You and I took the old Jetta out there years ago. We drove into the sunset because you couldn’t wait for morning. On the drive over, you bounced your leg up and down and pointed out each color—the orange hue that turned pink, like the jars of powder you mixed to lemonade. I reached over and touched your thigh to steady it. You calmed. You wrapped your hand around mine. It felt soft, small. Your skin looked pale against my own, tinted red. The radio played old love songs, lyrics I didn’t know. I smiled when you belted out each word loudly, with confidence. You didn’t care that you sounded like a screeching cat when you missed the high notes. And neither did I. My memory often recreates your voice as flawless. I have to remind myself not to disgrace you with perfection.
When we got to the water, you pulled me out of the car and dragged me through the sand. It smelled like salt and taffy. The wind blew your hair in your eyes, and each time I tucked it behind your ear, more of it flew forward. You laughed and kissed me and I tasted your long, wavy strands on my tongue. You brought me to the water, and I planted my feet at the edge and shivered when it crashed against my toes. I folded my arms across my chest while you ran, fully clothed, straight into the murky water and threw your arms in the air. Your shirt stuck to your skin and you looked so beautiful against the deep green sea. I meant to tell you that color suited you. When you came back to me and wrapped your arms around me, holding me tight, I didn’t care that it was cold. You didn’t get down on your knees, or give me a long speech. You said, if it’s never made legal to love like we do, then I want to spend the rest of my life as your criminal. And you pulled a ring from your pocket.
Now, back here alone, the water smells like sewage and the wind hurts my cheeks and the pastor who buried you at the service they refused to let me attend must have buried the colors with you because I stand alone, feet fully emerged, icy waves to my knees, and I see nothing. Nothing but shadows. And staring out at the darkness that stretches for hundreds of miles, I’m aware of the pull beneath the water’s surface—the rush of the current tugging at my legs, and I must be feeling what you felt—the aching bones and the aching muscle in my chest and the promise, that moment of light, and it takes all the fight I have not to give in and let the water have me. Instead, I pull the ring from my pocket and wrap my hand, tight around it. “We won,” I whisper into the wind. And I hope you hear me.