“Come with me.” A child’s voice, emerging in air. In summer, we ran through the wooded trail behind the orchard, the calloused soles of our bare feet skipping along parallel tracks worn into the earth by wagon wheels long gone. We chased each other through the apple trees, kicking up rotting fruit, smelling pungent like apple cider, and jumped to grab apples from the lowest hanging branches. Moss ran between the wheel tracks and we ran along this strip, one foot touching lightly down before the other, perfectly aligned, a balancing act. It was love.
My body matched your own, narrow hips and flat chest. We both had bowl cuts and high voices and long, lanky limbs. You taught me the words your family spoke at home, taught me words that felt round and exotic in my mouth. Un arbre. El cel. T’estimo. We developed a language in which gestures stood in for words and silence stood in for gestures. Sometimes an hour would pass by without an utterance exchanged, as we overturned stones in search of salamanders or navigated a new path through the underbrush.
In another time, farmers trudged across this space in the midday sun, tending to livestock and wheat pastures. I liked to think that I could sense their presence on this now grown-over land, liked to think that this earth would capture a person here, transcending time. Stonewalls marked squares across the earth, squares meant to corral, to contain, to hold in. Now the stones traced patterns through chaos—birch trees and oak trees tangling together toward the sun beyond the apple orchards, blueberry bushes sprawling across poison ivy beds. We returned home with teeth stained blue from the sweet berries and poison glistening up our calves.
When your father lost his job, your mother cried with relief. She knew this meant home, she knew this meant dry Mediterranean air and the green blue of the sea and Spanish wine shared late into the early hours. Your mother missed Girona’s stone architecture, the winding streets, the sounds of home. Your parents told you not to cry, my mother wiped away my tears. But in our child’s world, a great chasm had formed between everything we knew and could not quite understand, not yet, and everything that would not be. You moved back to Catalonia. When you left, we were children. We sent letters, addressed and postmarked by our parents. We sent e-mails when we learned how to use the Internet, discovered instant messaging, pinging murmurs back and forth across the world.
Still, I ate brown bag PB+J’s under the lunchroom’s florescent light; now, you walked the one-mile from school to home for the large midday meal your mother prepared. El dinar, you called it. Sometimes you invited classmates home and your mother beamed to see you making friends—she had worried about that, of course. Still, I talked about the Super Bowl and Boy Meets World and when Ellie Sherrington would finally cut her hair; now, your friends shared a language I could not understand. You decoded snippets of your conversations into our blinking chat box, but sometimes the nuances didn’t translate, sometimes I couldn’t recognize the jokes. I didn’t know Acció or LaCote or LICOR d'Ensaïmada, musicians you told me, your favorite. I couldn’t watch 16 Dobles, which aired in 50-minute episodes each Tuesday night. And yet, even as our worlds slid further apart, we seemed to grow into something that had been there all along.
One day, you returned. You drove two hours from your uncle’s home in the city, where your family had set up camp for the week, arrived on my doorstep, accent thicker, hair shaggier, four years older. Square jaw line and a stranger’s voice. I found you in your eyes. Familiar.
I brought you to Ali Carson’s barn party that night, leading you up her gravel driveway, pushing open the large splintered doors, pulling you by the hand through the sweaty crowd. Boys turned. Girls flirted with their eyes. Your accent, now heavy, drew stares. “How exotic.” No, no, I wanted to say. He belonged here once. He belonged to me.
“I am different,” you said, brushing your olive skin gently against my own, pale despite the summer sun. I pulled my hand away. “I don’t belong here,” you said. “Yes, you do. You do.”
You were taller now. The trees were taller now. “Come with me.” The next day, I held your hand and led you to the woods again. “Do you remember?” I walked along one wagon track as you walked along the other, our shoulders barely brushing. In the woods, your memories matched my own. We picked our way through the brush and I blushed as you held aside branches that in another time, I would have torn through on my own. We pulled each other further and further away from the world, murmuring secrets to the trees. We marveled at the way the stonewall stones fit so perfectly together, the way someone had selected and paired each groove to fit another. We walked on. Miles in, someone had carved initials into oak bark on the trailside, “LM + JT,” nestled within a lopsided heart. Do you love me? I wanted to ask.
The soft earth hugged us, cradled us in pine needles and fern. I wanted to stay within this wilderness, decided that we would never leave this perfectness behind. I spun dreams into the air and let them settle over us like mist. We sank into the trees, let their branches envelop us, allowed the tree bark to grow over our skin like armor. We became the forest floor, becoming moss, becoming soil, becoming sand and silt. Becoming granite, iron, silicate rock, becoming, until my longing became the heart of the earth, beating a rhythm at gravity’s center.
“Toss the world away,” I said, pulling the key to your uncle’s beat up pickup truck from your back jean pocket. “Do it,” I whispered, pressing the key against your palm and grinning into your eyes. I imagined running away, living on berries and apples and squirrel. You would build us a cabin; we’d live one with the land. My reincarnated Thoreau. You held your hand up, as though to throw the key into the brush behind us.
“Do it,” I said, giggling. “Give me this earth and you, and you, and that’s all I really need.”
You kissed me on the mouth, wet, messy, and then you did, you threw that key high up over your shoulder. Silence, silence, we heard the key land, so faintly, silence. I looked at you. You looked at me. “You didn’t,” I said. You nodded, eyes wide. I shook my head. We laughed, and then we weren’t laughing anymore.
For hours now, on hands and knees, we picked our way through the brush, upturning rotting oak leaves and broken branches, pulling at tree roots, pulling our limbs through briars that pulled at our flesh. We bickered—crawled around blindly with our eyes fixed to the forest floor. Bumped heads. “What were you thinking?” I chastised. “Oncle Carles will kill me,” you said.
I sighed loudly when you strayed too far. You cursed at me in Catalan and I threw these curses back at you. Hostia! Quina putada. Callar. Shut up. You laughed at my accent. I clenched my fists. I fumed. I wanted you gone. “Keep looking,” you said.
I wanted the New England pines to speak the same sentiments that Girona’s rio Onyar spoke to you. I wanted us to live in one world, una món, to speak with one language. I wanted to close my fist around the Catholic cross resting against your collarbone and see love with the same eyes. “No,” you said.
I translated. “No?”
We were weary from the sun, weary for water and food. You unwrapped a stale peppermint from your back pocket and handed it to me. Sustenance. A peace offering. I held it in my mouth gently, letting its sweetness slowly melt across my tongue, savoring its presence long after it was gone.
The sun was setting when I set my hand down upon something cool and hard in the soil. I pressed my weight into the ground, letting the key’s sharp ridges bite into my palm before calling out to you. Finally we rested. I remember crying. “I’m leaving tomorrow,” you said.
And then, after we brushed the dirt from hands and knees, after we followed the trail back down toward Fruitlands, after we picked our way between the apple trees so heavy with unpicked fruit, you drove me home and kissed me on the cheek gently, goodbye, and you drove the two hours back to your uncle’s home in the city, and you lifted into the sky, stretching the space between us taut.