I took a night walk with my friend. We met when she was 11 and hit it off immediately. We had so much in common and took great joy in each other's company, but we rarely got to see each other due to distance.
Now she was 13. I was crushing hard and it felt so good just to be near her, listening to her, laughing with her. We climbed a hill and sat alone together under the stars and the full moon for hours, nobody for a mile in any direction. Sometimes we laid down, shoulder touching shoulder, intoxicated by her scent. She told me personal things, things she hadn't shared with anyone else. Things about her friendships, her relationship with her family and her emerging sexuality.
"You're one of the few people in my life I feel like I can trust with anything," she told me.
"That means a lot to me that you feel that way. I feel the same about you." I felt a little guilty saying that. Sure, I had told her a lot. But there was one thing I couldn't tell her. One big thing. I couldn't tell her how I really felt about her. I could only hint through friendship at the depth of what she meant to me.
We played around with our cameras taking shots of the landscape and starscape as we talked.
"Can I get a picture with you in it?" I asked. "Something to remember you by when I can't see you?"
She shook her head. "I don't like pictures of myself. I don't even like looking in the mirror."
"Why not?" I asked.
"I don't like the way I look," she answered.
I was stunned. Here I was sitting next to her, stomach doing somersaults as I admired everything about her. The way the corners of her mouth turned up with she smiled. The way her canines emerged from her gums higher than her other teeth. The way the moonlight sparkled in her deep brown eyes. There wasn't a thing I would change about her. Maybe I was biased by her charming, bubbly personality, her intelligence, the way she made me laugh. But whatever the reason, she was perfect to me. I wanted to gush about her beauty but I held back, afraid to say too much.
"Why don't you like the way you look?" I asked, poker-faced.
She shrugged. "Things people have said to me. What my sister and my mom have said. My mom said that I don't look feminine enough and boys aren't going to be attracted to me."
She looked like she was on the edge of tears. So was I. My heart was breaking. I wanted to get on my knees in front of her, take her by the hand and describe to her exactly what I was feeling. Tell her how often I thought about her when she wasn't around, how I couldn't get her smile and the sound of her voice out of my mind and didn't want to. I wished I could mind meld with her, to let her inside to see herself through my eyes. "Do you feel that?" I would ask. "That's how you make me feel whenever I'm around you, so don't ever look in the mirror and think that nobody could feel this way about you. Even if you wanted to, we can't be together that way because of my age and other people's judgements made into law but this is what you mean to me. I'm not asking you for anything. If you only like me as a friend, that's fine. I'm grateful just to spend time with you and I will be your friend for the rest of my life if you'll have me. If it makes you uncomfortable then I'll never mention this again. But I would give just about anything to take you in my arms and hold you, to kiss you right here on this hilltop if you wanted me to."
All these words were on the tip of my tongue but I just froze, afraid to speak at all and crack the dam holding back my emotional ocean. I finally managed to mumble something about people's opinions not mattering and about confidence coming from the inside, adeptly hiding my inner turmoil. She nodded but didn't seem remotely comforted by these platitudes.
Fuck our shallow culture. Fuck judgemental people who place more value on age than on love and honesty. When I was 13 I would have been too chicken shit to tell her how I feel. Now that I finally have the confidence to do so I'm told I'm not allowed to tell her, not allowed to even feel this way because I'm "too old". Because 8th graders are supposed to be "beneath me". Well fuck you! How dare you dictate to me what value someone should have to me. Someone you don't even know who is nothing more than a number to you.
I went home that night and cried thinking about what I should have said and what she must be feeling because I didn't. I talked to the people closest to me and told them everything. They agreed I needed to tell her. I made up my mind.
A few weeks later I drove to her place and took her for a walk. We sat down together. Quivering, knowing she could destroy me but trusting her with my fate, I told her the truth.
It was awkward but I'm glad I told her. It's so good to be around her now knowing that she knows. That I have nothing to hide anymore and nothing to fear from her. Seeing that smile she gives me, grinning back doe-eyed without restraint, poker-faced mask trampled in the dust.
If there's someone in your life who makes you feel this way, tell her. Tell her right now. Stay within legal limits to avoid being torn from her but let her know what she really means to you. Some day you will be dirt. Nobody will be able to hurt you and all that will be left of you are the ripples of the impacts you have had on the people in your life. Find the courage to fill those ripples with all love aching to burst from inside you.