The other day at dinner, you told this story about a student who fell in love with you. At the end of the semester he brought you a gift: a box you opened in private containing a ring you never wore, and afterwards you met him somewhere for coffee and told him, gently, that nothing was ever going to happen. When you told this story, I watched your face and was jealous of that boy. I knew you were kind to him, and sweet, and that for a moment, in exchange for his impossible little crush, he received the heady rush of your attention.

Another time at dinner, before you told that story, you mentioned that we always ended up sitting next to each other. I didn’t do it on purpose, but it always made me happy when somehow I found myself near you. I don’t know exactly what I wanted from you then, except that I wanted it badly. Still, I tried to avoid sitting next to you after that: I didn’t want you to grow bored. And then one morning as we walked to your studio, we slid in the snow, arm in arm, and you said you wished we were twelve years old and I wished it too. I wished I could give you my first kiss, which I gave to another boy with your name when I was almost twelve.

I wished, also, that I could give you my first love, which I gave to a boy who had eyes like yours, laughing, swift. He left for college when I was fifteen, and too young to follow him, too young to hold his attention. And somehow when I met you, you returned me to that time, when half baffled with desire I leaned out my window every day waiting for someone who never came.

That day in front of your studio, you asked about my father, and I told you he’d just passed away. You made a sound in your throat that was the sound of a child crying out in surprise or sorrow, and I wanted more than anything to crawl into that sound. I said let’s not talk about it, because I wanted then to be done with words.

Everything I wished I could give you, I’d already given away. I wanted to give you the whole of my mislaid girlhood. I wanted, like your student, to make a gift of myself to you. And for you to understand, and to be kind and wise, like a teacher, and for a moment really notice me. I felt reckless. This thing, which for you would have been casual and fleeting, for me would have been an open door that I don’t know I could close.

Whatever I want is impossible. Maybe I’d like you to see this. Maybe I’d like you to tell me so.

(For M)


Photograph by Wendy Cope
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