At six, memories begin traveling the tactile dendrites that piece the heart together. Before this age, it seems we are tucked, unaware, inside an infantile cocoon where mothers and fathers have yet to become human and sisters and brothers are still too young to assume the mantle of their archetypal roles as tormentors, defenders and clowns.
In first grade, Billy Streeter pushed me on the school yard swing while singing “A Bicycle Built for Two.” This sturdy, sandy-haired boy had singled me out to spend time with during recess. While hanging out together on the jungle-gym, we came face-to-face. I felt my cheeks flush because it was, as I recall, the first time I ever really felt my face.
In the weeks that followed, I would seek permission from my mother to go over to Billy’s house and play. I remember us leaning over the wooden fence of the paddock, petting his palomino horse – my face and his face together in the warm afternoon sunlight of California October.
Billy had a best friend, Jim Nunn, who lived across the street. I remember the three of us playing together a lot that year – and Billy’s face.
Billy died of childhood leukemia several years later. I wasn’t there for him and I don’t know why or how this could have been so. I only know that ever since, deep in my heart, I continue to grieve my failure and his loss.
In the decades, lovers, trysts and marriages that followed, I wondered what is love? I still do. But I look back to Billy as love worth aspiring to, when I could feel my face.
Recently, I joined a Facebook Group of old chums from elementary school and friended Jim Nunn. When I see Jim’s postings with his lovely wife of many years, their family, their travels, their joy in coupledom, I delight in his postings, think of Billy and the warm feeling of my face.