The moving van was loaded, her family’s things packed. She stood before me, big tears rolling softly down her cheeks.
I think I loved her from the moment I first met her. I’ve always loved her. We were just 15.
Our love began with a move. I was the new kid, and her parents dragged her and her sister along for a visit, to welcome us to town. Her curly red hair, her sparkling green eyes and her cute freckles screamed out “Notice me!” No one else in the room seemed to be able to hear it, but I did, and I complied. Shyness is a cruel master. I had nothing to say, but I did take notice. I watched her with her sister and the adults, and I could tell that there was something about her.
She didn’t say much to me, either; she mostly sat there on the floor and ignored me, but at least she didn’t say anything about the huge red zit on my nose. That was special. When you love someone, you take what you can get, and so that was our first special moment: she ignored the zit on my nose.
Later we ended up in the same places a lot, and around the same people. It turned out that she had a personality that was as big and as warm as the South Florida sun overhead. I knew she was beautiful on the outside – that was obvious – but I found she was even lovelier inside. She was sincere and sweet, and always happy. She smelled like heaven.
I would make excuses to talk with her. I found I could make a fool of myself to get her to laugh, and so I did, her personal jester. Her laughter became my drug, and I’d sell my dignity for silly antics to get another dose.
She’d had a boyfriend, naturally. It had ended. I got to know him a little. I asked him about her, and he told me that she was good in bed. I hated him for that, the lying bastard. She was too young, and too sweet, and not that kind of girl. I knew right then that I understood her better than he ever could.
I worked on my courage. It took months and several rehearsals, but I asked her on a date and she accepted. My mother drove us. Not only was this our first date, it was also mine. Somehow, things must’ve gone well, because a second one followed. There was no doubting it: I knew I was in love. Maybe I was a late bloomer, or maybe it was that first love thing. Whatever it was, this was no teenage crush; I had a deep, profound sense of awe about this girl.
What guy wouldn’t be proud that she’d go out him? I was bragging to another guy about taking her on a date. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, and wanted to share. There was a problem: he said he was planning to ask her out, too. Was he insane? He was threatening my bliss. This guy, once a friend, was instantly a rival bent on my destruction. I had to act quickly; my whole future was on the line.
I asked her to take a walk with me. It was night, it was raining, and my heart was pounding. I had to know: was she interested in seeing this other guy? Wasn’t it laughable that he’d think she could be interested in him? As if she could be impressed by being driven around by some other guy’s mother!
She responded as any rational 15-year-old girl would: she thought I was insane. Upon reflection, I realized that I was. Love can do that.
No, she had not dated this guy, she said. No, she had no desire to date this guy.
That answer made my heart nearly leap from my chest! She must love me, too!
Yes, she said, it was nice going to the movies, with me …
As a friend.
No more painful words have ever been spoken to any man, anywhere, at any time. Every male knows and dreads that little three-word dagger. I just let it hang there, my tense heart, momentarily elated, now lost in my stomach. The raindrops were soaking into my shorts, a suitable metaphor. We ended our walk.
I had been stupid. I had assumed too much. I had rushed in. I was a fool. I was 15, and didn’t know any better.
We were friends from that point on, because she said we were. We would continue to be friends, as long as she said we would be. Faced with the choice of being her friend or not being around her at all, I happily accepted friendship. She didn’t know that only one of us was friendly, that the other one was In Love. There was no way could I tell her.
We continued to be in the same places, traveling in the same circles, the way that you do when you’re kids. If she volunteered to help somewhere, I volunteered too, to be close to her. If she went somewhere, I happened to go there too, to be nearby. I’d watch her, follow her, sit at home alone and wonder what she was doing then, right at that moment, and who was lucky enough to be with her.
She had a few boyfriends. Or guy friends. I could never really tell for sure which they were, but I suspected that most of them had been as carried away by the odor of her perfume as I had been, only to be rebuffed. Good. It served them right, for trying to get close to my girl. As far as I was concerned, that’s what she was: My Girl.
Try though I might, I couldn’t sustain that illusion for myself. I moved on, out of necessity. I eventually found a steady girlfriend, but I never could quite shake my girl, either. The rumor mill told me that she had come to her senses, and that she might be interested in dating me. I broke it off with my steady immediately, or I tried to. She cried. She blubbered, and I felt guilty. I was a cad. It was all due to hearsay, I knew. My girlfriend had just lost out to an imagined opportunity of mine, rooted loosely in rumor and speculation. I had to admit it was a dumb, hurtful thing for me to do, and so I apologized and asked her to take me back.
We continued to be friends, my girl and I, as best I was able. She was always warm to me, always fun, and we laughed together when I could find an excuse to be near her. I sometimes wondered if she was hiding something more from me, but the very idea was silly. She had made herself clear already. She was popular with the guys the way the pretty girls always are, but I imagined that we had a special bond. When I was near her I would try to get her attention, without being noticeable. I became so skilled at maintaining the balance, I could’ve been a tightrope walker. I could not dare let on that I loved her, lest I be demoted from “friend” and banished forever. That would not do; I would take what I could get.
Everything she did was remarkable. There was the time she wore that red and white-striped swimsuit to the beach, forever may it be emblazoned upon my memory. There was the time that I took her picture, and she looked right through my camera into my goofy squinted eye, and deep into my soul. I still smile back at the photo. She used some funny words and expressions, and I find myself still repeating them, occasionally.
I was biding my time, is what I was doing. I was waiting for her to express an interest in me. Maybe I was waiting for myself to get some more courage, or waiting for the clouds to part and a voice from Heaven to give me a command punctuated by angel’s harps. Maybe I was waiting for my girlfriend to wizen up and dump me. I couldn’t bear to risk the friendship, and forever blow my chances with my girl, so I adopted the strategy of just being patient. There was still time, I thought; I had plenty of time.
There is never enough time.
She was leaving, moving to a new town. I was heartbroken. I arrived as they were loading the last of her family’s things. Those big, silent tears testified to her sadness at leaving. Whether I was there to comfort her or myself I’m still not certain, but something deep inside, tired of pretending, finally sprang to action. Shyness may be a cruel master, but there is something to be said for the power of desperation.
It was remarkably natural, the way I leaned over and kissed her lips. It was also thoroughly unexpected. It was wonderful, is what it was. Without thinking about it I had kissed her, the softest, sweetest kiss I’ve ever known.
Here was the kiss that must have inspired all other kisses to come afterwards, a kiss that shamed all kisses that came before, a kiss that humiliated that senseless big screen lip mashing between Bogart and Bergman, a kiss that would have made Antony tell Cleopatra to go kiss her asp. The angels sang.
My moment had come. Without even meaning to, I had seized it.
She was surprised, but she didn’t pull away. I was even more surprised, and it dawned on me — lip to lip — what I’d done. “I’m really going to miss you,” I mumbled, and stumbled away backwards, into the night.
I left. She was leaving, and we were not to be. A move had brought us together, and a move took away our chances. My time had ended.
I heard she fell in love with someone, and he made her happy. There were kids, and a house, and probably payments for braces, and maybe even a dog. I fell in love, too.
So we went our separate ways, my girl and I.
I never told her. She never heard me tell her how wonderful she was, how much I loved her, how much her laughter made me feel alive. She deserved to know it, but I never told. My time had ended.
But I still love her. Few men ever get the chance to be truly moved by a woman, to find the one that is made just for them, and my luck was better than most. Knowing that will have to be enough for me …
… and my girl.
(Originally written February, 1988)