A second chance.
A little boy squealed as he pedaled his tricycle furiously, passing me on the crowded boardwalk, his mother in full pursuit. Other beach goers strolled in ball caps, and wide-brimmed hats, and in flip flops and cover-ups casually tied over low-slung bikinis. A few lined the railing of the weathered pier, eyes half closed, hands folded, heads atilt, their shoulders squared to a fading sun. There, among silhouettes, stood a familiar form. A cascade of raven hair above a billowing summer dress. I looked and found no children in tow, no spouse idling nearby. Only couples - all gloriously, wonderfully, unambiguously, together.
More than twenty years had passed since we had last spoken. Petulant know-nothings on the cusp of adulthood and heading apart. There is a skill to surviving a first love. Or a talent. Or an instinct. I’m unsure which, perhaps all three. But there is no universal truth to this particular survival. You must figure your own, a personal elixir conjured, stirred and drunk to slake the thirst for another and be free of the malfeased heart.
And I had done it, or so I thought. College. Job. Years passed. Some lovers stayed for a time, others left. A few sought vainly to remain. When alone, my thoughts drifted to a reunion. These vignettes took a variety of forms, all carefully choreographed in a mind’s eye. I pretended my appearance had not changed all that much. That was difficult, even for a constructed fantasy to indulge, so I decided she wouldn’t care. I imagined witty or hilarious openings, or a chance encounter so elegant as to erase a quarter-century, allowing us to fall in step as if only moments had passed between us. Just to be safe, and fearful of offending the gods, and mindful that events never unfold as wretchedly as one’s worst fears, I tossed a few horrible thoughts into the mix. I envisioned awkward meetings that ended sadly, and cringe-worthy scenarios that caused the extant me to wince.
Prepared, I collected myself in a single breath, then made my way across the rutted planks, thinking only of how rough the wood had become. Splinters stood ready to poke a bare foot. A rusty nail dug into my sneaker. I weaved between the people, halting abruptly for a passing plume of cotton candy before starting again, until finally I stood two paces behind her - the lilt of perfume as it had always been - light, breathless, transporting me in time as only a familiar scent can.
At the precipice, maybe proximity is enough. I burned white hot, yet I blanched under the weight of a carefully molded past. I could no more dare to tap her on the shoulder than to graze a hand against the face of God. She didn’t turn. She simply clasped her bare arms, then slid her hands warmly against their length. I like to think she knew I was there. Silently, we watched the sun disappear behind gray water before we turned and again went our separate ways.