The months in between that first kiss in October and the hot evening I said goodbye in the cul-de-sac where his house sat were filled with friendship, laughter, passion, and sorrow. He walked me to my car parked under the familiar lamp that illuminated a circle of yellow light. Our sweaty fingers gripped each other tightly, gently kissing my lips, then the tip of my nose, he opened my door and then shut it behind me. As I turned the key waiting for the engine to turn over, he stepped back into the halo on the pavement. With the best “Tyler smile” he could summon, his hand raised to the level of his heart and he waved with an insignificant motion.
With the dark road in front of me, I glanced into the rearview mirror to see him standing and staring after me, black curls lit in yellow light, his eyes cast in the shadow from the curtain of his hair. From deep within, a white-hot flame rose through my lungs and wrapped its fingers around my heart, engulfing it until I thought I should stop breathing altogether. The car seemed to roll down the hill of its own volition, my foot heavy on the break, delaying the moment when his reflection would diminish.
We had spent that last evening together lying on his creamy leather couch with our arms and legs wrapped around one another, sharing a chocolate chip cappuccino coke float and watching a Chaplin favorite in black and white and silence. Earlier as I had helped him to pack up the remainder of his brushes and sketchpads, I cleverly performed the disappearing girlfriend trick, stuffing my long legs into his over-sized duffel bag.
When Tyler came back into the room after putting another load at the base of the stairs, he found me with the zipper up around my neck and my wavy, mousy brown hair draping down the khaki canvas.
“I had an idea.” I chuckled, completely thrilled by the fact that I was able to fold my 5’10” frame into such a configuration.
“I can see that,” learning on the door frame he pulled his camera up to snap a quick memento of his “girlfriend-to-go.”
“Why don’t I just go with you? You could secretly hide me underneath your desk in the dorm and take me out for walks after dark.”
“Right, and then smuggle scraps of cafeteria food up to my room at night. You’d be like the creature that lived under my bed.”
“Or the super-sexy-secret-lover that lives under your bed.” My right eyebrow arched as I gave him my best “I’ve got you now” look. He shook his head, laughing in his careless way, as he unzipped the bag and lifted my arms around his neck. Gingerly, he lifted me out of duffle bag and set me back down again on his bed. The waterbed had been replaced several months ago for a standard mattress complete with springs and foam-- a new hazard for us as this new arrangement posed a possible problem; it was far noisier than the gentle sloshing of the water bed to prying ears below.
My arms locked around his neck; my fingers twirled the tightest curls at the base of his neck. “I wish you could come with me.” He whispered into my ear. Then, as he softly bit my ear lobe, running his tongue along the contours of my neck, I allowed myself to pretend.
“What if I could come with you?” We hadn’t taken this road, refusing to discuss what might happen next year and rather choosing to be happy in the present.
“What are you saying?” His eyes locked on mine, furrowing his brows intensely.
“I just thought… what if I decided I wanted to go to school out of state, too? After a year, of course.” I wasn’t sure how this new illumination of our possible future life together post-high school would fair. Did he want me still? Was I worth more to him than some passing amusement designed to keep his mind off of the anticipation of this day when he’d be released of the ties that bound him?
“You would consider that?” He genuinely looked hopeful and I began to feel it, too. This wasn’t the end for us. “I mean, of course, I’d love for you to come to Pittsburgh, maybe find a college that you love, and we could be there together.”
This jump into our possible future was very uncharacteristic for Tyler. As a rule of thumb, he never used the phrase, “what if,” always focusing on here and now.
“I think I would love that.” Daring now to give myself a small consolation that I had chosen the right path back in the fall, to follow him wherever it would take us. I allowed him to make me feel wanted, needed. “I love you, Tyler.”
Tyler stood up, shut the door to his bedroom—all the way for this last time—and turned up the cd player as Morrison sang, “I can feel her heart beat from a thousand miles away…” ...And he sang softly in my ear, “She gives me love, love, love, love, crazy love,”.....
Later as we shared our last low-fat floats, our bodies forming an “S” in afterglow of Chaplin’s wavering lights, the fear and panic began to silently rise within me. Singed from the recent affirmation. The rawness of my emotions did not pause to gather in my throat or lips even, closing my eyes I relaxed the muscles of the lids and silently and with all of the stillness I could muster, released the tears as the ran down my cheeks over my chin and into the bowl. I wouldn’t allow myself to leave Tyler with this last memory of a shaken, weak girl. Who was I to try to hide it from him? He removed the salty, soggy ice cream from my fingers, cupped my face in his hands and kissed the sluggish trail of my tears.
“Kate, I love you,” punctuating his words as he kissed first the freckle on my left cheekbone, then the cluster of freckles on the bridge of my nose, “always and forever.”
Perhaps it was his need to attach himself to something permanent as he wandered off into this new adventure. Perhaps it was his guilt at pulling me along the rapid ride of our relationship when he knew he’d be leaving. Perhaps he was afraid of walking this path alone. It’s hard for me, now, to look back and believe that he meant what he said. I wonder how was it that I was so naïve to believe his unspeakable promises.