The only boy who could ever reach me (and all the rest of them)

He always was the kind of boy that Dusty Springfield ought to sing about; the son of a preacher man, gentle and sweet with a hint of wicked. I loved him in that aching, desperate way teenage girls do. I wrote poems, lived to hear him play guitar, clung to his image with wanton abandon. I kissed him in the backseat as our friends drove, held his hand as we ran through dirty festival grounds and tangled up together in stacks of straw. I fawned, and pined, and waited for him to fall in love with me.

He didn’t.

Somehow he never knew. Maybe that’s why we remained friends. Tangentially: the love that filled the room when we got together could suffocate you, but we didn’t get together that often, keeping up with each other through word of mouth, pictures on the internet, that special metaphysical gravity that you develop with the people you love when you’re young. Miles, states, coasts apart, we continued to orbit each other and the sun of a shared history. Then, something shifted. We aligned again.

Summertime, he came through my town for seven hours: ready, set, go. Lord, I’d missed him. Stealing kisses from me on the slide.

Winter found me on a bus headed toward Baltimore and familiar arms. Taking time to make time. Twirl me, I said before I came. Show me your city.

Teach me again is what I meant.

Teach me again how to dive into love like I did back then. Teach me how to offer the back of my hand for a kiss, how to rest my hand on your chest before we kiss. Take my face into your hands and send lessons firing like sparks up and down my spine. Climb up on the roof and give me the sunset, flirt with the people selling food on the street. Dance with me while we wait for dessert, because they played your song and because we can. Decide this will be our anniversary, and remind me every year. Be wild and tender and romantic, then hold on to me tight, I’m leaving in the morning. Remind me how it can be. I’m leaving in the morning.

He did.

He plays bass now, mostly; upright, an instrument you embrace and coax notes from. His hands are still graceful and wise. He writes in verse, even if we don’t call it poetry anymore. And he will forever, ever, ever reach me.

*****

When I was younger I fell in love hard, and frequently. I suppose I still do, to a certain extent. I love making eyes, flirting, first kisses and the moment right before when the world swims through closing eyes.

Now that those pleasures are available to me again, I’ve been taking advantage where I can. I wouldn’t have guessed, but the best new connections I’ve made have been old ones. I’m being taken apart and put back together by a small army of familiar small-town boys.

Most of them are new to me in one way or another, but the difference between old-new boys and the new-new ones is that I don’t have to be anything for the old ones. There are no expectations; they already know me as someone, so I don’t feel like I have to change to please them (which is something I do with new people). And surprise surprise, they want to be with me anyway.

And each one of them who remembers me who I was before I knew to hide her, and loves me anyway? Each one of them chips off a little bit of the plaster I used to cover over myself. Each one peels another onion layer, leaves me a little more vulnerable and a little more safe in that vulnerability. Each one heals me a little more.

He’d kiss & tell me everything is all right…

Thumper

So, that line in the sand. I came home from vacation to be effectively dumped by the friend I was steadfastly “not dating.” I was spending a whole lot of time with him, doing those things you do with people you date, but we. Were. Not. Dating.

It’s true, we were friends. Are friends. But any way you slice it, rejection sucks, and there I was fresh off a lovely vacation, kind of gnawing my arm off in anticipation of a reunion, ahem, and bam. He’d met a girl who he liked and who wanted what he wanted. (And which I, emphatically, did not want. Do not want.)

We’d been hanging out for about three months, which is the same amount of time I’d been with my ex when he tried to break up with me at the beginning of our relationship. To keep the story manageable, we’ll just say I didn’t let him leave me. I couldn’t handle the thought of being alone with the bitter taste of rejection in my mouth, so when none of my friends were around to help me pick up my pieces, I called him back and told him I was coming over.

In hindsight, well. Maybe not the best idea. But it’s done.

This time, when I was rejected after three months, I sucked it up and handled my shit. And by “handled my shit” I mean “went home alone and cried myself to sleep,” but hey. I’d been up for nearly twenty-two hours at that point most of them in a car or on an airplane, and I was feeling a little fragile. I woke up early the next morning and dragged myself out for a run before rounding up a friend to go to the farmer’s market.

I handled my shit. All by myself. I made peace with being alone for the foreseeable future.; I made lists, set plans, started making stuff and exercising again. I realized that I had no idea when or even if I’d fall in love again, and that was okay. It was no longer something I wanted, or needed.

The next week, which was last week, I met a boy.

I think maybe it might happen sooner than I thought, possibly.

halfway there, we break for lunch

Or a snack. And maybe it’s not quite halfway. Whatever. Metaphorically we are dangling from the wall, and it’s time to introduce a new element.

Months ago, before the waves of sad came washing back up, before it was clear to me how much more pain I had to attend to, an old friend came back into my life. That’s such an easy way to put it, so simple and innocuous: an old friend. An old friend who happened to pop up after ten years of silence, just as my world was falling down. Just an old friend. Just like that. And oh, how that complicated things, but not in the way I expected. It never happens the way I expect.

I’m not quite sure where to start. This seems to be my second wave; mourning the loss of something I never actually had. It’s tricky. But the story? It’s romantic, and lovely, and heartbreaking, and still developing in its own strange little way. And if I want to move forward it’s something I have to get out.

I want to write love letters to my girls right now, and a few of my boys, too. All the people who have come out of the woodwork and made me believe that I am so much more than I knew. All the people who have held out a hand to me, and helped me piece myself together.

J who is magic, who opened her arms, heart, and home to me without question or hesitation. Who opened a bottle of red as I arrived with my suitcase, and another when that ran out, and wished me goodnight as we drifted off to sleep on that first night on my own, making sure I knew I would never truly be on my own.

M who has known me longer than anyone and loved the best and worst of me. Who dropped everything to take my calls and gently but firmly assessed the unhappiness refused to admit. Who made me believe I was strong enough to do right by myself, who trusted me and helped me trust myself. Who pulled me deep into her fray and taught me how to have fun again.

C, who sees me inside and out.

A, whose independence and strength are more of an inspiration than she will likely ever know.

J (two) who breezed through town for seven short hours and took me straight back to neverland.

S, who was simply glad to have me back.

J (three) who makes me want to give back some of the tenderness I’ve been shown, and who kissed me with an open innocence that made me blush like when we were kids. Who is beautiful in the moonlight; who remembers.

M who is sweet and forward and doesn’t need to be anything more.

R who is brazen and forward and would love to be something more.

S and M and B and J (four) and J (five) and M (two) and R (two) and so many others. All this time I’ve loved them, but I never thought to notice that they loved me right back.