Nevertheless, I was detached from it.
It was as if I was looking upon the scene from another point of view. I can still see him, the way I did then, just as clearly as I could see the night. I can still see the gravity of his countenance. That part of me, that memory, will never grow old. I remember how we trudged. Words were not exchanged, not yet. Silence was never a threat to us. It was a virtue. We relished in it, as we walked, our troubled, weary minds grateful of reprieve. Our skin was meant for moonlight. It was soft, and pale. We were like mirror images of one another - similar, but quite backwards. He was tall, I was small. He had dark eyes, mine were light. We were boring. I could feel our destination approaching. So did he. We walked more wistfully, more eagerly, with every stride. Soon we were running – running after each other, like a single dog, chasing after its tale. I started laughing. I felt like I was swimming through the trees, the air, the thicket. Shadows and trunks flew past me, the whole earth bobbed up and down in my clumsy view. He was smiling, ahead of me. He glanced over his shoulder and slowed down a bit to allow me to catch up with him. I slowed to a walk. We panted. The fog from our lips vanished into the night. And the stillness of our feet signaled our destination. We had but one intention in coming here. To get away from ourselves. To get away from the earth. This spot in the woods was the best we could do. We were boring.
We were in a clearing. A warm, murky pond glistened through the trees at the right, and the scent of the air was musty, for it harbored the rot of fall. The night was void of the din of insects, for all were either dead or sleeping, along with most other creatures that resided here throughout the seasons. I turned my back to him and ran my fingers along a large, cold, familiar stone that was embedded in the earth. I climbed upon it, feeling as I once did in my youth when I had climbed it, before. It was just as much of an adventure to me then, as it was now. I was on top of the world. I sighed. He was looking up at me. Wordlessly, he joined me upon my tower. We surveyed our land. Beer cans. Cigarette butts. Broken bottles. Snack food rappers. Lighters. A broken lawn chair. Utopia. "I hate our jobs," he said, suddenly. He wasn’t looking at me. He was staring at the earth, angrily. We had come all the way out there, and still, all that we had run from, came with us. "Me, too," I said, softly, shuffling my feet. I decided to sit down. He followed, and I turned to look at him, admiring his profile. The moon was good to us. The days, these days, were not.
"We should quit," I said, after a moment. I had said these words more times than I could count. It was as if they were rehearsed. "We should work somewhere... I don’t know, somewhere we actually enjoy." He sighed. "And I wish we had somewhere to go." He paused for a moment, glancing around. "Somewhere better than this." Sad, I thought. This really was the best we could do. I suddenly became aware of my discomfort on the cold stone. I eyed the litter, again, none of which had ever belonged to either of us. Apparently this was the best that a lot of people could do. I tried not to think about it. A dog barked somewhere in the distance. There was a long pause between the two of us. I knew what he was thinking about. We would be going away, soon. This was our last year in high school. Our last fall together. We were terrified. "Remember how we used to hate talking about the future?" he said, softly, with a tinge of nostalgia. "Now we loathe it. Detest it." He breathed heavily through his nose, reaching down to pick up a long, dried stick. He began to jab it into the crumbling earth, crossly. I watched him, his distress evident. It tore a hole in my heart. It echoed his pain. I knew all that he was thinking, for, I had been thinking it myself. Independence, I thought, bitterly, does not come with age, as I had once childishly assumed. I’ve never felt so trapped as I do, now!
"We’ve spoken of it so many times," I whispered, "But I still can’t, for the life of me, wrap my head around it. You’re really leaving. I’m really leaving. We’re going in opposite directions on the map..." My voice trailed off. He was my best friend. I couldn’t look at him. I imagined the map, and I saw Boston, saw Colorado. I saw the thousands of miles-between. My heart sank. "We’ve made the best of our time together, so far, haven’t we?" He was trying to get me to look at the bright side. And so, I tried, and the memories came flooding in. The memories of us over the past couple years... Like a set of slides, images of our most memorable days and moments flickered before my mind’s eye. The swings. The pizza places. The long walks to nowhere. The late-night phone calls. The early-morning phone calls. The jokes. The laughs. The tears. The pain. The nights like these... Oh, how it killed me to see it all go! I looked at him, beseechingly, as if I was asking him to tell me it all wasn’t true. But it was. We both knew that. "I’ll call you. Every day," he said, suddenly. He was looking me in the eyes now, his face shrouded in a look of near-panic, fear, and utter desperation. I knew he wouldn’t call me every day. But, nevertheless, it was nice to hear. "Everything will change," I whispered. "We will change. After a while, it’ll be like we won’t know each other anymore." His face, seemingly on the verge of tears, contorted into a grimace. Slowly, it began to ease away, as if gradually giving way to acceptance.
"I know," he said, finally.
He jabbed the ground with the stick, once more. We stared into the stillness, in silence. My eyes again rested upon the litter. "We’re rare," I said dreamily, as I surveyed the drug and alcohol paraphernalia that was strewn around my feet. "It’s rare to find a pair who so willingly submit to the full force of their emotions..." I thought of all the troubles, the thoughts, the tears that had died there with these substances. We, oddly, were letting it all run its course. "It’s like a disease," he said, flatly. I nodded my head slightly, in agreement. "It’s really a lot worse than that," I muttered. There was a brief pause. Then he spoke. "So, what do you think he’ll be like?" I froze. We spoke, lamentably, of his inevitable "replacement." We had come to terms with the fact that we would eventually be replaced by other, more… Local partners once we left for our designated cities. I hated this question. There was no way to answer it without hurting him. Too often had he wondered it. Too often had I. I was jealous of my replacement, already. She was out there, somewhere, right at that moment. Unsuspecting. I contemplated this. If only she knew how lucky she was going to get. I looked at him, affectionately... Sadly. "I... Oh, I don’t know..."
My voice trailed off. I began wondering against my will. What would he be like? Perhaps he’d hate movies... Hopefully... There was a tension between us that was growing. It was beautiful, in a way, how we both shared the same dread, the same sadness. But we knew that the remainder of this year would be nothing but a long, painful goodbye. There was something odd about knowing that our days together were numbered. With us, there was no "forever and ever..." There couldn’t be. We were both, reluctantly, quite "in check" with reality. But we knew – we were young, so young! We needed to experience life, experience different people... I studied his face, so soft and so sweet in the moonlight, so sad, and all for me! I saw the fog leave his lips in a short, tearful breath. Oh, god, what I wouldn’t give to stay here for just a little longer... We found ourselves in a tight embrace. I buried my head into his shoulder, suddenly consumed by wretched sobs that shivered through my body like ripples in a lake. I didn’t want to give him up. I didn’t want to give up New York. I didn’t want to give up High School... I didn’t want to give up childhood. The tears kept flowing. From each of our eyes, dark and light, for the same pain. It was all coming too fast, and I knew that these pains would only grow worse, only more prominent as the time came nearer for us to part. I kissed his neck, softly. My hands ran through his hair. Still, the tears flowed. I hugged him harder, and he did the same. Remember this moment, I thought, remember it forever. You’re seventeen... Remember this moment. The true end of childhood innocence! I brought my hands to his pale, tear-stricken face, and looked him in the eyes.
"We’re not just saying goodbye to each other," I whispered, my voice cracking, "we’re saying goodbye to this rock, this clearing. To nights like these... To big yellow busses, to our crappy jobs – to everything we’ve come to know in the past seventeen years. Everything’s going to change... We’re saying goodbye to it all... Even when we return here in the years to come, we won’t be the same." "So we’ll start anew," he said, soberly. He looked to the side, and grimaced again. He continued, "It won’t be easy…" He studied my face. "God, it won’t be easy..." He kissed my forehead, gently. My lips curled into something like a smile. "When the time, comes, just know..." I bit my lip, slightly, trying to form the words. "Just know... Just try...Try not to forget me." The words came with great difficulty. He pulled me in closer, almost in terror. "I will never be able to forget you," he said, insistently, almost as if it killed him to hear me say such things. "No matter how hard I may try, I will never. I will never..."
And so we sat there, rocking back and forth, tears pouring down our faces, silently, like streams. Our chests aching, our body heat fleeing; we nearly froze. But I have no regrets. He was my first love. And life, it’s gone on for the both of us. But I know that we’ll be forever seventeen, somewhere in our hearts. We’ve reserved a place for one another, a far off place, nested in the past – a place where we can always return, and uncover nights like these. Uncover the love we shared – the love that has died now, but still burns just as strong as ever, in our pasts. And our past, it never leave us, no matter how hard we may try to shake them. I know that wherever I am, and wherever I may be going, I can always go back and return to that night, in my mind. And I do. I know that somewhere out there, he does, too.