Of course the phone is ringing when I get home.
I pick it up. “Hello, Ryan.”
“Hey…it’s noon and that’s when you told me to call.’
“Yeah, that’s right. So what do you want to do?”
“Well, Mark is leaving town today. He’s moving out west.”
“Whoa…did you know this before? Because I don’t remember him saying anything about it.”
“I guess he’s been planning it for a long time, kinda secretly. Like, Mary didn’t even know he was going.”
“But they live together…is she going with him?”
“I guess not. I didn’t really ask, because it seemed like a touchy subject.”
I’m shocked by this news. We just hung out with Mark and Mary a few weeks ago, right around my birthday. They have dated since college, so I assumed that they were probably going to get married soon. And no one ever mentioned anything about leaving Chicago.
Ryan and I make plans to hang out with Mark.
“I’ll come and pick you up in an hour.”
No way. “Um, actually, I’ll just meet you over at Mark’s. I vaguely remember where his place is. It’s like west of Damen, and north of Armitage, right?”
“Just let me get you.”
Oh, please. Suddenly he’ll need to come upstairs to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, and then five minutes later, he’s pulling my dress over my head and pushing me down on the bed. Not an option.
I turn him down politely and then I promise to meet him at one.
I’m sad to hear that Mark is leaving. He’s our only friend that isn’t a junkie, alcoholic, or cokehead. And he doesn’t seem crazy, either. He makes a decent living at something boring, he lives with his girlfriend, and yet he still manages to have good taste in music and books. I’ve been wishing that Ryan would spend more time with him. Mark’s calmness could only be a good influence.
And then I remember why we haven’t been hanging out with Mark so much: every time we go out with him, I end up holed up in a corner with him talking about records or existentialism or anything else I never discuss with Ryan. Meanwhile, our respective partners are sitting at a table looking pissy while making futile attempts at conversation. More than once Ryan has said, “I feel like YOU should be dating Mark.” And then I have to go through the whole “he’s not my type, even if he is tall, and anyway, I’m totally in love with you” spiel.
Ryan is waiting outside Mark’s building when I ride up. I look around for a place to lock my bike. He grabs the handlebars from me. “Don’t worry, I’ll carry it into the building for you.” And then he tries to kiss me. I turn my head, so he only gets a chaste cheek.
The apartment is filled with boxes. Mark looks like he has been up all night. He offers to make us coffee, which I don’t turn down. He makes better coffee than anyone I have ever met, using a percolator on the stove.
We’re hanging around making small talk. I’m getting frustrated, because I want to know what’s really going on. Finally, I get the nerve. “So Mark, where are you moving? And why isn’t Mary going?”
He laughs awkwardly. “Well, I’m moving to Portland, Oregon. And Mary’s not going, because, well, it’s time for us to move in separate directions.”
“I can’t believe you are leaving Chicago! I mean, this place is great!”
He nods his head. “Yeah, but if you ever visited Portland, you would understand. It’s without a doubt the best place I’ve ever been. It’s the land of indie rock magic, I swear. And there are more trees than people!”
I’m skeptical. “Well, I’m really sad that you are leaving. You have to promise to email me or something.”
He nods his head.
We hang out and talk some more. Ryan’s being weird and quiet, so Mark and I fill the silence by talking about bands. Then Mark says he has to put the last bit of stuff in his car, because he wants to leave before dark.
“What are you kids going to do next? It’s still pretty early.”
I shrug my shoulders. Meanwhile Ryan says, “Oh, I don’t know…I should probably just go home, I have a lot of stuff to do.”
Mark smirks. “Ryan, why don’t you stop being a ninny? Didn’t you tell me yesterday that all you wanted to do, the ONLY THING you wanted to do, was spend time with Amanda? Well, here she is.”
I start laughing so hard, that I choke on my last sip of coffee.
So let’s step back for a moment, and imagine that I’m standing on map of the path my life takes in the next few years. Now, this involves a certain suspension of disbelief on my part, because I really don’t believe in things like fate and destiny. After all, who wants to know that the events in one’s life have nothing to do with one’s decisions and actions?
But anyway, right now we’re looking at this map of my life. And right now I’m standing squarely in Chicago. College in New York and a childhood in rural Pennsylvania are behind me. Ahead of me, looming like a dark cloud, is Ryan’s death. And then my sudden flight to my mom’s house in Pennsylvania for refuge. But then, not too long after Dylan’s birth–a neon bright spot after months of darkness–you will see me take a flight to Portland, Oregon, invited by none other than Mark.
You see, after Ryan is gone, most of my Chicago friends are afraid to talk to me. And that is fine, because I just want to forget that whole life for a while. But one day, Mark calls me out of the blue. He has gotten my number from Mary, who has gotten it from Andy, who gets it from Larry’s new girlfriend, my last roommate in Chicago.
We end up talking for hours. And then he starts calling me every week. And then every few days, and soon, he is suggesting a visit to Portland.
The first night of my trip, emboldened by an ill-advised mixture of gin and malt liquor, I turn to him and say, “I’m here for two reasons. One: you had the balls to call me when no one else could. And two, and trust me, this one carries a lot more weight: that last day we saw you in Chicago, you told Ryan to “stop being a ninny.”
He laughs. “You know, Mary always secretly hated you. She would always say, ‘Why don’t you just fuck Amanda, because I know you want to?”
It’s my turn to laugh. “Yeah, Ryan was always like, ‘I think you should be dating MARK.’”
He puts his arm around me. “You know, you were the last person I saw when I Ieft Chicago. I could see your face disappearing in the rearview mirror as I drove away. And I thought, ‘Wow, I’m really glad it’s Amanda and no one else.”
Back on that day in Chicago, Ryan and I help him load the last few boxes into the car. He puts his dog in the passenger seat, and then he hugs us goodbye.
We stand in the middle of the street, waving until we can’t see his car anymore.
And then we turn and embrace each other. Ryan says, “I’m so glad that you are still here.”
I pull him closer.