I told him I loved him only once in my life.
I felt it the first time, in the sweltering heat of mid-summer. Sitting curled up on a towel because the wooden planks of the dock were too hot to touch and contrasted the icy tributaries of crisp Muskoka water running off the tips of my hair and down my back. And then, I saw him.
I couldn’t make sense of it. I was only eleven. But in my gut, in my heart, in an overwhelming cascade of weightlessness and a brief interruption in the existence of time, I knew he was everything.
But I didn’t know. I was only eleven, so we played games in the lake, and on the shores, jumped from cliffs, and sat by fires all summer, and people called us friends, but he never felt like my friends felt. He was more. He was better. He was the echo called into the canyon coming back to meet its voice. He consumed me. He filled that addict’s void in me before I even knew it needed filling. But the best part was, everything he was for me, he realized I was for him. And I consumed him, too.
And we chose each other, day after day, all summer long, not because we wanted to, but because the other choices suddenly didn’t matter, because suddenly we no longer needed choices. But we didn’t know it. We were only eleven.
As summer grew colder, always cut abruptly short in the North, I yearned to be with him. I refused to say goodbye on his final day, childishly thinking that if I didn’t say it, he couldn’t possibly go. But a permanent resident of cottage country dictated a constant churn of tourists. I, merely a stock character in the lives of others, and hopefully not an archetype, but probably.
But he didn’t go.
The affair continued through the change of seasons and he became woven into the group of friends who felt normal, and he filled my heart with laughter and misadventure for the next 365 days.
Until Labour Day, 2002, when we innocently went for ice cream after swimming in the lake and playing road hockey all afternoon, like the quintessential Canadian latch-key kids we were, and he questioned my choice in ice cream flavour.
“Seriously, vanilla is your favourite flavour?” He was irrationally angered by this.
“Yeah,” I nodded and took an obnoxiously long lick up the side of my cone to prove a point.
“Vanilla’s not even a real flavour. Geez, have an opinion.” He licked his pecan praline.
“Okay,” I conceded, “I think you’re a dick.”
He shot a glare at me, one that would dissolve every shred of self-control in the years to come.
“Vanilla is my favourite,” I repeated with a cheeky grin. “That is my opinion.”
Then his taunting and brazen glare softened, melting into a genuine and bashful smirk, as if he was trying to hold back his elation. And I replay this memory over and over and over in my head because it was when he realized he loved me, and I was unaware of how he was plaguing my heart with his poison, but I have loved nothing more than to see him this happy.
And it would be another 10 years before I would tell him.