You saw me for the first time in the lunch line. I was nervous and bored because I didn’t know anyone on the mission trip. I don’t know why I said hi. I think it was your eyes; yes, it had to be. You had those piercing hazel eyes.
“Hey, what’s your name?” I asked.
“Ingrid,” you replied.
Ingrid. I liked that name. Ingrid was the name of the actress who played Ilsa in “Casablanca.” You even had the soft glow on your cheeks she had — the sharp nose, small ears, mysterious grin, charming voice. Besides that, you had long, light brown hair, no makeup and an effortless outfit.
We had our first conversation then, and I had no idea how much of an impact you would have on my life.
We didn’t care for each other; we didn’t even think about each other at first. It wasn’t until the second night after we met, when you touched my arm, that something sparked inside of me. I doubt you meant anything by it, but for me, that was when it started. After that miraculous touch, we sat down with everybody else and listened to a man preaching.
My legs were stretched out when I felt your leg slightly slide under mine. I didn’t know if you touched me on purpose until it happened again. And then it kept on going. The sides of our thighs would touch, and we would leave them like that for minutes.
At the end of the night, we had to stand up for group prayer. Our group wrapped their arms around each other, and so did we.
Tucked under each other’s arms, you placed your head on my shoulder. We hadn’t even looked each other in the eyes all night, but at that moment, we both knew something was happening.
No one around us noticed. From a distance, we looked like two people who had never met. We didn’t need to talk because our secret body language said so much more. It became a whole language, a new, more intimate way of speaking, clearer than any other form of dialect.
After that night, I couldn’t wait for what was ahead of us. We all went to bed, and when the next day arrived, we spoke to each other as often as possible.
Most barriers were broken, and I felt like I had known you for years. My immaturity made me neglect the reality that I’d just met you a couple days ago.
On the fifth night, we talked and laughed for hours and discovered that we were both bookworms, so we decided to read together in the empty cafeteria. At that time, my friend and your friend went into another room, and had a conversation I wished they would’ve never had.
After an hour of reading, we were sent to bed. I left with my friend, and you left with yours. While getting undressed, I kept imagining what could happen between us, what we could do and see together after this trip.
“I think you should know,” my friend said, “she has a boyfriend back home.”
When he said that, I paused. I became hot and anxious. My thoughts of a future with you were shaken and thrown down a void of anger and sadness.
The next day, I never mentioned it because I didn’t want to make it awkward. I acted as if nothing had happened, hoping you would tell me yourself. You didn’t.
So we just kept on speaking.
Some days later, I finally asked you about it. You were sad and embarrassed. You told me that you couldn’t have known this would happen. You didn’t intend to fall for me, but you couldn’t control your feelings.
“I wish we could stay here forever,” you said.
“You know that won’t happen.”
Your eyes turned away from me. “Yeah, I know,” you said, fidgeting with your hair. “What do you want to do?”
There was silence for a few minutes.
In that silence, I realized it didn’t matter what I did. I would never be with you, even if we both tried to make it work. Nonetheless, your face was like clear, still water, and I saw myself on the surface. My jealousy and anger dissipated as the thought of our distance grew.
“Have you ever seen ‘Casablanca’?”
“No,” you replied, blushing.
“It’s an old movie,” I said, “about two people who meet in Paris and fall in love. They want to leave for America together but can’t. She has responsibilities, and so does he. If they went together, they would eventually regret it. And at the end of the movie, they part ways.”
Laying my hand over yours, I told you that this moment reminded me of what he said to her in the movie.
“What was it?” you asked.
“We’ll always have Paris.”
You stood there, warmly gazing at me, the ground acting as our stage and a breeze lightly sweeping by.
“Ingrid, I don’t think we want to waste this trip. It was wrong not to tell me you have someone else. But we don’t have enough time to be mad at each other. Before we know it, we’ll go our separate ways. We’ll regret wasting our time with anger —”
You cut me off. “Let’s make the most of these last days together. Let’s make them the best they can be,” you said with a smile.
Your eyes glistened against the parting sun, and everything inside me wanted you. “We’ll always have this trip,” I said.
You jumped up to my chest, hugged me, and we closed our eyes to the symphony of colors glowing behind us.
The following days we spoke to each other even more. Everything was transparent now. There was no point in hiding anymore, and permanent memories were created.
On the final day of our trip, I woke up early. I grabbed a pen and paper and sat down to write a letter. I could’ve just texted it to you, but I wanted it to be more old fashioned. When I finished the letter and gave it to you, I told you not to open it until you were on the plane.
When we finally said our goodbyes, I pretended it wasn’t a big deal. But on the inside, your departure crushed me. I wanted to stay and hold you close.
You grabbed my hand and hugged me tightly for the last time. Then, just like that, you were gone.
I’ve arrived home now, and I know my feelings for you will eventually fade. It probably wasn’t love. It was more like an infatuation, a sundry of silly teenage emotions.
However, I know I will never forget our time together — the touches, the glances, the smiles, the smells. The speaking.
Still, I’m afraid to forget you. I dread the day when I will forget these feelings — the day when I meet another girl and pursue her and not you. The day when I’ll sit down and realize that, when you pass by my mind, I don’t feel anything at all. One day, this feeling will die, and when it does, I will let go of you.
When you die in my heart, I will not cry, but tonight I will.
At least we’ll always have that trip.