James was always electric. When I would see him in the halls between classes, I remember thinking he didn't walk, he bounced. His head bobbed up and down, side to side, but you could only notice it if you looked very closely. His feet shuffled quickly and in between each shuffle, there was a tiny hop. Bounce. Plant. Start again.
His voice was that of an emphysema patient who continued to smoke rather than quit. But he was 14. It was quite alarming if you had never heard his voice before. James was tall, but not overwhelmingly so. He was skinny, scrawny almost. With big, tossled, golden hair. In other words, he looked like any typical 14 yr old boy who was in the middle of puberty. Except when he spoke, you jumped a bit until you got used to it. James was goofy.
He ran with the bad crowd, the crowd that pulled stunts like shitting all over the boy's bathroom floors on cue and having food fights in the cafeteria. There are some kids in high school who's strangeness becomes notorious and they are popular for it. James was blessed to be one of these types of misfits. Everyone knew who he was. His bizarre walk, voice and behavior was "cool." I am not sure James knew how to handle his fame but I am sure he was happy to be accepted.
James and I were in study hall together. I soon discovered that every time he looked at me, my face went red. I don't mean cute blushing cheeks. I mean, looked like I was holding my breath for 5 minutes red. Tomato red. Fire engine red. Embarrassing red. You get the picture. And James loved it. He laughed his emphysema laugh and basked in the fact that he made a girl change color. I know now that I my face reacted to James because when James looked at me, he saw me. He legitimately had me sized up with one look. Strangely enough, I felt the same about him except when I looked at him, his skin color did not change.
It was sophomore year when the letters began. We shared the same Math class and our teacher wore the same red pants everyday. These were not typical professional slacks. These slacks were a cross between the bottoms to a Santa suit and M.C. Hammer pants. They were awful. They were also worn by a 4 ft 9 woman with the same hair as my grandmother (an Aquanet beehive) and a lisp. This woman not only had no fashion sense, but she had no idea how to teach a class of rambunxious highschoolers. We were pretty much permitted to do whatever we pleased during class. So James wrote me a letter detailing these Santa Suit/M.C. Hammer pants and the beehive and the lisp. I had never read something so hilarious in my life. Every letter following this one was either overwhelmingly hilarious or shockingly poignant. They progressed to deeply emotional and loving. The kid could write. I looked forward to his letters each day and went to bed each night reading the one from that day. His handwriting was barely legible but I made out every word.
Naturally, I wrote back. Pages after pages of words I wrote. These were words that needed to be set free from my mind and put on paper. These words got me through each day.
We were caught many times passing our notes but our teachers didn't know what to do with us. They were used to picking up notes with short statements like, "We're getting high at 3 in the guys locker room" or, "your legs look hot in that skirt." Our letters were different. They were creative and bizarre, but mostly they were way too long for any of our teachers to sit through reading. So they reprimanded us and sent us back to our classes.
James was in love with me, or so he said. But I had been baffled by this word at an early age and was not able to comprehend it yet. I loved him as much as I was capable of and I even let him hold my hand. We even kissed a few times. But nothing more. I was very shy. In other words, I was a prude. But James never once dared to try anything. It's only now writing this that I am filled with deep appreciation for his respect for me.
James and I stayed up on school nights talking on the phone until the wee hours of morning. We could not get enough of one another. One time he confessed to me a particularly difficult memory. I sat in silence on my bedroom floor crying hysterically. These were words I needed to hear. I couldn't say it. "You too Adia?" is all he needed to say. I never answered. But he knew what my silence meant. We were bonded forever.
Sadly, I was a a very childish 14 year old girl and I broke off our little love affair when I became afraid of how "serious" I began to feel. In response, he found another girl that was more "experienced" than I. I became jealous. I begged for him back. He took me back. I became afraid again. I left him. He went back to the other girl. I became jealous. I begged for him back. He took me back. This cycle went on and on for months. I could not have him but could not leave him. Somehow, he still loved me even through all this nonsensical drama.
Eventually, James went through tons of girlfriends after me and I got over wanting him back. I was much more comfortable in the "best friend" zone. I swear it was mostly due to the fact that his love was so strong I could not compute it. This friendship continued on and off for years.
I am now 26 years old and have used the word love to describe my feelings for more than one man since James. I have learned not to run as quickly as I did when I was 14 and feelings became involved. I have become more willing to hold hands and kiss more than a few times. Sometimes, however, I still feel like that 14 year girl who was deathly afraid of it all.
When I think back to a time where my life felt real, I think of James and I in high school. Making each other laugh, staying up until 3 am sharing secrets, passing notes. I think about the years since then when James notes have turned into brilliant screen plays that have given me chills after finishing them. I remember the time I was bartending at a dive in college and James showed up with a copy of John Irving's most recent book just because he knew I was dying for it. There are some terribly sad times I remember as well but I can look back at them with a smile because they're not the present. Most of all, I think about the fact that I have never felt more loved than when I was loved by James. As childish as we may have been, there was something there that can't be touched.
James, you are still electric. I still think that you don't walk, you bounce. Your head bobs up and down, side to side, but I can only notice it if I look very closely. Your feet shuffle quickly and in between each shuffle is a tiny hop. Bounce. Plant. Start again. Your voice still sounds like an emphysema patient who has chosen to continue smoking rather than quit. But you are not a fourteen year old boy anymore. You are a man, a father-to-be James! I have no doubt you will teach your son to read, to write, to appreciate good music (Dylan and Springsteen). You will bring him to afternoon matinees for movies that he is far too young to understand. You will play with him and stay up watching him while he sleeps. I know you will write about him and send me your words that will make me cry. Most of all, you will love him. You will teach him what love is. And he will never forget it just as I have not. Thank you dear.