My father’s my hero. He’s survived a whole lot worse tragedies than you or me, and yet I’ve never seen him cry in my life. Not once,” Justin said. The rest of us, done with the last of our finals, sipped heavy-handed drinks in his living room. “But the day he helped me move into the dorms — I remember we’d finished unpacking and I walked my parents down to the parking garage. They’d rented a car and were headed back to the airport. When my father hugged me, I saw him tear up. It was almost unnoticeable. Almost. That was the first time I’d ever seen him even somewhat vulnerable,” he shook his head and smiled. “That was the first time we’d be away from each other for more than a weekend. That change took some getting used to, even if I pretended I was fine, that I didn’t miss them.”
“Gentlemen,” Max lifted his glass, “It’s been one hell of a ride.”
Stephen finished what was left of his drink. “And now it’s over.”
“No matter how much I get used to change, to actually processing change, there’s something about the immediacy of it that always takes me by surprise,” I said.
“Samantha dumped you months ago,” Max said. “Get over it.”
We laughed because we could, because it felt right to, felt better than dwelling on how different things were going to be from now on.
“When will that moment come for us? The moment we realize the change has happened?” Justin asked. “I mean, we’re done right?”
I thought about it while Max refilled our glasses.
Stephen answered before I could. “We’ll know it exactly when it happens. It’s like passing from a warm room into a cold rain.”
“Tingly,” Max smiled warmly.
“You’re cut off,” Justin said.
“We’re all cut off,” I said.
“After the next one,” Stephen refilled his glass again. “The one after the next one. Anyway, I think what’s scary about change is its finality. Even if you wanted to turn around and walk back into that comfortable, familiar room, you can’t. Change is like being locked out from your own house. You can’t ever get back in. You have to find a new place to stay.”
“You could always break a window.”
“Or hire a locksmith.”
“Maybe call that ex-girlfriend you lived with years ago, see if she kept the key for some reason.”
“You’re ruining the metaphor,” Stephen slurred.
“OK,” Justin said. “What’s your favorite memory?”
“Slow dancing with Stephanie down Campanile after that first house party freshman year.”
We raised our glasses and toasted.
Max kept his glass up. “Passing O-chem.”
We raised our glasses and toasted.
Stephen kept his glass up. “I’m still not convinced you didn’t bribe your professor.” We laughed. “For me, that night we snuck up on the roof of U.T. and got drunk for the first time.”
“But not the last,” I said, and kept my glass up. “I can’t choose one,” I said after a minute.
“That won’t fly man.”
“Yeah, you have to choose.”
“All right all right,” I said. “The time Justin turned 21 and we took the trolley downtown.”
“I remember that night!” Max said.
“Keep going,” Justin said.
“Well, halfway through the night I find out the girl I’ve been buying drinks for has a boyfriend, and I get dragged into the street. You guys don’t realize what’s happened and I realize I’m alone. But after the first punch is thrown you guys stepped in.”
“We all went home bruised and drunk.” We raised our glasses half-heartedly.
“But we woke up stronger the next day.”
“You’re damn right we did.”
“See, that’s really what change is — breaking through the old fence lines that once held you in.”
We nodded seriously. “Here’s to breaking past the next border,” I said.
“Here’s to you,” we said.
Later that night I walked home. Before I left, we hugged one another and spoke with a sobering clarity. Our eyes were glassy. From the drinks, we told ourselves, but no one believed it. I felt it then, as I passed through his doorway one final time, the strange tack of finality. On the sidewalk, waiting for the next signal to turn, I brushed my shoulders off of tiny droplets of dew, sharp as shattered glass. “Here’s to you,” I said to no one, but I could hear them saying it back.
—Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.