Deflated smiley face soccer ball.

One day at practice,
when I was early.
I was new to the school
and knew no one,
a long last summer
before I turned fifteen,
busied with walking my dog
and trying to sketch my hand

He was lying on the grass,
resting his head on a soccer ball,
his hands behind his neck,
eyes closed to the yellow fall
sun, the sitcom blue sky,
as I walked toward him,
duffle bag and ponytail

He opened one eye
and said my name twice,
although we’d only met
once. Some of the girls thought
he was beautiful,
a young pirate;
this was the year
of Johnny Depp.
But Rebecca Clark said
he slept in his car—
homeless, she whispered,

The field spilled bright green
grass around us, the goal lines
painted like fresh snow. Everything
the color of confetti.
I sat next to him, nervous,
listening to the quiet,
the distant rush of cars
and birds
and breeze.

How are you? he said,
rolling his head higher
up the sphere.
At fourteen, I did not yet know
to say anything
but fine.
How are you? I asked.
Again: obedient. I was so good
until I wasn’t.

That’s when he said it,
his hands clasped across
his chest, hugging himself
like a corpse.
Melancholy, he said,
he repeated, dragging
out the word.
I looked down,
reaching for a blade of grass,
ripping it just to have something
to do
with my hands.

Do you know what that means?
he said to my silence,
as he sat up. His long brown hair
fell across his eyes.
Even now, I have no idea
how old he was.
But I remember
what was next:
how he looked straight at me,
and said it meant you were peaceful,
but sad.
He closed his eyes again,
rocking back and forth,
mouthing the word
like a prayer.

He comes back to me still,
sixteen years later,
on dull Monday mornings,
or in the calm breath
after a storm,
or when I’m paused
at a traffic light,
in the town
and country,
I never thought I’d live.

Always, I see his face,
the electric green field.
Always, I hear his voice,
the soft waves of his L’s.
Always, I have the certain sense
that he is dead.
How refreshing
to have a word for feeling
but sad.
He forgot to mention
the longing.
He forgot to mention
he was now mine
for life.

Photo by Andrew Kuchling, used and adapted under CC.