His mullet was beautiful. I had never seen anything like it before. Staring across the pool at him made my six-year-old body nervous and excited at the same time. No one knows what love means at that age. All I knew is that I wanted Zachary Crawford to continue watching me.
“Show us your dive J.,” my mother laughed. “Watch this,” she said, smiling coyly at Zach’s father.
Stepping up to the edge of the pool I placed my toes slightly past the brim. Bending my boney knees at almost a 90 degree angle, I arched my arms above my head in perfect Olympic fashion. One, two ,three…and “jump!” I screamed.
As my head surfaced I could hear laughing from all sides. Having no clue how to dive, and an intense fear of my head smashing into the water, I had perfected a type of feet first belly-flopping which is still utilized by JBlondie today.
“That was the moment,” he said. “That was the moment I decided you were the cutest girl in the entire world.” Zachary always had a way of making me blush.
We were sixteen when he first told me he loved me. We then spent all night talking on the telephone. Both of us would go to school the next day and write letters to one another during study hall. Young love is such an amazing thing. It’s so intense, and so free all at the same time. I find it sad that as we age we forget how to love like that. Life creates boundaries for our heart in order to prevent future breaks. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to realize those boundaries cannot be crossed.
Being that he still lived in Atlanta, and my mother had moved us to the Chicago area a few years back, made my first love a little unusual. However, distance has never kept my heart from feeling, and being young you think everything will eventually unfold as planned. Our parents often grounded us for outrageous telephone bills (there wasn’t free long-distance back then) and writing letters to one another was our calling card. Receiving snail mail is still one of life’s tiny pleasures for me. I become ridiculously excited opening the post box.
At age eighteen I asked Zachary if he would be my first. I loved him unconditionally. While at that moment in time he had told me his feelings weren’t mutual, I knew he loved me as much as you can love someone whom you’re not “in love” with.
He visited me for a week after high school graduation. It was awkward, and painful, but everything you could ever want for your first time.
As I headed off to college, Zachary got stuck in an abyss of uncertainty. Where my future was a straight path, his seemed to have multiple forks in the road. Eventually he decided to join the Army and away he went to Iraq and then to Afghanistan. The war was at it’s peak and my wildest imagination could not due justice to his experiences while deployed.
Upon a three-week break from fighting in the sand, he asked me to come and visit. I took my first solo road trip down to Georgia to see him. I already noticed changes in his personality. He was colder. Parts of him were still goofy and fun, but his spirit seemed more abrasive.
One night while visiting we were watching a movie about The Vietnam War. I couldn’t take it and went to bed crying. He came and held me in the dark. It was such a selfish moment that I will always remember it. I should have been holding him.
Zachary would continue to write letters to me while he was deployed and of course I wrote back. He called me a few times while in Afghanistan (this was before Skype) and during one particular phone call he alluded to the fact he was having a difficult moment. His thoughts were dark and very hopeless. It’s only now looking back I realize that could have been the last time I heard his voice.
After his last deployment he was stationed in Texas. It was all pretty ironic seeing as I had chosen to attend grad school in the same state. He called me a few times after returning home and we had discussed possibly seeing one another, but then I received a text message from him one afternoon…
“I got married today. Thought of you.”
Zachary eloped with a girl named Jessica. They now have two adorable boys who look exactly like their mother. He and I stayed in-touch for a long time, and would occasionally message each other to check-in, but now he’s disappeared from my life. Even so, Zach will always be my best-friend-ever, and I will forever remain his clumsy mermaid.
Growing up in Georgia in the early 90’s was the best time of my life. I still think of Atlanta as home. On certain warm fall days my mind will drift back to a time when the high point of my afternoon was climbing trees with Zachary Crawford in the woods behind his house …silently pleading him to kiss me.