Feathers of Spring
He rolled in like the first hint of spring, stormy and raw but so full of potential I could almost taste the earth waking up. If there was anything of awkwardness about him, as he insists there was, I did not see it. The barest hint of light in the alcove kept him from being a shadow. Stray strands of sunshine lit the edges of his hair to a burnished gold.
Yes, I still say it was blond then, if only because it irks you so.
The whispers overheard brought my gaze back to him, where I might otherwise have moved on. Rebel. Rakehell (or words that mean much the same). Wild. A bit more interesting than the average boy, those descriptors, whether I gave them credence then or not. My curiosity does lead me down odd paths. More than once, I’ve come to the end of those and not liked what I found. I knew a little then – not much, not enough – which led me to contemplate not following my eyes for once. And then she pushed me, that mutual friend looking out for my safety.
“Stay away from him. He’s dangerous.” Such sincere concern for my well-being.
It had, of course, the exact opposite effect. I looked right at him, and was caught. He’s got a core of iron, like a planet, though he didn’t know it then and doesn’t believe it now. Either folks are drawn to him or find they can’t abide being too close. They’ll make all sorts of excuses for why that is, but it comes down to nature in the end. I was pulled in, sure as if I was his moon. Where he was, I came alive, maybe for the first time. I suppose everyone feels that way about their first true love.
Yes, I can admit it now. Laugh if you want. Lord knows we deserve to after all this time.
I spent as much time with him as the inconvenient expectations on a young woman allowed. My mother thought about killing me, and I dare say his wasn’t as sanguine as she seemed. Not that we cared about such things. Or propriety. Or the tell-tale signs of spending too long in the woods. Hiking shouldn’t have brought us back with such smiles. We weren’t as clever as we’d thought.
He brought me feathers and we attached them to braids in our hair. He gave me books of the sort that opened my eyes, fed my insatiable desire to know. Don’t know what it was I gave him, except myself. He soaked up the sun and handed it to me, the bright light of summer on his skin and hair, in his smile and eyes. Oh, those eyes. I lost myself in them. Folly, I know, but I didn’t then.
No, I don’t regret it, though I did for a while. “Time wounds all heels,” you say. I can’t help but think you have enough scars. I don’t need to lay open the ones you gave yourself on my behalf.
The trouble with spring is that it can’t last. It hides itself in the green of summer, but when the leaves are set to turn, it has to let go. And so did he. I knew it before he even spoke. The little world we explored wasn’t enough for him. He needed bigger skies, harder places to bend him to them. He’d thought the ocean sang to him, and maybe it did once, but he’s too much of the earth in him – and where there is coastline, there are too many people, too many cars, too many things to separate him from what he needs to be. He still can’t abide a city. No, he needed plains and mountains and the cry of things wilder than I.
Foolish children, we thought love was something you could hold onto. Came to find out it only stretches so far. Time, distance, changing seasons – all that pulling until the thread of love is so thin you can cut yourself with it. Lord, how we tried to stay tethered. Words by the thousands passed between us, written in moments of quiet contemplation, frantic loneliness, desperate hunger.
When we came face to face again, we found we were strangers. Still in love, but the meaning had changed. The frenzied kisses born of too much time alone couldn’t hold the truth at bay for long. We didn’t have the words to explain what we no longer had. We parted, still pretending, still dreaming of ways we might come together in time. Foolish children.
In the end, he broke my heart. And I let him. I’d taken too much of his steel into myself to do anything else but rail, never once considering that he’d broken his own heart, too. I didn’t know then that he’d made me stronger.
I marched off to the war that is growing up and never looked back to that girl I’d been. Somewhere in the fight to survive, I lost her entirely. I don’t regret what I became, the things I did. If my first love had never done anything but give me that taste for adventure, the willingness to take risks, I would still be grateful to him. Without that, I’d not have ended up as happy as I am.
There. I’ve said what I shouldn’t. I can see your smile, older now and a little weary with the burden of time and your own long journey.
But it wasn’t all he gave me. What sort of story would that be? Seasons have changed, come round to autumn, and when I looked up from the table where I spin my yarns, there he was, as full of life as ever, brimming with tales. He hands me the stars, holds me despite time and distance, makes me laugh, brings me home to who we were when we played with the world instead of carrying it with us. And I remember the taste of spring.