12.31.2008

People I Have Forgotten #2

I only saw her for two moments, with years between them that blotted out her face and crystallized my unwavering childhood love into something pure and unwavering.

The summers at the daycare always had more kids, suburban kids orphaned by a rural school calendar. Kim was one of these transient, seasonal urchins. She was beautiful, with long brown hair. She was shy, and even that young I sensed a tragic loneliness, more than even a child of divorce could understand. As a six-year-old obsessed with knights, dragons and maidens in distress, I loved her immediately. I adored her so utterly that I only spoke to her at the end of the summer, the last day for the summer orphans.

During naptime some of the good kids--really just the quiet kids the adults didn't have to notice--were occasionally allowed to stay up and read, or play quietly in the TV room. That last day it was just the two of us, and she came over with one of those paper fortune tellers that involve a counting game to find out who you will marry and whether you will be a prince or a pauper. Either by prestidigitation on my part or hers, I wasn't really sure, it turned out we were destined to be together. The rest of the day was spent playing and talking together, just us two, under a fort of blankets draped over wobbly plastic chairs with metal legs and small round feet that pivoted and begged you to tip your chair back when the grown-ups weren't looking.

Then the day was done, save for collecting pencil bags and lunch boxes and goodbyes. She gave me one small wave and I gave her my complete devotion.

She didn't go to my school, and at that age she may as well have moved to Europe, but for seven impossible years I loved her. Over time I forgot everything about her, her face growing more distant and indistinct each day, but still the mere idea of her made my heart ache with need. It was a need unburdened by puberty or lust or that damaging maturity that accepts that even the truest lovers will fight and find fault in one another. It wasn't even a need to have her return my feelings, or even to see her again, which seemed more impossible year after year. It was a need to keep loving her, a fire that burned itself for fuel and never ran out.

I had three crushes in those seven years--Emily, who I saved from a bee sting; Krystal, whose floor I vacuumed at her birthday party to impress her mother; and Jasmine, who tripped me on the ice, leaving me feeling so betrayed that I pretended to be unconscious all recess.

But I never stopped dreaming about the faceless beauty I had given a starring role in every daydream, in every pulp science fiction and fantasy novel my hands picked up and my eyes devoured.



When I was 12 or 13, seven of my schoolmates and I went to Ann Arbor to compete at the state-level Future Problem Solvers of America competition. We spent three days alternatively running around a 4-star hotel with hundreds of our peers or spending 5 hours locked in small classrooms where we wrote up detailed solutions to problems that existed only as paranoid Dateline hypotheticals.

The second day, my group wandered down to the hotel lobby to sample such impossible luxuries as the whirlpool spa and sauna. I have never liked swimming, since the activity necessitates the exposure of my sunken chest and insecurity, but I felt bolstered by the virgin Bloody Mary's my friends and I had "tricked" out of the hotel bartender.

In a teeming pool of mostly male tweens splashing and ignoring the frustrated whistles of an overwrought lifeguard was The Diving Board. I was carefully outlining several excuses to avoid the springboard gallows, in readiness for a challenge from one of my compatriots, when Kim popped up out of the pool, pushed herself up with her hands on the slick tile, and said "Hi."

I recognized her immediately, which surprised me as much as her sudden appearance. I had spent so many nights dreaming of little more than mist that I had convinced myself that I would no longer know her if I saw her.

She knew me as well, and smiled. I had no idea how to react, the omnipresent pre-teen boogieman of social embarrassment laughing gleefully from all sides. At least I had left my retainer and glasses in the hotel room, for fear of losing them in the pool.

I smiled back, but the moment was so inconceivable that my mind shut down, and I can only remember snippets from the next two hours. We sat in the steam room and talked and sweated and reeked of pre-teen hormones. She was wearing one of those child two pieces that show a strip of stomach but no belly button, and I found it confusing as to why she didn't just wear a one piece and forgo the two-by-twelve inches of exposed skin. I remember being terrified in the pool that I would get out too fast, leaving my trunks water (a fear I have never overcome). I remember feeling like a clumsy arrangement of elbows, glasses and buck teeth, and I had no idea why she was willing to be seen talking to me.

I only know for certain two things: I did not, despite years of fervent daydreams promising it, kiss her. And when I said goodbye to her I said goodbye to the flame that had burned so constantly within me, because there is nothing more disappointing than having a dream come true. I was not disappointed in her, for she was still beautiful and faceted and easy to talk to. I was disappointed because now I had nothing impossible to wish for, and I understood the wonderful suffering of the troubadour, and why he would torture himself with worshiping from afar, refusing to approach his lady, because he knew that having her would be just as terrible as losing her.

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This is rough and cheesy and took too long to organize in a semblance of order. It needs to lose half its size and I don't know how to do it.

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