The Memory Lingers On
– by Christine Maria Kenngott – July 21, 2018 –
Three times he said “I love you” and I didn’t notice. Not till later. Days later, even, when I would be lying in bed and suddenly it would hit me. The first time I had offered to give him a back rub. We were both sore from sleeping on the ground, tired from the three days of hiking. “Ugh! I love you!” he said laughing. The third time was on my last day in Greenwich. We were sitting in the front row on the second story of a double-decker bus. It was night and we were heading home from the O2, our feet up on the dashboard, his arm around me, my head resting against his shoulder. “I love you.” I don’t remember the second time.
I never told him I loved him. I didn’t realize till after I got back to the states that I didn’t. Didn’t love him, I mean. And by then it didn’t matter because I was starting to feel that I did love him, because he was far away and unreachable and I was starting to miss him, so I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and he didn’t write back, so I called him a “bastard” until I found out my emails hadn’t been going through and finally he did write but I still called him a “bastard” because I liked the alliteration. He was my “British Bastard” whom I didn’t love until it didn’t matter anymore. Whom I loved because it didn’t matter anymore.
We were sitting on the hill in the grass and he was throwing twigs down my shirt. “So did you read what’s happening in Ohio?” he asked. “No, what?” “It’s quarantined. Some disease going around or something.” “Reaaaalllly…” I said, not quite getting the joke. “Yeah, your flight’s been cancelled.” “Oh no!” “Yeah, and Heathrow caught on fire the other day. No flights anywhere for the foreseeable future.” “Well gee,” I said, “what am I gonna do?” “You’ll have to stay here I guess.” He picked up a twig and made a basket down my shirt.
At a distance of 3866 miles, he became just like my brother’s friend who moved to South Carolina, or Sam who was in high school when I was still in junior high, or Alex who I saw only once a year at the Irish music competition in St. Louis: a math genius, a runner, and a musician. All boys whom I had loved only so long as they were out of reach.
I signed my first email, “love, Maria.”
We met by chance. It was the midnight premier of the second half of the last of the Harry Potter films, signifying, naturally the end of my childhood. I had promised myself and everyone I knew that I would be there, popcorn in my right hand, home-crafted wand in my left, bringing in the end of an era with the “greatest cultural phenomenon” of my time. Nothing could have kept me away. Except, of course, that I was tired that night, and figured I could go another time. Also, I’ve never particularly liked the Harry Potter films. And so as the curtain rose on Harry’s last valiant stand against the evil Lord Voldemort, I found myself sitting on a hill in Greenwich Park as the sun was setting over the city, writing shitty prose poetry—a first.
A boy with a camera was seated a few paces away from me, taking interval shots of the view. I had noticed him when I first arrived. Had actually chosen my seat for the view it gave not only of the city but of him as well. Then began the internal dialogue: should I say something? Would that be weird? Should I mind my own business? It was a familiar routine. I go through the same qualms nearly every time I see a boy I find attractive, but silence always wins out. Only this time, something new occurred to me. I was in London, thousands of miles away from familiar eyes. I would likely never see this boy again. Or if I did, no one else I knew would. I had absolutely nothing to lose. “Are you working on a project?”
Four hours later, with the sun long since set below the London Eye, we stopped to get tea. “By the way,” I said, “what’s your name?”
I had been hoping for something strikingly British sounding like William, or Harry, or even Charles. Any of the royals, really. What I got was the PM. A David. I won’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed.
We stayed out until three that night, walking about Blackheath and the park. He walked me home at the end and gave me his phone number “in case you would like a tour of London sometime.” I saw him nearly every day for the next five weeks.
One evening we decided to go on a camping trip. We took the train down to the Dorset coast and then backpacked from Weymouth to Osmington Mills, from there to Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove then all the way back to Weymouth and Chesil Beach. We carried our tent with us and camped out each night, and on the second night I had my first kiss, and to be honest it wasn’t all that different from a stage kiss, only afterward he explained “what not to do.” I was embarrassed, but then again, I hadn’t enjoyed the kiss either.
I suppose it wasn’t really my first kiss. I had kissed several boys in theatre productions: Robert in a murder mystery, Anthony in Brigadoon, Kevin and Graham in Crazy for You… Maybe I was expecting too much from my first “real” kiss, but then I don’t think so. I had just hoped there would be something. Something that would have made the wait worthwhile. I was nearly twenty.
Once I flew home, I bought lace underwear. After all, it would only be a year…
The first time we held hands was much better than the kiss. We were lying on the heath beneath the stars with our sandwiches and tea from the Tea Hut, having just returned from Brighton. “Why do you have to leave?” he asked. He was always asking that. For some reason that never bothered me. Leaving. “Why don’t we go to Greece? Just for a week. You would love it, it’s so beautiful.” Greece was also where he met his last girlfriend, the girl he talked about too much as he himself pointed out, although I hadn’t noticed. But he never mentioned that in relation to our imagined journey.
That night he sent me a text before bed. “Thank you for Brighton-ing my day. Xx.” It was the first time he signed with a double x.
He always held my hand after Brighton. Whenever he could. Or he would hug me, or place his arm around my waist, or poke me in the side. He was always touching me casually like that. I had never been much of a hugger, but with him I didn’t mind. With him it seemed the height of romance.
The last time I saw him, as the train pulled out from the station, I tried to make myself cry. To complete the picture. I gazed out longingly into the night, and sighed deeply and felt my right eye go moist. I blinked and furrowed my eyebrows and almost got a tear.
I cried when I didn’t get cast as Nancy. Or Alice. Or Dorothy. Sobbed into my pillow for hours. Then, senior year, I got it. I was Polly. And one evening, in the light of the setting sun, I taught him what I remembered of the choreography, and we danced to that song.
Our romance won’t end on a sorrowful note,
Though by tomorrow you’re gone
The song is ended, but as the songwriter wrote,
The memory lingers on…
“Why don’t you sing more often?” he asked, taking my hand. “You have a beautiful voice.”
We were walking to the other viewpoint, the one where we saw the foxes and made physical contact for the first time, him leaning in to whisper into my ear. Brushing my hair aside. And for once, I did sing.
They may take you from me, I’ll miss your fond caress.
But though they take you from me, I’ll still possess…
“Now I’m not proposing or anything,” he began as we trekked through cow manure, “But do you think I’d make a good husband?”
We may never, never meet again, on that bumpy road to love…
He was tipsy, and wrapping his arms around me saying “Mine! Why do you have to go? Why won’t you stay?”
Still I’ll always, always keep the memory of…
We were walking down the street the same night he put his arms around me. The same night he told me he loved me for the last time, and he was still a little drunk and rating all the cars we walk by: “Shit. Shit. Shit. Decent. Shit. Shit. Niiiice!” And he was holding my hand and kept asking me not to go and the moon was huge and I was thinking about whether I’d be able to use any of this in a story ever, and he was kissing me on the cheek and saying we’ll go to Greece, and the song is ended, but as the song writer wrote…
The other day, looking at pictures online, I realized that I hardly recognized him. The memory is there, but detached; familiar, yet unrelated to the days I remember. When, in my mind, we walk along the beach at Brighton, when he lays his head on my stomach, or I curl up next to him on the train there is only a body. I transpose the face on my computer into my memories but now the image feels corrupted. Forced. It is truth, but only at reality’s insistence.
When I go back next year he will not know me, nor I him. We’ve become no more than the infrequent emails that say too much of nothing: It snowed the other day. I’m buying a camera. I had a cheeseburger for dinner. It was delicious. I miss you.
I miss having someone to touch. To hold hands with.
He said he wanted to visit in three years’ time. After I’d graduated and he’d become a full time mechanic. He wants to buy a car and take a road trip across the US. Never mind that I don’t have a license and he’s never driven on the right side of the road. Never mind that in three years’ time we might no longer be talking, might be in relationships, might be busy with our lives. Never mind the improbability. When you’ve met a boy in London and fallen and love and had your first kiss all in five short weeks, it’s easy to feel above the odds. But that was before I made plans to go back. Plans that were largely centered around him.
I fast-forward. It is fall and I have just stepped off the plane at Heathrow airport. I push through the jostling crowd, standing on tip-toe to see past the throng. I wear heels and a simple, tan dress. My hair is gathered at the nape of my neck in a bun, and a black mesh veil covers my face. The crowd parts and there he waits… we hesitate for a moment…strangers.
Suddenly he rushes forward and takes me in his arms! Or no. No, maybe the crowd parts. I inhale sharply as our eyes meet. The bags fall from my hands as I run forward and throw myself into his arms! More recently I’ve added a third possibility: Once again the crowd parts. He walks forward, smiling. “Maria!” “David!” There is an awkward pause, as we search for something more to say. “Oh, yeah, this is my girlfriend, Amy.” The slap echoes in the sudden silence that has fallen. “You Bastard!” I still let him give me a ride to my dorm, though. It’s the least he can do.
Sometimes I won’t hear from him for weeks at a time and I’ll wonder if maybe I should be going to France next year, or Russia, or Germany. Why waste more time in London? Then he’ll write and tell me he misses me. Or sign the email “Love David.” Or I’ll read through old text messages, ones where he tells me I should move to London. He’ll buy me a house. A plane. An airport, even, so I can visit the States as often as I want. He’ll have to rob the Bank of England, of course, but so long as I promise to wait till he gets out of prison…
I don’t actually know if he has a girlfriend named Amy. He very well might, but I’m afraid to ask. I’m not sure which I would prefer. Amy or no Amy. I’m going back, but I’m not sure I want to go back to him. Or if he would even want me to. If we get back together, if we actually “go out” then eventually we’ll have to stop “going out” as well. Last summer we left things in limbo. Our relationship never ended because it had never officially started. Why go back and start something whose end could be written on the calendar in ink? That’s what I’ll tell myself, anyway, if there really is an Amy. And maybe that would be for the best.
He apologized after our first kiss. After we had returned from the camping trip and had time alone to mull over everything that had happened and find a way to make it seem less than perfect. He said he hoped he hadn’t made me uncomfortable. He was worried I might have felt “used.” I hardly knew how to respond. We had kissed. Nothing more. For weeks I had been waiting for him to kiss me and then he apologizes? I mean, sure, it wasn’t great, but I hadn’t realized it was that bad. I couldn’t understand why he was so worried suddenly. Especially since I was the one who had initiated it.
That was a pattern with us, it seemed. When we were together, everything was easy, fun, wonderful. When we were apart, we found ways to ruin it. And suddenly six months had passed, and I was back in the US and he was in London and we’d had six months apart to find ways to do just that. Six months to think over all the things we didn’t have in common, all the reasons I wasn’t in love with him, wasn’t even attracted to him, really. He was good-looking: tall, blond, blue-eyed. Not at all my type. He was intelligent, too: well-versed in world politics, extremely “handy” with machines, and better with history than a London tour guide, but not well-read. Hardly read at all, actually.
At first I found it attractive that he was dyslexic. It really didn’t bother me that he’d never read Crime and Punishment or Camus or even Harry Potter. It didn’t bother me that he hadn’t gone to college and was going to be a mechanic. Or that he said I was a bit of an “enthusiastic” kisser. It didn’t bother me and it doesn’t bother me, but I’ve always been one to look to the future. I evaluate boys as potential husbands rather than potential boyfriends. “It doesn’t bother me if you’re an atheist/haven’t gone to college/prefer weird British car shows to Star Trek, but how are we going to raise the children?” that sort of thing. And if it doesn’t work out, well, I’m only thinking of the children.
From six months in the future, I tell myself that I agree with my unborn children, because chances are we won’t get married. And if there is an Amy, well, all the better. Why drag it out? Especially since I had never really loved him…
The last time he texted me, I was sitting on the plane home, moments before takeoff. He had promised I would hear from him and so there I sat, phone clutched in my hands, afraid we would leave before he awoke. The phone buzzed right before the hostess asked that we “turn off all mechanical devices.” “Have a good flight,” it said. “I’ll miss you. And who knows, maybe we’ll meet again on that bumpy road…”
So maybe I didn’t love him, but I was madly in love.
I was in London, having my first ever romance. I met a boy who needed me. Well, needed someone, anyway because he was lonely and had just been diagnosed with epilepsy. A boy who introduced me to all his friends, and cooked me a moonlit dinner, and texted me afterward that “If there is one British trait, it’s being shy, and I am because I couldn’t tell you face to face that you looked beautiful in that dress.”
So of course I was in love.
The way you haunt my dreams…
Maybe I was in love with the city.
The way you changed my life…
Or maybe with the experience of being in love.
No, no they can’t take that away from me…
Maybe I was even in love with him.
No, they can’t take that away…
But I was in love.
About the Author – Christine Maria Kenngott
Christine Maria Kenngott studied English Literature and Creative Writing at The Ohio State University. After graduating, she became a traveling English language teacher and has lived and taught in five countries to date. Christine Maria Kenngott enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction narratives based on or inspired by her travels.
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