Even though I have never seen anything before, and most likely never will, I think that hippos are amazing and graceful. I think that trees are prettier than flowers, sandals match with more outfits than boots, and girls look better than boys. There’s just something about the vibe girls give off that boys don’t. They’re just prettier. In many ways girls and hippos are similar. They are graceful, sweet, and can kill you in an instant if they want.
The first time I met my best friend, Zoe, I knew I liked her. It was the summer of 2005. We were about to start kindergarten, and my mom took me to the park. She wouldn’t let me go near the jungle gym since I still wasn’t very good at navigating using my new cane. I was sitting in the grass, rolling around. Like any other sane person would do. I heard my mom talking to someone, so I made my way to her bench. The person my mom was talking to was Zoe’s nanny. I started crying because I didn’t know what that strange voice was.
I felt someone tug on my pants and I started to cry even more. The next moment someone was wiping the tears off my face. Their hands were the same size as mine. I was shocked, none of my peers had ever wanted to go near me since I was so different.
Before either of us got to say anything, Zoe’s nanny picked up Zoe. My mom said “Have a great birthday party, Zoe!” as they left. Of course, I didn’t know it was Zoe back then. I didn’t even know if it was a boy or girl. But back then it didn’t matter. I felt for my mom and told her, “I like them.” My mom just giggled and told me that I just made a new friend. But she didn’t know that I had meant I LIKED them. That was my first crush.
In the 10 years after meeting her, Zoe and I had gotten so much closer. We spent everyday together. We went on trips together. She led me around landmarks. We had uncountable inside jokes. We were the best friends.
We would walk for a half hour to the Pierce Cliffs every Sunday, around noon, since we were 13. We would bring Monopoly and play into the evening. We would wrap up the game right before dusk. She would describe the sunset to me, and she was so good at it. She knew exactly how to make the scene blossom in my head.
In those 10 years, I never got over my crush for her. Obviously, I’ve had other crushes (and a few other girlfriends). And Zoe had dated other people. But she’s always been in the back of my head.
Zoe had always made jokes about how I had liked her when we were young. I would laugh along, mainly because her jokes were hilarious, but also because she had no idea that I still liked her.
Looking back, I have no regrets from June 5, 2018. Everything worked out perfectly. It is definitely in the top 5 best days of my life.
It was the day of her 17th birthday. I wanted to give her the best present ever, so I treated her to the a dinner at her favorite restaurant, Olive Garden. We had so much fun and made so many jokes. It was almost time for cake and presents with her family, so we started to walk to her house. I planned the route perfectly so when I heard children laughing, I knew we were right by the park. Where we first met. And I slowed down.
Slowly, I made out what I had been planning to say for months. “Zoe, we’ve known each other for ten years, and I think it’s finally time I’ve told you something.”
“What is it? Is everything okay?” She asked, very concerned. Her hands grasped mine. It was just like her to assume the worst.
I let out a little chuckle. “Everything is fine. No, it better than fine. It’s wonderful. My entire life has been wonderful because of you.” I took a deep, long, breath. And muttered, “I.. I love you.”
A tiny gasp escaped her lips, and she dropped my hands. I felt her walking away. I followed.
She didn’t say anything for the next 2 blocks. I knew I had messed up. Bad. I knew I should’ve just kept my mouth shut. Out of nowhere, she stopped walking. I didn’t know, and I ran right into her. Everything would have been silent, but her tears broke through the night.
“What’s wrong? You don’t hate me now, do you?”
After eons of silence she finally responded, “No, it’s just that.. I love you too.”
And then, we kissed.
It was the most magical moment of my life. It was like time was standing still. This was the moment I had been dreaming of for my entire life, and it was actually HAPPENING. For a second, I swear I saw a splash of blue (it could’ve been green, or red, or purple, I have no idea what it was, but I saw something).
It’s been 5 years since that magical moment, and I have never felt the same way. I have definitely come close, like every time I hear Zoe’s voice or get to kiss her. But I have never seen something since that night. Tonight, though, I think that will change.
June 5, 2023. The night before Zoe’s 22nd birthday. I wanted tonight to be extra special, so… I took her out to Olive Garden, my treat. Even though her family moved a few years ago, we walked the same path we took 5 years ago on the way home. We talked, laughed, held hands, we were teenagers again. It was just like that night. Except this time, I’m the one to stop dead in my tracks.
“Zoe Bixenman, I have known you for 18 years. And for at least 16 of those, I have 100% known that I am totally, unequivocally in love with you. And for however longer we are on this earth, I want you to know with no doubt that I will always be in love with you.” I paused, and got down onto one knee. Zoe gasped. “Zoe, will you give me the honor to love you for the rest of our lives?”
“Of course!” She practically yelled. I stood up and hugged her. I hugged her tighter than ever before. She grabbed my face and we kissed. It was more magical than the first time. We were laughing, crying, smiling. And then it happened.
I saw them.
At first it was a slight tinge of one color. Then it got more vibrant, then another one appeared, then another and another. It was an explosion of brilliance.
It only lasted a second, but that’s all I needed. I knew that she was the one to make my life brighter. Even if I couldn’t see it happen.
One year later, June 5, 2024, and I was about to be married to the love of my life. The decor was beautiful, at least that’s what i had heard. There was still about a half hour left until the ceremony. I was getting shaky just thinking about it. I stood on a hidden balcony, so no one could see me, and admiring the magical atmosphere. With the buzz of last minute preparations, guests getting greeted as they arrive, and the thump thump of my heart, it was all a little overwhelming. And just so surreal.
I had been listening for what seems like eternity, when I heard the maid of honor, Abby, walking onto the balcony, her heels clicking away. She stopped beside me and leaned her head on my shoulder.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?” she sighed.
“It’s perfect. Almost as stunning as Zoe.” I couldn’t help myself from grinning, just thinking about her.
“It’s time, are you ready?” Abby asked, lifting her head.
“Almost, I don’t have my vows ready. I have been trying to think of a way to summarize my love in just a few sentences, but it’s impossible. I love her too much, there’s just too much to say.”
Neither of us said anything for a few moments.
“Can I ask you something?” Abby asked, breaking the silence.
“How can you know you love something so much as Zoe, but have never seen her.?”
I thought for a few seconds, then started to tear up.
“That’s all you have to say.” She grasped my arm and led me into the lobby.
You know those moments that your entire life has led up to? Through the highs and lows, everything has gotten you to this point in time, and you could never be happier. For me, this was one of those moments. Standing at the altar, hearing the doors open, the crowd standing, the music playing. It was perfect.
As Zoe walked down the aisle, I could tell she looks magnificent. The crowd gasping at her elegance confirmed my belief. I could feel the beauty radiating off of her as she made her way up to me and the priest.
“We are gathered together on this beautiful afternoon to share with Zoe and Alex as they exchange vows of their everlasting love.” The priest started. I couldn’t pay attention to what he’s saying, I was too busy daydreaming about the rest of my life with the love of my life.
Finally, it’s time for the vows.
I started, “I didn’t know what to say here until about an hour ago, when Abby asked me, ‘how can I love someone so much and yet never seen their face before?’” I couldn’t help but to start crying. “It’s the way you smell when you get out of the shower in the morning, or when you’re sick and haven’t showered in three days. It’s the way your laugh echoes through the room, even after you’ve left. It’s the optimistic tone in your voice, even when you’re seconds away from a break down. It’s the way you love me for who I am, even though I am disabled. It’s the way that you tell me that you’re here for me, even when you’re not saying anything.”
I didn’t think I could get any more emotional. My eyes were tearing up. My voice, shaky. My stomach, full of butterflies. Then, Zoe said her vow.
She squeezed my hands one last time. “You are the most inspiring person I have ever known. Nothing will ever change that. You face challenges everyday and you overcome them each and every time. Each and every time you overcome those challenges, I fall in love with you more and more.” She stopped and laughed a little. “Each time I tell myself ‘okay, there is no way I could possibly love you more than this.’ yet, the love still grows. I don’t know when I will reach the limit of love, but I hope it’s never.”
I hear a few muffled sobs, one is definitely coming from my mom. Zoe has even let go of one of my hands to wipe her own tears. I was praying that they're tears of joy.
The priest chimes in after a moment, “And at last, Alex Mellet, do you take Zoe Bixenman to be your lawfully wedded wife?.”
A pause. I put on the biggest smile I have, “I do.”
“And Zoe Bixenman, do you take Alex Mellet to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
Three. Three years ago that happened. We never had a chance to have children. We were thinking about adoption, but we didn’t have the financial stability we needed yet. I had just gotten a new teaching job and Zoe was still working as a secretary at a local insurance agency. It was a normal Sunday afternoon. We were both on our periods and we super moody. She had just used the last tampon in the house, and I was furious. We started yelling. One thing led to another and I locked myself in the guest bedroom while Zoe left to get more tampons. I fell asleep a few minutes later.
I woke up to a knock on the door. Assuming Zoe just left her key at home in her haste, I opened the door, ready to apologize for my outburst. “Hi, Zoe. I’m sorry for earlie-”
“Ma’am, I am officer Oakley, and this is officer Franta.”
“Oh, sorry I thought you were Zoe.”
“Actually, that’s what we’re here to tell you.” Oakley explained.
My knees went weak.
“Your wife was in an accident. Another car swerved into her car while on a bridge.” His voice was full of sorrow.
“She... drove into the river.”
I couldn’t breathe. All the words i tried to say just jumbled into an incoherent mess in my throat. I didn’t want to know, but it was the only sentence I could mutter. It slipped. “What’s today’s date?”
“Um, it’s the 4th of June.”
I slowly closed the door. “Thank you, gentlemen.”
The moment I heard that Zoe was gone, everything went dark. Darker than I had ever seen it before. And it didn’t go back. My mother started to stay at my house to take care of me. I wouldn’t couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed.
The funeral was the hardest for me. There were so many people saying they’re sorry, but for what? I didn’t know half of them. They were just there to clean their conscious, but they didn’t mean anything.
The casket was sitting only a few feet from me during the service, yet that warm glow that she always emitted was no longer there. Her laugh was silenced. She could no longer love me.
After the service, I sat by her grave. Everyone was leaving. Their cars rippling onto the main road, not thinking twice. I sat, and thought, and cried.
I told Zoe the day of the funeral that I would never abandon her. I knew I was lying. She knew I was lying. We knew one day soon that I wouldn’t visit her grave. Instead, I walked in the opposite direction. I walked past my old house, then past her old house, then the park. I didn’t need directions. By now, it was muscle memory. Finally,after hours of walking, I made it.
With the old, worn, monopoly box in my arms, I sat down. I could feel the cool ocean breeze through my hair. I stayed there, admiring the sounds of nature. The seagulls finding food. The waves crashing against the rocks. I could hear the children playing and the teens’ music blaring from the beach. I sat there for a long time, trying to imagine what my life would have been without her.
Slowly, the children stopped screaming, the music turned off. It was night. Everyone had left. This was the first night ever that I was at the cliffs and Zoe wasn’t here with me. This is the first time that she hasn’t described the sunset.
I knew it was time to go home. I stood up, and walked. And walked. Until I could feel the ground getting more brittle. I kept walking.
Even though I didn’t visit Zoe’s grave today, I knew I was about to visit her again. I knew I could hug her again. And for the first time in forever, I saw the colors. Dozens of them. Dancing across my eyes. I had no doubt at that moment that this was the right thing to do.
I was finally home again.