, I think.  “It’s a little like play-acting,” I tell him, “there’s an element of performance.”  Always a touch of artifice to the art. No matter how truthful I am being on a page I am still choosing—the words in which to frame it, exactly how much of myself to reveal, the ways in which I am willing to be vulnerable. And of all the things about which I will write, there are still things I will not. There are still things that languish on pages of notebooks relegated to my closet that will never see print. Others I won’t reread because I’ve no wish to remember.  He tells me, while we are waiting for the others to join us, that he admires my honesty. But I’m not, I think. I don’t tell him that as we are sitting there, I am thinking of how I recently learned that our friendship had always bothered my late husband. I hadn’t known this. I wonder if I had, would I have given it up? Wonder too if I should feel guilty for this, enjoying a friendship my husband hadn’t wanted me to have. I don’t tell the man any of this as we are sitting there. Because sometimes I think I can be honest on a page better than I can ever be in person, even if the truth I tell here is never impartial or sometimes only part.

He tells me I am honest, but I am not. I am only choosing. What to hold back. What to keep. What to forget.

What, at last, to let out.

 

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