I drew and painted simple things from nature because everything around me was a rainbow tornado of frosted eyeshadow and pink and toner and women with blood red lips. My father’s photography was frenetic: slow exposures and light painting and long trails of light and chaos. My mother’s head was chaotic, too of course. She was the one who whispered the secrets of the Goddess of chaos and war in his head when she was still a muse. Her gifts were beautiful, but they were dark and scary and untamed. I wanted hills and valleys and quiet woods. I always craved and obsessed myself sick with the opposite of what I had: we lived in the city, I wanted the woods.
In April, the year that I was thirteen, the rosebud trees on our block were starting to explode in purplish red and I felt such deep unrest and anxiousness that I started talking long walks to the nearby greenbelt park alone with my sketchbook, some mod podge, some tape, and my pens. My father did buy me nice art supplies; even when I hadn’t had a new pair of jeans in a year (all of my pants were flood pants), I did have bins and bins of india ink, drawing pens in fine and bold, architect-grade markers…One day when I was making my daily after school hike in the rolling trails (that sometimes were covered in glass bottles and cigarette butts), I saw a boy about my age sitting under my favorite magnolia. The one whose perfume was almost chokingly strong by the end of summer, but in April had just a vague, wispy smell to it.
He was planted, cross-legged, under my magnolia like he had been there forever. I wasn’t mad. Like I said, this isn’t that kind of story where the princess gets fiesty because some rogue boy is sitting in her very special regular spot. It was not my spot. I am no princess. Everyone should be able to sit under whatever tree they want.
This boy looked like he was supposed to be there that day. Sunlight fell on his white blonde hair and his face was bent and he was looking at something very closely in his hands. I assumed it was a book. It wasn’t. I felt myself pulled closer to him and took a few steps closer, really wanting to see what held his attention so very close and wishing I was what held his attention so very close, too.
It was a bird. A little fat baby robin, its feathers still fluffy and spotty and its chest all orange. He was looking at it as though he’d never seen anything quite like it in the world and I felt like the bird was animatronic or something because who on earth can just hold a wild baby bird that way without the bird flying away? Where was the mother? Mama birds will usually peck anyone or anything’s head off that even looks at their babies.
I decided to break the spell. I wanted so badly to be in the scene of boy + bird + tree. I so wanted that boy.
“Is it your pet?”
He looked up and his eyes were blue, blue, blue and his skin was so white (like my mother’s). He smiled but it wasn’t a smile that other boys around my age would normally give, it was kind and there was no hint of snark or shyness or danger in it at all.
“Not my pet. Just a bird. I wanted to hold it and feel its feathers. Would you like to hold it?”
I answered quite strong and quite fast because I really wanted to step through this odd threshhold that seemed to be glimmering around him. Like I would enter some other dimension just by brushing my hand over his or something. “Yes I would!!” and I bounded forward and of course the bird jumped out of the boy’s hands and hopped away, practically tripping over its little legs to get past me. “Oh no! I’m so sorry!”
“It’s all right. I am not angry. The bird had to go back anyway. What is your name?” His eyes were still weird and still calm and he looked like all of his focus was on me alone. Another odd thing for a boy around my age.
“My name is Anne. What’s yours?”
“I can’t tell you.” He smiled that honest, transparent smile again. His eyes were just so blue and I could see the little red veins in the half moons under his eyes.
I laughed a little nervously and snorted a little bit probably. “What do you mean you can’t tell me?”
“I can’t tell you my name. I’m sorry.” He got up and brushed off his jeans and I saw that his legs were crazy long and he was probably almost six foot tall already. A little bit of voltage shot through me as he walked across the grass to where I was standing. “But thank you, Anne, for telling me yours. Anne…What does it mean? I have not heard it before.”
“You’ve never heard the name Anne? I’m named after Anne Frank. Have you heard of her?”
He shook his head slowly, still smiling, still staring.
I smiled back because he was so beautiful and so weird and seemed so new and so old and so uncomplicated, “I noticed you…I noticed you have an accent…are you Canadian or something?”
“What’s Canadian? Where is it?” I would have thought he was maybe a little slow or maybe playing a really mean joke on me. I was thirteen though, and I was an odd bird who liked to draw. I didn’t trust boys much. My ears felt a little hot and I really hoped he wasn’t just some jerk kid. That would have been the worst thing ever. “I guess you’re not from Canada if you don’t know where it is or that it’s a country. Are you new to here? To this town? Do you go to school?”
He shook his head, still looking at me with the same fascinated, concentrated stare he had examined the baby robin with. “I don’t go to school, Anne. I have to leave now. Is this a tree you visit often? I like it. I’ve never seen this type of tree before. Where I come from the trees are white with little brown and black bands around them. Nothing like this. Nothing that smells like…Nothing that smells like a girl’s hair in the sunlight.” he looked down at his simple black cloth shoes.
He said my name so formally, like he had never addressed anyone by name before and was trying out the sound of things in his mouth as he spoke them.
“Oh. Where do you have to go? Do you live near here?” I felt like I was asking a zillion questions but my heart, my heart was a drum booming erratically in its little gilded cage and I couldn’t stop the shake in my voice or the questions from coming out. I felt like I needed him to leave so I could sit down and go to sleep.
“I do not live near here.Not really. But I have to go now. Good bye, Anne.” and then another one of those odd old little smiles and he turned and walked behind the magnolia tree and vaporized or something deeper into the woods that separated the greenbelt from the busy street and I tried to see where he was going but he was already somewhere else.
I started going to the tree every single day after school. Then I started going during school because I couldn’t sit still in class thinking about his blue, blue eyes and the paleness of his skin and the little red veins and his long thin legs. Soon I was all consumed and tripping over my feet like that baby robin.
I wanted to tell Godmother about him, because I usually didn’t talk to my mother about boys or anything else besides painting and drawing and art and stuff. Godmother was who I told about most of my secrets. Not all though. There are some secrets that can’t be said out loud to the people who love you the most. Their love is too sacred and the secrets might make the line that connects you together fainter and fainer and fainter. But a boy I could tell her about.