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Fear of Falling

by Lauren Singer

Ryan and I met on the bus stop when I was in second grade and he was in third.
His mother told my mother that he wanted to be friends
because he was too shy to ask me himself to play.
During the warmer months we would ride our bikes from Upton Drive to Woodland Ave
and take the long way back over the Twin Hills, screaming at the top of our lungs.
Ryan daring me to close my eyes on the way down, shouting, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
And me, trying desperately not to jam on my brakes, bellowing back “I could fall!”
And him yelling back, "It won't be so bad!" with the hill and the rush and the adrenaline always making it completely worth everything.

In the summer, we would play until dark, break for dinner, mac and cheese and frankfurters cut up
on paper plates, scratching mosquito bites and collecting lightning bugs in jars.
At 9, him in his Night Crawler Pajamas, me in my Little Mermaid nightgown, we curled up
in football shaped humps watching the Goonies, and I thought, “This must be what love feels like.
Safe and content and full.”

And then it happened.

Ryan in 6th grade, me in 5th, already dodging accusations from my
other friends that we were like, tongue-kissing on the regular,
and Ryan all nonchalant and heartbreak choosing to sit with the guys on the back of the bus,
instead of me, avoiding the suggestion that he would rather spend his time with a girl,
which back then, was somehow super gay.

Then, that rainy afternoon at my house.
If I recall correctly, I was wearing his windbreaker on my head and he, a
neon yellow boa, because in those days, if you wanted to be a pro-wrestler, your costume had to be
hella tight and your storyline had to be even better,
and I don’t know what exactly we were going for, but the
point is, that we were just wrestling.

But we were probably making a lot of noise, thumping around in
my bedroom with the door closed and the Keep Out sign hung like a dorm-room sock,
and suddenly, my mother cannot contain her curiosity or concern and busts into
the room all exclamation points and question marks, sees me straddling the neighbor boy and panics.
Shouts, “What are you doing?!” and we freeze, mid Boston-crab
in the middle of my childhood and suddenly, I have breasts
and he is a penis-having boy and all the work that our kid-brains are doing
to keep ourselves from pubescing so damn hard is over.

I hover above him, both of our chests heaving and slowing down,
the two of us awkwardly laughing and coming to our feet now, making
sure not to touch upon gathering ourselves, Ryan dropping my boa to his feet,
we both shrug off eye contact, slouch sheepishly and mutter, “Nothing.”

When my mother hesitantly back-steps out,
she instructs us to “leave the door open, please” and
Ryan and I sit on my bed, worlds apart, both knowing
that there is a seal between us that has torn like the cracking of a sacred wax.
“I should go,” he says, stuffing his windbreaker in his backpack and
gesturing with a sickly chortle at the boa now crumpled in the corner as though we
have grown up entirely in the swollen hollow of the last five minutes and that feathery pile is
the last relic of our cumbersome youth. I nod, my face hot with tears that will not fall until he leaves,
and when my mother comes to ask me what’s wrong,
it will be the first of many times I kick her out of my room,
crying over a boy.

Ryan and I stop spending all of our everydays together.
He drops out of orchestra, and picks up lacrosse.
He doesn’t tell red-head Matt not to tease me on the bus-stop, anymore
looks down at his shoes and plays his Discman.
I decide then that love must really feel like this:
scared and sad and empty
and with so many things to say that suddenly feel too big.

The party at Garrett’s house is an excuse to try
peppermint schnapps while his parents are on Fire Island,
so 12 of us raid his finished basement and Ryan is there.
I am in 9th grade now. Ryan in 10th.
Red-head Matt has since professed his love for me and
I have stuffed my bra full of apricot-colored tissues because
duh. But Ryan is a full head taller than me now, and he looks so different than he
does on the bus stop. One shot of pina colada rum punch mixer and
suddenly the world is full of possibility
and I just want to know if he has pubic hair.

Someone says “7 Minutes in Heaven”
and of course Ryan and I are picked, of course
we are lead into the half-bath across that cold concrete floor,
Garrett elbowing Ryan in the side and some fair-weather friend of mine
yells “Finally!”

For some reason we are given blindfolds to wear, and
though the Gin Blossoms are playing and I can’t help but wonder
if this is what my mother was always afraid of,
if she thought this is where we’d end up one day or
if this was just something kids in the 90s
did when they were bored. It is a full four awful minutes
before Ryan says, “We don’t have to do this, you know,”
and my heart drops because I’m so afraid to do this, but I’m
so upset he doesn’t want to do this, and then, before I have the
time to pretend I don’t want to do this we are doing this, can’t remember
for the life of me who lunges first, but we, all id and limbs, all
teeth and mouths are kissing. K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

I realize in this moment, this passionate lovely moment,
that we are not beginning something. We are putting a cap on
something we lost.
This hunger, this frantic, urgent cloying at each other so vital, so necessary,
so give me this back,
so take me back to there, so bring me to your house, so much of this I missed,
I missed you. I miss you. We are eating each other’s faces and it is so…funny.
I push him against the door, and he falls back and so effortlessly and without pretense
we are wrestling again, and also making out, and how wonderful it is to make out
and wrestle at the same time, and we are laughing hysterically and making out
and wrestling and I wonder if the thought crosses his mind that we could have been doing thisthe whole time and yet, of course not.
When we finally stop, when we realize it’s been much longer
than 7 minutes and that there is a crowd of people on the other side of the door,
there is a brief pause for shame, and then, we get to our feet,
this reminiscent thing of
dusting ourselves off and saving face, we return to the room amid cheers and high-fives,
are swept back up in adolescence and whatever else.

Ryan walks me home after the party.
We think we are drunk on booze, but it’s something else.
We are too alone to kiss again but
he does hug me and I know this is goodbye. Not to Ryan, really,
because I’d live across the street for another
3 years, but goodbye to lightning bugs, to bike rides,
to the bus stop, and to the fear of falling, because in the end,
it wasn’t so bad after all.


Posted on 03/13/2017
Copyright © 2018 Lauren Singer

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Elizabeth Shaw on 03/14/17 at 05:06 PM

This too me back girl - what a fun read and very well written. Thanks!

Posted by Philip F De Pinto on 03/14/17 at 10:08 PM

Quite an interesting read. Loved the whole soulful notion of it, from head to foot.

Posted by George Hoerner on 03/15/17 at 04:40 PM

Lady, what can I say except that this was a wonderful story!! I loved every word and seriously hope it was all true. There can be no better way to learn what love is. Some day I'd love to tell you story of trying to 'grow up'. Hope all is well.

Posted by Rob Littler on 12/08/17 at 07:37 AM

...this could be the eulogy for my own childhood. Such grace and wisdom here.

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