I was thirteen when you were fifteen, and I was so in love with you that it hurt to even breathe when you were in the room; your smile sucked up all my oxygen and set my soul on fire, leaving me choking on ashes in your wake. I was barely a year out of my awkward phase and still trailing insecurity around after me, weighed down with what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I thought you were impossibly beautiful – an Apollonian cowboy, running after Daphne in a pair of dusty boots – and I both longed for and was terrified of you seeing me there in the shadows.
You went to camp, and after a week, your mom handed me a note from you, smiling softly at my creeping blush.
“I haven’t for got about you as a matter of fact I’ve been thinking a lot about you.”
“If the tape is off the letter tell me when I get back.”
“I have really missed you and I hope you get to stay here.”
“See you when I get back.”
You spelled my name wrong, but you underlined “love” twice and right in front of it was a spot you’d scribbled out; I spent hours holding it up to the light, convinced you’d started to write “I love you”, desperate to see it there under the strokes of your pen. I unfolded and refolded it a thousand times, reading every line in between the lines, tracing every word with the tip of a gently kissed finger. I fell asleep thinking of us holding hands, you pushing my hair behind my ear and leaning in to brush my lips with yours, folding me in your arms like origami. My dreams were a tangle of tall grass and crashing hips and flocks of birds exploding from me, taking to the sky as I woke with a start to flushed cheeks and silent want.
There was a party at my house while June melted into July, a slow sliding of clover-scented air and fireflies dancing under the sweet-gum tree. As we were cleaning up afterward, I found the hat you always wore, and slept with it under my pillow for a week; it smelled like the sea, it smelled the way I imagined your skin would taste illuminated by moonbeams. After Sunday night services, I sat on the trunk of my grandparent’s car, hat in my lap; you stood under the streetlight and pressed yourself into me, pelvis to pelvis, so close I could hear your pulse and then there was just your tongue, and my teeth, and fireworks pinwheeling off and away behind my eyelids, and nobody could tell me we wouldn’t last forever. You pulled back, licking my cherry chapstick from your lips, and when you dropped a lazy wink my way, my heart burst into flames under my skin, burning me from the inside out.
Every time I closed my eyes that summer, we were something more than we ever were; but every time I look back, it seems like just enough for what it was. You loved me back, at least a little, until I didn’t need to hold that note up to the light anymore to know what you were trying to say under the scribbles. Years passed and the paper grew tissue thin, the ink bled and a hole opened up in the center; still, I keep it tucked in a pocket in a folder in a cabinet, and pull it out from time to time, remembering longing like wildfire and kisses like rainfall. There were never any chickens, or babies, or rusted out Fords littering the front yard, but there was a gentle initiation into falling in love, and a sweet schooling on falling out of it.