“Hey, so…I’m leaving tomorrow,” I said, staring at the porch. I didn’t want him to see how I felt.
“Oh yea? Where you going?” he said, nudging the potted plants his mother kept on the porch steps with his foot. I don’t think he got the full meaning of what I was saying.
“Dad’s taking us to Mississippi.”
“Mississippi? Like for vacation? Why?”
“Like for his job.”
He stopped fidgeting and looked up, finally comprehending.
“Oh. Well it’s not too far from here I guess. You’ll be able to come visit, right?” He sat down on the steps and looked out at the tattered lawn.
I tried to say the right things. “Yeah. Definitely.”
I’m sure he knew it was a lie. Mostly because I was twelve and there was no way my parents would let me take a car across state lines by myself, much less drive me all the way from Mississippi. But truth was, we weren’t going to Mississippi. Dad had gotten a secret military job in New Mexico, and threatened to rip me a new one if I told anyone. Mississippi is what were were telling people. That's the way it was.
We didn’t say much more about it that evening, because what was there really to talk about? The two of us were powerless to change anything. So we did what we always did. Kicked around and talked about baseball, sitting a little too close to one another on the swing, but not really doing much else since his mom was usually watching from the kitchen.
Around nine o’clock he heard his mom calling from across the street, so he got up to leave.
“So I gotta go.”
“Yeah.” I stared at him, trying to get a read. Nothing.
“Have fun in Mississippi. Send me a letter or something?”
I took a deep breath. “Yeah.”
Shoving his hands in his pockets, he started down the steps.
“Xavier,” I called. He turned around, looking at me through bloodshot eyes. I froze. I wanted to tell him. But of course I couldn’t. Not here. Not now.
“Yeah. See ya.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he held my gaze. Even after he was long out of sight, I just kept staring at the place where he'd been.
~ ~ ~
There were times in my life when, out of the blue, I’d remember you sitting in the porch swing. The way you looked at me. At the time, it scared me to death, but now I realize just what that look meant.
Some times I’d think of you every few months; other times, years. Often it was the smell of magnolia that triggered the memory, but not always. It could be a voice that broke in just the right way, or a breeze that smelled like your cologne.
Honestly, it felt like your memory had a mind of its own. It didn’t care whether I was sound asleep, in a meeting, or making love to either of my two husbands. If you felt like popping into my head, I was powerless to stop you.
And it’s not like I could hide it. People would stop what they were saying and ask if I was okay. Or if I was even listening. Of course I was, but what could I say? Oh, sorry, I was just thinking about the first man I ever loved. So I’d hem and haw and blame it on my work or some other distraction.
My thoughts of you were usually fleeting. Don’t take that the wrong way. Though just a whisper, your memory spoke louder than a thousand others combined. Frankly, I’m glad your memory went as quickly as it had came because otherwise I probably would have gone mad.
Ironically, there was a period of time a few decades ago where I had lost my job, my first husband, and just sent my daughter off to college, when all I could do was think of you, and it was the only thing that kept me OUT of the insane asylum.
None of this matters much now. I have barely more days left in my life than years I’ve lived, but I just wanted you to know that your kindness as a kid saw me through to an age neither of us deserved to see. Sometimes I’m surprised we made it out of grade school. If you ever tell Rick the truth about what happened to his hamster I swear I will come back from the grave and murder you.
Forgive me. Murder’s a strong word. Maybe just haunt your refrigerator for a few weeks, so that every time you open a beer you cut your palm just slightly enough to be annoying.
Anyway, I’m droning on. Just thought you should know how things are, and maybe, selfishly, I wanted to think about how they could have turned out. But we get one life and I’ll be damned if I’m not happy with mine. Even more so because you were in it, however briefly. Take care, Adam.
_ Author's Note _
Listening to Jim Croce's "Alabama Rain," I was struck by a mood and scene that I couldn't get out of my head. It's a sweet song of remembrance about kids falling in love, and I spun that thread into the story above. The choice to make both characters male came after I had finished both parts of the story and realized that it didn't have quite enough "yearning," for lack of a better word. There seems less about a young boy and girl that's strong enough to survive decades (though not to say it isn't possible). The idea of two men unable to show their love at the time and never getting the chance felt much stronger to me, especially in an age where this is still a problem for a lot of people.