My stomach sank like an anchor when I finished reading my most recent text message. The phone felt as heavy in my hands as the information did in my head. One of my two worst fears had become a reality. Both concerned life, creating it, and ending it, and I find it strange that the realization of the first fear completely obliterated the second, as if it had never existed. I opened and closed my phone several times, watching the silhouetted man sitting on a palm tree grow and shrink as the large internal and small external screens traded electricity.
I’d never considered that the crux of my twenties might take place on the small, second floor balcony of my duplex home, shortly after my twenty third birthday. The sky was a gentle blue, now stripped of its serenity, empty except for a solitary wisp of cloud. I wanted to call someone, anyone, anyone but her, tell them I was leaving and that I wouldn’t be back. Instead I did the moral thing and called the only person in the world with more to think about than me.
“You better come over.”
Marisa arrived with dry tears and red eyes, and just stood on the porch when the door creaked open. I pulled her toward me and she sort of fell into my arms, like a mannequin, her left hand draped over my shoulder, still raised from knocking, the right at her side. She looked like I felt: broken, powerless. It was only in the moment of hopeless eye contact we shared as I carried her up the stairs that I realized how young she really was. Marisa was barely sixteen.
How we’d ended up together I can’t really say. She was mature for her age, a cliched excuse I admit, but there’s more to it. I was immature, and grasping at my fading adolescence. Her youthful innocence was as beautiful to me as she was, and I wanted it, even if only vicariously. I laid her down on my mattress, kissed her forehead, her lips, and knelt on the floor next to her.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to promise me…” she swallowed, and took a deep, slow breath. “I want you to promise me that we’ll never get married.”
“I…yes. OK. I promise.”
She leaned in and kissed my lips, put her arms around my neck, pulled me on top of her. She kissed me again then lifted her head, bringing her mouth to my ear.
“I want you to promise me one more thing.”
“Promise you’ll never love me.”
Her breath was hot in my ear and her tone was sad, or maybe that was just how I heard it, because I wanted her to be sad about it. I pulled back and we shared another moment of hopeless eye contact.
I rolled over and put my arms around her, and we laid there listening to the sounds of children playing in the courtyard outside until her father called, and she apologized, then went home.