The first time I saw him, I was six years old. His name was George Anthony. I’m sure I must have seen him before that, but that is the first time I can remember. It was the first time he registered. My heart was more much more advanced than my brain could possibly have been. I saw him. The man I love. The one I would love for the rest of my life. But, not just be in love with him. No, cursed to love him forever without him ever knowing.
George Anthony was my neighbor’s youngest son. Well, he is their youngest son. He is still their son, but neither of us still live in our childhood homes next to each other. Two steps out my back door; three garden stones, a step down into the alley, metal gate, a step up out of the alley and two more steps to his back door. Growing up in the inner city, that was all that separated us. Our whole city block was basically one large, slightly dysfunctional extended family. It seemed as if the dangerous reality of our city didn’t exist for our row of homes. On Olive Street everyone knew each other and took care of each other. I was raised spending as much time in George’s mother’s kitchen as I did my own. It is that comfort of having family all around and running barefoot from house to house, that is the thing I think I miss the most about my childhood.
It was cold out that night when I first saw him. It was mid-December in eastern Pennsylvania so it was more than cold, it was absolutely frigid out. I know because my mom was smoking out the window of our second-floor sun porch. The sun porch was a narrow room just wider than a hallway that ran the length of the second floor. It connected the three modest bedrooms and bathroom up there. She only did this when it was too cold to smoke outside because there was a strict no smoking in the house policy for the Reilly’s due to my asthma. She would sit in the dark, her legs crossed on top of our homemade toy box. She looked like a fairy sitting atop a mushroom in a dark forest. I can probably count the number of times I saw her there on my two hands, but that image of her is forever engrained in my brain. There was something otherworldly about her, something mystical. She always told me we came from the gypsies, that my great grandmother could place a hex on you with just one look. Her powers were supposedly passed down to my grandmother, my mother and finally me. Although, I still haven’t seen any recognizable or worthwhile abilities manifest themselves. Silently sitting, watching the Christmas lights sparkle that night, I snuck up on my mom. I always wanted to be near her. Fear of missing out was far from being a catchphrase in the early nineties, but I very much suffered from it. Wherever she was, I wanted to be. I silently crawled up on the toy box facing her and pressed my forehead against the cool window to watch the lights with her. I stared out, smiling at the lights against the dark blue, nearly black sky. But then I looked down to the ground below and there he stood. Just outside his kitchen door, he was standing there silently smoking a cigarette and staring off into the alley behind our houses. He had no idea that we could see him from the second-floor window. We sat completely in the dark, but he was illuminated by the motion security light his father installed just that week. The harsh white light casts a surprisingly warm glow on him. I examined him, unabashedly staring in a way that you can only get away with when you are young. My mother must have noticed me observing him, but there is no way she could have known what I was thinking, feeling or where it would lead. The first thing I noticed was his skin. His permanently tan skin was so different from my pale, pasty skin. His face was shaven smooth except for where it gave way to the short coffee-colored hair of his sideburns. It was combed forward in a George Clooney-esque Caesar cut. He was tall, but not intimidatingly so. His striking presence came from his broad shoulders. I got the feeling that I wanted to know what it would be like to have his arms wrapped around me. He was older by quite a few years, twelve to be exact. A fact that wouldn’t even come into my consciousness for several years. Even still, somehow standing with one hand inside of his Temple University hoodie he made my heart swell. He was mysterious to me, he was intriguing. There was a twinkle in his eye as he stared out at the thin layer of snow on the ground. I was stuck still at that moment and I thought in my teeny tiny mind “I love him.”
“What is it then? Why the sudden need to flee the capital?” Sami asks as she picks up a pair of jeans and begins to roll them into the tiniest mound she can possibly create.
“I’ve been having those dreams again.” I start folding clothes along with her.
“The George dreams?” Sami says with a mixture of concern and intrigue in her voice. “Oh no.” She knows exactly what I am referring to.
“Oh yes,” I confirm.
“Oh no. I thought they had stopped?” She stops folding.
Sami has seen the aftermath of too many George dreams. All throughout our college years, she woke up when I would in the middle of the night crying, screaming and laughing. She listened over breakfast as I agonized over each excruciating detail. Most importantly, she took me out and made me meet real flesh and blood men when I would simply refuse to believe anyone out there would mean anything more to me than a quick thrill in the bar parking lot. She’s been with me through it all, it only makes sense that she be with me now.
I shake my head. “They did stop for a while. For a long time actually, I was fine. I barely even thought about him. It has just been the past few weeks they have started again. Every freaking night there he is. My eyes are barely closed for a minute and he appears. Then this morning, I woke up and I just…I just snapped. It all became completely clear to me. I have to find him.”
“He did always have a very dream-worthy quality like Uncle Jesse meets Freddy Mercury. But after all these…wait.”
Sami stops she is just staring at me. She isn’t moving, she isn’t sipping her coffee or folding her clothes. Her eyes are fixed on mine and there is absolute silence. I don’t think there has ever been this much silence between us in our entire lives. Then…
“What do you mean find him?” Sami finally asks suspiciously.
“These dreams have been slightly different. In them, I am seeing him in different countries, different cities. They are incredibly specific. We are together and happy. I think that maybe they are trying to tell me something. Maybe they are telling me to go out and find him. And hey, you and I, we always talked about backpacking across Europe!”
I am really hoping that last little spin sells her.
“Backpack across Europe to look for George?” Now it seems she is even more suspicious. My plan may have backfired.
“Yes…and no. It will be our quarter-life crisis trip, our adventure, we will follow the dreams and if we happen to find George along the way…then it was meant to be, like fate.” I give Sami an unwavering, confident look and a slow smile crawls across her face.
“I love it when you talk fairytale to me.” She says before taking a sip of her coffee.