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September 2, 2020


Anna Vangala Jones

When he shows it to me, the place where people go to start from scratch and pick the unopened door they skipped the last time—a do over, no questions asked—I am afraid.

“What’s scary? It’s an amazing opportunity,” he says dismissively.

Technology makes something new possible every day. I should stop being so surprised at each astounding leap into unknown, irrevocably altered futures and instead celebrate the daily dissolving of boundaries blocking our path to happiness—but I’m a skeptic by nature.

“Only once?” I ask him. “Like you can’t pick several points in your life, say, and try to redo all of them.”

“Just the once.” He is both firm and casual. “Wouldn’t work otherwise. Time’s all too interwoven and dependent, right?” He coughs out a puff of smoke and I wonder if his door should be the one where he tried his first cigarette. If he’ll open that other door, the one where his lungs are fresh and unburdened, and people don’t glare at him huddled in building entryways underneath No Smoking signs on icy winter days, polluting their clean air. Feels a bit like he’s wasting this monumental one-time deal on me. “Can’t change one choice without changing everything that comes after it,” he continues. “Nothing would be the same anymore anyway.”

“True.” I trace lazy scrawling shapes along the curve of his bare shoulder with the bones of my knuckles, eliciting a shiver on this hot as hell afternoon. “I guess I don’t see how remorse wouldn’t be inevitable. No matter which door you end up choosing in the end—won’t the other always hold an allure, the appeal, the romance of the one you can’t have?”

He shrugs off my touch. We only get physical with each other after the break-up when we’re high and I’m the one high right now. Not him. He points up at the two doors that I now notice are looming over us, ornate and majestic. He coughs again.

“Well?” I gesture at the doors. “Now what?”

“Now we decide,” he says.

“Between the two?”

He rolls his eyes because we both know I’m just killing time, putting things off, and he’s not going to explain it all again.

“I stood in line forever to make this happen,” he says. “We agreed.”

If we walk through the door he wants, then we were only ever friends. If we walk through that door, we never fell in love. Our current friendship would be unburdened by the too familiar intimacy and history we share. I’d be able to touch his shoulder without him flinching with regret and me longing for another try to get it right this time. I see the resolve in his expression. He’s ready and willing to undo it all, everything he sees now only as complications—irritating rather than beautifully painful and revelatory.

“You really think this way is better?” I bob and weave, almost catching his eye but ultimately failing. “I don’t mind that things are hard. I love you anyway.”

He frowns at my feet. “Yeah. I want to be able to love you again, too. I can only do that if we’re just friends again. That’s it.” I hear the guilt twang in that last note. “I’m doing this for us.”


We move over to his desired door together. He opens it. I hope he’ll change his mind, no matter how last minute. But no. I know him better than that. He’s too confident and stubborn.

He takes my hand and closes his eyes. I wait for his body to go slack and peaceful.

Then I yank my hand out of his and place both of mine on his back. Before he can understand, speak, or resist, I shove him as hard as I can through the doorway. I remain behind.

When we meet somehow on the other side, he will be blissfully unaware and know only our friendship. I alone will know every gorgeous and uncomfortable moment we passed together as more than that.

I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow if I made the right call.