I spent my 24th birthday dying and coming back from the dead.

Let me back up. On Friday, I drove up to Chicago and stayed with my friend Zoe, who is:

– Attending Northwestern med school (via a year-early guaranteed entrance program)
– An avid goth, roleplayer, LARPer, and juggler
– Xenophobic regarding asian people, despite being one herself
– One of the pillars of the NU med school variety show (In Vivo)
– My first girlfriend, from way back in the day.

Zoe and I had a weird relationship in high school. I was petrified of being in any way untoward or disrespectful, and her parents hated (and possibly still hate) me with a frightening passion, largely on account of me being white, and not a doctor. So we went out for the better part of a year and never so much as kissed. Over the years, I’d amassed a huge collection of guilt complexes over the way things went, things I didn’t say or do, feelings I’d hurt, opportunities I’d missed, and even the way things went with her after I left for college. But we’d never really talked to each other about any of that, so, when finally face to face, we did a postmortem on our relationship, 6-7 years later.

And like so much else, it’d mostly been in my head. She was perfectly happy with how things went, by and large. The sketchiest moments, the ones I’d had the most guilt over, she didn’t even remember. All the horrible lingering pain I thought I’d left her with was illusory. In reality, I’d had much less of an effect on her life, all told, than I’d thought. Much less.

This was both liberating and depressing. Liberating because I’m no longer shackled to the past, I don’t have to live with this albatross around my neck. Depressing because I’d always thought and remembered things as being much more involved between us than they were. Had I just been lying to myself, misremembering things?

So, my birthday. I went to Zoe’s variety show, which was entertaining, and met her new boyfriend, who was nice. Afterwards, we went to the afterparty for her show, which was at a bar who had overbooked just a smidge… four parties going consecutively. We had to wait for 15 rainy minutes to get in, and the place was wall-to-wall people. My fear of crowds kicked in and my brain shut down. I stood there watching Zoe float from one person to the next, ably schmoozing with the crowd, drinking and letting herself have fun while I did the exact opposite, and it finally kicked in that we were done. We’d walked different paths, and she’d gone somewhere I could not follow. I will always love and care for her in some fashion, but the past is dead and buried.

At the same time, I’d been waiting most of the day to receive a phone call from Erin for my birthday. I’d even broken down and called her, leaving a message. I waited until midnight California time, at which point it was no longer my birthday anywhere of import, and still received no call. I fumed and fretted about it for a bit, standing in the corner most of the night as Zoe tried to get me to dance, but eventually realized the reason I cared about that call was probably the same reasons I was so affected by the postmortem. The past was still alive, because I was holding onto it, and living under some expectations I perhaps shouldn’t. It turned out that Erin had her own problems that night, and had tried unsuccessfully to call, but I didn’t know that. I just knew that I’d started a new year, and I needed to let go of the old one(s). So I peeled off the wall, made my way to the middle of the floor, and started to dance.