With the flow of fluid movement and passed-along conversation, a room becomes tidal. I rolled through the introductions, the handshakes, the how-are-you’s. The drift of the dance, the heave of the crowd, and somehow Ruth and I were beside one another. I don’t remember moving in her direction, but we found each other in the middle of the room, near the emergency exit. Or maybe we were trying to simultaneously escape, together or separately.
I could feel her beside me before I saw her. I could smell the fresh strawberryness of her hair, the subtle baby-powder scent of her shoulders. I could hear her voice above the din and the roar of the music and the mildly hysterical laughter. I felt her shadow on me, and it felt both heavy and light.
“Are we allowed to talk?” she said.
“I guess so.”
“I can leave, if you want. I don’t know how I got here. You don’t seem to like me much anymore and I can’t figure out why.”
“We’re cousins. We don’t have to like each other.”
“Second cousins. And we probably should.” She put her hand on my shoulder and I felt light-headed. “So why don’t we?”
I shrugged. “You’re going away anyway. It’s not like we’ll write each other. You’ll go off to your school, and I’ll go off to mine. We’ll see each other maybe every other July 4th, or Christmas, or funerals, or weddings. It’s not like we’re going in the same direction.”
“So you don’t like me because you can’t see me when you want? David, that’s not fair.”
“No. I guess it isn’t. But why get attached to someone who’s going to become a stranger?”
“We can write.”
“No. Don’t say that. Nobody writes. Maybe a letter or two, but then things happen. You get bored, I get bored. Skip one letter, then maybe two. And before you know it, you forget why you were supposed to write. That’s how it works, Ruth. People lose interest.”
“Is that what you want?”
“No. Not what I want. But that’s what happens. People fade. It happens whether you want it to or not.”
“But if we tried. If we promised.”
“People fade. That’s what would happen. And I don’t want it to.”
And all these years later, she was right. It won’t. It hasn’t.