It's true that I never really knew you.
But I did love you
In a certain, breathless way.
In a hushed way.
I was very small, then. And very sad.
And I looked out on a great, green, vivid world,
And I was afraid, even, to whisper into it
As if my breath would push the color out.
I watched. I noticed.
I perched on the edge of myself,
On the line between me
And the air around me,
Too cautious to slip into either fully.
I was used to looking.
I was used to being a shadow, and I enjoyed it.
I thought I enjoyed it.
The day I met you, you looked back at me.
You were the first.
Imagine that- all those years, and you were the first person
To wonder what it was like behind my eyes
Enough to really look into them.
I could have loved you
Just for that
And maybe I did, originally.
I remember small things, small wakings-up,
Tiny moments that made me realize who I was.
I never lived inside myself before that year.
When I met you I discovered
That I had hands
That when the breeze was warm
I felt it
That my fingers could read the world I so loved to look at-
I discovered that maybe I didn't have to exist alone
And for that knowledge
I must bitterly thank you,
For ever since then I have craved to be held,
And it has been wonderful and terrible.
I remember snapshots of that time.
The first time, when you looked at me, when you stood close to me
And I was so surprised that I forgot to recoil
And I discovered that I didn't want to.
Pale and warm, a clear grey-blue, sparkling with mischief,
And what was behind them-
Pain, fear, love, wit and imagination.
I didn't know you,
But I saw you.
I was looking. I always look.
I rarely see anything I wish I could write poetry about.
When I do, it keeps on coming, even years later.
I remember going home and laying awake in the dark
And your face wouldn't leave my mind.
You were leaving within the week,
And I didn't want to forget it, somehow.
I didn't know what made me want to look at you.
Thinking of you-
The curtain of dark hair you hid beneath a hat,
Your softly freckled skin,
Your low, husky voice that always made my head turn
As if everyone else was just background noise.
Maybe it was the way your lips would quirk up in a half smile
Whenever you said something witty and knew it.
(I loved that you knew it.)
Somehow the sum-total of you
Stuck with me and wouldn't leave.
I'd met handsome men.
I'd met beautiful women.
I'd met many people, by then,
But none I'd wanted to know quite like I wanted to know you.
It had never occurred to me
Before that summer
That I would ever want to kiss anybody.
When I discovered that I wanted to kiss you...
I didn't know what to do.
So I said nothing.
I passionately looked at you
As you told your mesmerizing stories and laughed and looked elsewhere.
I didn't mind.
That was the year
Two weeks later
That I rolled over in bed and asked my best friend to kiss me.
That was the year I discovered why I'd never fantasized a white wedding
(It wasn't legal yet.)
In the years after, I searched for you.
Sometimes I found you.
I couldn't stop telling you you were beautiful.
Sometimes I felt close to you
And my heart would race.
Sometimes you chose a boy
Over my small, dainty face and my eyelashes and my high heeled boots
And that was the first time I felt
The now familiar aching shame- the fear
That maybe that would always happen.
The fear I still grapple with, if I am to be honest.
Still, there were moments when you and I were close, and I treasured them.
Once, I asked you for a hug
And you pulled me down onto the bed beside you
And that was the first time
I ever felt my stomach fall through my feet
In a delicious way,
In a thrilling way.
All I did was hug you,
And looked at your soft, brown eyelashes
Casting shadows down your cheeks.
And then somebody walked in and the moment was over
But I never quite forgot it.
You were kind to me.
You were kind to me in a way I hadn't experienced before,
And I wanted to make you smile.
I remember the day you told us why you wore shorts at the pool.
I remember the white hashmarks shining in the sun
All the way up your thighs.
I remember I thought a thousand things in that second.
I wanted to tell you that you didn't have to hide them.
I wanted to show you that you were beautiful.
I've kissed scars since then, you know.
Because of that moment, I've kissed scars before I've kissed lips.
I've left people loved instead of wounded.
If I'd have let myself think such things about people back then,
I'd have wanted to touch those long-healed cuts with my fingertips,
Feel the smooth hills and valleys of a chaotic heart
Made damaged flesh.
I'd have wanted to kiss them, too, like I did to different skin-
Softly and without lust, looking into the eyes that witnessed their creation.
It was a very, very personal thought. A very, very private longing.
So confusing that I locked it up and didn't think of it for years to come.
And when I did once more,
I was raising a pale white wrist to my lips, tracing a wax-white pattern of healed hatred with soft kisses
And I saw what I wanted to see in the surprised, vulnerable brown eyes I was looking into.
That moment for her
Was your fault.
I remember when I realized why you had such trouble eating.
I never did hear all the details.
I couldn't presume to ask.
All I did was watch you walk away from the table,
Burning with the desire to comfort you
I was so used to looking
And not touching
And so I watched you go
And thought of you all night.
It rained a lot, those years.
It never seems to rain like that anymore.
Whenever I saw you it seemed to rain at least once,
The sky turning the same grey blue as your eyes when you were thinking
And thought nobody was looking
And cracking open with a rush of rain and lightning and the sweet, low rumble of thunder crackling through the hot clouds high above.
The holes in the road would fill with water
And the whole place would become a river.
It was so free.
Somehow I began to think of you whenever it rained.
I'm almost sure it was your eyes. They were so deep and stormy, sometimes.
Sometimes they were bright blue, like those summer days when the clouds skip along the sky, pushed by warm winds and shattered by sunlight.
Sometimes they looked very, very pale, like the tide when it folds up in satiny layers against the sand.
I always felt a little strange, looking at your eyes like I did.
I couldn't stop.
That was probably why I rarely touched you.
I was afraid that I was already invading, already pushing too much
To see what was inside of you.
I remember listening to you learn lines late at night,
The way your voice would rise and fall,
And I didn't even know why I was listening-
It just pulled me in, a sound I was partial to,
A tone I wanted to feel on my skin.
I remember tagging along for countless adventures,
Making up excuses to be here or there that I knew you'd be
Just so that I could be a bit closer.
I didn't have an end game.
Didn't have a goal.
I wasn't me enough yet. I acted from fascination.
I wanted to stand near you and watch you be.
I have the most vivid memory of you taking off running
One hot, hot summer day
Into a field of tall grass,
Your laughs and shouts echoing further away
And sometimes I'd see your pale arms stretch above the wildflowers and underbrush,
Waving a gauzy net after the white butterflies that rode the sunbeams.
What a happy field that was.
I didn't run.
I always watched.
But I remember that the smile that touched my face
Filled my bones.
I remember when you cut your hair
And I could finally see your face in full
And I wanted to photograph it
In black and white
And maybe catch the way your laughter lived in your gaze.
That was when
You started to fade away.
I saw you less,
And you saw me... much less.
Perhaps I should have let you turn away
And never said a thing,
You were the first thing I ever really wanted
Enough to reach for in any way.
I spoke, and you heard me.
And even though you pretended you didn't
It was still the first time
I ever shouted.
Now... now I'm not sure what I think of you
You think of me.
But I know what you were when I knew you
And I love that girl
And that girl
Created much of what I love about who I am.
And most of the time
I think she grew up.
Found a man, found a life, found a place.
Most of the time I think it's okay that we don't talk
Because you probably aren't her anymore.
I wish I could say
I thought I'd grow up like that and leave my skin behind
I am the girl who looked at you back then.
And I have been her ever since,
Only added to.
I know I will never outgrow how I love,
Who I love,
Whatever woke up when I first realized how I felt about you.
I will only learn to wield it.
Sometimes I wish I knew you now.
Sometimes I wish I'd known you then.
Just because... look at all the firsts you were, to me,
And for years into knowing you
I didn't even know your real name.
Imagine if you'd let me in, how we could have changed each other.
I wonder who I'd be
If I'd done more than just watch you silently and smile.
What I learned
From years of gazing at you across picnic tables and bunk beds is that
You can love somebody you don't know.
You can give to someone you haven't taken from.
And you can be changed by someone who never even touched you.
And I'd like you to know that.
And I'd like to remind you
That you never quite know who out there
Is quietly writing you poetry.