Things I Would Like To Say To You But Don’t Know How

Things I Would Like To Say To You But Don’t Know How
All That We Had Is Lost, Postiljonen
Nineteen, Tegan and Sara
To Be Alone With You, Sufjan Stevens
Wonderwall, Ryan Adams
Say Anything, Anderson East, ft. Jill Andrews
Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, The Smiths

 

“SO YOU’RE GOING home, then.”

Sitting next to me on top of the picnic table the next night, Shane rested his arms on his knees and stared out at the water. I sat and stared parallel, trying hard not to blurt out, “No, I’m staying, of course I’ll stay, if you want me to stay, I’ll stay.

Please tell me to stay.

Instead, I looked up at the moon and breathed out my resignation. “Yeah, I think I have to.” The wind seemed to shift the stars around, the waves carrying them to shore. I love this, I found myself thinking. Being alone with you, in the dark. I would give anything to just spend my whole life here, alone with you.

“I gotta tell you, AC, I know you’re doing the right thing, but…” he paused, then sighed. “I really don’t want you to go.”

I lost my breath again – that seemed to happen a lot, with him, a whole year of gentle suffocation – and my heartbeat quickened pace. I breathed in to slow the pounding, then replied quietly, “I really don’t want to go, either. But they already know I’m coming.”

I had rehearsed my plan all day, knowing that calling my parents to say, “Hey, our family life sucks and I’ve decided to be the one to fix it!” was probably not the most brilliant plan. Even if I was wearing that thought on the inside like a t-shirt.

“Hey, Mom.”

There was silence on the other end, and I found myself wondering if she had forgotten the sound of my voice. “Aden. Hello.”

Nope, guess not.

“How are you?”

“Just fine. How are you?”

“Good.”

Silence.

I took a big breath in. “So, camp is winding down, and I’ve been thinking…I think I might be done here, and I’m not really sure what I want to do next…I mean, I’ve been thinking about maybe applying for a couple of volunteer projects…there’s this really great program in England…”

An audible intake of breath came from my mom’s end.

I closed my eyes and gripped the phone tighter. “Or, you know, maybe go back to school.”

I heard her exhale in relief.

I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, I was just, you know, wondering if maybe, I don’t know…I could maybe come and stay with you guys for a while.” Cue another intake of breath from her, only this time it was more of a gasp, a sucking sound. Hey, that’s funny, that’s exactly the way it sounds when I suck down all my pride and pretend like I actually need or want anything from you. “Just until I figure out my next move.”

The silence seemed to stretch on forever.

“I guess that would be fine,” she finally said.

“What?” I asked, not believing I had heard correctly. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“I said sure, Aden. When do you think you’ll get here?”

“Well…I was actually thinking about driving up on Friday.” Three days from now. It had to be soon, otherwise I knew I’d back out.

Another small pause. “Friday should be fine.”

“Okay. Well…thank you.”

“Mm-hmm…listen, I have to go, Aden. I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Okay-”

“Bye now.” The line clicked.

I stood there for a moment, holding the phone to my ear, wondering if I could call back and tell her just kidding, changed my mind! See you again in a few years…

But it was the right thing to do, I reminded myself – for the 50 billionth time – as I hung up the phone. And I had gotten really good with doing that lately. The Right Thing. It was odd, though, how doing the right thing might be the good thing to do, but it never really ever felt that great.

“Are you scared?” I heard Shane ask.

“I am,” I admitted. “I’m scared that I’ll be miserable up there. And that it’ll end up being the worst decision I ever made.” A small knot of panic rose in my throat. I was going to be so alone, I suddenly realized, and without my anchor. Even though at times I resented the bubble of camp, I felt safe there for that very reason. And now I was leaving it for some place up north, where I had no friends, a family who didn’t want me, and nothing to do except some (probably crappy) odd job. It hit me with full force that there really wasn’t anything to look forward to. Even if I did manage to make things right with my family, I was still going to be a 21-year-old living with my parents in the middle of nowhere. I kept trying to embrace it, citing all the times when I felt like I needed a new challenge.

I just didn’t think that, when I finally got one, it was going to suck so hard.

“I’m really proud of you, AC. I’d like to think that if it were me, I’d do the right thing, too. But I don’t know.” He shrugged, and stared out at the water. “I wish I knew where that came from. Your courage. That independence.” He leveled his gaze at me. “I wish I knew how you got that way.”

My eyes met his, and we stared at each other for what seemed to be the longest time, until the silence seemed to sing. I wish that I could tell you. There just never seems to be a right time.

“When do you start school, again? Next week?” I asked quietly, breaking the silence.

“I move into my new place on Sunday.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah.” Shane brushed his hands through his hair. It had gotten longer, floppy, over the summer, and the sun had bronzed the brown. He was one of those impossible boys who only seemed to get hotter, never less. “You’re leaving on Friday?”

I nodded.

“Let’s get together on Thursday night. Would that be okay? I really want to spend some time with you before you go. And there’s something I need to talk to you about. We’ll go out, do our own thing. Sound good?”

“Shane! Aden!”

We turned to see Hailey running towards us.

The announcements had been made at the end of spring: I was Summer Camp Director, second to Dan. “A perfect choice for you,” Dan told me as he slung an arm around my shoulders. “You’re unflappable. You know the ins and outs of every single thing that happens at camp and beyond. Plus, I can make you do whatever it is that I don’t want to do.”

“Aw, thanks, Dan,” I replied with mock enthusiasm. “Thanks for making sure that whatever I do at camp fills your needs.”

Dan replied by squeezing me towards him a little too tightly, making me squeal. “It’s ‘See the Need, Meet the Need,’ Aden,” he reminded me, citing the unofficial staff slogan, meant to spur everyone out of “but that’s not my job” complacency.

“Seriously, Dan, you know how much I hate that saying. Plus, it doesn’t stand for ‘Dan’s Needs,’” I retorted, then quickly ducked out and away from his reach before he could do me any more bodily harm.

Jenna was the Outbound Director for the second year in a row. Shane was the Program Director. “It’s like a glorified camp counselor,” Shane joked. “Only I’M THE CAPTAIN.” A third-year summer counselor, Hailey, was named the Assistant Program Director. Jenna and I had rolled our eyes covertly at each other during the announcement. Hailey was sweet. “She’s also boring. And fake. And totally lame,” Jenna listed off later, when we were alone and safe in the confines of our own cabin.

And now here she was, interrupting my conversation with Shane at the worst possible moment.

“Hey,” she said breathlessly as she reached the picnic table. “Garrett in Northern Pines just had a seizure.”

We both jumped up. Shane shot a look at me. “We’ll set something up later?”

“Sure,” I replied, keeping my eyes on him so I wouldn’t be tempted to shoot laser beams at Hailey and make her little blonde head blow up into a million pieces. “I’ll run up to the lodge and tell Dan. We’ll meet you guys at Northern Pines.”

He and Hailey both nodded, then trotted off together toward the row of cabins on the hill. I ran to the lodge, keeping my elbows tucked into my sides so I wouldn’t be tempted to jump and spin around in the air like a crazy person. Thursday, Thursday, Thursday. The entire world existed in Thursday.

Truth or Dare.

***

There had been one small moment one summer morning.

It was my first week of my first staff summer at Lakeside Bible Camp. The first two weeks of the summer season are reserved for counselor training, and all the counselors were packed into the dining hall for breakfast. I was maneuvering my way down the side aisle of the hall, trying to make it up to the front, when he stood up from his table and began to walk toward me. Thick legs and dry elbows, pushed out to make room on the wooden benches, crowded the aisle, so we both had to turn sideways to let the other one through. Our eyes locked. A scene flashed through my mind: Him, sitting across from me and smiling at me with this expression – like we really knew each other, like we had just talked about something that only the two of us could find amusing. Intimacy and mirth. My breath caught in my throat. I glanced back at him, but he was already through the length of the aisle and out the back door.

Shane and I ended up sitting on a kitchen counter across from each other a year and a half later; my legs crossed, hands stuffed into the front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt; Shane with one leg folded in and the other dangling off the edge of the counter top, his orange ski vest rustling whenever he moved, and him regarding me with the exact same expression that had come to me in my earlier premonition. We were now best friends. That was what he called me; I can still remember the first time that he did. He had been telling a story and had begun it with, “Aden, you’re one of my best friends…” I remember nodding dumbly, stunned silent with surprise, both from hearing him say that for the first time and the realization that it was true.

He had called me around 10 that night, asking if I wanted to go with him to the camp kitchen for chocolate milk (because that’s what you do at bible camp…while every other 21-year-old in the world was going out to the bars to get drunk, we made an event out of scavenging chocolate milk in the middle of the night). I loved the way he spoke to me when he did things like that. “Aden. Let’s go to the kitchen and get some chocolate milk.” No hemming or hawing, not even really asking. Just certain of what he wanted, and that he wanted it with me.

And that night, as tended to always happen when we talked, his words seemed to make everything grow still.

“Because I love God,” he replied quietly, when, later, I had asked why he had decided to work full-time at camp. “And I didn’t want faith to be just this small part of my life, an adjective I used to describe myself. I wanted something deeper.” He stared off into the distance as if he were deciding something. Then he looked at me again. “I wanted to find out what it was like to love God with my whole life.”

I didn’t want to move. I had felt this before, with him – this thing that happens when it all matches. That someone else is like this, too, and is pulling things from your heart. All the small scenes and sleeping thoughts you’ve rooted, buried deep under damp sod at the very bottom… They’re somehow making them appear, waking them up, with their own thoughts. I couldn’t wait to hear what he might say next. I wanted to hold on to every word and tuck them away inside my mind, to be studied and examined and memorized later, like diamonds in the palm of my hand. It had made me feel lucky, before, to have found a friend like him. So I wasn’t sure why, or how, or when it might have really began. All I remember is looking across the space between us and watching his mouth move as he began to speak, my stomach dropping as I realized, in that small, perfect moment, that I was in love with him.

I had been in love once before. Yet I was wholly unprepared for the way this hit: Totally and completely, without any conscious explanation or concern. I didn’t even really know him… There were still so many things we hadn’t talked about yet. But that was it, then: There was nothing he could say or do that would change my mind, make me think less of him, or cause me to question whether or not this was true. His entire face could be burned by acid, both legs be amputated, and he could admit that he had once raped an entire nunnery and sold them all into slavery, and I would still nod, eyes shining, and think with wonder, “Look at all that he’s been through.” It wasn’t because I was foolish or naïve. It was because what I knew of him, then, so far, was enough.

I kept it quiet, though. Waited, because he told me to.

“Okay, Shane, it’s your turn,” Jenna had smirked. Sprawled out on the floor of Dan’s cabin late one Friday night in October, the group had grown quiet and bored until I had teasingly suggested that we play Truth or Dare. I had been mostly joking, but surprisingly, everyone was game. It started out relatively tame with questions about which celebrity you’d want to kiss (Dan had picked Betty White from The Golden Girls. “I think she’d be pretty good. She’s probably got a lot of experience on me.”) or dares to prank call Chad, the so-easy-to-enrage-that-it-was-now-a-national-pastime camp cook. But then Dan called on Jenna (“Jenna, how many boys have you made out with?” – “15. What? I felt like God’s love should be spread around a lot.”), and now it was her turn.

“Shane: Truth or Dare.”

“Truth,” Shane answered, as he picked at the strings on his acoustic guitar. I tried to identify the song he was playing. It was right on the tip of my tongue, like that word that’ll describe everything perfectly but just won’t come out. Things like that drove me crazy.

Jenna’s smirk grew wider. Oh god. I knew that look on Jenna’s face by now. Focusing intently on the blue throw pillow resting by my feet, I imagined myself bounding on top of her and smothering her with it before she could say anything more.

“Is there,” she began, teasing every word out, “someone at caaamp…” She paused again. Come on, Jenna, I wanted to yell. Just get it over with already. “That you’re attracted to?”

Shane opened his mouth to answer.

“As more than friends,” she quickly added.

The room fell quiet except for the sound of Shane’s slow strumming. It seemed like a million years until he finally spoke.

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “Yeah, there’s someone at camp that I dig.”

Even though I refused to look up from the blue throw pillow, I could feel Jenna’s eyes burning into me like lasers. My mind swiftly flipped through all the girls on year-round staff: There was Kristen, but I knew Shane wasn’t into her. She was too prudish, mousey. There was Tara; Tara was pretty, but I had mentioned something about her one day to Shane and he had casually replied that she wasn’t his type. That only left Jenna and me. And Jenna was engaged to Luke.

“But is it love?” Shane continued. “Is it just lust?” He shrugged. “I don’t know yet.” He was quiet for a moment, the gentle strumming – “Wonderwall”, I suddenly realized, he was playing “Wonderwall”, which I had told him only a few days earlier was one of my favorite songs – again the only sound in the air. “I hope it’s love,” he quietly added, “but I’m not going to do anything about it until the year’s over.”

I lifted my eyes. His met mine for the briefest moment, then dropped back down to his fingers as they continued to strum out my favorite song on his guitar.

***

And now it was Thursday, and it was finally here: The end of the year and the beginning of everything I had been waiting so long and patiently for.

Earlier that day, Jenna sat on my bed and watched me get ready for my hang-out with Shane. It felt a little like prom, the amount of thought and attention I had spent on my outfit, hair, and makeup. Screwing the top back onto a tube of pale pink lip gloss, I caught her eye in the mirror. “Do I look okay?”

“Um, you look fucking gorgeous – excuse my swearing.” Jenna swore like a sailor, but always reflexively added “excuse my swearing.” I had long given up telling her that she didn’t need to do that when it was just us. “Must be rough to be a natural beauty.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “Must be rough to be a life-sized Barbie doll.”

Jenna was someone I never expected to be friends with. In all brutal honesty, if you met Jenna off the street, you might take her for a stuck-up and shallow sorority girl. Which she totally used to be, and would admit to you if you ever brought it up. If you were one of the lucky few to see past that, though, you found yourself a hilarious, open-minded, and fiercely protective friend. She was my partner-in-crime at camp, both of us delighting in the fact that we had found someone we didn’t have to pretend to be perfect with.

Returning my eyes to the mirror, I tossed a hand through my hair and pressed my lips together to spread the gloss.

“Do you realize that’s one of your trademarks?” I heard Jenna ask.

“What do you mean?”

“You always do that, with your hair. Brush your hand through it like that. And then your hair looks even more amazing, making me want to–” her voice broke, and she swallowed hard, “smack you.”

Moving from the mirror to the bed in one swift step, I knelt down in front of her. I had never really seen her cry before. “Jenna, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she replied, rolling her eyes as tears spilled down her cheeks. “It’s just that…you’re leaving tomorrow, and I’m going to miss you so much, and tonight you’re hanging out with Shane and I know you never talk about it but I’m so excited and nervous for you and just…I’m just kind of a wreck tonight.” She looked at me plaintively. “I’m sorry.”

I smiled at her. I had always been careful to never say anything to her or Dan about my feelings for Shane. I had been terrified that if I made even a tiny gesture at acknowledging how I felt about him, all of it would come pouring out – that I loved him; that I wanted him, really wanted him, so much it made me curl up at night with keen hope; that when I first realized I was in love with him, I had felt everything in my entire life wrap around him, it all made sense now, it was all okay because it brought me to him – and wouldn’t ever stop. So I just didn’t say anything. And they never made me, though they obviously still knew.

“I mean, it’s not like she’s fooling herself,” I once overheard Dan say, on a Friday night in late April. Dan and Jenna were hanging out at the cabin that Jenna and I shared, waiting for Shane and I to get back with movies and food. The movie selection at the store had been bleak, so Shane had stopped off at his cabin to grab some more choices while I went on ahead. Bounding up the steps, my feet froze when Dan’s words drifted out to the porch. I should just go on inside, I told myself. Interrupt them. Yet something about Dan’s tone told me that this might be something I wanted to hear.

I leaned up against the side of the window, where I could both listen and peer in undetected, and waited.

“Agreed,” Jenna replied, propping herself up on an elbow after laying down on the brown carpet. The little A-line cabin was built in the early ‘70s, and both Jenna and I loved it to death. It still had this chocolate brown and bright orange theme – brown carpet, orange countertops, etc. – that made me think of ABBA, or the puffy ski vest my mom used to wear when I was little. “But doesn’t it kind of bother you that they don’t ever say anything, to either of us? We’re their closest friends here. I just wanna make them say it, you know?” I saw Jenna hold up her hands and pantomime as if she were holding two dolls. “I love you… Oh, I love you, too… Let’s make out and get married and have millions of babies… Mmmwaaah.”

“You’re seriously deranged. Right? You know that.”

“Yes. Hence why I’m friends with you.” Jenna rolled onto her back and stretched out onto the thick carpet. “Do you really think Shane feels the same way?”

“Being that we never get any bro time because he always wants to bring her along to everything, yes. I would think he feels the same way.”

“Dude. You just said ‘bro time’.”

“So?”

“So maybe don’t say that in public. Maybe, from now on, only use it around the people who love you unconditionally.”

“You’re so mean.”

“It’s called tough love.” Jenna’s face turned serious. “Do you think she’ll ever talk to us about it?”

“I don’t know. Aden’s pretty quiet about everything. She tends to say more with what she doesn’t say.”

I watched them exchange a meaningful look.

“And I think Shane just wants to respect her privacy. We all work together,” Dan pointed out. “Unless it’s a sure bet and they’re going to get married and everything, it’s messy to start something while we’re all here. What if there are feelings there, but one of them doesn’t know if they’re all in yet? I’d want to keep it to myself until I was sure. For everyone’s sake.”

Exactly, I wanted to yell. That’s exactly it.

Jenna nodded, her expression thoughtful. “They’re really perfect for each other, though.”

“Yeah, they are.”

I let out a slow breath, each molecule of carbon dioxide floating out at a singular pace, my diaphragm compressing under the loaded weight of what they had said. Footsteps grew closer, and I turned to see Shane walking up the path to the cabin, the soft spring mud cushioning his steps. Waving back to him, I quickly stepped inside, trying to affect an easy smile and a casual hello under the glowy, golden living room lights. As if I had just gotten there, hadn’t heard anything that had just been said, had no idea that they could easily express – as if it were already fact, already common knowledge – all the things that I so fervently wished, every morning and night, would come true.

“Jenna,” I said softly, “You’re one of my best friends in the entire world. You know that, right? You have no idea how much I’m going to miss you after I leave.”

“I know,” she said, nodding and quickly wiping tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m trying not to be selfish. I’m just going to miss this, you know? Just hanging out in your room together, being stupid.”

I nodded solemnly. “Inhaling Doritos and talking about our future sex lives is sort of the best time ever.”

Jenna giggled, then reached out and smoothed down my hair. “Yeah, let’s not tell Luke about our debate on whether or not he’ll be good at oral.” She stood up, then motioned for me to do the same. “Okay, all done being a baby. Besides, you gotta get out of here.” Jenna turned me around and smacked me hard on the ass. “Get out, I said! Go team!”

//

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