The Sweetness

Do you remember the day we sat together on the front stoop, eating orange popsicles in the rain? You held my hand and I kissed your cheek, my lips sticking for a moment in the sugary film. I licked them, afterwards, lingering in the orange tang and reveling in the innocence of your smile. It’s still my favorite day because it was the day I learned who you were.

We were only four years old, brought together by my grandmother’s willingness to unburden our overworked mothers from time to time. Do you remember how we played mother-may-I in the yard and made a grown up home under the old oak tree? We whispered and shouted, imagined and imitated, like only a couple of four-year-olds could do.

And then, the unthinkable, as we sat on the stoop on that fateful summer day. Mr. Harfinkle’s dog got loose and ran straight for us. Do you remember? He was such a mean old man and his dog was vicious. I screamed and scrambled, trying to find my footing, but I somehow slipped, barreling down the steps, straight towards the galloping creature.

It amazes me now, the clarity my barely-formed brain could reach. It was merely a split second, but my little lifetime projected before me in an heartbeat. Even at four years old, I was acutely aware of my mortality in some instinctual, automatic way. I can recall that exact moment, more clearly than any other in my life thus far. To this day it defines me, just like your actions in that same moment will define you forever in my mind.

How you managed it, I’ll never know, but you arrested my fall barely in time to keep the dog’s jaws from closing on my throat. One moment I was flying into certain death, orange drops of popsicle melding with the rain around me, and the next I was behind you.

You stood eye to eye with the dog and it growled a deep beart-stopping growl, but it didn’t move. Somehow, your little four-year-old ferocity backed the dog down long enough for Mr. Harfinkle to arrive, spitting bile at us like a couple of four-year-olds were responsible for all of the disappointments in his life. You stared him down too, until he stammered and backed away, pulling the dog by its collar.

My little heart was beating with the pounding rain, as fear dissipated and love flooded in, both tattooing it indelibly forever. So much has happened since that day. I lost you when the adults in our lives moved in different directions and found you again, right when I needed you. As a child, I loved you, but as adults we fell in love. Not infatuation, but real, deeply-rooted love, with all of its trappings.

We’ve lived a lifetime of happiness and sadness, children and grandchildren, fear and safety… All of it made possible on the day you saved me from certain death. Now I sit and hold your hand, waiting for the moment you’ll open your eyes for one last goodbye. When you do, I’ll kiss your cheek, allowing my lips to linger in the sweetness.

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