As I stood in line at the café at work and watched one of the employees step over to the espresso machine to whip up a latte for a customer, I thought of him. It was such an interesting time in my life, really, all of it, and he was, by far, the most significant part.
I was 19 years old when I met him. He and I started at Borders Books (I still miss it, sniff, sniff) on the same day, in the same orientation group. I noticed him immediately. Having long been a lover of cute faces, the combination of said cute face, those blue eyes, and that brownish-blonde hair got the heart racing. But, believe it or not, I told my prone-to-endless crushes heart to stop itself. I was tired of silly crushes. I was journeying into adulthood, wasn’t I? So I valiantly ignored R., not even allowing myself to swoon at his Texas drawl and those eyes.
Didn’t work, though.
When we began our first task of shelving books, he called my name. Ever hear your name being uttered by a boy you’re trying to ignore because you understand the inevitability of your soon-to-be deep feelings for him? Yeah, it was like that. I nearly collapsed, threw up, and smiled all at the same time. I heard you’re a writer, he said. I said yes. I write poetry, he then said. Maybe we can talk about books sometime.
A poet? A poet? I knew, then, that I was toast.
We discussed a little about writing, my then in-progress major in English at my college, his former college in Texas. It was a nice conversation. Soon, we were directed from the books to training on the cash register, where we stood next to each other, our shoulders slightly touching. I knew it then. I was in like.
For a year and a half, I went through the usual infatuation journey with R. I alternated between wanting to gaze at him 24 hours a day and wanting to push him down a flight of stairs for one silly reason or another. One distinct memory: as he tied my apron for me in the café, where we were frequently assigned together (which is why I thought of him yesterday), he asked me to be his creative inspiration. Dizzy from our proximity, I merely smiled and went into the back of the café, where I stuck my head into into the freezer.
Eventually, the crush dissipated and we became good friends. We shared poetry and book recommendations, laughed, talked, joked. When he decided to leave Borders and go back to Texas and back to college, I was sad, but not heartbroken. Before leaving, he gave me a sweet letter about enjoying our friendship and the “inspiration” I provided, although I think he was just happy to be around someone who loved writing as much as he did.
I last heard from him in 2000. He sent me a letter and a bunch of his poems to review, for which I never received a reply. I was angry about that.
A few years ago, while perusing the Internet and suddenly wondering what became of him, I googled him. That’s when I learned that he died in May 2002.
The death was unexplained. I merely saw his obituary, and cried, and reached out to the university he went back to, in order to learn something about the situation. Of course, the cause of his abrupt death was his family’s to own and to know, but the shock of it all–the untimely death of this young man that I once knew and treasured…it was unbearable. I was able to communicate my condolences to his family through the university contact that I found. (A memorial scholarship/award, for poetry, was established in his name.)
The triggers can be anything–coffee shops, bookstores, someone bearing his resemblance–and I am instantly transported to that time in my life, when a wide-eyed nerdy girl swooned over and ultimately found friendship with a sweet poet from the South. What a time it was.