She used to march right in front of me, her feet waddling a bit as she remained one step ahead of me for one glorious hour after another. She played bass clarinet. I played French horn. And in my freshman year of high school, we marched in every parade.
She had daisy blonde hair that spilled over her shoulders and a hint of freckles that danced when she winced with a toothy smile. Never had I loved a girl more.
We hung out in the same cadre. A muted clone of the Lost Generation without knowing it at the time. The girls talked about the Dragons of Pern. The guys talked about A.E. Von Vogt, Bradbury (of course) and occasionally Hemingway, though none of us were willing to admit that we were bored by Hemingway, mostly because we didn’t get it. We played Dungeons and Dragons. We drove to the airport just for fun. We sat in the pizza parlor and scrawled witticisms on paper coasters that we laughed at endlessly. We got along famously. Nobody else liked us much. Because we had each other, we didn’t have to care.
She could be sitting cross-legged on the floor, talking about the drugs that were always hidden away when I was around because she knew they scared me. Or she could be walking out the front door, her hair set off by the dew glistening on the grass. It didn’t really matter where or how I saw her. She winced her smile, laughed too easily and always waddled slightly with her feet toed out. I don’t think she ever knew that my heart ached for her, even though she was so often close enough to touch. Like when she scrunched up next to me in the back of the car as we all went off to the airport or the pizza parlor or the water park and I could feel her shoulder against mine.
The water park was the worst. She didn’t seem to notice that I had to keep my distance, looking at her in scant glimpses and then looking away because at 14, control was difficult. The water dripping down her chest, along her hips and down to her toes. Even as she waddled along in line, laughing at something that I couldn’t share (and this tore my heart to shreds with jealousy), I loved her even more.
I didn’t care that she had a girlfriend. I didn’t care. Because it didn’t matter. Even though she could never feel the ache of loving me, I had to hope that somehow, some day, she might, even if in a moment of sympathy, gratuity or charity, hold me close and be my girl for the fleeting moment of a kiss. My only other choice was to descend into a pit of despair and die.
Or I could move away, grow up and survive the long years while the memory of her faded. I could meet my first girlfriend and make out with her in the stairwell of a new high school. Take her to the prom and go as far as she would let me while I mustered the iron will to not ruin her life forever.
And this is why I hate the Internet. In distant years, where wives and sons fill the days and soothe the ache and replace it with summer days where I wash my car and a five-year-old washes his toy car right next to me – the ache subsides and lives in a box which I can gaze into with fondness and the melancholy of nostalgia.
But the wincing smile haunts me still. The waddling feet of the bass clarinet player who marched in front of me, carrying the girl I loved forever just inches away, forever for me to follow with an ache that refuses to die.
I could find her, buy her a glass of wine, toast her wife, laugh about days gone by. And, at last, reveal the secret and with it the remnants of an ache that still lives.
“How I loved you,” I could say.
She could wince with a softer, more aware and womanly smile. Idly run her finger along the rim of her wineglass, making it sing. And she could whisper, “I know.”
And I could take her hand and say, “I know you could never have – well, you know. But I wanted to tell you. That a boy loved you because of who you are. No matter what. And always will, in distant memories.”
And she could blush, embarrassed, and say, “Thank you for telling me.”
Then she would ask me what I’ve been up to and we would revel in the good lives we’ve built apart from each other, sharing them in the red swirl of wine between friends.
Because I did find her. On the Internet. That I hate so.
It has everything. The day she was born. The day she died. The name of a wife left behind to swim in endless tears – a woman who will forever be alone. Because she will never know that across the miles of empty sky, I stand on parched ground, fall to my knees and wail for the lost kiss of the only woman we would ever love.
The distance of time does not kill love. Nor the cowardice of of a boy who doesn’t understand that declaration does not dishonor the truth. Love is a forlorn beast that doesn’t understand any of those things. I could have told her. She would have understood. It would have been alright. She would have smiled and said, “I know. It’s OK. You’ll find somebody, I promise.” Love can endure the kindness of its desire that must step away, never to be kissed. I know that now. And I know this. There is only one thing that can kill love:
©2022 Michael J Lawrence