Did You Love Him?

“Did you love him?”

***

I met him when I was six and he was seven. My parents had just finalized the world’s most hostile divorce, and my dad and I moved into this tiny little ranch house in a part of town I’d never seen. “A whole new start, babe,” he said, reaching behind him and ruffling my hair. “This is our home now. ”

Next door, a silent little boy stood still on the front porch. No matter how many trips my dad and my Uncle Keith took carrying boxes into the house, he was still there. Watching. Waiting. Waiting for what?

I wandered over when I had a chance to slip away. He was a little taller than me, with white-blond hair and huge green eyes. I was startled by how big his eyes were. Maybe staring like that made them grow.

We didn’t say anything. We just sat down on his porch swing and dangled our feet until my dad got mad and carried me home.

***

In fifth grade we had to dissect frogs in science class. They smelled like death and formaldehyde, and the second my teacher handed me a knife, I felt woozy and had to sit down.

He was my lab partner, like always. He wasn’t loud, but he was smart. He smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s okay. I’ll take care of it.” And I tried not to watch as he cut and peeled and poked and pulled out organs, and he never once let me look at anything. He did the whole lab, all by himself, and proudly wrote both of our names at the top.

“Our names look good together,” I joked. I think I already loved him.

***

When we got to high school, he got even quieter. He barely spoke in classes, never said hello to anybody in the halls. The only times I ever heard him talk were in the afternoons, when we’d sit on his front porch and drink grape soda and work on our homework. He was still so smart, and so kind, and so lovely, those hours we spent on the porch. But we’d get to school the next day and he was back to radio silence, not even an “excuse me” when he nearly ran me over in the English wing.

One afternoon he was quieter than usual. I looked up from The Scarlet Letter and saw him gazing sideways at his picket fence and the setting sun. “Are you okay?” I asked him softly, resting my hand on his knee.

He turned to face me, and he stayed so quiet, so calm, as he slowly moved closer to me and his eyes swallowed mine and our mouths were touching, so lightly, and he tasted like grape soda and our tongues brushed against each other and it took all I had to pull away.

“I have reading to do,” I said as I turned the page. I didn’t bother to look at him. I knew what I’d see.

***

He kissed me again one morning, before I even had a chance to say hello.

His kiss was a breath, a question, the product of a boy so scared he could barely figure out how to move his body even a centimeter forward. I felt his lips grab mine, sucking, asking if I was okay. He didn’t need to ask. I was already drowning in a sea of ecstasy, wondering when he would get bored of my lips and move somewhere else.

“You’re the only fucking thing that makes sense,” he breathed into my ear one night as we laid tangled up in each others’ limbs. “You’re the only thing that matters.”

***

“Yeah,” I said quietly, catching a teardrop before it spilled over onto my cheek. “Yeah, I loved him.”

I loved him, and I hated him.

It was the circle of life. He loved, I loved, he left, I grieved. He was everything. Life in a flag, lamb on a breeze. It was only a matter of time before our time ran out, but I’d never love him any less.

 

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