Who She Was To Me

I was young, but not so young that I didn’t know what I was feeling. I loved her.

She was one of the most multidimensional people I had ever met: pure in heart, wild in imagination, quick in thought and mind. She was a popular girl, although she belonged to no clique or club; and though she was often light-hearted, sometimes sorrows fell around her face like her long blonde hair did.

We became friends simply because we sat next to each other in a sociology class where we were given assigned seats. She was unusual. For one thing, she seemed genuinely interested in the subject — which, at that age and in that place, was very strange. For another, she always smelled like flowers.

Well — I was a boy, of course, and she was a girl.

The word “love” in American English has a tremendous number of meanings. If I was to say to you that I loved her, and she came to love me, but we weren’t in love, because she didn’t love me that way and I was in love with someone else… would that make sense to you? It’s what we would have said at the time, I’m sure, and it made sense to us.

That was our final year at that school; her family had only come to town the previous year. She dated various boys in our class throughout the year; I had the same girlfriend for that entire period.

Ours was an almost instinctive fondness; I knew within minutes of meeting her that she was special, and, over time, she told me things that I wasn’t sure she ever told anyone else. However, the year wound down, and our time at that school was ending. She was moving back north.

It was the last day of the school year, and we said goodbye out on the bus ramp. We hugged each other, and found ourselves kind of hanging on for a while. We had never so much as shaken hands before that.

She was so full of dreams that some of them had spilled over into me — a virtual ocean of hopes, with several undercurrents of fear. She was about to head to a new state and a whole new chapter in her life, and I wanted, at that moment – more than anything in the world – for her to find those dreams and conquer those fears.

I loved her.

She looked at me as we let go of the hug, and asked, “So — do you think you two will get married?”

“I doubt it,” I said. “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life. And these sorts of things don’t seem to really work out, do they?”

“Everybody here thinks you two are the perfect couple.”

“Well, we are going to try to stay together. She’ll be in school halfway across the country, though.”

“Don’t you love her?”

“Of course! But hell, I love you, for that matter, and no one thinks you and I will get married.”

“You? … well. I love you, too.”

We talked briefly about how weird the idea of class reunions seemed, then said our goodbyes, her blonde hair shining in the June sunlight, the smell of flowers only gradually fading.

 


 

Six years later, Saturday morning, winter, living in a dumpy mobile home with an old school buddy who was carrying in a case of beer and a newspaper.

“Someone from your school year died. Front page.”

I looked and read, stunned. Single car accident, in Michigan, family formerly lived here 18 months.

They used her school photo. Long blonde hair, smile full of hope.

A smell like flowers seemed to fill the room.

Tears coming to my eyes, I looked at that six year old photo, and it grew blurry beyond recognition. My roommate looked at me, concerned.

“I didn’t know you two were that close. I’m sorry.”

“You couldn’t have known.”

He sat down on a broken kitchenette chair and continued staring.

I had just gotten a Christmas card from her, and sent one. She was excited about life, her life, her future. I looked back at him, dazed.

 


 

How could I explain or describe the kind of love we had shared? Ours was not a romantic or erotic relationship; we were what people call “just friends”. But who she was to me was far more than contained in the usual social categories. I loved her: because she was who she was, and because I got to know her.

… Oh, but she was gone now, and so much she dreamed of would live on only in other heads. In lives that would never be – could never be – hers.

I was too poor to attend her funeral, which was the following Saturday. I drove over to the old school – the place was deserted – and walked back to the ramp where we had said goodbye. It was bitterly cold; there was no snow, at least. Just an empty parking lot with a hard wind blowing.

It didn’t smell like flowers anymore. It smelled like grief.

And I felt old, but not so old that I didn’t know what I was feeling. I had loved her.

Loved her.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Watercolor Alley

My father was an artist and a painter, and he worked in all sorts of forms. The walls of our home were decorated with my dad’s works: pen-and-ink, oils, charcoal, and watercolors. One of his paintings is in the room I’m in now.

It’s been more than eleven years since he died, and more than thirty since he last painted. He concentrated on music the last half of his life, and eventually stopped painting: starting in his forties, he had a business custom building and repairing musical instruments – he could play virtually all of them. So there just wasn’t time for painting anymore.

I was amazed by his paintings as a child; my own efforts to draw and to color seemed so meager. Truthfully, my own efforts at everything seemed pitiful and small. From an early age, I had just enough awareness to know I wasn’t really that good at anything. Having a father who was good at virtually everything served to emphasize it. (He had also been a college athlete and a pilot, among his many other accomplishments.)

To be fair, I was good at reading, but that isn’t really a thing.

I was also an ill-behaved and unruly child: bringing home bad grades for “conduct” was the most consistent feature of my thirteen grades worth of pre-college education.

At around age fourteen, I gave up trying to draw or paint for good. By that point, I, too, had transitioned to music, learning to play the piano passably well, although mostly focused on types of music that meant nothing to my contemporaries. I still loved painting as an art form, though, and would buy my father books of paintings by different artists for Christmas or birthdays just so we could sit and look at them together.

My father had originally majored in art in college with intention of being an illustrator (he ended up in the Air Force instead). He kept this special penchant for book illustrations as an art form throughout his life. Two of his favorite types were watercolor based: both ‘pure’ and ‘pen-and-ink with water color wash’ being techniques he particularly loved seeing when done well.

We would be flipping the pages of a book, stopping to look at an illustration, while he would say things like

“I love the way this is done… here, watercolors are used to suggest the kind of haziness your eyes might experience in bright fall sunlight. The shadows fall across the path in ways that bring the sunbeams to life, and the leaves have a texture that suggest moisture… can’t you can kind of feel what it would be like to be where the artist was?”

Watercolor Alley

My father saw order where I couldn’t see it: in fact, he saw actual things – colors, patterns – that I could never see. He lived the life of a neglected and misunderstood sort of genius, one who no one studies in college courses, or reads paeans to at public readings. He wasn’t cool, or fashionable, or known at all as artist, except by his family. But whatever he was enthusiastic about, he attempted to share it with us, his children: adding to our joy, helping us see what our young eyes struggled to see. He was, in a sense, trying to fashion our sensibilities into another work of art, another bit of beauty and order in this otherwise chaotic world.

For my father was artist, and a painter, and he worked in many forms: but the greatest of these was love.

 


 

Picture credit : © Juliasha | Dreamstime.com – Watercolor alley

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Viva… Poblano!

For any of you who may not know me, I’ve attached the above self-portrait. In real life, I am actually a cubist painting.

Since I normally write only poetry, and post multiple times a day as it is, I’m taking the Poblano challenge by writing essays instead. I am planning to post every day for the next month at this exact time of day* (5:55 PM US Eastern Time). It takes me forever to write essays, as I always have to go back in a hundred times and get rid subconscious rhymes.

I’m looking forward to the challenge, however; and I’m excited about reading the works of other bloggers. I’ve been reading many of your blogs for the first time these last few days, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

It’s good to be in a community of artistic people, each sharing a common sort of goal. I don’t know about you, but I’ve often felt, in my life, like I was strange, or different from everyone else for having the interests I do.

Of course, it’s hard not to feel strange when you are a cubist painting consisting largely of circles.

* Unless I randomly decide to change the posting time one Sunday, in which case I will no doubt add the note you are reading now.