You liked to talk to strangers. You were the only person besides my dad who used the word “groovy.” You were on a varsity cheerleading squad, and played soccer with the Mexican cooking staff at the restaurant. You were damn smart, too; smart in the way you said unintentionally philosophical things, wanted to go to space, and made me think. You liked Shel Silverstein — the poem about hammocks. You had funny knuckles and big thumbs, skinny ankles and a bony sternum that didn’t make sense, but I wanted to know the sinuous lines of it all. Half the time I didn’t understand what you were saying but I liked to listen because I liked how you raised you eyebrows, shook your head and said your “y”s with a bite.
You waited tables at that snooty little café downtown where I was working for the summer. In fact, your last name is still “Waiter” on my phone. I never quite saw you around the corner — I would always bump into you at the restaurant and smile apologetically as I sent your trays and plates off balance. One day, after work you tripped down the stairs and asked me for my phone number. This thing we had was blissfully off-balance from the start.
You were from an entirely separate world, detached from my own claustrophobic circle of Ivy League gunners, Vineyard Vines, and boat shoes. When I told you I wanted to figure you out, you laughed and said there wasn’t anything to it. I told you that you were a deep Technicolor blue … electric like recycling bins and veins. Instead of telling me I was “hot” or “sexy,” you said I was “different” and I liked that.
You kissed me on the train; we played tennis in the rain. We walked through the silent hallways of the gallery talking loudly about speeding tickets and Singing in the Rain. You told me as we walked across the bridge that sometimes you had this impulse to just jump off — not in a dark, suicidal way but to feel the freedom through every fiber of the body right before hitting the water. This sent electricity up my spine, as I had that same thought many times crossing that bridge before. After a long walk in the woods where your dogs ran off leash into the river and a dinner of frozen tortellini, you said that we were lucky to be “rich kids who can take a day off from waiting tables to just relax.”
After a brunch shift, we sat on a thin picnic blanket and precariously dangled our feet over the river that flickered and danced in that hazy 4 p.m. sun. The sky was that psychedelic, electric blue — like you. The sun swayed on the river and reflected on my face. The heat melted my brain a little and made me speak real slow and honest. It lulled my eyelids shut and created a thin film over my body. I drifted off looking at the sky, and exhaled in relief. You said that there was nowhere on Earth you’d rather be, and for the first time in a while I wholeheartedly agreed with something.
I know this isn’t forever. I recognize the ephemeral nature of you. I don’t want to get our names engraved on heirloom sterling silver paperweights or buy paper towels with you at Target. For now, I want to escape and inhale those feverish summer afternoons with you. We are not bound to each other; we don’t need anything from each other, and that’s the beauty of summer.
I don’t have to change myself to fit into your life or to avoid some nasty falling out. I don’t have to worry about forever or even tomorrow. I don’t have to worry what my friends think of your car, or what you think about my table manners and wrinkled pants. You don’t know me as the girl with a U.S. History book attached to her hip or the girl who spent her early teenage years trying to please people who didn’t care about her. I hope we will not snap apart like a wishbone, but rather tumble over each other like the bittersweet changing of the seasons.
Even though your last name is still “Waiter” in my phone, you’ve helped me see the world a little differently. You gave me the courage to leave the phony world of prep school for a little while. When the leaves crumble and I’m wearing my North Face jacket and carrying physics textbooks, and you’re off somewhere far away, I’ll remember the imprint you left on my vision on that hazy summer day.
I’m lying here in bed on a Thursday night. I’m wearing the old long-sleeved work shirt you gave me. Even though you washed it, it smells like you and your house. I’m really scared someone might put it in the wash. The smell is faint now, because I’ve got those nasty summer allergies. I know some day the smell will be faint despite my allergies, and one day it will fade all together and I will be fine, and I will feel warm looking back on you, and how lucky we really were to have that 4 p.m. riverside afternoon. For now, I just need to remember to inhale it deeply.