Jackie and I liked to sit in the darkness. It was the summer, and we liked the beach at night where the only visible light was emitted from the moon, the stars. We especially liked movie theaters, magical venues where we could suspend our disbelief and indulge in cinematically embellished happy endings. Our first date, in fact, was to the movies. I can’t remember which film we watched; all I recall is her face lit by the screen, the subtle glances I snuck just to see her profile.
I was back in Maine after my first year at college in Boston, recently out of a break-up, and ready to meet new people. My best friend Ryan had a first date with a guy we knew in high school, Joe, and he needed me to tag along to entertain a girl his date would be bringing along. Her name was Jackie, a girl who I knew from high school, but never actually met. Ryan said she and I would have a lot in common, and aside from our Kurt Vonnegut obsession and punk rock t-shirts, he was right; we were both single, and open to the idea of a fling, a romance to fade harmoniously, willingly, with the summer.
I’ll never forget how beautiful Jackie looked, that first night at the movies. Her hair, black as calligraphic ink, was short and tied back. Her eyes were the color of a coffee with a splash of milk. Her hands looked soft, but I was too afraid to touch one too soon. She wore beat-up Converse sneakers which stayed, for the duration of the movie, on the chair before us. That’s how I’ll always remember her: kicking back, breaking a rule, beautiful.
After the movie, the four of us bought Cumberland Farm’s slushies, piled into my mini-van, and headed for the beach. Ryan and Joe walked along the water, hand in hand, and Jackie and I were left to sit on a log, facing the waves. We talked about our small town lives and looked out at the water.
“Do you remember me from high school?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said, fiddling with my hands. We ran in similar circles. The nerds, the art geeks. I stared at the waves, took a breath, and confessed my infatuation. “I thought you were cute,” I said. “I mean, think. I think you’re cute.”
She slid closer to me, and we dealt with the heavy stuff—the boundaries of the fling. We said we would do anything until August, the time at which she would leave to visit family in South Korea, and shortly after, our respective college semesters would begin. Given the distance between northern Maine and Boston, we determined that the college relationship was not in the stars for us. It would make our summer romance complicated, messy.
Summer, we agreed, is the time to avoid the messy things.
And we did just that, Jackie and I; we read comic books and played on swing sets and laid in grassy fields until the bug bites left us scratching our forearms and walking separate ways, to our own houses. By day, we walked along the shore, played tennis, and exchanged mix tapes of Bright Eyes and The xx, onto which, with bright colored Sharpies, we wrote sweet nothings. By night we lay on tennis courts, beneath flickering stars forming the mighty Orion’s shield, kissing until we nearly fell asleep into each other’s arms. We felt safe there, hand in hand, under that celestial shield. But if astronomy can tell us anything, it’s that nothing truly stays safe: the universe is ever-expanding; and we were like galaxies, slowly and conspicuously, through the dark, heading in different directions.
But it was not the summer to consider concrete ideas. We lunged at big, abstract concepts like art and philosophy, our most frightening curiosities. I read her my writings, mostly poetry; Starbucks napkins were my Leaves of Grass. She was a painter, and she gave me one of her best paintings, a pop-art portrait of all four Beatles, to hang on my wall. For that summer, it was the only thing on that wall.
When we weren’t playing tennis or stargazing or exchanging art, we were exploring each other’s bodies. We would drive to a desolate spot, park, and move to the back seats of my mini-van, hidden behind the tinted windows. She was forward with me, and I liked that. She was the first girl to plainly ask me, “Would you like me to take my bra off?” I like to think I was the most awkward guy she dated, the one gave her the most memorable response to that question.
“Do you want to take you bra off?”
We fumbled through the intimate moments. We wanted to be as close to each other as possible, but we were cautious not to get too close. And we brushed past any potential arguments. She once said, “I love Ayn Rand.” I pretended I didn’t hear anything, nodding and with a forced grin, when in reality, I wanted to say, Ayn Rand sucks, Jackie. You’re politically and morally misguided if you like Ayn Rand. But it was the summer suppress our bleeding-heart convictions, for such things, we felt, weighed us down in the way a cold hard rain makes grassy sods heavy, difficult to carry.
As summer moseyed on, we grew aware of our impending end. We became champions at distracting ourselves: stargazing, swapping mix tapes, and of course, watching movies. We watched Where the Wild Things Are, and discussed the aesthetic of Spike Jonze, speculating on the symbolism of the monsters. I showed her my favorite movie, Away We Go, and kissed her hand in the way John Krasinski kisses Maya Rudolph’s in the final scene.
But no matter how many movies we watched, we never learned their deepest lesson: they end. George Bailey finally sees his life as wonderful. Rosebud, we find out, is a sled. Travis shoots Old Yeller. One of the things that distinguishes life from movies is the pause button. We can keep Travis’ finger on the trigger, the barrel staring down his Yeller, but there is no pause button for the things that matter.
Jackie went to South Korea. Walked on a plane and left me. I was blind-sided by my own unforeseen attachment to her—how, like the waves, our romance crashed before our eyes. I tried to fight my feelings by joining a recreational soccer league, drinking vodka from the bottle, and writing poems which publishers deemed unfit for their publications, ending up intermixed with tear-soaked tissues in the bottom of my wastebasket. I played one of the mixtapes she made, listening exclusively to the first lines of track one, the song “Heart Skipped a Beat,” by The xx.
Please don’t say were done
When I’m not finished
I could give so much more
I didn’t truly hear those words until after she left, because that summer wasn’t about the implications of words, but about their inherent music. And it was only after she left that things took on their disappointing reality; movies became imaginative fantasies which distorted sex and love to devastatingly false stories, and we couldn’t look away, not even as the credits rolled and lights flooded the theater, revealing the cinema for what it truly was: tacky wood-paneling and oily bags of popcorn tipped over, left to turn stale by paper cups and abandoned Skittles, dispersed, stuck to the floor.
About the Author:
Gregory Letellier is a writer from Biddeford, Maine. He has poems published or forthcoming in Poydras Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Umbrella Factory Magazine, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and Hobo Camp Review. Read more at http://gregwritesstories.tumblr.com/