I was 7 and she was fourteen, and I was madly in love.
Being what it is, memory doesn’t always follow a linear narrative, so the movies in my head are fragmentary bits and pieces, a patchwork quilt of happy, smiling pictures that still warms my heart now, almost fifty years later.
She sat in the back of the school bus. I was in the front, where the little kids were supposed to be.
But she crooked a finger at me, invited me back with a big smile, her long blonde hair caught and pulled by the wind of an open window, dust billowing around us as we roared headlong down a rural gravel road.
Me, swaying along down the aisle like a sailor on a ship at sea—landing in her arms (Big hug!!!).
She let me sit beside her and I told her about a kid who brought his dog to school (She got a kick out of the story). About my dad’s hernia operation (That story—not so much). I told her what I wanted to be when I grew up (an animal doctor).
She told me she wanted to be a princess.
One day she got off the bus early and forgot her math book, a heavy tome covered in brown paper with a big, blue B painted on the front (B for Bloomfield. Go Bees!).
Panic! I called to the driver, made him stop, then hurled myself out the door with her book, waving wildly, shouting, yelling.
She was so grateful, she kissed my cheek.
Because we were neighbors, I saw her one day fly past in a blue car with some other girl. And she was laughing.
She was always laughing and smiling.
But in my mind—if not in reality—that was the car that took her away.
Took her away from all of us. Forever.
To this day, I don’t like blue cars.
They put a memorial plaque up in the band room to remember her. I didn’t see it until I arrived on the high-school scene six or seven years later. The memorial brought back all the memories and I’ve carried them with me all these decades.
When I passed her in age, I remember thinking I was finally old enough to take her to the movies.
In my thirties, I thought about her one day—and realized I was old enough to be her dad.
Typing this, now, I could be her grandpa.
And she’s still back there in time, ageless, laughing and smiling with peace symbols embroidered on her jeans and a necklace of beads around her neck.
And part of me is still there too, ripped up by the roots and left like dried flowers pressed in a book with a big blue B on the cover.
Tonight, I’m thinking about what’s left behind.