It’s been a while. A lot has changed since we were in second grade. I’ve fallen in love a few times, in different ways. I’ve said some “I love you” and said some “I love you too” and also kept some of them silently to myself. You know how it goes. However, you should know that when I think of love I still think of you, because: you were my first ‘I love you’ to someone that wasn’t family.
Do you remember in first grade when everyone was bragging about seeing the movie Titanic, even though it was an R rated movie? You remember how after I saw it I came to school and told you about the dance scene between Jack and Rose? There had been the snooty-rich-people dance that was boring and then the secret-party-below-deck dance that was loud, crowded, and fun. Jack and Rose grabbed each other’s shoulders and then danced in circles while jumping up and down. You remember how we did that dance together every recess for like a week straight? I think that was love for us then: a Jewish girl and a Mormon girl dancing, jumping in circles, and laughing.
But before that, do you remember that phone call I made, right before Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the year for Jews, the day of atonement? (Do you remember how we used to sit atop our plastic lunchboxes at lunch and teach each other about our religions?—I mean we mostly taught each other songs from our respective Sunday schools, but still, we were quite progressive for seven year olds in the nineties.) I’d called to apologize. You asked for what and I told you I didn’t know.
“Everything, I guess.”
“Because if I did anything to hurt you this last year I want you to know I’m sorry.”
“OK, I’m sorry too then.”
“I forgive you.”
“I forgive you too.”
It was a stupid conversation and maybe for that reason it’s still entrenched in my mind. Or maybe it wasn’t a stupid conversation at all. Maybe it just seems stupid now because it was so innocent and sincere. Why don’t adults talk like this? Maybe you still do, but I find these types of purely earnest moments to be increasingly rare in my life. So many things now have subtext, and subtext to the subtext.
Regardless, we then talked about piano lessons and an upcoming birthday party we were both going to. And then you said:
“Bye. I love you.”
And then silence.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that,” you’d said. I didn’t want you to feel sorry though. “I’ve just been talking to so many family members on the phone lately and that’s just how you end the call. But you know what,” you’d said, “I do love you.”
And I thought about it and realized it was true, for me too. So in the florescent light of my kitchen talking into a corded phone I’d said:
“I love you too.”
We both giggled and said goodbye and that was that.
What I want you to know is that you shaped how I thought about love for a long time. You made me understand it isn’t just something between moms and dads or princesses and princes planning to get married.
Love could be a thing between two friends, dancing in circles, laughing, and not needing nor wanting anything more. Love could be us going swimming in my pool in the summer and taking a shower together in our bathing suits afterwards without feeling shame. Love was going to your house after school and taking piano lessons with you and your sister as we all crowded on one bench. Love was building cardboard forts in my backyard and decorating the top of them with flowers we weren’t supposed to pick. Love was easy and uncomplicated and I miss that. When did love turn into a confusing and manipulative thing? It isn’t always, but so often it seems it is now.
Anyway, even though we’ve been out of touch for a while now I hope you’re doing well and that you have love, real-sincere-earnest love like the love we had, in your life.
I love you, Melinda.
Rebecca Hoffman received her MFA in Creative Writing from New Mexico State University. She is originally from Culver City, CA. If she had it her way she'd spend her life as a bookish beach bum pondering the existence of the horizon. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Salome, the Texas Review Press Southwest Anthology, Gone Lawn, Ubiquitious, and ACME.