In the autumn, you would become a leaf or sometimes many leaves. When you used to be a pond, neighbors would walk the mile-long path around you. Halfway around the trail, there was a bench with the words, ‘For Pondering,’ inscribed across the back.
There was a boy that took the path around the pond every once in a while, sitting down on the bench and obscuring the words written there. He was waiting for someone – could it be you? You sat down on the opposite end of the wooden seat and waited for his response.
He sheepishly looked at you and slid a handwritten note scrawled on college-ruled paper across the bench towards you.
The note read, “Do you like me more than a friend?” written in the scrawl of a teenage boy who hadn’t mastered the art of speaking aloud to a human of the opposite sex yet. Below the sentence was the command, “Circle YES or NO.”
It was a strange question, considering that you weren’t friends. You had never done anything that friends do, like talking to each other about your problems, helping each other through tumultuous teenage moments, or simply hanging out and having fun together. If you did not like him as a friend, how could you like him more than one?
But you could not really fathom these questions as a young woman, and so you circled, “Yes,” and pushed the note back across the bench towards him.
His next response was more than you could have hoped for, and so you kept the note tucked in your diary for many years to come. It read:
“I so just want to kiss you, but I don’t want to rush.”
“I’m scared,” you said because you had never kissed a boy like this before, and you didn’t know if you would do it right. How were lips supposed to move? Up to now, you had only used them for smiling. Kissing was an adventure they had never embarked on, but he made you feel safe, and so you awkwardly bent towards him to touch lips without moving them around at all. Touch and go, no more.
When his lips touched yours, your leaf body quivered and turned bright green despite the autumn chill. You were a leaf, breathless yet full of oxygen.
“I don’t like odd numbers,” he said, convincing you to try this kissing thing a second time. The second time was less awkward, and a third was attempted. By the time you separated, you had counted off 23 kisses – leaving the even-numbered 24th for when you would meet again.
You went home and drew 23 hash marks above your bed in permanent marker on the wall to keep track of every kiss you ever had.
You sat together on that bench for a while, holding hands and pretending that you were in love. When he told you he loved you, the feeling of infatuation grew in your leafy veins as you began to lift off the bench, caught twirling in a blossom of wind above the treeline. It was a bright blue autumn day, and the breeze filled you with contentment.
As the wind died down, your body settled gently back to earth.
But when you awoke from your autumn sky dream, the boy was gone. Much time passed as you waited for him to return.
You passed a note back to the empty space at the end of the bench;
“Sometimes I wonder about you,
how your hair swings over your eyes,
how you pick me up off my feet,
and throw me across the room.”
As you remained in the autumn cold, you turned from green to a fiery orange, enraged at his absence. In your anger, you set all the leaves on fire around you, prompting a yellow, orange, and red orchestra of rage to erupt. The leaves were chanting:
“Drink oxygenated fire
on your sojourn.
Life is a slow burn.”
But anger is exhausting, and so you decided just to rest awhile on the bench for pondering.
You sat on this bench in your head, replaying the moments of love that had passed between you: the passing of notes to one another in class, the ski club trips to Bristol Mountain riding next to each other on the bus and up the mountain in the ski lift.
After many years on this mind bench, you realized that the boy wasn’t actually a boy. He was a husky whose fur was meant for winter snowboarding, and you were a leaf who preferred eating mozzarella sticks in the warm lodge rather than actually skiing in the frozen tundra. You were a leaf, and he was a husky – and those two things are incompatible. But you were too young to know this.
Many years later, you pulled a piece of paper out and wrote him one last note:
“I can still smell you all around me,
Suffocating my daydreams.
Every now and then I still
get hit with waves from
the pain we caused one another
– when we were young.”
When you finally let your leaf body turn brown from edges to insides, you allowed yourself to break down. As you decayed into the forest floor with the other fallen leaves, you didn’t feel so alone anymore.
The nutrients slipped from your body into the soil as you gave up this love for another one to grow there.
“Look up at the stars, and sigh.
You cannot own the sky.”