I always had a bad habit of keeping ephemera for sentimental purposes. The top drawer of my childhood dresser was full of old notes, drawings, and jewellery. There are notes written in crayon that I left underneath my pillow after my grandfather passed away when I was 6. I used to think this was a method of summoning him into my dreams. When he was very ill and going through chemo, I would sit beside him with a coloring book, and he would watch me carefully fill in the blank spaces with my massive pack of Crayola. A year later, all of my pillowcases were smudged with obsidian black, smelling like waxy paraffin mixed with my mother’s laundry detergent. That smell became sacred to me. It would awaken my amygdala and unlock memories from my hippocampus. Now, the association is blurred between my dreams and memories, a black Jetta, and a boy called V.
I remember the first night V told me he liked me. The heavens had opened up while we were sitting in the football fields with our friend, Jake, talking about God and death. It was a hot, humid, sticky evening. The sky was a peculiar periwinkle colour before the lighting struck and the thunder shook the trees. A monsoon ensued, and we rushed to Jake’s car and hydroplaned all the way back to Jake’s house. Once back, we sprawled out next to the front door on the forest green carpet, leaving silhouettes of rain water in the shapes of our bodies. I remember the way the carpet snaked up the stairs into the dark corridor, turning from a rich mossy green, into a midnight black. Jake had gone into the abyss of the upstairs to take a shower.
I was soaked to my underpants, and my lemon dyed hair was knotted and damp. V was wearing a white shirt, and I could see right through it as it stuck to his skin like plastic wrap, suffocating the small tuft of hair he had in the centre of his chest. He looked at me with tears in his greyish-blue eyes, telling me he had to leave his girlfriend. I knew why. I played dumb. Part of me felt guilty, like I had actively made him fall in love with me (I was trying). The other part of me was alight, fireworks bursting inside my chest, making stomach acid swell in my throat from the excitement.
I had a strict curfew from my parents, so I quickly changed the subject, saying I couldn’t get in trouble. Before I left, V hugged me, then he lifted me up. We stayed there, embracing in silence for 5 minutes until our friend walked down the stairs. So much happened in that silence. I huffed him in all of his teenage glory, smelling like sweat and Axe. We were already drenched, so I couldn’t tell if his tears were running down my shoulder, or if it was my hair being rung out by his tight grasp. I never had a boy cry for me before.
Two days later, he broke up with his girlfriend, and he picked me up in his 2001 black Jetta. That car had a distinct smell of crayons. I was 15 and, for the first time in my life, feeling nostalgic for childhood, thinking of my grandfather and death. I was still a child, but I was scared of how I was becoming a woman. From having watched my sister’s turbulent ascension, it didn’t seem easy or particularly fun. V had been in a long term relationship for most of his high school, and my only knowledge of relationships had been predicated on my hormonal urges. I had no idea what love was meant to be.
V spent his spare time studying history and religion as a way of making sense of his own troubled life. He was smart, one of the smartest people I have ever met. He educated me on politics and philosophy. He wasn’t condescending. He let me explore the tangled roots of my own brain. He helped me speculate and put my feelings into words. We dissected our dreams like frogs in biology class, cutting open the heart and then anatomising the brain, searching for meaning.
He touched me with the tenderness of a shepherd carrying a lamb that had broken its leg on impact from the force of being thrusted into this world. All I had known about touch and love was from clunky explorations through excited, immature fervour. V wanted to respect and learn about me. He moved slowly with intention and always asked for my permission.
I used to push my bed against my window so that headlights turning into the driveway would wake me up. Many nights, I put my sweater over the alarm system at my parents house and slid out the back door at 2am. Spring peepers, cicadas, and crickets greeted me gleefully as I sprinted up the driveway to that black Jetta.
We would stay up all night, sitting under orange street lamps, sometimes making out, but mostly talking. I learned all about his childhood and the rocky relationship his parents had. He never could forgive his mom or God. We would go to the gas station, getting coffee and honey buns, then we would watch a strawberry and grape marbled sherbet sunrise over the river. No subject went untouched. No part of each other’s bodies went untouched. No colour in the Crayola box was unused.
The summer before he left for college, we laid in his bed on the fourth of July. He whispered that we would stay together forever while the skies burst madly with sound and colour. I could already feel things slipping, and it felt like we had met our untimely demise in a war that only I was fighting.
He left for college, which was only a 40 minute drive away. With his Jetta, I would never have to go a weekend without seeing him. I got a job that allowed me to pay for gas so he could come back home and see me.
After a year, a long lineage of mental illness caught up with me and my depression manifested itself for the first time. I broke up with him, looking for something to feel; sadness was better than nothing, blue was better than grey. I couldn’t formulate a reason for it. I went from talking about everything to becoming unable to articulate a reason for ending things. The slinky of my DNA was bound to have a kink in it somewhere, it wasn’t his fault. But that stupid Jetta and that stupid smell didn’t help. Why did it have to smell like crayons? Why did it have to give me whiplash, take me back to my childhood to where I didn’t know the horrors of womanhood? Why couldn’t I feel that same openness I felt at 12-years-old, drawing self portraits and writing poetry? Where was the spark burning in my heart? Did he steal it from me? Should I have opted to stay blissfully unaware of the state of politics and the world?
It was never his fault. But I wish could use crayons again.