The Most Important Word

June 26, 2011
That first night, when I sleep, I see his face. The boy from school. The boy I’ve never thought about.

He speaks.

But I can’t hear him. In fact, I hear nothing. It’s like a real-life movie on mute. His lips move in silent conversation. I watch, transfixed, trying to lip-read what he’s saying. But I catch nothing.

At first it was nothing.

A dream. That’s all. One night out of many. But then I saw it again the next night. A different conversation. Then, I have the same dream for a week. A month. I begin to wonder why. What is so special about the boy I’ve never thought about before?

I can pick out words now. Little ones. The. Like. As. To. From.

Eventually I can figure out the bigger ones. I learn just how the muscles in his face function. The exact shape of his eyes. The planes of his face, the sharp angle of his cheekbone. I can conjure up a perfect picture of his face anytime, anyplace. Just name it.

Then I realize there is something missing. I can almost read full sentences, nearly the whole dream. But there is one word that eludes me. No matter how hard I stare at his lips when he says it, I can’t figure it out. I try to take it out of context. Nothing works.

He says the word often. It starts to drive me crazy. Every night I flip through the pages of the dictionary, make exaggerated pronunciations with my own mouth in the mirror. But I can’t figure it out.

A year passes. I grow bored and listless. I no longer strive to understand every word that tumbles from his lips. I only wait for the one word that I can’t understand. I memorize the shape his mouth makes when he says it. I can conjure that up anytime, anywhere, now.

And then, on the second anniversary of the day I had the first dream, it happens. In real life. At school. The day he says the word that has escaped my grasp these countless nights.

He approaches me for the first time. I look at his familiar face and wonder, for the millionth-and-one time, what is so special about the boy I never used to think about? And that is when I find out. That is when I hear his voice for the first time.

Because then, when his lips form the beginnings of the word I have always wondered about, nothing else matters. I am so surprised, that I don’t hear what it is the first time.

But he says it again. And that is when I realize that he said my name.

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