Part 2: The Part Where I Tell You A Secret
Let me tell you a story, an anecdote about an amazing alliterating astonishing girl. You see, there is not much that I still hold dear, but dear god, I hold her. And I still do. She got me a watch for my birthday. It came with a card that said, “Count the seconds when we are apart and may the second hand stand forever still while we are together.” She signed it with a heart.
And I’m still counting.
I met her at a concert I was dragged to. She played piano for some local up and coming Jazz singer in some random downtown bar. The piano was mahogany, my new favorite wood. I don’t want to say it was love at first sight because that’s just unrealistic. I mean, when I saw her, I noticed her in a way that I never noticed anyone before. Like looking out of a plane window for the first time, a new perspective on the ground. And I loved looking at the ground. The ground never changed. The usual thing happened. It was a bar after all. I told her about my frames and she was fascinated. She understood what it meant to hold things together. She held together the music on the stage. She told me that the singer had no idea how to count time and never memorized the songs, leading her to have to solo over the silence. She also saw the beauty in the things in-between, but there was something different in the way she did it. She wasn’t petty. She wasn’t angry or envious. She was brave. And she was lovely.
And I’m still counting.
I love the way you fall in love. Hesitantly, with a little help and then, beautifully, it takes you whole. She said my frames were beautiful. I said she was beautiful. She said, “If I lie within one of your frames, I will be beautiful.” I’ve never been a huge fan of pictures, maybe it’s because I can’t fake a good smile. I don’t know. But the second she gave me that challenge, I accepted.
Because I had an idea as beautiful as her.
It took several months to finish. I surprised her with multiple frames filled with pictures of us. I lined the walls with them. I had one on every table, cabinet, counter, dresser, and nightstand. I found what few pictures I could from our past few years together. I picked out the ones where I was smiling genuinely. It was easy with her. She came home from holding up the world for an ungrateful muse and saw the frames. They were arranged to lead her into our bedroom. She took her time, stopping to relive every memory that was held within the pictures. Eventually, gracefully, she entered the bedroom while I hid behind the bed. Her eyes fixed upon a new mirror hanging on the wall. Framed. On the bottom right of the mirror, I stuck in a note. It read, “You have helped me find beauty in the last place I’d ever expect to find it, myself. With this mirror, you can see exactly what I do. You walk in beauty and I bask in it. When you’re in love with someone, you become their mirror. Hold their gaze and reflect their image. I want to be your mirror. I want to spend forever with you. I want to frame the second hand. Will you marry me?”
I remember she had a thin black line surrounding the blue of her iris. It took me awhile to notice but I suppose that’s a good thing. I like that I was always learning something new about her. She had her hair tied up into one of the buns that every single girl knows how to do, which always confused me. I wrote her a poem and she told me I should be a writer. I told her she should be a model and she changed the subject. We walked throughout the house together and looked at all the frames. We relived every nostalgic moment and created a feeling of nostalgia for our future together. She told me she wanted to visit the Louvre in Paris. I promised her we would go there on our honeymoon. It had been a few hours after I proposed and she was dying to tell someone. We both agreed to visit my parents and tell them in person. She had always loved them in a way that I could never understand. I think when you meet the people responsible for creating the person you love it’s like meeting your favorite artist. And my father, being the way he was, absolutely loved it. So we decided to tell them first.
She got her hair out of a bun and put on a white dress I bought her for her birthday followed by a lucky pair of mismatched socks. She asked if she should ever dye her hair and I told her that I loved her blonde hair, but she’d look incredible in red. I put on the watch she gave me and decided that the clothes I was wearing were appropriate for seeing my father. She took one last look in her new mirror. We grabbed an umbrella and walked to the car.
Hydroplaning is a funny word. We got into the car and she couldn’t stop smiling. It was like living in a picture. I turned on the radio and with a swift, graceful defiance she turned it off. The sound of the rain calms me, she said. The sound of her breathing calmed me, so it was okay. We drove down a familiar road with an unfamiliar feeling. It was like that time we went sledding. I think I framed it, maybe. I don’t remember much after that.
How long should you stare at a watch before you realize that it is broken? After about 10 seconds you begin to get curious. After 24 seconds you start becoming nervous. 36 seconds, your palms begin to sweat. 54, you lose all track of time. 78, you are no longer here because here requires there and there is no longer here. 97, civilizations collapse and rebuild around you as generations pass, all while you’ve been staring at a watch. After 120 seconds you realize you might need a new watch. This one is cracked and has red on it.
I looked to my right and saw her slumped over, wet, smiling. And I was right. She looked incredible in red. I whispered her name. That was the last time I said it. A bright light hit my face. Then red lights shadowed the car. A stranger pulled me out through the door. I later learned his named was Steven. I began to scream, cry, and kick. But most importantly, I began to count.
And I’m still counting.
I never told anyone about the engagement. Not until now.
I still remember the words my father said to me at her funeral. I had been sitting alone (something I recommend you all try,) when he came up to me (something I recommend you don’t try.) We made awkward small talk as we always did. The weather, the food, the floor; really, whatever we could find. Until I said this: What do you think happens after you die? And after a long sigh he looked at his beer and said these words that have been rolling in my head for years, “Well, I’m not quite sure, actually. I was raised Catholic, but I think that’s just too easy. You see, we have the ability to look millions of years into the past just by digging into the earth. We can see into the future by looking out into the stars through telescopes. We can cure a disease and save millions with technological advances that were magic a few centuries ago. Humanity has gotten pretty good at figuring things out. But, as far as we’ve come, we still have so many questions. Yes, we’ve gotten closer to figuring out some of them. However, for your question, son, I just don’t think we ever will…and I think that’s beautiful. Now, I don’t know if life is just a prerequisite to a beautiful landscape where all your dreams come true… or if it’s just an eternal shout into oblivion where we all try to out scream each other until no one is able to make a sound. But in that unsure in-between, we exist. And she existed beautifully. And you exist beautifully. So when you ask what I believe happens when you die, I’m sorry son, but I just don’t know. But what I do know is you loved that girl and if I could have painted the way she looked at you, it would be a masterpiece. Do you think she made you a better person?” I nodded. He continued, “Then that’s what matters! That’s what happens after you die, son. You leave footprints behind with the hopes that people you touched through your life will return to them to refresh the imprints. And I know you will follow her footprints for the rest of your life because they lead you home.” He patted me on the back. And with a crooked Picasso smile he said, “You know that watch is broken, right?”
I miss him sometimes.
I miss her always.