Just as we stop at the red light, a new song comes on. I don’t think I have ever heard it before, and I definitely don’t know what it’s called, but something about it makes me fall in love the moment it starts. I look at her. She’s singing along to the lyrics I don’t know, eyes closed, her hand hanging outside the window, feeling the tiny raindrops that fall from the sky – right now, I am pretty sure she is perfect.
Tonight is one of those rare nights when the weather decides to pull a prank on you, fooling you into thinking summer is here already. We are well into spring, but there are still final exams and graduation and official enrollment deposits between us and our last summer together. Still, tonight the rain is warm and the air is humid, and I can feel the beautiful yet heartbreaking nostalgia that is almost exclusive to summer nights. It’s ten thirty-seven at night and we just watched a terrible movie and ate very good one-dollar ice cream and I’m driving her home because tomorrow at seven we have a Biology test and we are over half an hour past her curfew, and right now everything feels as if it’s exactly where it belongs.
I should close the window, I know, because I will most definitely wake up with a cold tomorrow, but she looks so peaceful, so incredibly beautiful, feeling the warm raindrops like each of them matter, that tomorrow morning seems an entire lifetime away. Right now, all I really care about is her.
This is in fact the kind of moment poets write about: her closed eyes, her heart-shaped lips, how beautiful she is when she doesn’t know I’m looking; I try to take a mental picture, to memorize every single insignificant detail about her. The soft curls of her dark hair, the silver necklace with a heart pendant her father gave her for her sixteenth birthday, the tiny hands that are always at least a little cold, rings that don’t match at all, the chipped blue nail polish she always has on. I know these details will fade away one day, but right now I pretend I will always remember. I pretend that in ten or thirty or fifty years, I will close my eyes and be able to see her just as she is right now and to feel just as I do when I look at her: young, alive, stupidly in love, the biggest of cliches. And what a wonderful feeling it is.
When I look at her, when I close my own eyes and let myself feel my heartbeats and how every single one sounds like her name, I swear I can see it.
The two of us tomorrow, holding hands in the hallway on our way to lunch; right in this car in a couple of months, finally headed to the beach like we have been saying we would for months. Holding tears back and kissing in a slightly dramatic way, as we would, before she closes her car door and drives away to college. During Christmas break, going to the movies to watch whichever the newest terribly rated release is, getting cheap ice cream and thinking about how incredibly weird and amazing it is that nothing has changed. Next year, when I surprise her for her birthday if I can save the money for the plane ticket. At college graduation, me giving her flowers and a hug and maybe, maybe, a ring. At our high school reunion, when we see the people we promised we would stay friends with forever but of course didn’t and reassure them that yes, we have been together since then, we survived college, we are in fact part of that 1% that doesn’t get torn apart by long distance.
When I look at her, I can really see it. Her and me, forever.
It only lasts a second, of course. I know better.
In just a few months we will be in college hours away from each other; instead of a five-minute drive, I will be over three hours by plane away from her and all that means home to me. I will make new friends, find new movies to watch and a new favorite ice cream place – and so will she. Slowly, we will build brand new lives, and we will only take part in each other’s through a few texts a day and maybe phone calls twice a week.
In one year, we will probably be broken up. I’m sure that next summer, when we’re back home and see each other at a party in someone’s basement, we will smile our most genuine smiles across the room, and we will hug and catch up and just maybe share a drunken kiss. I will ask about her life, listen to stories about bad parties and new friends, and I will tell her mine too; we will share a little bit of the lives that feel so astronomically distant from each other.
But slowly – so slowly we might not even notice –, just like that, each Thanksgiving, each Christmas break, each summer, our conversations will become shorter and the hugs will become a nice handshake.
In five years, I will be only a memory of when she first understood why they call it falling in love. Her favorite book will change into another and then another, and I will never know; she will stop wearing blue nail polish and change it to yellow or pink or purple, and I will never know. She will fight with her sister a hundred more times and never call me to complain about it, go to a concert from that band we love listening to and not send me any of the pictures she takes, listen to a random song on the radio that maybe reminds her of me and never tell me about it. She will meet someone that enjoys the same bad movies and the same good songs; whose hand fits better with hers, who also loves the way she sings along to songs without realizing it. She will meet so many people who love her, who hate her and who change her, live through so many bad days she will want to forget and good ones she will always remember, and through all of that life will mold her into a new version of herself, over and over again.
She will fall in love so many times, have so many happy memories and sad ones too, uncountable tears and delicious laughs, until she slowly turns into someone I would barely recognize.
The same, of course, will happen to me.
And one day, in twenty years or so, I will be back home for Thanksgiving, in the line at the supermarket buying the cranberries my mother always forgets, and I will hear my name. She will have shorter or longer hair, wear a different color nail polish and probably be as beautiful as she is right now, but I won’t be young and in love and cliché anymore, so I won’t think so. She will shake my hand and smile, and I will smile back. She will ask about my parents, about where I live and what I work with, and I will ask every question back; we will make polite conversation with genuine smiles and many questions the answers to which we don’t truly care about. She’ll introduce me to her husband, tall or short, a doctor or a writer, and I will shake hands with him, pay for my cranberries, say goodbye and move on with whatever life it is I will be living then. I will have another favorite book, my laugh will sound different and my smile will say something else. Just as to me she will be only a slightly faded memory of a first love, to her I will be a stranger whose eyes remind her of someone she used to know.
We won’t remember our first kiss, or our last kiss; we won’t remember most of the bad movies we watched or how we promised we would try every single ice cream flavor by the time spring is over; we won’t remember this faux summer night or the song she is singing along to right now.
But that doesn’t really matter. Because I am looking at her, she is feeling the rain falling on her hand, and even though we will most likely forget this moment and this feeling, it will always be here, and it will always have happened, no matter what. We are irrelevant and unimportant because the world is so much bigger than the two of us and what feels like infinity, but we are also in love and together and here, alive, right now.
The light turns back to green. She finally turns away from the window, opens her eyes and looks at me. Light brown eyes, with splashes of caramel and if you look very closely, green too. Click. She tells me to look at the road, and I finally do, because as much as I want to look at her, as much as I’m young and in love and cliché and stupid and probably wouldn’t mind staring at her forever or at least for a few more minutes, she needs to be home in around minus forty minutes, and her dad is probably already mad.
The song ends a few seconds before I park in front of her house. It seemed long for a song but regardless very short as a measurement of time for anything else, because I wish it was still playing and we could just keep driving and driving around, with nowhere in particular to go.
She smiles at me, and I smile back. She leans in for a kiss, and I kiss her back; we never stop smiling. She whispers something about her father killing her over curfew, which is code for I really have to go, but she still doesn’t move. We sit there in my car, staring at her house and the few stars on the dark sky, the radio off because silence is better than any song that would try and fail to be as good as the one that just ended.
I smile at her again. I know everything is temporary, and relationships are doomed to end in either a break up or someone eventually dying, and the time will come when I will cry about this girl, and one day I will be old and senile and forget her name, and the world is so much bigger than the two of us, but I’m still happy and I’m still smiling at her and she’s still smiling back. We are here, and right now tomorrow seems like a bed time story neither of us is really sure it’s even true.
We are here, completely aware of the fact that we are nothing but foolish teenagers who haven’t lived much yet, stupidly in love and unbelievably cliché, and we don’t really care. Yes, we are aware that in a minute or two she will go back inside her house, and we have a Biology test in the morning and soon the final exams will be over, graduation will be memories in a photo album, final enrollment deposits will be paid and bags will be packed. We know the inevitable truth that tomorrow will in fact come, as will next month, next season and next year, but that doesn’t ruin the way we feel right now; it isn’t a blemish, a bug in the system or a reason to drive away; it is simply the necessary component to the very best things in life, so that the universal law that says nothing can ever be perfect remains unbroken.
But tonight, with the silence and the rain, we almost manage to break it.