When his son asks who his first love was, he tries to picture her face. But his mind remains white like an empty canvas. Then figures appear and vanish. His brain sketches upon the blankness again and again. He scrutinizes every feature of every conjured face and knows exactly what’s off with each one, but he can’t make them right.
He takes a deep breath. The many faces morph into two letters. They are the only things he’s remembering correctly. He’s not sure how he knows that, he just does.
. . .
He sat on a bench, his arm was around her. Barely. He wasn’t tall enough yet. His bony elbow was against the wood and his fingers hardly grazed the shoulder opposite of him. Blood drained from his arm. It went numb, but he kept it like this while they stared at the pond in front of them. He didn’t dare move, not even to steal a glance at her. His t-shirt distracted him. It stretched and wrinkled near his chest. He stiffened and prayed she didn’t realize how violently his heart was beating. A car horn beeped.
She kissed him. He shut his eyes. And they stayed like that for a while, in a frozen peck. Their lips and his fingers on her shoulder were the only things that touched.
When they finished, she was already up and running away. Her parents were there, picking her up. She should’ve turned around. She should’ve said goodbye. Why didn’t she say goodbye?
That was her last day of camp.
. . .
They constantly rode their bikes around the park together. They always went to the same spot at night: a dark red tunnel. It was attached to one of the jungle gyms.
Or was the tunnel dark blue? He wants it to be red. But was it? It was definitely dark. He knows that.
They would climb into it and conform their bodies to the cylinder, facing each other. Must’ve looked awkward as hell. They talked in there for hours, but, underneath the moon, inside the tunnel, she was just a silhouette.
Once they had to run away from counsellors trying to bust them for curfew. He grabbed her hand and they raced away, her behind him. Behind him! He never looked back. Dammit! Why didn’t he ever look back?
Her hand! What was her hand like? It was the first hand he held and… that’s all it is to him now: The first hand. Not her hand.
. . .
She sat next to him on the first day, plopping her chocolate ice cream next to his vanilla. He was by himself, but she still chose to sit with him. And for a while, that’s all they did: sat there. Occasionally one would jab their spoon into the ice cream, but that was few and far between.
Finally, as they stood up to be taken to their dorms, she turned to him and said her name. Both first and last.
He remembers the sounds she made, but there’s no body to them, nothing concrete. What the hell was her name?
He puts together her initials as they walked along the gravel. He giggled to himself. His brother had taught him what those letters meant just before he went off to camp.
. . .
“Dad?” His son asks from across the table again, “Do you remember your first love?”
His brain is on fire and the letters dance around it like a Native American ritual. He remembers her running away, her silhouette, even her damn bike, but not her.
He looks down at his cup of chocolate ice cream and tries to speak. Nothing comes out.