We met in front of the north face of City Hall that day. It was late January, but not very cold. We decided to have lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. While we ate and talked, she combed over the movie listings for a decent matinee. There were several playing that I would have been okay with seeing, but she spotted the new Julia Roberts movie, Sleeping with the Enemy, playing in Old City.
Our preferred show time wasn’t for another hour, so we settled on a leisurely stroll of fifteen city blocks or so, east on Market to Second, then over a couple blocks south to the AMC just a stone’s throw from Penn’s Landing. We bought tickets, popcorn and soda, then meandered into the theater with about ten minutes to spare.
The movie was okay, just like the food had been, but I was distracted by what I had been contemplating saying to her, hopefully before the day was gone and another opportunity was missed.
I couldn’t figure out why I was so anxious to speak my mind to her; She was the first girl I had ever felt entirely comfortable with. She was the first person whose compliments I had ever believed — when she told me she liked certain things about me, I knew she meant it. And when I shared the thoughts I knew anyone else would laugh at, she never even hinted at disdain or disgust. Her acceptance of me and my ideas was one of the reasons I started trusting myself more. Her influence was a great part of what shifted my writing content from teen angst to more constructive observation.
The first time we met was a strange meeting. She was returning a black spiral bound notebook I had “lost” (I would later find out that she’d facilitated my misplacing it). The black notebook was about three quarters full with poems I’d written in a longhand I’m not sure most people could decipher. Upon returning it to my possession, she confessed to reading a few poems. In leafing through the book a little while later, I found a note on the first page I hadn’t written on yet. It was about a half page long. In the note, she apologized and admitted to reading the whole book, and she went on to write some very encouraging words. She referred to the poems as being “lyrical, almost like you could hear the music that would accompany them.” But her note also chided me for expressing the feeling that nobody would understand what I felt. She suggested that if I trusted other people more, I’d notice I’m not so alone. She also told me she’d like to show some of her poetry, and asked me to show her when I wrote more.
That was the beginning. From there, we spent countless hours on the phone and exchanged many personal writings. I came to see that she was a lot like me, in that many of our youthful experiences were similar. I admired her insight, always relevant, the reason I could tell that she was really paying attention to me. I liked the way she listened to the most inane thoughts I could conjure, and she never gave me a disapproving look in response. We’d write letters, even though we didn’t live very far apart and we saw each other often. I didn’t know what she saw in my words, but I would marvel at the way hers inspired me. I often felt like she had a gift for reading my thoughts and giving voice to the ones I couldn’t articulate, but perhaps that was more of a curse — I’m not sure.
I sensed in her a kindred spirit, and we became what I could best describe as friends, though there were other aspects involved. And I knew I was in love, though I’m sure I didn’t know anything about love at the time.
Our afternoon rendezvous in the city was a almost a year to the day from when we first met. I had decided I had to tell her everything she meant to me, but I was afraid, because I had never told any girl something like what I wanted to tell her. I sensed the risk inherent to my mission. So, I sat next to her in that dark movie theater, until the lights came back up, just trying to formulate in my mind how I should start my declaration.
But before the I could say much of anything, she asked if we could go walk along Penn’s Landing. I said yes. It seemed like it would provide an opportunity to talk, and the scene seemed almost romantic in and of itself, there with the sun making its way down the slope of the western sky, slowly retiring behind the center city skyscrapers, casting a fiery shimmer east upon the river.
We walked the short distance to the landing, where my delusion shattered when we happened upon another young woman, one of her classmates from school. She asked if her friend could walk with us. I said of course.
When we parted company that day with me dropping off her and her classmate at the station, she gave a kiss and a hug goodbye, then I went my own way home. I remember feeling a little cheated, even though I knew I probably could have asserted my wish to talk with her alone. But I didn’t, and anyway, there’s always next time, right?
There was no way I could have known that would be the last time I’d ever see her, but it was. And it’s sad now to think that I’ve written hundreds of poems about her being gone, but I never wrote a single poem about her when she was around. And not a day goes by, even now, when I don’t spent at least a moment or two missing her, especially when I make the occasional trip into the city. It’s almost like a phantom pain, to look to my side and expect to see her there — I swear that’s how it feels.
But I know better.