12 October 2006

Tiger's Eye

Technically, it was our first date, but we never called it that. You took me to the movies...Rocky, what, III? "Eye of the Tiger"...that one. A Sunday evening. You and I sat as close as we could with a seat arm between us, our right and left arms twined together, and each hand exploring the other. It was the gentlest touching I'd ever felt, our fingers just slowly moving around--independent and in sync, simultaneously. There's not a good verb for it: stroking...caressing...feeling... no. It was learning.

A lot of my teenage movie dates had been obliterated by frantic making-out. Hard to see the screen around the blocky shape of an incoming boy's head, tilted for the impact. Rocky III was not that. Somehow we connected the pursuit and the intensity on the screen with our emerging romance--and so, we watched the flashing colors...so much red, white, and blue...and that blackness of boxing...the drama and the blur. Similarly, there was an aura of desperation between us, which was always expressed with grace and softness. We were urgent, since we barely had two months before I left home for college--but because of that, we treasured every mundane element of being together. Held it like glass, and looked at it from every angle. Savoring.

We used to say we were stopping time (both of us wrote poems about that, in fact). Walking with you on a misty summer night down an orange-lit city street, our arms locked around each other's backs, the scene felt suspended. Otherworldly. Yielding to our forward motion, but staying the same, as though we could crystallize our surroundings—as long as we were touching.
No afternoon ever lasted as long as being at Rockaway Beach with you. Scientifically, I now know that's because of the heat: hot temperatures have been proven to elongate one's perception of time. Well, that fact was a constant blessing to a summer relationship that was doomed by time. We'd lie there on the grainy sand, half-protected by a weak old beach towel, and the eternal blue of the Atlantic would shuuuush a few yards away, restless and endless, slopping water onto the sand in a gleam and then pulling it back. Next to our heads was some 1980s boomboxy rectangle with silver cones that pumped hard rock music, swirling all over us. We had a soundtrack. Keening voices, edged guitars, pounding drums, and tonight tonight lyrics. The sun seemed to take much longer to set at Rockaway, lingering on the weathered boardwalk slats. "we should leave now..." "I know...well, after this song..."

Nights in a rock club, standing near the stage, beer-buzzed, heads tilted up towards the colored spotlights and nodding in time. My midlife penchant for concertgoing directly grows from those times. If you could soak music into your pores...that's what we were after. Sweaty hair was a sign of success. And when we got tired, we'd go sit at one of those tippy little round tables, lean over with elbows against the damp tabletop, and kiss in the semi-dark until breathing became a challenge.

I learned that I was lovable. I learned that I could give my written words to someone else and he would own them and adore them. I learned that I could hurt someone when my every intention was to spare him. I learned that I was tired of being a virgin...and that sometimes, that wasn't enough to change a guy's mind. You were so careful, and I was all wanting. To think now that you saved me from my instincts while you were still just 16 years old...how fortunate I was. Although my inner 18-year-old still wonders why, and craves.

The adult knows: You understood that if we sealed the deal, I would stay. And despite the evident pain in your voice and on your face, you would have done anything to make me leave—thus forcing my future to open up wide. You told me many times that I had to go, and against my heart's leaning, I did what you instructed.

I was 18, you were 16. Who was the sage? Who was the acolyte? Promise me that we both gained.

You remain my sole case of love at first sight. (Trust me, it is possible. A thud in the heart and a sharp prod in the mind. And it laser-etches memories, thereafter. Case in point: ) You were standing at the other end of a long dining-room table. The table was dark wood, with a lace tablecloth. My eyes had traveled the length of the table, ending up at your thigh level. (You could say that I was sold right there: you in those teenage jeans that fit exactly right. Oh, the male shape.) I startled inwardly because I realized I was staring at your hips. So I glanced up to your neck--which was really 2/3s of the way to the bargain, because you had on a grandfather-collared shirt and a white shell necklace against your darker skin. Believe me, if I could have dressed my ideal boyfriend back then, I would have reached for everything you were wearing that night.)

Your face: oh. Done. A flash of brown eyes, mouth set in contemplation, all framed with careless black curls that grazed your neck. Your chin angled toward me, because you were looking at me with equal consideration.

I have no idea what I looked like that night. What was I wearing? Did I smile at you, despite my nerves and (the only word I can think of) worship? My hair was long and I probably tossed it back to recover my composure. And my eyes, I know they must have been sending a pleading message whether I wanted them to or not. Damn, I needed to be loved at that moment in my life.

The next voice I heard was the party hostess: "This is my sister's boyfriend..." Of course, I thought ruefully. (Never fear, young Nessa. In a week, he will have ended it with her, a surprise as big as the last unopened box at a birthday party. And so the summer will truly begin.)

What I owe you is inestimable. I wish we could talk about these experiences, expose them to scrutiny, revel that they happened. Ninety percent magic, ten percent reality. I suppose the reality is why we have never discussed those two months, in the dozen or so times we've seen each other since. No matter. What's important is never forgetting. Magic is too rare for that. And in the meantime, I'm just so glad that I have seen you, that I still know you, that your future opened up as wide as mine did.
The shuffled iTunes song that prompted this blog:
If you didn't care what happened to me,
And I didn't care for you,
We would zigzag our way through the boredom and pain,
Occasionally glancing up through the rain,
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.
—Pink Floyd, "Pigs on the Wing, Part 1"

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