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Letter To A Girl I Loved
The first time I saw you was on my first day at Pine High. It was senior year, sometime in November, and I had just moved to town. I was entirely average. Average height, brown hair and eyes, an average t-shirt and jeans. I was an average new kid who no one cared to notice. That was fine with me – that was what I wanted, really. One year of quiet, blending in with the crowd, average.
I was walking to math class when I saw you – just before fourth period. You were anything but average. You were thin, delicate, as if a gust of wind just a little too strong could break you. You walked like you were alone. Like you were confused, like you didn’t know where you were going. I remember your hair. It was short. And black. And it looked too big for your fragile frame. You reminded me of a metaphor somehow. You were so real, and so distant, and so beautiful. And I remember your eyes. I’d never seen a deeper blue. They looked like you did, lost. And they looked like they didn’t want to be found. They were matte. There was no sparkle in your eyes, despite their vivid coloring. You were the most fascinating thing I had ever seen. I wanted to know you, but you didn’t even look at me. You had no idea I was there, watching you leave. That was the last thing I wanted you to do; leave. And it was the only thing I ever wanted to do again; watch. I wanted to see you, but I mostly wanted you to see me back.
I watched you leave again and again, Grace. It took me a while to even begin to wonder why you left before fourth period everyday. I was too busy wondering other things. I wondered if you’d ever see me and feel me the way and saw and felt you. The way I felt when I watched you drive away in your rickety station wagon with your cigarette hanging carelessly from your rosebud lips. I listened for as long as I could when you drove away. I began to feel comfort in the mixture of sounds that an old car and old music make when they are played at just the same frequency. And before I knew it, each day, you were gone.
One day, just like every other, I was sitting by the window in math. Waiting to see you walk across the parking lot to your car. Waiting to watch you leave. And, just like every other day, there you were. You walked to your car and put the key in the door. This time though, you didn’t turn the key. You turned your head instead. You turned your head towards me and you saw me. I knew I should have looked away, that staring wasn’t polite, and that it made people uncomfortable. But I didn’t look away. Because finally, I saw you and you saw me. Neither of us moved for what seemed like an eternity of seeing and feeling and breathing and being alive. And then you turned the key. You got into the driver’s seat and you steered yourself away, just like any other day.
The next day, in between second and third period, I saw you. You were walking, but unusually, you knew where you were going. You were walking towards me.
“Why were you watching me?”
I froze, “I don’t know.”
You looked at me, and for the first time I saw life in your eyes, you were sad, “Listen, I don’t have friends. I don’t make friends.” I knew you didn’t have any friends, I’d never seen you talk to anyone in all of the days I’d watched you. I saw that you were always alone. I wanted to be alone with you, always.
“Can I be an exception?”
You looked at me in utter confusion, “No. I told you, I don’t make friends.”
You looked at the floor awkwardly and muttered under your breath, “Grace”
“It’s nice to meet you Grace”
You looked at me again, your eyes were still sad. You said, “We’re not friends. You’re not an exception. But I do need a math tutor.”
So, I tutored you in math. Once a week at first. Then twice. And before I knew it, I was tutoring you almost everyday. You were hard to watch sometimes, but I always watched. You had the shakiest hands I’d ever seen – holding a pencil seemed a feat for you. Sometimes, in the middle of a math problem, you would just close your eyes. For just a moment you would shut your lids and you would be gone. I wondered what you were thinking. You were remarkably good at math, however, and I often questioned whether you needed tutoring at all.
Sometimes, when I drove you home from the library, I dreamt of reaching over and grabbing your hand. I wanted so badly to know what the touch of your skin would feel like. You were awkward and small in the passengers seat. We took the same route to your house every evening, and yet you never stopped staring out the window. Again, I wondered what you were thinking. Sometimes, I would sneak a glance at you, out of the corner of my eye. I would look to see if you were tapping your fingers to the music, liked you did occasionally. But mostly I would think about your hands, and how badly I wanted to touch them and feel their smoothness against my callused palms.
Every once in a while, I would ask you something. Part of me just wanted to hear your innocent, slow voice. Mostly though, I wanted to understand you. I wanted to know everything that made you so. I wanted to be part of it, part of your life. And I was, it was unspoken, but I was. You hardly every answered my questions though. Just a soft whispered word usually, but that was enough. I like to think we understood each other, you and I.
One night, a few hours after I dropped you off at your house, I was running errands for my mom. I saw your math textbook laying slightly beneath the passenger seat. Considering it was still fairly early, and I was in your neighborhood, I decided that I would drop it off at your house. Really, it was just another excuse to see you. It occurred to me right then and there, at a red light, on an early April night, that I loved you, Grace. Four months of tutoring. Of watching you close your eyes and think and dreaming of touching your hands and wondering what you were thinking. I knew I loved you.
I pulled into your driveway, grabbed your book and took a deep breath. I was nervous, which was strange. I was never nervous around you anymore. I walked up to your doorstep and I knocked. After what seemed like hours, I heard you behind the door. You cracked it open. The house was dark inside. You looked beautiful. You had no make-up on, which was a change from the usual contrast between your pearly skin and smoky eyes. Your hair wasn’t too big this time, it was invisible in fact, hidden by a silk scarf wrapped delicately around your head.
“What are you doing here?”
“You left your textbook in my car”
You looked behind you into the dark, quiet house where you were standing, “You shouldn’t just show up here, Jake”
“Can I come in?”
Something told me to fight back, to disagree with you, insist that I come inside.
“Please, let me come in Grace, even just for a second.”
You looked down, “Fine,” I watched as your gentle hands opened the door
wider slowly. You turned away and ambled into the darkness. I followed you, and thought how I would follow you anywhere. I looked around your house. It was small, dark, and sullen. There was a picture of you on the wall. You were young. And you had your arms draped around a younger boy – your brother. Charlie. You had mentioned him once or twice. You had sparkle in your eyes. You looked present and happy and alive. I couldn’t stop looking at the photo – at the life in your eyes.
You knew what I was looking at. You coughed to break my stare. Careful not to touch me, you took your textbook.
“I’ll be right back,” you said. You turned down a dimly lit hallway and disappeared through a doorway to the left. I looked around the room again. This time I saw a table, the kitchen table. I walked towards it. I sat. I closed my eyes and pretended it was our table. That we ate dinner together every night at the table and you spoke softly and we saw each other.
I opened my eyes. I noticed for the first time the bottles. The small, transparent, orange bottles. Across the table from me. They sat where I imagined you would in my daydream. I reached over the table and picked one up. I looked at it and I read the name on the prescription and it was your name and I was suddenly angry at the bottles for taking your place in my imagination. I wanted to throw the bottles, to sweep them off the table with my hand so they’d fly across the room. I wanted to make them disappear. But I didn’t, I held the bottle and I denied what I knew was true.
You came back. Stood in the doorframe, “Put that down,” you said, “I knew I shouldn’t have let you in.” Your voice sounded different. You sounded angry.
“It’s okay Grace, I’m glad I –“
You cut me off. You were yelling, “How is it okay? I take care of Charlie and I take care of Grams and I’m all they have to take care of them. What will they do, Jake? I had a year. One year to live. That year was a month overdue when I met you. I had weeks, days, maybe minutes to live and you came into my life and I told you I didn’t want you. I severed all ties when they told me I was sick and I promised myself I wouldn’t make any new ones and then you came and I made a tie and I regret it. I regret ever meeting you and talking to you and I resent the fact that I love you because you can’t love me too. I won’t let you love me too because that’s not fair. I’ll be gone and it will be one more person I’ve left alone and I don’t want to do that. Especially not to you, because I love you, even though I shouldn’t,” You were crying. Screaming. You were alive and you fell against the doorframe out of breath and tired. You fell to a crying, shaking heap on the floor. You sat with your head in your knees and your back against the wall and you cried. After a few minutes your whimpers became softer. I watched you. I stood and I walked to you. I kneeled on the ground next to you. It took me a moment to work up the courage to touch you. Finally, I reached to you and I untied the scarf from your head. You didn’t pull away. You didn’t flinch. The scarf eased away from your scalp and I looked at your barren pale crown. You were more beautiful in that moment than I had ever seen you before. I moved slowly. I lifted your fragile frame from the corner between the wall and the floor. You didn’t pull away. You didn’t flinch. I set you down into my lap. I felt your skin for the first time against mine. It was cold, and even smoother and more perfect than I had ever imagined. You sat in my lap and I wrapped my arms around your shoulders and I held you. I closed my eyes and I lowered my head on top of yours. I kissed your skin once and then I began to cry. We sat there, entangled in each other, crying and feeling and breathing and being alive. I don’t know how long we were there, but I knew it was right. Eventually, you stopped shaking and crying and the pace of your breath became slow. You slept on me and I cried on you for some time. I stood up, careful not to wake you. And turned into the doorway to the left where you had brought your textbook. I laid you down on your bed. I watched you sleep and I touched your hands finally.
“I love you too.”
I left and I drove home in silence and I didn’t sleep all night. You didn’t come to school again after that. And a week later the morning announcements said we’d lost a student and a memorial would be held on Friday. I didn’t go. I went to the library. I closed my eyes and I remembered.
I miss you Grace. Someday, I’ll see you and you’ll see me, again.