In the lukewarm dark of a Corte Madera evening we have a drink at a brewery down the street from his high school. It is January, and where I am from the thermometer strains to reach twenty Fahrenheit. It is January and where he lives pea coats are of necessity not fashion. In California we leave our jackets in the car.
We have but scant hours to cram years into. For some time our questions bounce back and forth at full speed, our minds most concerned with detail and the passage of time. Married now, he lives in a city close to my heart though not at all where we last met.
After a while we have enough to know that despite time and changes this is the same person sitting opposite. That we are the same friends who last spoke in a New York apartment, a Shanghai ferry boat, a Vassar auditorium. We are again comfortable and I remember lunches from years before. In a cafe in Hongqiao I would sit and write letters to far off friends, and open their letters after ordering, unfolding parts of their lives into my Chinese workday. His letters were meticulous, composed in those days at a grad school office or in an apartment overlooking Astoria Park. My responses often contained traces of my lunchtime location, coffee or soup, pastry crumbs or the tomato splatters of a Xinjiang restaurant I once favored.
In the bar now he tells me the kind of truth that only comes from good friends long absent.
“We’ve lived together long enough that we’re not trying so hard to be together. We have relaxed a little, and feel comfortable enough to unpack parts of ourselves.”
I nod, the smile on my face growing large. I know exactly what he means. At the beginning of any relationship, nervous and eager, we are the best versions of ourselves we can be. Eventually, when this new experience has become daily life, we discover parts of ourselves put away in the eagerness and forgot. Tucked behind old jeans in the closet we now share, they are parts of ourselves we never meant to hide.
And slowly, miles from where we began, we unpack them. Gradually, because we are shy.
After our beers are done we head home, him to his folks for one more night in the house of his childhood, and me back up over the hill, across the bridge, and into the city.
It comes to me, on the bridge, the city laid out in front of me and full of light. Maybe this kind of meeting, stopping on the way home from work for a drink with a friend from long ago, maybe this is exactly what we meant, a part we never meant to put away.