do you remember the night in the river?
it was a calm evening. no wind. the water was still and clear. the air was sweet and hot, a childhood summer long overdue. when we arrived there were people on inner tubes floating past. their laughter faded around the bend further down the stream.
you were new, and i didn't notice you. i found a few friends i knew and stayed with them. while some of the kids went to deeper water and many stayed by the shore, we found a spot where the water went to our necks and our knees rested in the pillowy mud on the riverbed. we floated lazily around, pushing across the wet ground with our knees and toes, talking. our conversations ebbed and flowed from fun to serious with ease and candor.
if i'm honest, i don't remember the moment you showed up. i don't know if you came over because the girl i was with was the only one there you vaguely knew, or if she saw you alone and pulled you to us. you stayed on the edge of the conversation at first. i found it hard to keep my eyes from hanging on your face. your eyes.
you smiled, you laughed. but your eyes didn't. did you know how much they told? the sadness, the fear, the fatigue. they were clear in your gaze like a portrait behind glass, framed by dark circles of habit that had been etched by familiar tears. your soul, or spirit, or heart, mind—you, were older than your age. maturity through wear. five winters for every summer.
did you wait for the others to leave? or did their absense let you finally fall apart? the two of us, alone in the river, the treeline breaking the gradient of oranges and pinks in the sky and in the water, the soft chatter of people leaving the water, you opened up. your voice fell, a tired pitch, a strained sound. your eyes stayed off of mine.
i still remember everything you said. the thoughts you thought. the feelings you felt. i can't imagine. i'm so sorry. i still remember which of your scars were from surgery. which ones were from you. i remember your eyes during the silence after. the second you dared to look straight at me. there was something different there, but i can't say what it was. i couldn't read your eyes.
could you read mine?
i wanted you to feel better. and i tried to make you. but in the years that followed, that i knew you, i don't know if i did. maybe the things inside my eyes kept me from truly helping you. maybe it was never my job to help you. maybe, in the end, you were meant to help me. what would have happened if i had let you?
if i see you again i hope your eyes are bright. i hope your voice is strong and steady. i hope your scars are faded.