It was two summers back that I dug my fingers into the thick blades of grass of your backyard, when that rabbit hopped by. The rabbit that I always told you wasn’t wild. His ears were too long, and his comfort around people was too strong for any sort of natural tendencies. You rolled on your back, donned with your headlamp and raincoat for no reason and claimed that you were ready for jungle exploration. I looked at the grass and asked you why domestic rabbits weren’t enough, but you laughed instead of answering. Two summers. It was two summers ago when I had no job, and you had too many, so that when I came to visit, I would spend hours out on your back lawn, reading books until I fell asleep on the warm concrete, or waiting around on your living room with the thick carpet in-between my toes.
Your house. We were in love, back then, in your house. I never told you, but in the beginning, your house scared me. I watched it from the corner of my eye. Filled with family photographs and other normal things like sewing rooms and toys from when you were six. Boxes of car magazines and assurance that one day you would amount to something. But sometime shortly after we began snapping photographs on the boardwalk of southern New Jersey, I started to love your house. The way your mother’s rocking chair still swung minutes after she got up to cook dinner. The way the house’s floors muffled the sound of a hard walker’s feet. Your room was where I felt I fit into one of the only niches I could find in your life. In the room where the grey walls showed off photographs of bikers, trucks, trains speeding to this country or that. Boxes upon boxes piled up to the sides of your bed, filled with vintage tinker toys; that particular box of old keys you kept on your bedside dresser. Right over the drawer you used to keep our scrapbook, my letters, and my picture inside of. To the right of the corkboard you kept magazine cutouts and photographs of family and friends. Your clothes spewed forth from your closet that was never cleaned, and your bureau vomited t-shirts and dirty shorts from hiking trips. Bike chains and gear parts covered the floor, tripping me every time I walked in the room.
In that room, one night, you pulled out your box of keys and I asked you to tell me which one would be the key to your heart, if it existed. You pulled out the smallest, most ornate one. This one, you said. I put it on the chain around my neck. You always wanted to close two locks around one another, to show the rest of the town we were in love, closed and set. We used padlocks, but combinations for its release were always there. You attach it to the side of a bridge, you would tell me, and then we’d be just as romantic and hopeful as young couples are in Florence: where that mass of locks, all huddled around and among one another, keep people holding hands. We both visited Florence, with different people, different years, before we knew each other. We both wanted to carve our initials into tree trunks, but you wanted to on our college campus and I thought that juvenile. Meaningless. I wanted to carve hearts all over Keene Valley, but you feared for the natural surroundings hikers craved to be unmarked, so in a huff I let it be. And so our initials exist only a bridge in Connecticut somewhere, the same day I told you to pull the car over on the side of the highway: I had lied about something. We could only do things on the run; but serious conversations couldn’t be helped when nothing was meant to matter, and so the sides of roads became stomping grounds for things amiss. Blinking caution lights reflecting tearful conversations, serious misunderstandings, or unzipped jeans.
But that is where it all ended, wasn’t it? Pulled over on the side of the highway, our tears spilling over the gravel. The words were meant to come flooding back, and instead that was where they stayed. Next to your car, on the side of the highway.
With your headlamp on your forehead, you smiled, that day, two summers ago. "Maybe I'll get to go to Iceland this year. Or Prague, or Africa." You smiled at the sky, and even then, two summers ago, you were already gone.