Roughly, or thereabouts, I figure, since I last saw you.
Of course, I am forgetting the time I saw you in passing at the top of the escalators in Place Riel when you told me you were studying education and science and were thinking of becoming a teacher. You asked me to tell my mother that before you walked away through the heavy doors to catch your bus. I did tell her, and she was inordinately pleased to hear both that and that you wanted to teach. “He will make a *wonderful* teacher,” she said. That was high praise. I didn’t tell her how my throat had hitched watching you walk away.
You looked the same when I saw you last night in the food court. The same as you had the last time I saw you, with a few wrinkles around the eyes. You recognised me first, which is, I think, a miracle in itself. Probably I should apologise for the reaction you got. You were, quite literally, the very last person I expected to see. Anywhere. I introduced you to His Nibs, and, much in the same way you always did, you started up a conversation immediately that was only a very little bit uncomfortable for both of you.
I, on the other hand, was at a complete and total loss of words.
His Nibs headed back to work after his lunch break, but you and I sat together. You reminded me of that time I’d sent you all over our high school on some kind of crazy combination scavenger hunt/telephone game. It was not something I’d have remembered.
Here’s what I did remember: standing in the field across from my house. You put your hands on my shoulders and I saw the necklace I’d given you in your breast pocket. I started to run. You caught up with me. Of course you caught up with me. It felt like our entire relationship had been me running away and you catching up with me. You held my heart, which is as raw now as it was that day more than 20 years ago.
I don’t remember much of what you said to me that day. I don’t remember what words of comfort you might have whispered, what you might have said to try to get me to smile. I know that you were the only anchor I had, and that was too much…far too much for you to be, and for me to have expected you to be. We were *sixteen*, for God’s sake. I sure as hell didn’t know any better than to fall in love. I did it all wrong, and you bore the brunt of that.
And in the food court at the mall, I couldn’t even look at you. I was back in that field and the only thing I could see through a thick veil of tears was that goddamned necklace tangling in your fingers. All I wanted to do was to tell you how sorry I was, and how much you’d meant to me, and how you’d given me so much strength and confidence at a time in my life when I needed so much of both. I wanted to tell you so many of the maudlin things you’re supposed to tell your first true love, but I couldn’t because my heart was in my throat.
You made all that time disappear.
There is a very good chance that the impression I gave you all these years later is that I am either an emotionally unstable, simpering twit, or a cold and frigid bitch. Either way, when you said, “Well, it’s been good to see you,” and rose to leave, every inch of my body and soul were screaming out to beg you not to go. But you’d taken my words. “Maybe sometime we can have lunch together,” you said. I don’t know if that’s what you’re supposed to say to your high school sweetheart after 20+ years when you see them by chance at a food court in a mall hundreds of kilometres away from your home town, but that’s what you said.
I nodded and managed to croack out, “Yeah. That would be really nice.”
I wanted you to hug me, to wrap your arms around me. I wanted you not to whisper “goodbye” in my ear before you got into your bright yellow car and drove away. I wanted never to have been standing in the middle of the sidewalk, unable to walk away, on a warm summer evening, with the heavy thud of my heartbeat the only thing I could hear. I wanted to tell you I was sorry. And that I’d never forgotten you. And that I’ve kept every letter you ever wrote me. And that you taught me what *could* be. And that I was grateful for everything you’d tried to do for me, and for everything you’d tried to be for me. And that sometimes, more than twenty years after I last saw you, I’d dream of you and wake with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes.
I woke before I had to watch you leave one more time.