This post is just a story I wrote based on the picture, which was supplied by WordPress as the subject for a recent writing challenge:
I both love and hate looking at this photo. I hadn’t seen it for many years. However, in attempting to clean out some drawers to make room for my growing son’s wardrobe, I recently came across it in an old album. The edges of the picture were frayed and yellowing with age, but just seeing it instantly sent me back almost twenty years.
At the time the picture was taken, I thought our story was just beginning. We had met in my hometown when he was a foreign exchange student. I was home from college on a fall weekend and, since my parents were hosting an exchange student that year, I begrudgingly allowed myself to be dragged along to an exchange event. Teenage kids of various nationalities were talking, socializing and flirting, just as any American kids would. Bored with the whole thing and planning my escape, I left my parents to get a soda. That’s when I saw him. Actually heard him is more like it. A dark, long-haired boy was strumming a guitar and singing quietly on the floor in the corner. A small group of kids, half-listening and talking to each other, surrounded him. He looked up and caught me looking at him. I averted my eyes and moved on.
We didn’t officially meet that night or for awhile afterwards. While I was home for the holidays, our exchange student had a couple of friends over for the night. As I went downstairs to get my laundry from the dryer, I steeled myself to acknowledge and walk by the speakers of the muffled Spanish I heard as I was on the stairs. When I walked by the couch, I realized it was him. We talked and watched a movie with his friends and my sisters. The night ended with a kiss that broke one of the crowns on his teeth. I considered the evening semi-successful.
We dated for a few months, but, since I was in college and robbing the cradle with a high school senior, we only saw each other on weekends or when he came to campus for a visit. It didn’t take long to realize how smart and talented he was. Of course, he could play guitar and wrote his own music. He was also a good soccer player. When I got stuck on some philosophy homework, he perfectly completed the whole assignment.
When spring came and the school year ended, we both knew he’d be going home to Spain for at least the summer. I was sad, but excited because I knew we’d see each other when I went to visit him later in the summer.
He grabbed me in his arms when I stepped off the plane. We had a great few days, and he seemed happy and proud to show me all the best hidden cafes and prettiest landmarks in his home. We talked about everything and nothing while we both chain-smoked and he drank cup after cup of strong coffee.
On the morning I left, he asked a passing tourist to snap this picture of us so our memories would last until he returned to the US in the fall for college. That was the last time I saw him. His aunt who had raised him wasn’t able to gather the travel and tuition money for him to go to college in the U.S. that semester. He studied there and planned to save money and come over the next semester or the semester after that. We talked and wrote but, over time, the calls and letters became more and more infrequent. After several months, I received a letter from him that he still cared about me but didn’t know when or if we would see each other again. He also said he had met someone else. I was devastated but not really surprised. Over the years, I married, had a child and was busy working in my career. I heard from his host mother a few years ago that he had married a Canadian woman and had several kids.
I wouldn’t trade my life for anything but, seeing this picture, I momentarily felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. I stared at it and touched it for a few minutes. Then I smiled, closed the album and went back to folding my son’s shirts.