He had yellow eyes. Not like a cat, just the kind of green eyes that exploded into bursts of yellow around the pupil- yellow and orange, like his favorite color.
So, he had yellow eyes, soft freckles hiding underneath them, a farmer’s tan, and he knew how to laugh. Twelve hours spent in the car, and he had found himself in the neighborhood we’d grown up in; the neighborhood our little six year old legs had run through and where his little knee had rested on the floorboards of my front porch while he handed me a blue ring I had sworn was real.
But he didn’t have little knees anymore, and mine went weak the sight of him walking towards my car that June day in the summer after our freshman year.
Three days. We spent three days together, and we started making plans and dreaming dreams for us.
He gave me his hand, and I handed over my whole heart, whether he knew it or not. I’d like to think he couldn’t fathom the way my heart could grow arms and be constantly reaching for him; I’d like to believe that it was hard for him to go back on his word and turn me down after I’d made an adventure out of the 12 hour car ride it took to spend his sixteenth birthday with him.
While my friends around me mourned the death of a fifteen year old girl that summer, I mourned the death of something I didn’t even understand.
That freckled face boy with yellow-orange eyes from Indiana— his eyes were the first to look at me with a hint of wonder woven into the specks of gold; once he had his arms around me, he didn’t know how to let go; with my head on his shoulder I could feel his body rise and fall as he breathed life into the idea that he could want me from states away for the next three years; we spoke empty promises that we swore we meant about what college years would mean for us.
I haven’t seen that boy in four summers, and I still need someone to show me how to put words to the way it made me feel when I could make his eyes dance, the way I couldn’t shake the feeling of his arms around me years after he’d been gone, the way it felt to believe that a heart could discount all distance and time and wait for me.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t use the way the looked at me to create characters for the stories I have swelling in my heart.
And to this day, I wonder if it was him I loved or the way he made me feel. Because he was the first boy I gave a ruler to and said, “Here, measure me; weigh my worth and I’ll know how wonderful I am through your eyes.” Which was the trap, because he took it all back.
The aftermath of him: I waited for someone else to come along and make me feel like that kind of magic again,
while all along I should’ve been waking up every single day learning where I could find that feeling inside my own self.
Because that’s where the need came from.
How could I wake up every day and see myself as worth the wait? Worth the distance? Worth the time?
Because at the end of it all, after our last encounter that summer, I was the one who felt the loss; I was the one who was left craving to feel like a hurricane, a tidal wave that could bring him to his knees in awe again.
If I could, I would thank him for that summer. I would thank him for letting me share the secret of love with him for just a few short weeks. I would thank him for teaching me, all these years later, how to find the line between wanting to say the words “I love you” and wanting to hear them.
People don’t stay the way we leave them.
I wish I could change the font of that, make it bigger somehow, but I’m no computer genius. I just know that I’ve never written truer words.
And maybe that’s why it’s so hard to leave. Because we know that there will be just as many things missing as there will be new pieces of them when we try to go back,
Because there are parts of me that have loved the idea of going back to that month of June in the summer after my freshman year;
there are parts of me that wish I could go back to car rides with my two best friends, shuffling through all three of our iPods, taking turns listening to music, pretending to be interested in each others’ tastes;
there are parts of me that wish I could go back to my grandmother’s house in the Polo Fields, back to my four year old self, playing hide and seek with my cousin again before life was a mess and made her hard.
But the truth is, that boy doesn’t think of me anymore, and I just liked feeling irresistible;
the truth is, I don’t know what either of my old friends are doing these days;
the truth is, my cousin has hurt my grandmother’s soul when we had all believed she would turn out different.
People don’t stay the way we leave them.
And it’s a tragically beautiful hope that we get to hold on to: we can change, too.