The day that he told me, I was wearing a pink sundress, ties at the shoulder, with large ostentatious yellow flowers spread throughout. It was a maxi dress before we called them maxi dresses, billowing at my ankles, its hem grazing the top of my silver Birkenstock sandals. This is not important at all.
I tend to remember things by what I was wearing, which is more of a carnival trick than anything useful. I recount it here though, because, in the grand scheme of things, there are other things I don't remember and I can't tell you why. The dress remains as a gaudy reminder of the day because so many other things are lost to the wind and the leaves and the youth.
He told me that he was in love with me and I remember nothing else. I imagine that I got up and left, I must have, but I don't remember it. I must have driven home, I must have talked to him afterward, but I don't remember any of it. The moment itself, the words themselves, just hang in my memory like a floral dress, the hem flirting with the ground.
My junior year of college I wrote a poem about it. Poetry is not my thing, but I was trying, in that way that you do because it seems inevitable. OF COURSE the English major with the plastic glasses and chewed off hair will have a book of poems stashed in her bag. In the poem, the girl and the boy sit at the picnic table and talk. He tells her he loves her and she skips across the lily pads in the wetlands in front of them and disappears. The name of the poem was Magical Realism, and it was a fitting title as it was the name of a literary genre that I didn't really understand tied to an event that I didn't really understand. I ended up turning it in for some kind of free-write thing in a seminar I took and my professor really liked it, splashing a big red "A" on it. I was proud of that and kept it for years in my bedside table, the paper surviving with a handful of other mementoes through a couple of moves. Inevitably though, I lost that too.
One morning while we were at the beach this year, I found myself on the back deck facing the ocean, paging through a cookbook, my fingers grazing the photographs of cakes like idylls. It was early and the kids weren't up yet. I was wearing a v-neck t-shirt and black yoga pants, my sea-addled hair tied up in a messy top knot. I'm sitting on my feet like a child, lost in the book and in my plans for the cakes. He walks up behind me, already wearing his cycling gear, probably late for his ride. I don't turn around--I am used to him now in a way that is both amazing and humdrum. He puts his hands on my shoulders and pulls me toward him a bit, pushing his nose into the hollow between my earlobe and the side of my neck. He stands there and breathes a bit and then kisses my neck and says into my ear, his voice heavy like the wetlands: "I can't get enough of you, baby cakes." And then he leaves, walking gingerly through the house in his cycling shoes, clop clop clopping away.
Just yesterday I was on campus, a short pink dress ruffled around my thighs, my feet squeezed into Lilly Pulitzer wedges that I somehow was able to negotiate around the brick pathways in a way that I am still a little bit proud of as I sit here typing this. The new batch of freshman were there too, being herded like identically dressed, Twitter wielding cattle to the assorted dining halls, sitting in tight circles with their orientation aides in the gardens. I caught myself looking at them a couple of times, watching their movements as they struggled to keep up, to navigate the space that was now their new home. He was beside me too, walking beside me, also taking it all in. "They all look the same," he said. "They tend to do that," I said, "Thomas Jefferson probably looked the same as all of his classmates too." He smiles a little and I think of being one of these freshmen myself, of the girl I was before and the girl I became after. And he is here beside me, despite that day at the wetlands, despite my 18 year old fear, despite my leaving him not once but twice, despite all that. The man I love, the place I love, the ring on my finger with "Long time coming" etched close to my skin. It all starts to converge a little and I realize something amazing.
I finally understand what magical realism is.