By Veronika Pister, TIWP student
The first time Ryan met Samantha is definitely not the type of story he hoped to one day tell their kids. Both their moms were getting gas, though his mom was taking a much longer time with it – cellphone in one hand, legal pad in the other. And they stared at each other from the passenger seat of their respective cars. Ryan was staring mostly because at age 11 he’d never met someone that didn’t look away when they caught you staring. And Samantha was looking because she’d never seen a boy her age that buttoned his shirt all the way to the top. It was far from magical.
Sometimes Ryan wishes they’d met at a shitty music festival their first year of college – partly because it makes for a way better narrative and partly because he likes to think that in a different universe things could be different between them. But if you ask Drunk Ryan he’d tell you that he hopes in all the other universes they don’t meet at all.
She was always asking me things that I wished I had a clever response to.
“Ryan, why do you think the media is so obsessed with the idea of the apocalypse? Do you think deep down we’re all just itching to go back to when things were survive or die? Do you think we’ll ever get over our species’ fascination with death?”
“Ryan, if you had a chance to see the big bang, would you? Or do you think it would drive you mad? Was there even anything to see or did it just happen do you think? I’ve heard it was all very fast, I bet it’d be over before you even knew what was going on.”
“Ryan, do you think God chose us to be the species that infested every crevice across the globe? Or do you think mother nature just sort of fucked up and the next mass extinction will be kinda like a course correction? Do you think we’d survive an ice age, Ryan? That’s a mass extinction event, right?”
And even when I thought I had the answer, she never ran out of inquiries to completely baffle me.
“Ryan, why can’t we feel the earth spinning? Why don’t we always just have crazy motion sickness.”
“Because gravity is holding us to it. It’s like when you’re in a car, you only notice you’re moving when you stop suddenly or something. The earth never just stops; we’re always at a constant speed.” I could kiss Mr. Anderson for the crash course physics he’d taught last year. It’s not every day I had a satisfactory explanation for Samantha.
“If we don’t even notice that the ground is spinning a thousand miles an hour beneath our feet, what else are we missing?” And she had me stumped again.
“I don’t know” is all I can offer.
Later I’ll have a thousand answers to give her. We’re missing a million things a minute, Sam. I’ll text her. Mantis shrimp have four times as many photoreceptors as us. We’re missing a fourth of the colors in the sky. There’s a blind spot in our eyes where our optic nerve connects to our retina. We’re missing a piece of our vision everywhere we go. Our minds don’t even read all the words on the page. We look at the first and last letter and our brains fill in the rest. We’re missing more than half of the books we read. We’re thousands of light years away from even the nearest galaxies. If they went completely black 500 years ago we wouldn’t even know. We’re missing the cosmos changing all around us. And I want to tell her that she’s missing the way I look at her like despite how small we are in the universe, she’s something bigger. I want to say that she’s the most oblivious of us all, for missing how I feel about her. But instead I tell her about how we wouldn’t know if the sun turned into a supernova for a full 8 minutes because we’re 8 light minutes away from the center of our solar system.
“Would the sun turn into a black hole?” She texts back. And then: “You know quantum physics still can’t explain black holes.” And then she’s asking me about Einstein and theoretical physics and I’m out of my league again. I text her back wishing I had something to say other than “I have no idea”, thinking about how she’s an enigma and I always seem to be short on answers.
Youth is overrated. It’s all Ryan can think as he flicks bottlecaps across the hardwood floor of his bedroom. His limbs are splayed out, pressed against the unforgiving stiff boards, his hair tousled from someone’s hands last night. The sun is blasting through his window, illuminating dust particles mindlessly drifting through otherwise still air and making it impossible for him to fall asleep. And he’s in desperate need of sleep. His room is trashed even though he specifically told everyone that it was off limits. But there are only two bedrooms in Ryan’s house and it was a high school party and he should’ve known better than to think that he could keep anyone away from the only door that locks.
“Youth is overrated.” This time it’s outloud. Because Sam’s passed out in his bed with her shirt off. And Ryan’s pretty sure Drew had something to do with that since they have a “thing” now. And it’s not that Ryan can really be mad at her but he still wants her to know he’s upset. So, even though he knows she won’t hear it, he tells her again, “youth is overrated.” He’s sure she would disagree. She would ask him if he’s ever been pushed up against a locker by someone’s lips or hopped someone’s fence just to kick it in their backyard. Ryan would bite his tongue, wouldn’t tell her she just likes the idea of youth because young love isn’t permanent love.
He hits another bottlecap, listening to the hollow noise it makes when it hits the drywall, let’s his eyes glaze over staring at the freshly risen sun. He’s wondering if it’s just youth or if the whole thing is overrated, wonders when the good things start happening. Thinking, if I fall in and out of love without telling her, does it still count as a first love.
“I think I’m falling in love with you.”
Ryan murmured it against her lips as if it would be safer that way. As if the less contact the words had with the outside world, the less chance they had to be tainted. Because he didn’t mean it the way the rest of the world wanted him to mean it. He didn’t mean it like Happily Ever After was sitting around the corner or even like he thought they would still be together in 18 months. Ryan meant it in the most quiet way there is to mean it. He wasn’t sure if it would ever amount to anything, but he knew it would be wrong for her to never know.
“Take it back,” still no distance between their lips. “Take it back because if you say it a second time, I won’t be able to pretend I didn’t hear it.” Ryan wants to tell her that you can’t take love back, but he knows she’d bring up her parents: how they said “til death do us part” and still took it back.
“What if I don’t want to take it back? What if it’s the only thing that I know for sure anymore and I need to say it out loud so I don’t have to feel it coating the back of my throat every time there’s a silence between us?” She sighs at that. It’s a warm sigh that blankets the tiny space between their mouths. And just like that the air caught between their lips is consummated; holy. It smells like her and it tastes like romance and it’s everything that Ryan wants to remember when he pictures the first time he confessed his love to someone.
“You’re making a mistake you know. You don’t want to fall in love with me.” The panic splintering through the ice in her eyes tells Ryan that she’s in this too, in it far deeper than she ever hoped she’d be.
“I can’t think of a single reason why falling in love with you could possibly be a mistake.”
“I can.” Finally she pulls back. The spell is broken and the sacred breaths between them shattered. “Because inevitably, you will fall back out.”