I was six years old. I no longer remember her name.
Red hair and freckles, she stood out to me, like nobody else did. We used to have to walk in line, parallel girls and boys, holding hands as we moved to a new place. It was always pinky fingers, curled around the tiny finger of your partner (girl germs and all that). I used to try to stand besides her, just hoping that I'd end up with my finger wrapped around hers.
I wrote her name in the playground dust, scratched her initials below mine. She never saw the letters I left in the dirt...I never showed her. In a matter of minutes, hours, days, the wind swept them away.
She would arrive at school around the same time every day. I'd be there, waiting. Thirteen years old, standing by the coppers logs surrounding the car park, tracing the patterns of sap seeping from the huge pine that stood on the edge of the oval. A congregation point for classes of kids, released from the confines of the classroom, soaking in the space and air. On the mornings when a thick white frost coated the grass on the sports fields, and fog hung low, I had the tree to myself. Just waiting.
She had black hair, and a wicked smile. The type of girl who captures a young boy's heart with the toss of her hair, and a devastatingly timed precision strike smile. Entrancing, but radiating a sense of distance that never went as far as forcing you away - it just made her all the more wanted. By just about every boy in the year.
We'd talk...but were never really friends. I'd lie in bed, in those thoughtful moments before sleep, and her face would enter my mind. But it didn't ever make its way into my dreams.
The first time I met her, I was adrift in a sea of people I didn't know. Sixteen years old, the first weeks in a school where I knew nobody. I don't know how we got to talking that day in maths - I just know it must have been more her doing than mine. I clung to her, the only one who'd thrown me the lifeline I was incapable of grasping on my own.
Too scared to open my heart with fumbling thoughts - afraid of stuttered words, tripping over a tongue suddenly grown thick - I opened it with words scratched on paper. Wrapping my pages around a tape, filled with music that said everything I couldn't. She didn't ever mention it directly, and I never did get past the fear of spilling my heart face to face.
We went our separate ways, our school days over. I'd never really given up hope - but I never did find my voice.
She was the first one to mirror interest in me. Like a clap of thunder from a clear blue sky, she was suddenly - just - there. I still remember the afternoon that my friend and housemate convinced me to tag along to that quiz night (of all places...). Pulling on old jeans, and the grey jumper that's been with me for so long, I walked out the front door, and I've never really returned. Not the same.
Wrestling on the floor, chasing her up the hallway - never running as hard as I could - I didn't want to catch her straight away. Warm smiles, laughter and conversation. Tight embraces, and wet kisses.
1,305 days...and she was gone.
She taught me that life is an ever changing thing. When all light was absorbed from around me, she forced her way into my consciousness, wrapped in hues and shades I'd dismissed as nothing but myth.
When I was falling, she caught me. Carried me higher than my imagination could grasp, and showed me that the earth has shape. Contours I couldn't see from the ground I walked, horizons I was not tall enough to see past. And when I was higher than I'd ever been, she let me fall. She let me discover that new wings sometimes take a long time to dry, but finally, I was ready to spread mine.
She reminded me that tears dry...and when they do, the skin below has been washed clear of the dirt and dust. Clear trails are carved, that I could be clean, once again.
She reminds me, to this day.