Last night, over drinks I learned a former colleague of mine had died on Valentine's Day. My heart just ached for his widow; it is always hard to lose someone, but to lose someone on a day that celebrates love, that seems impossibly cruel. He kissed her goodbye and headed out for a pre-dawn hike, promising to make it home for an early Valentine's brunch, instead, out walking alone, he had a heart attack on the hiking trail and he never made it home. She knew something was wrong when he missed brunch, because he had never been a man to keep her waiting.
She is just as heartbroken as you would imagine she should be. I am not sure how you recover from that. As, my friends and I were talking about how you recover from such a loss, I thought about a boy I hadn't thought of for years.
The first boy I ever kissed was killed in a motorcycle accident before he was old enough to be considered a man. I was 12 when we kissed and 15 when he died. He a mere year and a half older. Twelve seems too young for kissing, and 15 far too young for mourning. But, at twelve my body was older than I was, with new breasts and a budding sexuality that was too new for me to know how to control it. Even at that early age it was obvious that childhood was in my rearview mirror.
Then, I had little knowledge of the fragility of hearts, and I knew even less about the danger of getting soaked by rain, and nothing of the unavoidable connection between hearts and pain. Innocence and ignorance are the alibis of children, but even now, all these years later, with a thorough knowledge of kissing in the rain, and after living in this body for nearly three more decades, I may still be too young to understand how to mourn.
I do not remember everything from the day of that kiss, but I do know that it was raining, and I was wet. There is something about the rain, it is a siren song for sensuality. I have not ever been able to resist the seduction of the rain. Perhaps, it is because of this first rainy day so long ago. At my junior high, on rainy days, when it was impossible to play outside, my school offered alternate indoor activities for recesses. There was an inherently awkward dance in the gym, several classrooms with board games, and of course, there was always a darkened classroom showing movies. Without meaning to they were enacting an allegory of love, or at least lust: dances, games, and darkness.
My ultra conservative christian, but well-meaning, parents did not allow me to attend dances: those thrown together at the last minute because of the rain, or those organized by well-meaning adults hoping to usher us (well-chaperoned) into the world of grown up romance. The dances being forbidden, I usually found other things to do. If my parents knew what would happen that day, they'd probably have let me dance.
On that rainy day, he and I were running from classroom to classroom sampling each activity in a restless swirl of unnamed energy. There was no reason to be outside exposed to the rain. The way to and fro was sheltered; there were enough hallways, awnings, and coverings so that a careful child could navigate the sea of classrooms without feeling a drop. But, we chose to walk in the rain without care. But we were not interested in careful, not that day, we alternated between childhood and something older, at times running and recklessly splashing, and then strolling staid and controlled hand-in-hand, exchanging coy glances.
When we ducked into the darkened classroom showing a movie about wolves and he led me to a sheltered seat in the back of the room, I did not know of his intention. In the flickering darkness, his childish caresses felt more grown up than I was. Now, I know that the difference of 12 and
13 and half in the world of sexual
awakening is vast. But then, all I really knew was that
all my previous experience with sham "truth or dared"
kisses exchanged during pre-adolescent games were but
counterfeit kisses, a chaste pressing of lips that was simply a game
played by a girl in her mother's shoes. In that classroom, wet
from the rain, we kissed with a passion beyond our years. Tapping into something ancient and primal. Our
hearts pounding from the danger of being caught, from each
other's clumsy touches, and something more. After that day in
the rain, everything was different, I was different.
Years later, on a day too sunny to make death seem real, when I heard that he had died, I felt a sadness that I could not begin to understand. I remember thinking even then, that it should be raining, even if only so that I could have something to blame for my tears. By then, it had been over a year since he had moved away. I had heard whispers of rumors about his becoming a bit of troubled kid, drugs, petty theft and maybe more, enough that I was even grateful that he had moved away, so that I did not have to see his decline. I didn't know enough then, I don't know enough now, and I don't that I will ever know how to feel about this loss, but I do know that I have always felt like I lost something important.