When I met him, I was fifteen. I was in Aruba with my mother. It was our first trip together after my father died. She was going, I’m sure, to get away from cold Vermont and the cold house and the cold everything that follows the death of someone you love, and I was going because I had to. Not that I complained. Who complains about going to Aruba?
We stayed at a Holiday Inn, directly on the beach. Inside the hotel, there was a casino, a restaurant, a couple of stores, and a game room for kids to hang out. Air hockey, television, a pool table. The kinds of things to occupy kids’ time when their parents are in the stores or in the casinos or at the bar and don’t want to be bothered by their children. (My mother was never one of these parents. I, being fifteen, was more of the opinion that I didn’t want to be bothered by my mother.)
Maybe it was our third night in Aruba, maybe second. I can’t remember. My mom took me to a restaurant that, according to the Reception Desk, had good food. What I remember there wasn’t the food and it wasn’t the atmosphere and it wasn’t what I was wearing and it wasn’t what my mom and I talked about. It was seeing a boy across a room and catching eyes with him one trillion times.
My mother even noticed him, but mostly noticed me noticing him. When you’re fifteen, you’re not very skilled at looking at boys the way you are when you’re older (if you can call what I’ve got skills.) And so my mom looked at him too and we both giggled. This boy in the restaurant was cute in all the ways a freshman in high school thinks boys can be cute. He had dark hair and he had dark eyes and he was taller than I was. He didn’t look much older than I, but I knew he wasn’t younger. We looked at each other through white lattice that separated our tables from each other, mine and my mother’s party of two from his and his family’s party of ten. My face blushed all through dinner. At one point, the waiters asked everyone in the restaurant to stand up and dance around in a circle. At least, I think this happened. Maybe I’m making it up so that I can get to the part where I stood directly across the table from the cute boy and we smiled at each other. It’s funny what our memories will make us think.
Of course, when you’re fourteen, you’re incredibly shy and lacking any guts whatsoever to say anything to any boy you think is cute. So the end of dinner was the end of dinner, and I went home with my mom to the hotel, and he went home with his big family to wherever he was going.
Since it was late and since I was Fifteen and able to Go Places On My Own, I left my mother reading in the hotel room and went to the game room. And now again, my memory fools me. Probably because what would happen next would set the stage for the next thirteen years.
The cute boy? The boy from the restaurant? Standing right in front of me in the game room of the Holiday Inn in Aruba. Maybe I was wearing a blue shirt, maybe some shorts. Maybe my hair was up in a ponytail, or maybe I had worn it down. Those details escape me. But what’s there, permanently, is the image of us standing there, me and the cute boy through the white lattice, in the middle of the game room, talking. I have absolutely no idea what happened after that, what we talked about or where we went. I don’t remember awkwardly introducing myself, though I probably did, and I don’t remember how he introduced himself, though that was probably awkward too. When you’re fifteen, everything is awkward. What I do remember is walking on the beach with him on the way to get icecream and knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that I loved him. His name was Jake. His name is Jake.
The few days we had together in Aruba I can’t remember. But those aren’t the important days. The important days are the ones that happened in the years that followed–the days we spent writing to each other–the days before e-mail when we could sit down at a desk, or curl up on our beds, and write on real paper and stick them in real envelopes and mail them in the real mail and wait days to get them from each other. We wrote each other every single week. The green Birkenstock shoe box beneath my bed grew until it overflowed with letters from Jake. We did this every week for two and a half years. I had his address memorized–even the ZIP code–and would look everyday for the little white envelope from Holden, Massachusetts in our pile of mail. My mom would announce, “Gina! You have a letter from Jake!” when she came home from work with the mail, and I would run to open it up.
We didn’t talk often on the phone. Our friendship was one built on writing. Every week, without fail. One year, when our parents realized we were such good friends that we needed to see each other again, they arranged an overnight. My mom came down and we stayed at Jake’s family’s house for the night. He gave me for my birthday a heavy glass orb, the kind you hang from a window, the kind that has colors swirled into it. The next time I saw him, we were at Lake Bomoseen in Vermont where his family had a lake house. I visited him twice there. There, he gave me a teddy bear named Federico.
While we were such good friends, we only saw each other three our four times over the course of our friendship. We seldom talked on the phone, and I don’t think we ever talked about dating each other. I had a string of boyfriends and he had been dating a girl all throughout high school. It wasn’t something we talked about nor were interested in, I think. We were just best, best friends. The kind of friends so special you can’t even compare them to anything else on earth.
And then Jake, being one year older than I, decided maybe he’d go to college in Vermont, only a few minutes away from me, in Burlington. To think that my best friend would be so close to me! I was thrilled. He came to my house with two of his friends to look at the school during his senior year when he was deciding on where he would attend. It was either University of Vermont or Ithaca College in New York. While I’d love to say he went to UVM, he decided on Ithaca and although I was sad to know he would be farther from me, I was excited to possibly visit him in New York.
And so it was during my senior year that I planned a weekend to visit him at college. But, lo and behold, my dearest Jake had a girlfriend who will forever be called The Woman With No Soul who said, in maybe not these exact words, “Jake, Gina shall not be allowed to see you. It’s me or her. And if you choose her, you will DIE.” And so, my dearest Jake chose The Woman With No Soul over me. And that crushed my heart in innumerable and unimaginable ways and we didn’t speak for months and months. I called him once during my freshman year, shortly after John Denver died (I remember because I saw the report on the news that night) and it was awkward. Really, really uncomfortable and sad. It was a short conversation because I couldn’t bear to hear about that Woman. He told me he’d proposed to her. And she’d said yes. And then he married her. And then we didn’t speak for years and years.
So my life, as it would, continued. And so did his, though the two of us, once so wound around each other’s existence, now lived completely separate lives. Although I was curious about what he was doing, the stubborn part of me was still so hurt and still so upset over his choice that I refused to call him. One cold Christmas, my mother, curious and motivated as ever, called his parents to touch base, to find out what he was up to. But that was as close as I got to him. A part of my heart grew cold, the part that I had kept for Jake. I missed my friend.
Until the day, here in Brazil, when I wrote this and read his response and my heart flew up into my throat and I wrote him back immediately. It had been ten years since we had talked to each other or heard from each other. And now, suddenly, here was my dear Jake. He had been looking for me.
It’s probably not a surprise that the Woman With No Soul is out of the picture. It’s also not a surprise that she remains sem soul to this very day having stomped quite a bit on Jake’s over the past ten years. It’s not my business to expose the details of his life to the world, but I will say that because of the Woman, Jake and I are friends again. Like no time passed in between. In the three months that have recently passed, our old habit of writing weekly reestablished itself with new fervor. Old letters and living on different continents has given way to e-mail and IMs. Already I have acquired maybe a hundred messages between us. I am never as happy as when I see Jake’s name appear in my e-mail inbox. I am never as thankful to have my old friend back.
During these three months, I have wondered what it would be like to talk to him again, to hear his voice. I wondered if I would call him, or if he would call me, or what we would talk about. The safety of writing is that you have time to think about what it is you want to say before you put it down in words. You have time to mull things over a bit. But talking? No time. It’s immediate. Needless to say, although I felt so thankful to at least be back in contact with Jake, I felt something was missing. I wanted to talk to him.
And so it was today that we talked. The first time in ten years. My Jake. My friend Jake, on the other end of the phone. With a midwestern accent, the voice a little older and deeper, but crystal clear through the telephone. I called him, eagerly and earnestly to give him some advice for his evening. And it was as if we had spoken to each other just the other day. Just yesterday. I know that is cliche–but for once I don’t give a damn. I just talked to the person I knew I would love and love forever and who has been gone for so long and I believe everyone, everyone should get to have a moment like this–when a person who loves you gets to shout out to the world how happy she is to know you, to have you back in her life, to hear your voice on the other end of the phone, and to feel like she is fifteen again.