I remember the first time, the first hesitant confession, the first, “I’ve never told anyone that before.” I felt light and special that I could make him comfortable, that in my arms, he could feel understood. I covered his chest, his arms, his lips with kisses, and we fell into the kind of irresponsible stupor you only get a few times in this life, if you’re lucky.
We were so young then, and maybe it was easier to trust. He was just a boy, really, and what was I? A girl. We were children together. We skinny-dipped in a secluded lake the middle of a hot, summer day, and with his skin pressed against mine in the bright, burning sun, his eyes bore the kind of hunger that sends a girl flying, high on her first taste of desire. The yellow, tall grass and long, private dock, so long ago, have become a daydream for lonely days in the cold and the rain.
Is it better, though, than the quiet moment, many years later, in the kitchen of a house across the city, when the boy — the man — in his pajamas handed me a cup of coffee and kissed me good morning with that sweet, proud smile on his face? He returned to the bacon and pancakes cooking on the stove, and as I watched him moving there, tending this, flipping that, I felt a swelling of gratitude to see this one thing, this one domestic moment of a man whose depths I never tired of excavating.
Or what about the scene on the beach on a continent far away, when we drew pictures in the sand and held each other’s hands as the warm Indian ocean ticked away the final moments of our trip, that strange, inexplicable, indelible trip, with a rhythmic shush, shush, shush. This boy, so unlike the others, was a puzzle, and how many hours, how many drinks did it take to produce even the most basic of disclosures? I worked and dug and waited and led, and finally, on the white, African sand, he said, “You helped me like myself again.”
The boys! They meld in my memory sometimes, and I forget who liked what band and who wore green socks for luck, but they unfold before me in my mind, time-lapsed emblems of heartbreak and ambitions and ideas and ache.
I journey across their skin and into their souls, and when they’re gone, each leaves a unique mark, a collection of scenes I hold dear. On lonely days, I reach into memory and cycle through rain forests and beer halls and cabins and rumpled sheets. I remember laughter. I remember first touches. I remember play.
Time has done that thing that only years could do, and has eroded the bittersweet pang from my thoughts of them. They’re pristine now, polished, ideal. And I only hope, in some private moment, apart and away, they feel safe and cared for and adored. When the outside world asks them to be strong, to be fearless, to be men, I hope they hear that voice of the girl they once knew asking them to be soft, to be vulnerable, to be boys at heart.