We Don’t Talk Anymore

“We Don’t Talk Anymore,” by Charlie Puth, just played on the radio for the thousandth time.  It’s a silly, overplayed song about teenage love, but those words—we don’t talk anymore—feel so real to me at this time in my life.

In your twenties—maybe in your thirties, your forties, your fifties?— friendships start to shift around.  People who you loved aren’t a daily part of your life anymore; you start to scroll through your phone and wonder whose numbers to keep, whose to delete.  I know that even small losses feel tragic to me sometimes, but small losses can add up and leave you feeling confused.

It reminds me of this section of the poem “The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz:

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way
bitterly stings my face.

Or “Orbiting” by The Weepies:

And I’m out of your range
Now it’s kind of strange
How we change orbit in our lives
You were kind of a moon outside of my room
I could just feel you nearby
Now I feel you gone
‘Cause I know which side you’re on
And it’s not mine

My tribe is indeed scattered, and that is hard to take in. People have lodged themselves in my brain and in my heart, and they will always be there, but now that is complicated by the present.  How do you reconcile a rocky, distant present with a vivid memory? None of us are done changing, whether we’re fifteen or ninety-five.  And moving forward necessitates loss.  There is no way to move forward without leaving something behind.

That loss is inevitable is not news to me or probably to anyone reading this.  What is news to me is how complicated loss can be. I am not new to having my life unexpectedly thrown off course, but my experiences have been pretty clear-cut into before and after.  A shift in relationship is usually nobody’s fault, but it’s subtle; suddenly you are in completely new territory without ever having noticed a change in direction.

In a way, loss the price we pay for loving people and still being willing to forge ahead. Some people stay with you in human form and some are with you always in thought and action. I think of one of my friends every day at 11:11, her favorite time of day. I eat vitamin C because one of my friends loved the heart-shaped design and had me buy it for them in our co-op.

So is it really a loss if an influence sticks around? I still love those people, all the people I loved—even those who in some ways I now dislike—both for who they are and for what they represent: a fixture in my past that I can hold onto when the present feels overwhelming.  These people have cared for me and pushed me to be who I am now.

Here’s the next section of that poem:

Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

I am sure that vivid, present memories are ahead of me, that they are ahead of everybody.  And life is long!  A move, a phone call, and some of our relationships might slip right back into orbit.  We get many tribes in our life, and even if they continue to scatter, they are here for a while.  We just need to keep our “wills intact” to go wherever we need to go.  We need to honor the love we had and still move forward.  We need to pick up our suitcases filled with the past and walk toward our future.

I guess that’s all we can do.

We are not done with our changes.

 

 

Here’s the whole poem, in case anybody wants to print out and hang on their bathroom mirror, which I may or may not have done:

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon wa covered
and I roamed through the wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Kunitz, Stanley. “The Layers.” The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz, edited by Stanley Kunitz, W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002.

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