He was cute and kind and funny. I fell for him fast.
Once I loved a boy. He was young like me, clueless like me. He had a way with words, this boy. Back then, before I knew forever was temporary, I didn’t know things like those don’t last forever. I didn’t know to shield my heart.
I loved a boy and he loved me. There were rain songs and secret stories. And adventures, lots of them.
Once I loved a boy and he loved me. We had a good time, him and me. It was not my first love, nor my biggest, but it was my deepest.
It went on for some time, then one day the boy went away. He had his reasons. He left without much explanation, with a quiet unsmiling goodbye. He left me grasping at the retreating tendrils of forever, my heart gaping.
Once I loved a boy and he left without kissing me goodbye.
It took me forever to get over him.
One thing I learned from this boy: The only cure for love is to love again. And again. Again.
My sister’s been dead to me for years, but last fall she decided to finally make it official. Funny, it wasn’t the decades of abusing crack and heroin that did her in after all. She slipped in the shower, broke her ribs, and came down with pneumonia in the hospital. (Like mother, like daughter, if you know the story.)
I was ready for the call; hell, I waited for it for, what — 23 years. Still, it hurt to hear my sweet niece tell me that her mom had died. The funeral was outside, graveside, underneath gnarled trees shedding fiery leaves on a glimmering fall day. It was painfully beautiful. There was a rabbi, a gaggle of old relatives, and a surprising number of more recent friends. My niece, Sarah, and her fiancé, Dan. Kim’s third child, Zack, with his adoptive family. An old black guy who sat in front, pouring his eyes out. Me, Geoff, and the kids, wide-eyed to be at their first funeral, for an aunt they barely even knew they had. A fresh hole in the family plot and a coffin on rollers.
Kim’s cousin Randi did the eulogy. She called me Chrissy. She talked about growing up with Kim in Baltimore, about the art projects she and Kim used to do with my mom. About sleepovers at their bubbie’s house, when Kim taught her to French kiss using pillows. She made us laugh, which I didn’t expect to do.
If I had done the eulogy, I’d have probably told the story of how Kim pierced my ears with a sewing needle when I was nine, overtop of her kitchen sink. I would have told how she dyed my hair blonde when I was eleven, and how it took me two agonizing years to grow it out. She was the one who taught me to shave my legs, the one who’d come get me for sister time and take me shmying at the secondhand shops, the one who’d ask me about my crushes, the one who’d always encourage me to be bold. I would have reflected on the good bits – how probably more than anyone else in my life before or since, Kim taught me to experiment with this life of mine. To try and see.
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I would have talked about how heartbroken I was at sixteen, the day Kim came to tell my mom and me that she had just done heroin with her new boyfriend. The day we begged her to stay, but she left anyway. Forever. I wouldn’t have lied, like her cousin Randi did, and said that Kim was a good mom. She wasn’t. She bailed, to gradually worsening degrees, on all four of her kids. On all of us. Including herself.
I’m glad that I didn’t do the eulogy. I needed time to let myself feel, and it took me awhile. Now that I’ve had a few months, I’d like to go back and visit Kim’s grave. I’d talk to her, let her know that I’m glad to finally know where she is after all these years. I’d tell her I’m sorry that I shut her out. I’d tell her I wish we’d had the chance to turn things around while she was alive. I’d tell her I’ve missed her all this time. That I forgive her. That I love her still, despite everything.
I could be divorced right now. Well, separated, at least. Before you freak out, let me tell you the truth: I’m still married. I suspect I’ll always be married until, as they say, death do us part.
I love Geoff in some kind of irrational, passionate way that I know without a doubt that I’ll never find with anyone else. I guess you could say I’m crazy about him. The thought of life without him doesn’t add up. It’s annihilating.
That doesn’t mean anything about our relationship. We’ve struggled for a while now, and at times things have felt impossible. I’m sure that Geoff would agree. Have you ever been in an impossible situation? It feels dehumanizing. It feels like I imagine it would be like to be in solitary confinement. I hate it.
The funny thing about impossible situations is how much they make you change. Just when you think you’re stuck, a tiny secret passage opens up somewhere and the impossible becomes possible. For Geoff and me, this struggle has made us more aware, more deliberate. It’s made us question everything we ever thought we knew about each other, and it’s been good for us.
I like the term conscious uncoupling. It’s easy to interpret it in a literal way, two things coming apart, separating. I prefer a more metaphorical sense. I’m consciously uncoupling from Geoff. I’m thinking about what I want to experience, and I’ll admit it, I’m giving myself space to be selfish about it. I’m questioning things, seeking, and finding answers that are not his. I’m consciously uncoupling from other things too. I’m uncoupling from my old ideas about myself. I’m uncoupling from the status quo. I’m uncoupling from boringness.
It’s not all in my head, either. I’m trying new things, in reality. I’m putting myself in situations that used to be off-limits, and sometimes I drag Geoff along.
Geoff is doing it too. We’re doing it side by side, together. It’s messy and difficult, and pretty awesome. We’re finding hidden passages all over the place.
The guy was young and awkward about his shaggy good looks. He was cool and funny and he loved his guitar. The guy wrote sad songs and he liked being in a band almost as much as he liked having a girlfriend.
I was young and shy and I should have gotten up on stage with him to sing his sad songs. I could have shaken a tambourine and snuck sips of beer. I might have flirted with his weirdo band mates. I should have had more fun than I did, sitting quietly on my barstool playing the good girl, wishing I was at the library studying instead.
I should have been different. I should have been less careful. I should have grabbed my camera and gone to more of his shows. I should have put on a skimpy dress and cheered louder than I did. I definitely should have demanded a quickie in the alley around back.
Once I dated a guy in a band and who played guitar. I should have told him that I loved his music more than I loved him. I should have photographed him, drawn him, painted him so that he could see himself the way I saw him: awesome. I should have let his thing be my thing because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there are two kinds of love. There’s the scared kind, where you say no and hold on too tight. Then there’s the true kind where you say anything is possible. Anything, even the impossible. And you let go.
I dated a guy in a band once, and you’re not going to believe this, but I told him to quit. I told him that the band was not for me. I told him to choose.
You haven’t answered me. Did you read the comments? Were they right, is love cute? Is the photograph of us on the hill as kids truly adorable? I don’t think so.
Maybe you disagree. Maybe you treasure those old memories the same way that you might enjoy taking the kids to the top floor of a tall building and showing them how to crush people on the street below with your thumb and forefinger.
You can’t really do any damage, you know.
The photograph on the hill captured the start of our love. Imagine it as a delicate wrought iron cage, its door left open to let the birthday guests run back inside for cake. Nothing is really locked up yet, just held loosely.
Years pass with the cage door still open. You even escape for a while, leaving me light and wondering. Can you believe that I desperately asked myself, at twelve, if anyone would ever really love me? The answer was always there, a little clue tucked inside my photo album.
At nineteen, when you brought me flowers on my birthday, you were not shy. You snuck up on me quietly in the rain and stashed those flowers inside the cage. I didn’t even notice you slip the door closed.
At twenty-one, you brought me a puppy wrapped up in your shirt and while I was playing with him, you used the new leash to tie up the cage door. You were not shy.
At our private, sunset engagement party, you were bold. You asked the question as if you already knew its answer. You dead bolted the cage with my diamond ring, and I was thrilled to be inside with you.
Now that we are older, the cage is getting full. It’s cluttered with tombstones and birth announcements. Adventures are falling out, littering the floor underneath. The mess has made us both shy, wary. Inside the cage, we stoop down and flip through the pages of our photo albums, searching for that one reminder of what we both really are.
Only the photograph on the hill doesn’t really exist. I made it up.
Ooh, I got Editor’s Pick this week over at Yeah Write. I think that means that I’m doing this right. Thanks so much, guys!
I think the photograph is from my sixth birthday, when I wore my tuxedo swimsuit and sat on my new Strawberry Shortcake bicycle ready to learn to ride. My kindergarten friends are in it, the ones who I carpooled with and played with at recess. My neighborhood friends are there too, lined up on the same hill that we would sled down in winter. You’re there too.
When I think back to when I first started to love you, I think it began that day, in the moment the picture was taken. It’s just a coincidence that the photograph exists, like the photo that your grandma caught of your first steps. The photograph is beside the point. If it did not exist, I would still remember the moment, just as your grandma would clearly remember your first steps. Even without the photo, I would still love you.
My mom wanted to take a group shot of all the kids at the party. The good little Catholic school kids ran to the hill first and sat in a line, me in the middle. The neighborhood kids followed, not to be outdone. But you, you didn’t listen. Looking back on it, knowing how six-year-olds can be, you most likely felt shy. But my mom insisted that you get in the picture. All the other kids were already lined up, so you ran behind the line, right behind me, and you stood there covering your face. My mom snapped the photograph and I started to love you.
It was just a moment, and I don’t remember exactly what happened before or afterwards. I’m sure there was cake and presents, but it hardly matters. The best thing about my sixth birthday party was you. It never crossed my mind at the time that you hid your face because you were shy. No, you covered your face because you were cool. You surprised me and you showed me how to be different.
Now that we’ve been married for a while, I know that sometimes you are shy. When you’re in an unfamiliar group, I can feel your urge to press your hands to your face the same way that you did at my sixth birthday party. But I also know that more often you are cool, that you are not afraid to stand up and do something silly just because you want to. More often, you show me your fun, quirky side.
Whenever I see you like that, you, that boy on the hill, I love you a little more. I know that I am cool too. I know that being with you means that I can do anything and be anyone who I want to, no matter what anyone else thinks. Then I’m glad that my mom took that photograph as proof.