I was minding my own business the other day when I passed someone in the streets who looked oddly familiar. In a flash I realized who it was – this girl who was my old roommate from ten years ago.
I called out her name (because I try to be friendly like that) but immediately realized – no, that was a mistake. Even from my peripheral vision, the soot on her face, the tattered clothes, the disheveled hair – I should have known to keep walking. She smelled faintly like piss and sharply of cigarettes. The brightness in her eyes had faded, and her skin was wrinkled.
“You look good. You look like you’ve been eating well,” she said to me. I smiled, not sure what to say back. Like a moment in time of choices diverging, me in my four inch heels, Louis Vuitton bag, done up and walking around, my own perfect manifestation of what a 30 year old career girl should look like.
It was strange to see the other side for just a moment, the person I could have been if I had kept shooting up heroin after that one brief summer of bliss when I was 18. Instead, I had clawed myself to a semblance of normalcy, and in being confronted with the other option, I realized: oh, fuck. We are both real people who had at one point been on the same path, but here we are, millions of miles away from each other.
I had been in love with her. It was strange to remember those feelings as I told her I had to go and hoped I didn’t run into her again. The love hadn’t been sexual – it was more about fascination. She was ethereal back then, when her eyes were bright and her skin still glowed. She had been too fragile for this world back then, too, and after all this time – well, it looked like the world had finally crushed her.
I jetted down the street, because maybe if I walked fast enough I could leave that image behind me. The image of a person I was in love with, the image of a person I had been like. Maybe if I walk fast enough, I’ll feel more like myself, and less like the person I used to be, which is the only reprieve I can ask for right now.
I can look into my junkie past with the privilege of nostalgia because I know now that everything works out, but I can’t look into someone else’s junkie present because the horror of that human failure is too much for me to bear.