“You gonna tell me what happened today?”
I’m tracing my finger in the dirt, making patterns, staring at them. My throat is tight and I can’t make a sound without letting everything out, so I shrug. Uncle Hanok sighs. He’s sitting on his favorite stool on the porch outside his junkyard/antique store. “Depends on your point of view”, he always says.
“Omara, it’s about that girl, isn’t it?”
I want to run but I can’t move. I’ve wrapped my arms around my knees and that’s what’s holding me together. I think about Selene.
“I know you love her”, my uncle says. “I’m guessing now she knows, too.”
“I needed to say it.” I don’t know how those words got out. I’m clenched so tight it’s hard even to breathe. I’m holding back a flood. There’s a shadow and now my uncle is kneeling there in the dirt with me and he’s talking: “You didn’t have to say anything. Its how you look at her.”
“I had to say it…”
“Omara, what did she say?”
And so I told him the story: How it was after hours at school and I thought Selene and I were alone, climbing my favorite tree. It had a low branch, level and easy enough for her to reach (she’s not as good a climber as me) and there’s room to sit and talk.
I told him how I let her have the trunk as a seat back, so she’d be comfortable. How I’d finally grown brave enough to tell her. Well, more like miserable at not telling her. Sure it was obvious to her. Positive it would be in the way ’til I told her.
I told him how I stumbled and mumbled and finally the words fell out of my mouth: “I love you”. And how I was grateful at least to look at her face and see she understood my meaning. I stopped breathing. She leaned forward, her hair so long it tickled my arm, and she put her hand on mine. But before she could speak, I heard them. Some of our classmates had been below the tree listening the whole time and now they started a sing-song: “Omara loves Selene. Omara loves Selene.” My face burned. I turned too fast to see them and fell off the branch.
“You never fall” says my uncle. Many times he’d watched me climb to the highest branches on that tree, branches so thin only faith and speed held me up as I ran and jumped to the next tree, laughing. He laughed with me, delighted in my skill.
“I fell into the middle of them” I say. I remember their laughter, sneers and a few kicks. Selene climbed down quickly to help but they ran away.
“What did she say?”
“What do you think? Do you think I’d be like this….” I gesture at myself – the bruises, the tear-streaked dirt on my face and arms.
And then Uncle Hanok is next to me, wrapping me in strong arms and smelling of dust and dirt and warmth. He kisses the top of my head, kneels back down in the dirt and looks me in the eyes a long time.
Finally, he says, “I know what she said. She said: ‘I love you too, but not like that. I love you as a friend. I’m sorry I don’t feel the same way.’ Something like that.”
I look back at him. “For me” my uncle says “her name was Sabine. Not quite the same, I know, but still. She told me no and everyone found out and they were decidedly unkind about it.” My uncle and understatement are fast friends.
“What happened?” I’m sorry for him but glad for a moment to think of pain that’s not mine.
“I left her. I thought I couldn’t just be her friend and it’s the one thing I’ve regretted most. You can do this, Omara.” He takes my shoulders in his hands and locks eyes with me. “Keep her close. Don’t expect her to change her mind though. It’ll be hard but you don’t want to lose her.”
“But they heard….”
“They don’t matter. And Selene can handle them. I’ve seen her. She’ll crack a few heads for you, I know it. And then it will be over.”
My uncle hugs me again and I let everything out. Sobbing like this feels almost good, the pain is like the only real true things I’ve ever felt. But then he suddenly lets me go and stands back. I look at him and he nods once, over my shoulder. I can’t look. I can’t turn and face her.
So she comes to me.
Interesting in learning more about Omara? Click here to read “Omara, A Short Story”.
Post Script: I read this story tonight at SWAG (Staunton/Waynesboro/Augusta Group of Writers). Afterwards, a woman came up to me. She said “I liked your story. My son was gay. He killed himself when he was 15. It was good to hear a story like that.” She touched my arm when she said this – to let me know it was okay. She wasn’t looking for sympathy for her loss, but trying to tell me what it meant to her to hear a love story like this. It meant a lot.