If I Could

I think about it, sometimes.  I think about the first time I saw him.  I go back there a lot, especially in my dreams, or right before I go to sleep.  That pier in Santorini. That afternoon with the sunburn and the basket of tulumba.  Sticky kisses and belly laughs.  I go back there all the time.

You’d think after almost a decade, after everything that happened, some of the details would have faded by now.  But all I have to do is close my eyes and I’m squinting in the sunshine and the rocks and sand are crumbling beneath my feet.

The ground was hot, almost too hot to keep walking barefoot.  Almost, but my feet had been stuck inside boots all week and it was the first chance I’d had to walk by the water in days.  My feet may have been burning—my toes spread wide, curling for purchase on the unsteady ground—but the breeze felt nice on my face. The wind ruffled my hair against my face, unstuck stray pieces from my neck and blew forgivingly through my t-shirt. 

I wasn’t looking at anything in particular. I couldn’t see much, actually, except the sun glinting off the Aegean. There were children playing in the surf; their peals of laughter swept out into the sea and crashed back with the waves against the sand, their outlines black against the sparkling water. 

It’s his voice that stands out first in my memory.  I could hear him call something to the group of children splashing and cannonballing off of the pier.  Something about having to get back to work—I’m not sure, Greek has never been my forte.  The sound of another American—the accent’s impossible to lose, even if your Greek is perfect, and his wasn’t—is what caused my head to shoot up.

And there he was.  Climbing out of the water, hoisting himself up onto the sun-warmed boards that groaned and shifted under his weight.  He shook the water from his hair like a dog before he pushed it back, away from his face.  The sun glinted off the droplets of sea water on his chest and the planes of his stomach, making his skin almost sparkle in the late afternoon sunlight.

There’s a moment here when I can watch him standing in the sun.  That moment where I’ve heard his voice, where my breath has been taken away by the sight of him.  That moment where I’m convinced I’ve never seen anyone more beautiful.  Where I’m wishing time could stop—just for another minute—so I can watch him, squinting in the sun, smiling at nothing in particular.

That’s the moment I go back to.  Because in the moment after that, I lose my balance and catch his attention when I tumble gracelessly to the sand.  And it’s too late to change anything, because he comes over to help me up and his hands are still wet but a little calloused and more than capable of enveloping mine and pulling me to my feet.  And I’m stuck then, because his eyes are blue, with little flecks of green in them and he’s handing me some line about how I look familiar and where has he seen me before and it’s all over.

But if I go back to the moment right before I fall.  Right before he sees me.  When I’m the only one in this relationship—that’s when I can fix it.  In my dreams, I don’t fall.  I turn around and head back into town.  I eat dinner by myself and go to bed early and he’s safe.  Safe from me, from us, from all those years together and all that misery I was bound to cause him. 

Those are the mornings I wake up with tears on my pillow, feeling better than I have in years.