by Ian Watts
The moment I knew I loved you? Yeah, I remember it. It wasn’t when we first met; I was just a kid, after all. I wouldn’t even think I knew what love was until my pituitary tried to explain it to me years later with salacious stories and innuendoes. Almost all of those were exaggerations, anyway – like everyone else, I’d need a few more years and many more hard lessons to learn even a rumor of the truth. But I remember when you first wandered into my life. It was at my aunt’s old apartment in the city. She or my mother must have invited you over, or maybe one of my sisters (I found out then that you had sisters too). I probably would have preferred they invite Michael Jordan or Batman at that age. Yet you made an impression: dark hair, crackling wit, quick temper, quicker smile. Personality that filled up that two-bed south side garden unit within minutes of arriving. I was very pleased to meet you. It wasn’t love, though.
It wasn’t the next time we met, either. I was a bit older then, but still not old enough for even that adolescent chemical facsimile of the thing. Lightsabers and Little League were still my priorities at that point. Did I even come of out my bedroom that evening while you were at my parents’ house? I must have, because even though I didn’t recognize your voice when it carried upstairs, I remember seeing your face. You looked different than I recalled (my mom or sister probably had to re-introduce us), but you were still dark-haired, still effortlessly charming. Beautiful, too – I was at least old enough to appreciate that – but I do have to think it was more your affect than your appearance where I found beauty. Your look would always change some each time I saw you, so that couldn’t have been what I admired the most. I was glad I got to spend a little time with you before I we parted ways again. It wasn’t love, though.
It wasn’t even when I was a teenager and got to know you better, though I don’t doubt that’s what made the eventual moment possible. Puberty meant I would’ve definitely noticed you in the way I had started to notice the girls in my class, but our connection at that point was a long-distance one, based on correspondence. You would write to me about your life, and I might have even written you back once or twice. At last I had a history to go with that personality, and any moment in that history could easily have been the moment. The plays you and your sisters would put on when you were young, so much like the ones my own would produce in our basement for assembled relatives (while I tried so hard to be involved while maintaining a detachment that clearly said “older brother”). The time you cut your hair (that hair!) and sold those signature tresses for a good cause. The man who told you he loved you, who’d loved you before I did (that bastard, I was so jealous), and asked you to be his wife. You told him no; you knew it wasn’t meant to be. Your bond with him was a bond between two friends, and by then, so was ours. I was grateful to grow closer to you. It still wasn’t love, though.
I do know what the moment was. I remember it like it was yesterday – likely because it was only about a month ago. Just after this past Christmas. I heard the news you were in town, and those who’d already bumped into you were all pleased they had. I made plans to spend a snowy winter afternoon with you, and brought my sisters along (I probably owe them for our first meeting, after all). Could it be that it was the most I’ve ever enjoyed my time with you? Maybe it was because I’m an adult now, even if I don’t often feel like one, and adulthood is when relationships really start to break through the hardpan and take deepest root. You were even more beautiful than I remembered, but again, it was something more substantial than your face or your hair (lighter now – I liked it). You told me all the same old stories, and like the romantics say, it really was like I was hearing them for the first time. There was a new story too, and it was my favorite one yet.
The way you told it was so vivid I could see as well as hear it. You’d been a writer as long as I’d known you, and your delight in telling stories was as inseparable from your identity as it was from mine. Maybe that, even more than your boldness and your passion and your courage, was what truly captured me in the first place. And when the ink had finally dried on those many longhand-scriven pages, leaving smeared traces of your toil and inspiration on the sides of your hands, and when those same hands grasped the freshly bound first copy of the book with your name embossed on its fabric cover, I saw your face. I saw in it the culmination of all the stories – girlhood and womanhood, joy and loss, cold nights but warmer mornings. That was the moment I knew.
It’s a shame that you were born in the nineteenth century; an even more terrible shame that you never really existed at all. I don’t mind. I still love you, Josephine March.
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