I returned to Asia in the middle of a hot, sticky rainy season where palm trees bend until their tips nearly hit the swampy ground. It was a trip to my childhood home. I planned to visit the folks, eat some spicy food, see a few old friends. I would also be heading back to the school where we fell in love.

What started out as a simple summer vacation turned into a passionate field day. A melting of emotional discontent and teenage lust. It was the beginning of this - feeling.

I see him again. I don’t remember where we are. But I recall trying to pretend the connection is gone. That the ties that bound us as children - albeit, practically grown and extremely hormonal teenagers - are severed. But the truth is, there is still something drawing us together. Maybe it is nostalgia. Maybe it is love. But maybe it is simply fate. Whatever it is, it surely isn’t right.

We are talking on the hillside outside of an old teacher’s house. Easily taking advantage of their hospitality. I stay out all night with him. We talk in whispers although no one is around. We sit so close we can smell the other’s sweat and feel one another’s moist breath.

We stay up until the sky starts turning gray. And I remember those early mornings when we were in school. Watching the sun rise over our breakfast of stale toast and runny eggs, delicious American fare not to be had many places other than our school, stuck in the heart of the small tropical island. Temperatures rising faster than the sun. That morning, years later, didn’t feel different. Except that he was not mine and I was no longer his.

So I resist his advance that night and stay stiff in his parting embrace. I don’t know why exactly, maybe because I think it is the right thing to do. To shun him. Maybe to convince myself I don’t feel anything. Maybe because I don’t want to tell my girlfriends I am going back to my high school sweetheart. Very un-college-like.

A few nights later. A gang of us free from the tethers of the suffocating strictness of Christian school, dancing at a nightclub. Drinking forbidden juice, a simple watery beer. We share moments of pure freedom never realized while in school. And it is liberating. Eight young men and women swaying in a small, dank bar. We groove to Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Marley.

He and I dance together, but mostly apart. I dance on the sticky tile floor with other boys. But his eyes capture me. His eyes, following and questioning. I know them and they certainly know me. The eyes say so much, from a boy who barley speaks a word.

When the morning rain shower stops I need to head into town to extend my 6-day tourist visa. So he offers me a ride. It’s natural to accept. As easy as stepping into a pair of comfy old slippers. I take the helmet, buckle it on, and slide onto the taped up leather seat of his borrowed motorcycle. Fold my arms around him and go.

It’s the end of our school visit. How do we manage to get the train back together? And no one else was catching the same one. A twenty-hour traverse over international boarders. Sleeper seats and a roach-filled food car.

But there we are. So many hours of flirtation, captured between us. Trapped in the second-class car of a noisy third-world train. The conductor comes through, turns our seats into bunks for the night. It simply made sense when he slips silently into my bunk. And I let him. Just as easily, we kiss. “What took so long” was all. And the night is long, filled with caressing and deep kissing. But mostly just closeness. The same as it had always been. Easy. Right. Sweet.

The next few days pass in a blur. A subtitled movie. A shopping spree at the weekend bizarre. A meal of spicy chicken skewered on bamboo sticks with sweet peanut sauce. We crisscross the wild, night-time city on a rented motorbike. Flying between cars and buses like we are safe from any evil. Kept from any harm. And we are. We are young in love. We are a tangle of two, acting as one.

These are the days, later recalled, dissolve wrinkles.

It’s time to make money. My agent lines it up. A trip to the Southern islands to shoot a television commercial. All payment is under the table, of course. No working visa here. My agent arranges for me to take a companion. I’ll only be gone a few days. He can finish the project his father had sent him across the globe to do. I will take my mom to the islands and be back in his arms by the start of the next week. Back into the simplicity of lies. No problem, there is no commitment; it’s all fun and games in the summer of youth. Everyone knows that.

But my mom can’t go. That weekend called for her Christian duty. She must fill the Sunday school teacher role. Or something. And then my parents suggest I take him with me. After all, they know we aren’t…. so it was safe to let us go. Good Christian parenting.

But we’re all wrong. How much pain can one event inflict on individuals so far away they’ll never even know the beauty of the islands or the smell of the tropical rain or the beat of the music at the late night disco? Much.

I have no idea how to star in a commercial. Get up at 3:30 a.m. to start hair and makeup before the sun rises. Director shoots film in the cooler morning light. The set is outside, in the sun, on the beach. And it turns hot. I am a fool to the work involved.

He comes along. He takes some pictures for posterity, or for my father. Whoever asks first.

And our bungalow on the beach. With the airconditioner whirring. Sending cool air over steamy bodies. Was perfect. A honeymoon for the unwed virgin. Me. And we laugh to think we used to clamor around the school instruments in the cabinet-sized room, air-conditioned to keep the brass from rusting. A perfect make-out place, our secret. Now this? A slice of heaven and we don’t waste a taste. We gorge ourselves on the tropical flavor of paradise.

Day three and the shoot is nearly done. I’m tired of wearing a ridiculous faux-leather biker outfit on the beach, in 90-degree weather, with 100-percent humidity. So we cruise to a different beach on a rented motorcycle, for a night of peace.

The road is dark, not a lamppost to be seen. But we don’t care. There’s no one on the road anyway. Just us, the warm air rushing over us. Our bare legs, tanned and exposed to the wind. I can still smell the asphalt as the raindrops started falling over us. We simply drive faster. Water does nothing to dampen our spirits. Until the chain breaks.

We are miles away in nowhere. Rain falling in buckets by now. Two stranded strangers in this tropical paradise. I am worried. I am a white girl in a foreign country, standing on the edge of a black street full of potholes, with a broken bike and a boy who is not mine. But he is calm. He is always so calm. Within minutes a small pickup drives up. The first car we’ve seen in forever. They stop and we load up the bike in the back. We sit holding it steady as we head back to town, soaking up more warm water as we go.

We play and play. Trips up the mountain to sparkling waterfalls and winding mountain roads. Dirt bikes and near misses on the curving trails and sudden drop-off cliffs. My skirt flowing and my sneakers dirt-tracked. It is magic. It is freedom. Dancing through the night at clubs named after bubble gum and eating at restaurants on the river’s edge. A night bizarre for buying silver jewelry

He borrows my oversized t-shirt and he buys me the most fragrant flower lei I’ve ever worn. We take a picture. We are frozen in time. He in my shirt. Me in his lei.

Today my father drives us to the airport. It’s time for his flight home. We have postponed this goodbye for as long as we could. Now it’s time. And I try not to cry. My father is there and this boy is not mine. We all know. But I do cry, in the car, on the way back home. My softhearted father pretends not to see.

We spoke once of love. He said to me “I could love you again.” And I can never forget those words. Even in the promise of no promises.

He is gone.

I have pictures to send him. Advice to give. He’s coming to my college, as his original plan dictates. So I gather class schedules, circle the easy professors. Put stars next to those I know he’d enjoy. I ship it to his parents’ house in the mid west. And I hear nothing.

But it really doesn’t matter now because I have told him No promises, no promises. We both agreed. And yet, I was so glad he was coming. Afraid to be with him, afraid to be without him.

Weeks pass.

“Is he there?” I simply call his parent’s house. Easy enough. They know me well. His father slowly clears his throat. And the carelessness of my phone call hits me.

“No, he’s not.” His father says to me. Oh God, I think, he’s dead. And my world crashes.

“He’s on his honeymoon.”

Far beneath the rubble, I find I cannot breathe. I suffocate in his death and then, in my rejection. Already the guilt sets in. I knew he was not mine. I have taken something that I can never ever give back.

“What?” I croak. But I think, stop telling me. Stop saying words I cannot comprehend.

His father continues, “I’m so sorry. He came back and she was pregnant. More than a month along. She never even told us.” So many words float through the air. Crowding my thoughts while breaking my heart. “I want you to know, when his mother and I found out he was spending time with you again, we were glad. We always liked you.”

I smile and grasp at the nice, nice, nice words. Thank you. And then, my God. He has a new daughter-in-law and this he tells me. And now my heart breaks for her.

How do you apologize for something like this? How do you give a new bride the weeks I just spent with her husband? I stole time that was not mine.

And this - feeling is my albatross. Maybe one day I will have a Phoenix Rising. Maybe. But now I know that regret is not just a feeling; it can be a living.


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© Melt Magazine 2001