By Nedjelko Spaich
Certain friends I ask for advice so I can ignore it. So here I am at brunch with my friend Andrej because I want to know what he would do in my situation. The opposite of what I will do.
“Sorry I’m late. I wanted to get one more fight in with Maya before I left the house.” He slides into the booth next to me. It’s our thing. We sit side by side so we do not have to look each other in the eye. We dated once and we now believe this is why many couples sit this way.
Andrej and his wife Maya were just in from a trip to Belgrade to see his grandmother, Petra, who according to his mother, Ana, was on her death bed. Andrej and the wife make this long trip each year, every year allegedly Petra’s last. After a punishing layover spent at the airport in Vienna they finally made it to Belgrade and it was not his mother but surprisingly Grandma Petra, alive and well, who picked them up at the concourse. “She’s not dying,” Andrej whispered into Maya’s ear after Petra lit a cigarette and honked the car horn in the tune of a merry jingle. “Shh,” Maya quieted him, “Don’t say that.”
How do they take this “final farewell” journey so often? The emotional preparation that must come with preparing the ultimate goodbye. Do they do it out of love or familial obligation? One thing I know: there is no such thing as a final farewell. People don’t usually just disappear into thin air. Even if it might make much more sense for them to be long gone. Humans keep coming back. We’re like zombies that way.
Andrej and I are no longer together because I was not “orthodox enough” for his parents. But that is not exactly true. The truth is, like Andrej, I am a man. I know it’s old hat, but people still have religious hangups. Or parental hangups is more like it.
I’ve asked him to meet me here at this restaurant because I am in trouble. “For you every night is New Year’s Eve. Who can compete with New Year’s Eve?” he says as he stacks four empty Mini Moos atop one another before adding a fifth that causes them all to topple over and crash. Perhaps he is bored. We have been here before. “I know you know what you have to do. You’ve always known.” Now instead of staring forward – always avert your eyes is my motto – he turns to me. We are essentially nose to cheek. It is too close for this restaurant, this part of town, this life. I move away.
Yes, we have slept together since our long ago breakup. Of course, Maya does not know and why would she? There are only certain friends in my life I would not betray. Andrej is one of them. He’s bailed me out of one too many jams. That one time my car couldn’t make it up a hill on an empty tank of gas and rolled down that steep slope crashing into a parked car below. I called, panicked, and he came with a full red gas can and we left just in time, before the cops showed. That is just one example. It sounds like a made-up metaphor for my constant flailing, but it is a true story. He always has time to save the day. Or my day, I should say. His day would be perfectly okay without me. My dilemma – whatever dilemma – could have been anyone’s bad minute. For me though? End of my life.
“I’ll go with you to your first meeting,” he says. Reality creeps in. First glacially, then all at once. He is right. He usually is. That’s why I always ask for his advice. I wave the waitress over as if I’m going to ask for the check, stand up, and start my life afresh with a newfound resolve and purpose. Instead, I order two margaritas. I have always loved a margarita at brunch, the way the salt and bitter lime feel like an antiseptic poison going down.
“Okay,” I agree. Certain friends, the best of them, refuse to judge you. Or if they do judge you they judge you silently. Other friends lack that forgiving kindness. Not Andrej. “But, tomorrow. Tonight, let’s have just one last New Year’s Eve.”
Nedjelko Spaich is a Serbian-American queer writer living in Los Angeles and a graduate of Bennington College in Vermont. His work has appeared in Jellyfish Review, Cagibi Literary Journal, Reflex Fiction, Los Angeles Review of Books, and LAist. He is a reader for Pidgeonholes. Find him on Twitter @Nedjelko or nedjelkospaich.com.