(when love was)

she handed me the two envelopes full of developed film. the first one was disappointing: i should've known better than to try "landscape photography" with a weak 35 millimeter camera found at a goodwill store drop-off point in state college, pa, a camera that'd retail new for a mere twenty-odd dollars. michigan's keewenaw peninsula done little justice, and me perched on a ledge at a "scenic lookout" with my head in my hands and a far-off look in my eyes. when i got to the second envelope i hurried through the pictures, remembering the ones i'd taken of you some two months back. you'd been shaving in our friend's house with a pink girl's razor that you "borrowed" from her housemate without asking. you were always beautiful, but sometimes more so than others of course--and this was one of those times where your face caught me off-guard. i wanted to photograph you, and i did. and here, two months later, was the evidence. odd, looking at those pictures. here i was in chicago. it was drizzly and cold. i had two blisters, one on each heel, and i was wearing a short dress that caused all the latino bakers of andersonville to comment on my legs. "if only i wasn't wearing these thick stockings," i thought. "they'd be commenting on my leg hair instead." it all seemed very removed from sacramento, from a warm day in boulevard park, from your plaid shirt. your hair was brown then; you told me on the phone the other night that you'd since bleached it. i put the pictures up on my wall as if to spite myself. i knew i didn't need them there. i knew i didn't need to be reminded of you. at least i'd finally gotten around to washing that shirt. the one you left at my house, the one you'd worn to bed every night for six months without ever washing. it smelled exactly like you, and when you first fell out of love with me i used to sleep with it faithfully every last night. (look up. girl at library wearing "breckenridge, colorado" hat. you're reminded of your housemate talking about the hippie girls from her traverse city, michigan high school who moved there to be with their snowboarder boyfriends. of course they all moved back. love never lasts when you're young, everyone knows it. why did i expect anything different?)

it's sad. it's not devastating, or depressing. it's just sad. there are the obvious things--like how i look at the pictures on my wall and say aloud, with great certainty, "i will never sleep with anyone this attractive again." it's a final statement. far too final, perhaps, for a twenty-four year old girl to make, but deep down i know it's true. i knew it when we were in bed, and i'd look up at you, and your eyes were closed, and your body was perpendicular to mine, and i was touching your hipbones. i knew it then. there are the obvious things, yes, and there are the subtle things. scents--never replicated, ever, by another human being. i doubted their value until a boy i wanted to kiss sat next to me and i decided i didn't like how he smelled, and stopped wanting to kiss him. what i miss surprises me--the annoying way you'd sic stuffed animals on me during intimacy, the different voices you could affect, the way your psychiatric medication made you sleep until three everyday, your incessant playing of the fall on the stereo. the fact that i've ever been in love, in reciprocal love, strikes me as a fluke always, but right now it seems like something that never existed--a particularly vivid dream, perhaps, or another lifetime. two youths suspended in time and living out things they'd only thought about--for half a year. when you first told me you loved me it was in my childhood home--that seemed so perfect, somehow. my mom downstairs. my born-again christian dad angry that the door to my room was locked, even though i was only home for a few weeks and you were visiting from california and i was 23. and you could barely choke the words out, you said the phrase in increments. i remember my response: "why do you have to go and make me the happiest girl in the world?" i very well meant it. at that moment i felt all the bitterness that had collected until that second melt right quick, and i was nearly weightless, and so ecstatic i couldn't contain myself. we went to visit our friend in philadelphia and slept on her futon, and everyone was half-angry because we didn't leave bed until two pm, but how could they stay mad? what was falafel when we were in love? you were wearing your long underwear, and they were clingy and tight, and i'd look at your little bird legs and feel a bunch of pride swelling up in me, the kind of pride that says "that's my boy", the kind of pride that you feel when you know you don't own something but still feel that it is, in a sense, _yours_.

people ask why i like younger boys and inexperienced boys, and my answer is very definite. "they are in awe," i say. mine was the first female body that you'd seen for any stretch of time in the light, and you were captivated by everything. the wonder with which you explored was unprecedented, and uninhibited, and far from awkward. i felt like the most beautiful movie star that ever lived, and you had this blissfully incredulous look on your face with every new kind of touch. from the second we held hands, too, i knew how it would be. we hadn't even begun to take our clothes off when I said it: "you are the best lover i've ever had. i've never felt this comfortable with someone." later on i added something else: "you feel just like a woman". all fluid and seamless, all languid and soft, but with a penis. it was the most perfect combination of gender and genderlessness and boy and girl and everything, and i was in love ten minutes into it. it took you a few months.

me calling up from austin, texas. a boy at the apartment where i stayed was drunk and minorly sexually assualted me. you in the sierra foothills telling me that you "missed me more than you thought you would". really the littlest things kept me alive, the littlest things kept me hoping, the littlest things made me move cross-country to be with you and try to make a life with you, but ultimately the littlest things ended up killing us. only i don't know which ones, and i don't know if they could've been prevented, and i don't know if it would've been worth trying, and i don't know if little things are gonna give me hope again, and i don't know if little things are gonna keep me alive again, so i look at the big things now. and your picture on the wall. and sometimes i can't sleep, and sometimes i don't want to, and sometimes i'm certain i'll never be in love again, and sometimes i feel like once was enough. once is more than i ever thought i'd have, once is more than some people get in a lifetime. once turned things from abstractions to concrete realities, so that i can say "yes. love exists." being able to say that is scary. sometimes i'd like to be back in the space that came before when love was. sometimes, but usually not.