Back then I never wondered: Will I think back to this? Will I miss the sand and the water? I knew I never would. I thought, sitting there with you, that my nostalgia would be exceptional: that I’d recall other details, the light reflecting off some surface I alone had the soul to notice, or how a gull took a clever swerve from one side of the sky to another as if to show me, and me alone, that the universe worked cleverly, artistically.
You would be a memory of a good summer, I thought, a summer I knew then belonged to my youth. I exploited my youth. I knew, and you knew with me in your way, how someone older and sadder would tell us to seize this now, for life in principle was going to be very long but this part went too fast. Seize it, an older man would say, had said to me, in different voices and places. This, now, take what you have and be young. You have her, have her now. Nothing you do now will matter unless you fail to do it. Hold on to nothing but do it all exquisitely.
And I knew anything we did might be excused that way. I thought: everyone around is young too, but I have heard the older people speak when they are sad. I have heard the regret implied in their advice. I am clever and I’m young. None of this will matter. Kiss her. Be cruel but earnest. I am clever and I have the youth that grants me endless pardons.
So I seized the immortality I thought I was too clever to believe in, just as you seized yours. Casual, unconvinced by each other, but desperate to convince in our turn, we did flippancy, we tried needing nothing in the world but what we saw before us. We seized what seized us. And that night it was the sea we had, and the sand, the distant chanting of hippies we did not think meant what they did. It was a calf and its reticent mother lowing quietly under one of the cabins built into the trees.
I don’t recall the clever swerving of a gull, or the refraction of stray light through some crack in the waves. Nothing brilliant about me comes to mind from those days. You were fascinating, but perhaps more now, now my distracting brilliance has stopped blinding me, now that I can hear what I think I remember you saying. We fought. I stood and shook the sand from my legs and said not to drag me into your hole. What did I mean? That you wished nothing more than to be stuck where you were, feeling what you felt. Perhaps I was too many things to be happy as your pain. But it lasted only hours. When I was asleep in our cabin, I felt you climb the stairs, felt you get onto your inch-thick mattress on your part of the floor. You knocked my head back against the wall. We knew how romantic, how young it all was, to reunite this way. We had spent our time apart before, we would spend it again once this was over. But how good we were at this awareness of doing youth right.
I am not much older now. I think eight years have passed since we met, perhaps six since we last touched in the flesh. The details that return are sea, sand, argument and lowing calf. Despite all our pretensions, we ended up a simple memory of something already vanishing then, half-extinguished by our cleverness.
I wish I’d known that knowing didn’t matter then. I wish I’d filtered less through a future I never got. I wish I’d never thought there was a right way to be young.