The Evanescence of Memories

She stood at the bottom of the stairs, by a lamp post, among the crowd, with her hair tied up, no makeup, in a plain white shirt and torn jeans; Danni was very casual like that, though some would call her lazy, or even slack. Our relationship was definitely one of opposites, Danni loved to party, going deep into the night, creating havoc wherever it chased her, while I preferred to wake up early and read a book with a coffee on the bedside table. But we complemented each other, we were a unit. Although, I guess, times have changed. College split us up; I decided to leave home and she decided to stay. As much as I loved home, I needed to get away and find myself. It’s strange to think that a bookworm feels the need to explore, but I guess, curiosity took over -- in a good way, in the best way possible. But at the same time, I don’t know what I might have missed out on, all the fun I could have had. Unfortunately, we can’t know these things; we can’t rewind our story and start it up again where we choose to; when we make a decision we have no choice but to commit to that decision; no matter how hesitant we might feel about making that decision, no matter how much we contemplate on what could have happened or what would have happened if circumstances had been different. And I made my decisions, and I’m happy with the decisions I made. I just wonder how Danni feels.

Approaching Danni was the hardest part; my feet weighed to the concrete like anchors on a shore. I suppose, that means I care; when someone is unsure it’s usually because they care about the outcome of whatever it is they’re going through, with whoever they’re with. It just becomes about if that person has the stomach to step forward and realize the questions that are plaguing them. If they turn around, then they might not have to deal with the awkward encounter awaiting them. But they might not find closure. Regret is poison. And since that person cares, then their care is a strong enough reason to walk on forward. I had to do this.

After a few hesitant steps forward, she finally noticed me. Her eyes lifted, smile beamed, as she ran towards me with her wide open compassionate arms.

“Ah, it’s been too long.”

The hug was warm; in that moment, that was all I could think about.

“How have you been?”

“Great. Yourself?”

I believe, my response had more to do with Danni’s reaction of seeing me, than it did with how I actually felt.

“Great. Where shall we go?”

*****

Danni began asking about my time at College. We were messaging each other daily while I was away, but I found it nice that she asked.

“Should I get it?” as Danni sized a top she picked off the rack.

“It looks good on you.”

“You think?”

This used to go on for moments at a time, but I think she’s trying to restrain herself from being indecisive out of politeness.

“No, it’s all good. I don’t need it.”

The considerate thing to do was to smile, yet I couldn’t, at least, not with any joy. Time really does change us, or doesn’t change us in Danni’s case. And do we have a say in it? Our say in it probably has to do with us, if we do or don’t realize time’s grip. If we do, then time works with us. If we don’t, then time works against us.

“I’m just going to quickly try this on,” before Danni darted off.

Danni was always oblivious.

*****

The layout of Danni’s bedroom only had a few slight changes: two of her posters were taken down, her desk was cleaned up, her dresses were lined up in an order that she understood. Her room used to be so messy, always throwing her dirty clothes on the floor, never making her bed, that sort of thing. These modifications probably had to do with her currently working part time at a salon; I couldn’t imagine beauticians accepting untidiness from the first person their customers see when they enter the store. It’s nice to see Danni has learnt a few things, even if those lessons might have been picked up subconsciously.

Danni was in the bathroom, experimenting with different styles, getting a feel for what look suited her mood and the atmosphere we were going to. She wanted to take me to our local bar, ‘Charlie’s bar’. We always talked about going to ‘Charlie’s bar’ when we were too young; we saw it as our rite of passage into adulthood. Though, I didn’t exactly feel as if I needed to go, I didn’t need to go to a bar to feel as if I had grown up; I had grown up, as we all do. Sometimes I feel that people believe that they have to do certain things, fulfil specific requirements, but we don’t. All that is just culture, simply adopting a predetermined pattern of living to belong. And while it’s nice to feel connected with our culture we shouldn’t have to feel obligated to do what our culture tells us to do to belong; we should be able to do what we want to do without judgement, while also being good because it’s good to be good, not because our culture tells us we have to be good; that’s how we’ll get along with each other. But some just do as they’re told because that’s what they’ve been told. Why is it that introverts see this while it seems that extroverts don’t have a clue? Just another thing to laugh at.

I was looking at all of Danni’s old photos on her wall, remembering our past: the first party Danni threw for me on my birthday, old flames, the holiday resort our families took us to, camping in the rain – even the rough times were worthwhile remembering. As I was reflecting over the wall, I happened to notice something in Danni’s purse. I’m usually not one to pry, but it was already too late; what has been seen cannot be unseen: the top she was contemplating buying at the store. I can’t judge her, for all I know she just decided to purchase it after she tried it on; I didn’t see her not pay for it. But how come I had this sick feeling? I don’t know. She had the money to pay for it, why would she have taken it? And yet still. I could just be assuming the worst. I do that sometimes; I can’t help it. Bad things do happen, but not all the time. That’s why it’s hard to realize what is true.

***** 

We entered Charlie’s, only to find a handful of older men with their attention towards the TV.

“It’s still early.”

That might be so, but between the apathy in the atmosphere and the concerns running through my head, I couldn’t imagine much improving our reunion, except for me to confront Danni without her somehow feeling offended, knowing that she didn’t in fact shoplift that top and leave.

“What are you having?”

“Water.”

“Oh c’mon, don’t be lame. You’re home. Have some fun.”

Danni seems to forget that I quit drinking during college after I blacked out at a party where I didn’t know anybody and woke up with my head in a bucket on my dorm room floor; it’s amazing that nothing more happened.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Your loss.”

I couldn’t not think about her last comment, “your loss”. What was it that I was losing? Fun? Fun is subjective, it’s relative. Danni likes to get drunk, I like to read. There’s nothing wrong with either getting drunk or reading; it’s just what each of us likes to do. But what a terrible thing I was doing, picking on Danni, looking for any negative I could find and stretching it out to make a big deal of it in my head. No one is perfect; we all have flaws. I know that. I was just inducing negativity. We all do it. As soon as we find a flaw or a problem, anything negative then suddenly everything becomes negative. And I was doing this to Danni. How unfair? The only way out of this sour behavior is to look for something positive, which is usually easier than it sounds.

“Here,” as Danni gave me my glass of water. She sat down and smiled, contently; she wasn’t really one to do that, her smile was more the borderline laughing type smile. 

“I’m happy you’re here, you know? It’s good.”

“Yeah, me too.”

And just like that, my induced negativity began to dissipate.

*****

Charlie’s didn’t pick up as we’d hoped; it was a shame that the one thing we’d looked forward to ended up being unfulfilling. Though, mostly everything that we obtain in life is unsatisfying after a while, if not at first glance. The only way we can be satisfied with something for the long term is if what was given to us was unexpected and we end up being grateful for it. That’s the issue with desire; when we desire something we imagine it to be perfect and it is only when we get the thing that we begin to realize that it’s not perfect. Why go through the trouble?

Danni and I went to her ex’s apartment. I had known of Jeremy, but we had never talked to each other in high school. They were in similar situations, both stayed home after high school, both are working small jobs, living for the weekends, so naturally they got together. But they were on and off. She would leave him because she would start to find him boring only to get back together, then he would leave her because he would accuse her of things that she said she didn’t do only to get back together again, that sort of thing. They had become so comfortable together that it made them feel uncomfortable; it was toxic, really.

The three of us sat watching a flickering TV. Danni was drinking another beer, while Jeremy was rolling up a cigarette.

“Do you smoke?” Jeremy asked me.

“No.”

“Better that way” as Jeremy finished rolling up the cigarette, lit it and started smoking. After a long puff, he gestures to Danni, “You…?”.

“No, I’m good.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“Alright, then.”

I’m not sure if they were in the middle of one of their separation phases or one of their get back together again phases.

“Do you have the money you owe me?”

Danni threw her arms up in a frenzy. “Do we have to talk about this now?”

They were going through one of their separation phases.

“When else are we going to talk about it?”

“Just not now.”

As Jeremy stared back, irritated, Danni shifted her eyes at me. What I don’t understand is, if she knew that an argument would ensue between her and Jeremy, why did we decide to go to his place?

Jeremy sat up, “I just want my money back, I’m not asking for anything else. I just want my money.”

Danni didn’t say a word.

“Hey!”

Danni and I jumped in shock.

“Hey. Hello.”

Danni was too startled to reply.

“How much does she owe you?” I asked.

“Huh?”

“How much does she owe you?”

“Don’t,” as Danni touched my arm.

“70.”

I pulled out my purse and counted the cash I had, while Danni and Jeremy watched.

I turned to Danni, “How much have you got on you?”

Danni timidly pulled out some change she had on her and gave it to me to count. We had 70.

“Here’s your money.”

Jeremy snatched the money out of my hand and started counting; I could feel his distrust looming.

“Good.”

“Alright,” turning to Danni. “Can we leave?”

*****

Danni and I began walking home in silence; her arms crossed, head down, hair disheveled, all I could do was mirror her and hope she’d open up, though, I didn’t have much hope that she would. Being vulnerable is being courageous and Danni was definitely not courageous, she had a terrible habit of masking her feelings by making fun of other people when she felt low -- including me at times -- despite the fact that her mocking reaction would just further highlight how upset she really was. To hide a thing is to hide nothing. But what could I do? Hope? Life was gnawing away at her. I couldn’t just hope.

“Danni?”

There was only a void.

“Talk to me.”

“Just let it go,” Danni said quietly.

“I can’t do that.”

Danni started pacing ahead.

“Danni?” catching up to her.

“Forget about it.”

“What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing’s going on with me. I’m fine.”

“There’s a lot of evidence that proves otherwise.”

“Jeremy’s a prick, but I can handle him.”

“It’s not just that.”

Danni stopped and lifted her head to see me.

“The store?”

Danni then tilted her head; nothing had clicked yet.

“The store we went to today?”

“Which one?”

“The clothing store? The high end one? I forgot the name of it.”

“Yeah, I know the one you’re talking about. What about it?”

My eyes closed as I habitually pinched the bridge of my nose.

“Don’t make me say it.”

“What? What are you on about?”

I looked Danni in the eyes and took a deep breath.

“The top. Did you…?” moving my hands to gesture the rest of the sentence.

“Did I what?”

“Did you…?”

I cleared my throat as Danni shook her head at me.

“Did you pay for it?”

Danni’s eyes shrugged.

“Did I pay for it? Yeah of course, I paid for it.”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

As the uncertainty distanced us, Danni scratched her nose, covered her mouth and held her breath for a moment.

“You didn’t think I took it, did you?”

“You said you didn’t need it.”

“And then I said I’ll quickly try it on.”

“I didn’t see you pay for it.”

Danni sighed, looking away from me, almost throwing her arms up in hysterics.

“I paid for it. Honest to God.”

“I’m sorry, I thought…”

“It’s fine. All good,” as Danni smiled.

Yet, my intuition told me that it wasn’t all good, that this interaction was just another step towards completely separating ourselves from each other.

“And what about Jeremy?”

“As I said, he’s a prick but I can deal with him.”

My stomach began to sink.

“But you knew he was going to ask you for his money back?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So if you knew he was going to ask and you didn’t have the money, then why did we go to his place?”

Danni bit down on the back of her teeth and looked away from me, searching for a distraction, only there wasn’t any.

“Look, Jeremy, he’s a good guy. He’s selfish, but when he’s not he means well.”

“You just called him a prick.”

“What do you want me to say?” swinging her arms, throwing a small tantrum.

“I just want you to tell me what’s going on with you.”

Tears started to flow from Danni’s eyes, doing all that she could to resist them from overflowing, looking down and away from me, with her long hair covering her feelings.

“Why didn’t you pay back Jeremy?”

Danni resorted to silence.

“You have a job, why not put $70 aside and pay him back?”

“I don’t know” wiping a tear.

It wasn’t much of an answer, but I took a deep breath, dropping my shoulders, nodded my head, walked towards Danni and gave her a hug, calming us both down.

“Stop it.”

But I didn’t. This was the last idea I had to encourage Danni to open up to me.

“I’m okay” Danni whispered.

I loosened my grasp a little.

“I’m okay,” as Danni subtly pushed me off. She wiped the few tears she had, finally looking back at me, revealing a brittle smile. We stared back at each other for a moment, but within that attenuated moment I was able to peer through her window for the first time ever and feel all she was feeling: her pains, difficulties, desires, joys, confusions, all of it. Even though I didn’t know exactly what brought on all of these feelings, they were apparent. And as I was sensing what she was feeling in that moment, she grazed my left shoulder, signaling her want, her longing to take the leap and tell me what was bothering her. But just when she was about to open up, on the edge of sharing, she snickered, put her arm down, hesitantly turned away and continued walking home.

I was speechless: my gaze turned down, my head tilted, hand running through my hair, all potential for a smile had dissipated, but not all was lost. I think it is in these moments that we have to recognize our choices, which are always the same, either we try and make things work or we go with what is natural, what feels right; and forcing things never works; that usually ends in misery or disappointment or both. And as sad as it sounds, it was looking more and more reasonable for me to leave Danni, give her even more space; at least that way, she might be inspired to find herself, realize who she is, who she wants to become and what she wants to do with her life. Sticking to the same road is only going to give you the same view, and we both know, instinctively, that we don’t want this to continue.

**********

A city is its own animal; the hustling, the noise, the chaos provided a different energy to that I had grown up with. I adored the new life for the majority of the time, but Megan didn’t appreciate it much, waking up in the middle of the night to trains, cars, all sorts of sounds, but that was our only inconvenience and besides, no matter where we were situated we were always going to have to care for Megan if, or when, she woke up in the middle of the night. We lived in a comfortable apartment with a great view of the park; I worked at home on my blog, which was ideal as I could look after Megan, while Terence would go to work in the heart of the city. Terence worked as a stock broker, with his own team and private clients and was the reason why I moved – to live with him and create a family.

I felt so blessed to be able to live the life that I wanted to live. I loved creating blogs; it was exciting to see my site grow as it meant that I was growing, that I was developing; it was enthralling to see where I was growing to and to feel good, to feel amazing, to feel inspired about the process of growing into this person that I was becoming and through that process, positively impact my readers, my friends, my family and everyone else around me to pursue their dreams as they were able to witness and pull inspiration from me pursuing my dreams; I loved our apartment and how cozy it felt, how intimate it was, how close we were with our neighbors, how close we were to our friends, that we could spend time with them whenever it was convenient for us, while also being able to retreat to our comfortable apartment; I loved cuddling up with Terence and Megan in front of the TV and feeling at peace, calm and complete while also feeling independent, self-sufficient, in control, that I felt so confident to achieve anything I set my mind to; I loved how easy my life was, how effortless everything felt, how simple and fun it was to solve any challenge set in front of me, that I could simply enjoy my life, who I was, where I was going, what I was doing; this is happiness.

Every morning at about 11, after working on my next blog, I’d take Megan to a corner coffee shop that we’ve become regulars at. We both like to take the time to get some fresh air, for me to stretch my legs and to take in the atmosphere around us and to be honest, if it wasn’t for Megan I doubt I would even leave the apartment, I’d be so consumed with my passion that the time to go outside would have flown right past me.

One morning on our way to the coffee shop, a large protest was taking place outside City Hall, creating awareness for the increasing unemployment rate. It was sad really, that for some, they weren’t simply able to find work, for whatever reason. And it’s a hard situation for others who have jobs and have their finances sorted, who are living prosperously because what could they really do to help those who are struggling to get a job? The obvious answer would be to give a share of their earnings, but no matter how much they give it’s never enough. The issue with donating is that it doesn’t provide the person that is receiving the money with the necessary skills to continue to earn more money and, in turn, live prosperously; the person receiving the donation would feel grateful for a while, but would then most likely slip back into a deficit. There isn’t really much one can do to help the unemployed; as harsh as it sounds, it actually falls on them to figure it out for themselves; I know that sounds selfish, but if I were selfless and did give some of my earnings away then I’d eventually run out of money to give and then those who are relying on my donations to survive will suffer since they were dependent on me; or I would continue to give, despite not having the funds to do so, tapping into the money that I spend to live my own lifestyle, so that those who are dependent on me won’t suffer, which would mean that I would start to lose money, ultimately lose my job and end up on the streets and that would be unfair on Megan and Terence. All in all, unemployment is a terrible situation that no one should have to go through, that doesn’t serve anyone, especially those that are suffering from it. It makes one wonder why we even have occupations in the first place; we should just have professionals instead, where everyone is the leader of their own business and is able to contribute to society by creating what they want to create, doing what it is they would love to do. The pessimists would tell us that this is naïve; we just haven’t proven them wrong yet.

Carrying Megan through the flood of witnesses, my focus kept pulling back to the protesters, as the police began to pile in and block off the entrance to City Hall. Even though the police showed up, it felt more like standard routine as the protesters didn’t seem willing to use violence or get aggressive in any way. Both groups knew their places. But continuing through the audience, my eyes landed on a black headband, covering a brunette’s mid-length hair, in a plain dark green top and short shorts, chanting among the protesters. I don’t know why this woman caught my attention; I didn’t know her, but yet there was something striking. I took a few steps forward for a better view, fixing my eyes on her, believing that if I did this long enough I’d be able to realize why she has struck me. And then suddenly she turned her head, looking at the people joining the protest and it had become clear to me why I was so curious: she was Danni. So many thoughts quickly ran through my mind; should I go talk to her, should I walk away, would she still care about me, why would she still care about me, so much junk swimming around in my mind, but I couldn’t talk to her, we’d just continue where we left off and that was no place to be. I decided to turn around and walked away from the horde. I was able to escape and take a breather for a second, but suddenly —

“Is that…?”

I turned around and Danni was looking back at me. I had no choice.

“Danni?”

Danni shrieked with excitement.

“No way. How are you?” with an elated smile.

Before I could answer, she gave me the longest, surprisingly, warmest hug I had ever felt. Mid hug, she even waddled like a penguin, hardly able to contain herself. She finally decided to release me.

“How are you, Danni?”

“Yeah, doing well.”

Danni’s attention turned to Megan.

“And who’s this little one?”

“This is Megan.”

As Danni’s eyes widened, “Wow. How old is she?”

“8 months.”

“That’s exciting. And the father?”

“He’s at work right now.”

“Cool, cool.”

It felt as if Danni was running out of questions, bobbing her head up and down, trying to kick-start some form of a rapport. But I knew, even in this moment I wasn’t helping her, not asking what she’d been up to, what new interests had she developed, just not taking an interest in what was going on with her; it was not one of my proudest moments.

“Where are you going?” Danni finally asked.

“There’s this café Megan and I go to.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” smiling and nodding.

“You still picky with your coffees? Only drink the purest blends?”

There was something to smile over. Danni came down from her chuckle and looked to the concrete before she lightly kicked the surface and giggled again; not sure what to say, yet not wanting to leave. I couldn’t continue being rude.

“What, uh, what are you doing tonight?”

Danni’s head launched up, looking at me straight in the eyes with a restrained enthusiasm.

“Nothing serious. Why?”

“Do you want to have dinner with us? Meet my husband?”

“Yeah,” as Danni’s eyes widened. “Yes, of course, I’d love that.”

“Our apartment is the one overlooking the park on the East end.”

“You live there?”

“It looks nicer on the outside.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

“Anyway, we’re in unit 712. Come around 7?”

“’Right, unit 712 at 7.”

“See you then.”

“Bye.” 

***** 

Terence was a little startled by the news, he was hoping for a quiet, comfortable dinner with his family after the long day he’d had at work, but it was not to be. We spent a little under an hour cleaning, while simultaneously, I cooked something that was a little nicer than our average dinners: sweet, sticky and spicy chicken with rice and a salad. Maybe, the food was a bit much, but I believed Danni would appreciate it. The one thing that I was questioning was how I decided to finish my cook as soon as Danni was due to arrive, leaving little room for idle chat. I could never tell if others appreciate this or if they don’t appreciate it and just accept what happens. It seemed to be such a silly thing to stress about; I know better and yet I was still stressing. It might have been due to the unknown; how Danni was going to behave, how Terence was going to react to her, just the uncertainty of the situation, even though, over the last few years, when I faced uncertainty I embraced it, I loved the mystery and discovering for myself how it was all going to turn out. However, this time was different and I don’t know why.

Dinner was done when the doorbell rang, right on cue, which was surprising, usually Danni would be about 10-15 minutes late, not too late to be inconvenient, yet still late, but that night, she arrived at the agreed time. I answered the door to find Danni in all smiles.

“Hey!”

Again, another hug before I could even reply. But this time the embrace didn’t last as long; I think she’d learnt her lesson.

“Come in,” walking Danni into our apartment. She immediately spotted Terence by the couch.

“Hello.”

“Hey, there,” as Terence stood up and shook Danni’s hand.

“This is Terence. Terence, Danni.”

“Pleasure.”

Danni blushed a little – not from Terence, just from his chivalry – and tried to hide it by shifting her attention to the view.

“Wow, look at that.”

“Something, isn’t it?” – Terence, playing along.

“More than something. It’s awe, really.”

I smiled, shyly. Something had changed in Danni, I could feel it; I wasn’t able to feel it when we bumped into each other on the streets, but I believe that was because of the shock of seeing her for the first time in a long time. Now though, I could tell she had changed; changed into someone better. I don’t know how I knew this, but I knew.

“Dinner’s ready, just have to plate up.”

Danni turned around and politely nodded and smiled, but didn’t walk to the dining table and looked back to the view, soaking it all in.

Terence got Megan while I plated the food and served. As soon as Danni could smell the food, she slowly walked towards the table.

“This is amazing. You turned into a star chef.”

“Thank you, but it’s nothing…”

“Oh, don’t cut yourself short. This is wonderful and you know it.”

I didn’t know what to say after that.

Danni sat down at the table, looking at Megan, “Hey, remember me?” in a soft child-like voice, waving “hello”.

Megan simply giggled as 8 month-olds do. Terence passed Megan to me and we both sat at the table; I sat opposite Danni, while Terence sat at the head of the table, facing both Danni and me. It was pleasing to see that Danni was so elated with the place, with our family, our life; it seemed like she really cared.

“Dig in.”

“No, please go first.”

“You’re our guest. You should have first servings.”

Danni looked down for a split second, then decided to help herself. Once she was done, she looked at Terence and I to say, “Thank you”.

“You’re welcome” I acknowledged.

Terence served me, as Danni patiently waited for us.

“You can start.”

“No, it’s all good.”

After Terence finished serving me and himself, we all paused for a moment, looking around at each other for who would make the first move. It wasn’t until Terence chuckled, picked up his fork and started eating that the hesitation was broken; Danni and I eventually followed.

“So what do you do with yourself?” Terence asked.

“I’m a stylist.”

“Stylist. Sounds fun.”

“Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s what it is, really…”

Terence and I went a little quiet.

“I do sometimes get to work on cosplays and the occasional film set – amateur film set, but it’s still cool.”

“Wow! Must be exciting to be on a film set, huh?”

“Yeah, exciting, chaotic, all of it, it’s cool. I get to meet a lot of great people,” with a half-smile.

“And where do you want to go with styling? In your career?” Terence asked.

I gave him a look, feeling that his question was a bit insensitive, but might have suggested something else, as Danni blankly looked at Terence and me.

Danni shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know, honestly. I’m still figuring it out. I’m slow,” laughing.

Terence and I laughed too, only not as much. Danni was at least considerate about the question; she could have made a big deal of it, but she didn’t.

“I do like banding together, supporting the community. That’s why I was at the rally today,” looking to me, as if she wanted to explain herself.

“You were outside City Hall?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think City Hall should give you a job?”

“Terence, c’mon,” I interrupted, putting down my fork.

“What? It’s a fair question.”

Danni twisted her lips, hesitating to answer.

“A question that doesn’t need to be asked,” I mentioned.

“I’m just curious.”

Danni stopped eating and wiped a smudge around her lips with her thumb, stepping in to ease the tension, “I think -- what does City Hall do if they’re not supposed to help the people?”

“A legitimate response.” But Terence continued, “However, don’t you think that people should support themselves instead of relying on a minority elite?”

“We’re not having this conversation,” I interjected.

“It’s just a discussion, a harmless discussion, right Danni?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Danni, you don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s all good. We need to have these discussions if anything is going to be done.”

Danni didn’t turn to me for validation.

“Exactly my point,” Terence acknowledged, without showing any signs of self-adulation.

Danni took her time, thinking over what she wanted to say before she spoke a word; this might have been the first time I saw her do that.

“I think there are some people that simply don’t have the resources to earn a living, and I think we need to stand together to help those that are less fortunate.”

Terence really sympathized with Danni’s response. He didn’t exactly have the best upbringing; being an only child with a mother who kept bouncing between jobs, not knowing at times if she’d be able to feed her family, while he spent his weekends going to garage sales, buying and selling used items. It’s why Terence has become so influenced by money.

As Terence put his fork down, “I understand that, and it sucks, it really sucks. But don’t you think there are better ways than protesting and scorning the ones in charge?”

“But what could they do?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t know each person’s individual situation.”

“And that’s why we came together in front of City Hall, to let City Hall know each person’s individual situation so that something can be done.”

“That’s not quite what I was getting at.”

I was feeling increasingly uneasy.

“Everyone, everyone has the ability to change their situation; now I don’t know your friends’ situations, but I guarantee they can change it.”

“And maybe, one way to change it is to let the people who are supposed to help us find jobs know that we are upset.”

“Can we…?” I tried.

“That is one way, but another way that is just as feasible is if they can find something to contribute to society.”

“But some of us aren’t able to contribute to society because we don’t have jobs.”

“But having something to contribute has nothing to do with having a job. And besides, everyone right now can create their own company, with the Internet everyone could, and not only that, they can do it with something that they love.”

“Some of us don’t have the internet. Some of us can’t afford a laptop or even a phone. There are some living on the streets.”

“And that sucks, again, that sucks. But do you think protesting in front of City Hall is going to change that?”

“Yes. I think a peaceful protest can at least show the people at City Hall that they need to help us.”

“Really? You think City Hall needs to help you?”

Everyone went quiet.

“Sorry. It just bugs me.” Terence looked to Danni, “You and everyone else who doubts themselves, have to realize that people can do so much as long as they given themselves a chance, and complaining – which is what you and your friends were ultimately doing – is only perpetuating the problem.”

“It’s nice that you think so highly of people, and I think highly of people too. I do. I think very highly of other people,” again, Danni didn’t look at me for validation. “And I think all of us can be good. We can all be good, and we can all help each other out.”

“I believe that too, and don’t get me wrong, but people shouldn’t be looking to other people to be happy.”

I could feel another argument brewing.

“Terence, can we stop this conversation?”

“No,” Danni stopped me. “Please, explain,” Danni turned to Terence.

Terence, like Danni previously, took his time.

“People shouldn’t be looking to other people or anything outside of themselves to be happy; they just have to decide to be happy.”

“But we make each other happy.”

“Not all of us. I’ve decided for myself that I want to be happy. I’m not dependent on anyone to make me happy.”

“So no one needs someone else?” Danni’s eyes widened. Clearly she was alluding to our marriage, that Terence and I don’t need each other; a very, very low blow.

“No, no one does. Look at us. We don’t depend on each other, and that’s why I love her, because she doesn’t need me to be happy, she loves being with me; that’s pure love.”

Terence looked to me with a smile and I couldn’t help myself, smiling back. He put his arm on my shoulder and gave me a kiss, leaving a smudge on my cheek, only to pull back, keeping his hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t wipe the smudge off my face, but I didn’t want to; it came from a care, buried under the kindest of words.

Danni didn’t say anything, running her hand through her hair, clearly feeling guilty for questioning our relationship. But Terence and I didn’t judge Danni and simply accepted what had happened.

“If you’re happy because of external sources, then you’re dependent on those external sources to make you happy, whereas, if you just decide to be happy you don’t have to conform to anyone’s ideals, you don’t have to rely on anyone or anything; you’re your own leader.”

“I understand that. We are still at our best when we’re together though.”

“We are, but people have to tend to themselves first; a lot of people neglect themselves, and they just can’t do that. Plus, we are best able to help others when we look after ourselves first; it’s changing how we feel about ourselves, deciding to feel good and allowing our good feelings to grow naturally, that positively impacts the people around us and our lives.”

“Now we are in agreement.”

“Now we are in agreement.”

But they weren’t; it took some time before Terence and Danni could get comfortable with each other; though, this is always the case when people first meet, and sometimes when they reacquaint. 

*****

The night had gotten the best out of us: conversing, telling old stories, laughing at ourselves and sharing what we had learnt along the way; we had fun, but time had to move on. Terence stayed in the apartment with Megan while I walked Danni downstairs to say goodbye to her. As we made our way outside, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was going to be our relationship from now on, a series of occasional get-togethers, where we don’t see each other for long periods of time, catch up and then we sink back into normalcy. But I guess everything in life is like that; things come and go, like clouds. If we could control our circumstances then the things we adore might come along more frequently, but what can we control? We can’t control anything that’s extrinsic; once we try to control that which is extrinsic it ends up controlling us back. And if we could control anything that’s extrinsic, especially the things we adore, then we would no longer adore that thing; that’s what makes these moments special and, in turn, makes life precious. However, we can control how we react to circumstances, even if the notion is based somewhat on influence. And I guess, if we can control how we react, we can teach ourselves to be happy, which is better than trying to control anything that’s extrinsic.

“So,” Danni sighed and shrugged her shoulders while stretching her arms out. After a slight pause, I leaned in and hugged her, embracing again, like we used to.

“It was good to see you.”

“It was.”

I believed Danni would have said more, but maybe she didn’t need to.

“You always hug for too long,” Danni uttered. But she didn’t stop, despite her comment being true.

“I do, don’t I?”

Danni didn’t make another remark. I eventually let go of her and stood back. Neither of us moved any further away, standing there awkwardly, again waiting for the other to make a move. Eventually, we couldn’t help but laugh at our own hesitation.

“We should do this again sometime,” I mentioned.

“Yeah, that’ll be cool.”

Danni all of a sudden hunched her shoulders and took a long exhale; she was nervous. I didn’t know what she had to be nervous about, we’d had fun after all, but yet, she was still nervous. She didn’t tear up though, which was something that she usually did when she was nervous or felt pressured or stressed. All I could tell was that something had impacted her, whether it was this moment or an echo form the past, I couldn’t tell, but something had impacted her and influenced how she was feeling.

“I’ll see you soon,” Danni said finally, though I wasn’t sure if she meant it.

“See you soon, Danni.”

After a smile, Danni slowly turned around and walked off. I stood there, watching, listening to each step she took away from me. I began to feel that dreaded feeling we call impermanence seeping through my nervous system. I knew I had to say something before she left my line of sight.

“Danni!” I shouted.

Danni stopped and turned around with a smile.

“Be good, yeah?”

I watched waiting for a response. Danni looked down, away from me, thinking of her answer, only to very quickly come up with a reply that made her chuckle a little.

“When haven’t I been good?”

Danni’s reply made me laugh and helped me to feel reassured that everything was going to be ok. She turned around again and walked off, disappearing into the distance. I didn’t know this then, but that was the last time Danni would ever see me.

**********

Terence, Megan and I were out skating, late in the afternoon at the mall. For a while now, skating was something Megan had been curious to try and since she was of a reasonable age – at least what Terence and I considered to be a reasonable age – we thought we’d go as a family. Megan was very shaky at first, but after Terence helped her go around the rink a few times she started to get the hang of it. I really struggled though, skating definitely wasn’t my forte, but that didn’t matter to me. I was having fun.

As the day became night, the mall was still packed; I assumed people were trying to get some last minute Christmas shopping in before the main stores closed. Fortunately for Terence and me, we were done with this year’s shopping; everyone in our families was certain of what they wanted which made it easier for us to buy their gifts before we became those last minute shoppers who frantically scurry to find sold out presents. And even though Terence and I were early with our gifts, it’s safe to say that neither of us liked Christmas or any holiday for that matter; it was the obligation to buy presents for the people we love because of the occasion that bothered us the most. If we’re going to buy someone we love a present we should do it because we love them and only because we love them, not because it’s a particular time of year. But despite this, we still take part in the festive season because we don’t like being judged by our family and friends, as sad as that is to say.

After Terence, Megan and I were done skating, we made our way to our favorite restaurant. It obviously wasn’t one of our smartest moves considering we had just spent an hour on the rink, sweating and not looking our best, but we were too happy to think too much about it and besides, the owner knew us and wouldn’t allow any of his staff to turn us down. But before reaching the restaurant, I stopped Terence and Megan.

“Can you two go on ahead and check our table? I’m just going to get an extra gift for Mum.”

“Sure thing.”

Terence took Megan, while I made my way to the antique store. I had already bought Mum a present; I got her a yearly membership to a spa she was obsessed with, but I wanted to buy her a photo frame for an old picture I found: of her and I reading the first book I ever read. Even though I didn’t know it then, she gave me everything that day.

I walked into the store and approached the counter, where the store owner was crafting a tiny doll house.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I am looking for a wooden frame for a photo.”

“Do you have the dimensions?”

“I have the photo.”

I dug through my purse, quickly pulled out the picture and showed it to the store owner.

“Let’s see.”

The store owner walked to the third aisle, searched for a frame and picked one out.

“How about this one?”

I was immediately struck by the design and its smoothness; Mum would love it. I took the picture and slid it in the frame, making sure it fit; it was perfect.

“This is great. How much?”

“They’re usually $24.99, but I can settle for $19.99, being Christmas and all.

“You don’t have to.”

“Nah, it doesn’t bother me. Anyway, I love creating the things. Money is just a formality.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you want it wrapped?”

“No, it’s all good.

I took the frame with the picture still inside to the counter, following the store owner. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I swear I saw Danni walking with a soldier in uniform through the window across the walk path. I darted out the store to get a closer look, accidentally taking the frame with me. It was Danni, in the arms of the soldier. They stopped next to a pillar, somewhat secluded from the people around them, still in each other’s arms, staring into the iris of their eyes, whispering between themselves; they looked like they were in love. I had the impulse to shout her name, but I went against it; she was happy and I didn’t want to spoil that.

“Miss,” the store owner broke my focus.

“I’m sorry, I thought I saw an old friend of mine.”

I followed the store owner back into the store, paid for the frame and quickly walked back outside to see if Danni was still there, but she left. Yet, I wasn’t disappointed. We were supposed to meet up, at least, I thought we would occasionally get together after I introduced her to Terence, but she never answered. There are some things that we will never know; and in my case, I will never know why Danni distanced herself from me. Maybe, it was because it was always painful for her to see me after what I did. But, she was so happy to see me when we ran into each other at City Hall; I doubt that was the reason. Maybe, her phone died; it could have been something as simple as that. Or maybe, she needed to move on like I did; that was probably the most plausible reason. But no matter the reason, I can at least be thankful that she was happy. That is truly the most anyone can hope for: for another person to be happy.

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Keep growing. Keep creating.

Ewen

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