James at 16

Last week, I opened the door to high school memories when I posted about my first love. Well, with every first love, there’s also “the one that got away.”  Can you think of someone in your past who might fit this bill? I can.

In fact, I have very few regrets in my life, but if I’m honest with myself, I know that this is one of them, for I have never forgotten James. (Note: no real names, other than mine, are used in the telling of this story.)

Photo, courtesy of my high school yearbook. Photo, courtesy of my high school yearbook.

Like anyone else, I’ve had my share of highs and lows. That’s a fact. And, while some might say you should have no regrets about the past, and that everything happens for a reason, I believe we are active participants in our own destiny just by the paths we choose. So, please read what I’m calling, James at 16 (not to be confused with the old TV series by the same name, by the way). Set during those last years of high school, before we all part company and move on, it is based on truth and yet sometimes, the truth is stretched and re-imagined.

James at 16

Prologue:  This is where I screwed up. The scene of the crime. Twice. With James and then later with me. I can kick myself. I can feel the pain in my shin the instant I do. Take it back, I cry. Take it back. I want to take it back. Thank God, the execution went poorly. It was a poor act to follow, anyway.

And yet, I got a second chance. A second chance, but not with you, James. Maybe once, yes. But, coulda, woulda, shoulda, right?

James, I’m sorry. If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. Know I feel bad, so bad, I wish I could take it back. Put me in the game, Coach, I need a do-over. This time I’ll get it right. No mistakes. I won’t blow it. One for the Gipper, and one for me. Just one.

The more I live, the more I see. How gentle you were. How incredibly kind. You were there when others turned away.

Yet, I did this. I did this to us, snuffing out the sparks of our love because I didn’t think anyone would understand. Now I know what I didn’t know then. Who cares what they would’ve said? Who cares?

I guess I cared.

You’re so handsome, James, right down to that schnoz on your face. So exquisitely chiseled, bump and all. I see you, and you haven’t changed. Exactly the same. The black hair, shiny long against your pale skin. The way your hand keeps coming up to your face to brush the strands out of your eyes. Those narrow hands of yours. I want to touch them again, so gentle, so loving. I want to kiss each fingertip and call you my angel. You really loved me, didn’t you? I could see it in your eyes. Unbridled, innocent, offering it to me with your open heart. And that mischievous, half smile of yours. Was I your first love?

I think I was. And, what did I do?

I snubbed you and did all those horrible things. I was cold. Screw you, James! It’s how I felt, and couldn’t help it. That was me, and I was on fire. No, I was desperate. So lonely, too. My heart, James, my heart. I was embarrassed by my feelings for you. Ashamed, really. Did I tell you how much I loved your soulful black eyes? They took me in. Twinkling, hypnotic eyes.

I fell for you and couldn’t live with myself because of it. It wasn’t right. My 17-year-old self, James, and you barely 16. It wasn’t right. How could a junior like me date a sophomore? It was absurd to even suggest! Can you understand? It was the times. Have they changed much? Is it that different now?

Can you forgive the choices a dumb fool like me makes? Still a child myself, not seeing the big picture. There was nothing practical about my choices. Do you have any regrets, James?

Look at me. Look at me right now, James. My hands open, I have nothing left. Nothing to hide, but what I did. And, what happened with Max, that was not my doing. I know you believe me. He was my friend, yes, but I should never have introduced you. You’ll never know how swiftly I became your fierce protector.

Come closer, James. I want to see you. Feel you. Wrap my arms around you. Lay next to you again, this time wearing my heart on my sleeve. I can almost smell the scent of you on my skin. Burnt sienna, musky and dark. I want to be next to you, in the crook of your shoulder, the way we used to be, spending hours upon hours before your mother would come home. Thankfully, she never caught us, and I would’ve been mortified if she had. She never knew what we did in your room after school. Nor did mine. Our secret rendezvous. No, no one knew except Max, and also Sam, funny Sam who made me laugh when the three of us were together. They each saw the signs–how could they not? But they didn’t know it all.

It should’ve been you, James. My beautiful boy. It should’ve been you. Can we be honest? No more games this time. Let’s go back to where it all began. Let’s ride our bikes to Eisenhower Park as fast as we can–top speed!–with the wind in our face and the sun on our backs. And, when we get there, let’s lay on the grass together, as we once did. But, this time with renewed spirits, as we take in the scent of blue indigo flowers and apple blossoms, so strong this time of year. We’re almost there, James! I can feel it. Side by side, you and I. Breathlessly happy once more.

Lightning in a jar.

(To be continued.)