I wasn't even five years old when I fell in love for the first time. Her name was Penny. She always seemed so sad, and I wanted nothing more, than to help her. To make her happy. Her laugh was so rare, which made it so much more exciting when I heard it. I wanted to be the one to make her laugh.
Instead mice did that. Mice helped her. Mice rescued her. I mean that was kind of the point. In fact, it was the title of the film. The Rescuers.
Even at such a young age, I knew she was fiction. I knew she was just a cartoon.
This knowledge did nothing to make the feelings less real. I had a mad case of Florence Nightingale syndrome. The fact that Penny was simply a hand drawn representation of someone else's imagination, used to facilitate a bit of Disney storytelling, did nothing to dissuade my own imagination that I could find this girl, enter her reality, and just... be with her. Make her better. Make her bigger.
I think some part of me still hold this longing when I watch that movie. I know I can still easily recall that emotional connect.
The next time I fell in love was on the playground, in first grade. Her name was... well... I'll call her D.
D had shaggy, short brown hair. She wore the same brown denim jacket every day, regardless the temperature. She was a tomboy, and she was fearless.
I loved running as fast as I could. I'd race my bike down all the dirt roads. I'd climb the highest trees. I loved high places, and deep water, and thunderstorms, and wild animals, and dirt, and that feeling of adrenaline. I craved adventure. I thought I was brave.
But D would hang upside down by her knees from the monkey bars. This was something I'd never imagined. To do something like that, well, well to do something like that had never even crossed my mind.
And it took my breath away.
She would just hang there. Then reach up to the bars, grab on, and drop to the ground. She'd laugh. She'd climb up and do it again. She'd take the time to teach one of her friends. She...
She inspired greatness and courage. I could never tell her. Mostly because I didn't know those words yet. I didn't have names for those feelings. She made me want to be better. Better at everything. She made me want to stand out, for no reason beyond that she might notice me. Might...I dunno... learn my name.
Over the course of the year, I would find, or create reasons to talk to her. I liked the way she smiled when she talked. I liked the way she didn't look away. I liked that she had blue eyes, and dark skin.
It was always innocuous. Small talk. School talk. And it never, ever, lasted long enough. I would think about her when she wasn't there. I would notice when she was absent. I would wonder if she ever noticed when I was.
I don't know if a six year old kid can feel love, or know what it even is, but I did. Or maybe I just remember with faulty memory that I did. Perhaps I've created a broken romance out of tangential orange memories.
All of my memories are orange.
D moved away at the end of the school year. I never saw her again.
My sophomore year, her cousin who still lived in our tiny town, was killed in an ATV accident. I didn't attend the funeral. He and I played football together on the school team, but we were never really friends. Friendly was as far as it got.
A lot of my friends did go however. The next day, they weren't taking about the service, so much about D.
She was at the funeral. Of course she would be. I beat hell out of myself for not putting together that she would be, before the funeral. I beat hell out of myself again, for thinking that a funeral might be a place to rekindle a friendship that never was.
All my friends would talk about, was how great she looked. How beautiful she'd become. The amazing transformation she'd made in the last decade, from shaggy haired tomboy, to sophomore dream queen.
And all I had, all I have...
Memories and imagination.
The only ingredients needed for that devilish brain alchemist to create emotional chaos.
And in that maelstrom she still dances, in a dress I've never seen, and a smile I'll never forget.
And sometimes I still see her hanging, upside down from steel, and I remember that I can also be brave, and I send her my silent gratitude.
And in that chasm spanning then and now, I've walked with love a million times. And a for few glorious moments, someone who loved me too, walked beside me.
Each one teaching me something new. Something only she could teach. Only she could share. Only she could give.
Always, every goddamn breathtaking time, I learn about being brave. I learn about letting go. And I learn how to stand. How to walk. How to hang upside down with a smile.
And in my reality now, I choose to walk alone. I hold the hands of phantoms. A mix of some memory and some creation.
I lock these creations in a box, left somewhere that I can occasionally pull out, blow the dust off, open the lid, and gaze upon lightly.
I remember the faces of those who created me, as I've in turn created them. I wish them well if they're living, and kiss their ghost if they've gone.
You now, you are my future memory. You'll be in my box someday. I'll thank you then. I thank you now, because without you, I couldn't be me.