I still remember her.
We first locked eyes in an insipid math class on a lazy summer afternoon. Her rosy apple cheeks and big, round eyes made for the cutest smile ever. I was of course, not your typical ladies’ man, so I managed a sheepish grin full of metal (those were my braces days). In my head, I had returned her smile with the kind of boyish charm that sends girls into a tizzy.
That evening, instead of my usual rendezvous with homework, I sat mulling over ways to approach her. Perhaps I could ask her to have lunch with me? A little voice in my head did not waste its time in guffawing, *”Oh, and let her see those embarrassing foodstuffs get stuck between your braces? Sure!”
The next day, I put on a neatly starched and pressed uniform (much to my mother’s bewilderment), combed my hair a hundred different ways before settling on my version of teenage celebrity, and approached Rhea with all the confidence I could muster, if she would walk around the school-ground with me. My heart pranced wildly in my chest when she said yes, treading all over the butterflies in my stomach, but I managed to blurt out, with an air of supposed nonchalance, “Cool. Let’s go.”
That afternoon walk was one I can never forget….a thousand different feelings were vigorously swimming inside. Against a backdrop of refreshingly sunny weather with a dainty breeze in tow, our conversation managed to drown the jibber-jabber of lunch break. Our conversation swiftly meandered from awkward silences to playful banter to telltale glances. I noticed the childish twinkle in her eyes at the mention of her favorite band, the ever so slight dimple that appeared on her chin when she smiled.
That was the first of many, many walks to come. With Rhea by my side, the universe around was a blur. I could spend hours listening to stories in her mellifluous voice. I would dredge up my own tales of embarrassment just to hear her laughter–that sounded like the tinkling of bells. We would cuddle on a mountaintop and watch the sun set into the fiery horizon of a bustling city. And later, gaze dreamily at the thousands of stars studded against a velvety blue sky, bathed in silvery moonlight.
Summer after summer blossomed with sonnets, heartfelt promises and the darkest of secrets. We were two peas in a pod. Inseparable. Under a purple-hued sky one night, running my fingers through her luscious hair, I felt hope flood through my heart, soaring through my entire being. Rhea would soon be mine.
It wasn’t meant to be.
The year we turned twenty-one, Rhea moved away. After tearful goodbyes, we swore to keep in touch, although I seemed to be more faithful to that vow than her. I wrote letter after letter, describing my new job, my new apartment. I struggled to mask the gnawing emptiness her absence had left. With time, her responses began to dwindle, stirring a raging tumult inside me. Every message from her thinly veiled the growing distance in her heart.
Until one grey winter evening, I opened an envelope from her–an invitation to her wedding. This was the final dagger to my heart. Day after day I would furiously battle the growing urge to cry, and moments before I started for the ceremony, burst into tears. All memories of togetherness rushed past me in a daze. Numb, yet teetering on the precipice of a breakdown, I stepped into the wedding.
There she stood. Time had not touched the innocence in her eyes. I longed to reach out and brush my fingers against her cheek one last time.
But I didn’t. Swallowing the painful lump in my throat, I told myself that if I loved her, I would let her go.