Owen and I sat in my red Oldsmobile, listening to Nickleback’s Faraway—my head on his shoulder, his arm around me, his hand in my hair. He opened the door and an obtrusive light blinked on, forcing us to say goodbye. I was leaving for college, but I knew that we’d still talk, still be close, still be in love. As I turned into my driveway, the ring he made me caught the streetlight, and I smiled, thinking of the poem in my pocket and the teddy bear in the backseat.
The next time that I saw Owen, we sat on opposite sides of the auditorium at a high school graduation, avoiding each other—my stomach in knots, him looking perfectly calm, perfectly cocky. I said “hi,” but he walked straight past me to congratulate my best friend. Putting his arm around her, he snapped a picture. I was glad that the flash blinded me from seeing his face.
Quick to forgive and eager to see him, I met him for lunch a week later. While I slurped chili, he wolfed spaghetti—we were done in a half hour, and he didn’t take me home. I called my mom for a ride. At home I cried and poured my heart out in an e-mail. He never responded.
By the end of the summer, I was all out of tears. My pillow was a mop, until I realized that it was easier to just turn my heart off. I told myself I was fine. I didn’t need a boyfriend.
So when David asked me to walk with him in Central Park, I had mixed feelings. We went to school together, and I admired him, but I was scared of getting hurt. But there we were—sitting on a bench by the sailboat pond, trees orange, fuchsia, and pale yellow, and skyscrapers in the distance. He looked nervous, but spoke anyway. He told me how much he liked me, and asked if he could get to know me better. I didn’t want to be known, but I knew I needed to be. I said yes.
For the next month, I felt like David was ripping Band-Aids off my heart. I’d slap them back on only to have him peel them off again. When he sent me a poem, I thought of Owen’s poems. When a letter appeared on my pillow, I noticed Owen’s teddy bear propped up beside it. When David told me he was in love with me at Starbucks, I remembered when Owen first said those words.
Some days, though, I was overwhelmed by what a great guy David was. He was constant and strong and gentle all at the same time. He would listen to me and ask the right questions. He was in love with me. When I’d articulate my fears, he would calm me by saying, “Amber, I love you, and I want to continue to learn what that means. I want to love you right where you are.” And he really did.
On the night of my birthday, he showed up at midnight with a bouquet of Gerber daisies. Another night, we listened to Bach at Carnegie Hall. After the concert, when the heel of my pumps snapped in two on the pavement of Fifth Avenue, we walked home arm in arm. Weeks later—the first night he held my hand—he stopped me in front of Victoria’s Secret, telling me that my beauty and his love for me infinitely surpassed the lust advertised in the windows. It was that same night, at 4 AM, that we danced by Macy’s in Herald Square. If a taxi came, he’d pull me to the sidewalk. The city was so quiet you could hear birds chirping.
For spring break, we visited my grandparents in Iowa. We listened in their cozy living room with bowls of popcorn and cans of soda. My Grandpa spoke from his armchair, hunched over from years of farm work. My Grandma glowed beside him, looking beautiful in her long robe, with silver hair and delicate wrinkles. We listened to their story, saw the fruits of their hard work and frugality, and experienced the depth of their love. It was not a sappy infatuation, but a strong love that persisted always. Love always hopes, always perseveres, they told us.
On the flight home, David put his arm around me and kissed my forehead gently, sweetly. Outside the sky was midnight black, and the moon was a brilliant ball of snow white light. It seemed within reach, blazing close to the tip of the plane’s metal wing. I looked at David, knowing he could see my heart in my eyes. I could see his, and I trusted him.