What if I

Teenagers are cruel and strange; too young for adult wisdom, too old for childish innocence.

“So what if I did like you?” she says. It’s a trick question. A cop out. The words of someone who hasn’t yet learned how to communicate their own desire. Maybe it hides fear, and tension. For me, it hides deep nervousness that any true commitment will lead to mockery and embarrassment, as if that were worse than mere rejection.

And it’s more than that, of course. There are complications, because we’re both girls, even when one is more mature for her age than the other. We’re both afraid – and I’m not afraid to admit it – because there may be other words, harsh words, from the people around us, that can damage us in ways that a simple ‘No’ never will.

Too young to really understand it, but too old to just ignore it.

She’s so beautiful to me. Like the air after a rainfall; it smells like life, like clean, pure, life, gifted straight from the heart of the world itself. Soft and gentle and new. I think this is what love feels like. I pray that it is. I don’t want to take this chance on something that isn’t real.

“Well, if you did, then I’d be okay with that,” I say. Another cop out, sort of. I’m a coward.

“Well,” she says, and I can see a hint of a smile on her face. She reaches out and touches my hand.

Suddenly it doesn’t matter. All the words don’t matter. She smiles, and I’m suddenly a hundred feet tall and invincible; things like embarrassment, or what my parents will say, lose all meaning. Maybe I’m wrong, but maybe I’m right, and maybe it’s better to hold out your heart, take a running jump, and pray that you land somewhere safe. All I can think is what if I never do this, what if I’m always afraid.

I take her hand, and lift it up. It’s corny and pretty silly, but I guess I have to start somewhere. I kiss her fingers.

Her smile gets wider, and maybe I’m learning something after all, because I know – I know – the joy that’s dancing in her eyes.

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