It's funny that I never admitted until now, 12 years later that he was one of my first big crushes. Like, omega crush. At the time, I think his head of coppery curls and his dimpled smile that sealed the deal. He would come by sometimes and bonk me on the ponytail and my junior high school heart would skip a beat. He was 4 years older and my camp counselor - completely unattainable but beautiful, inside and out.
I think beyond the overwhelming pre-teen drama that was bubbling up underneath my each and every pre-teen pore, I was drawn to him because of how he approached my internal turmoil. It was the first time in my life, that summer at camp, that I began to question whether or not I prescribed to the beliefs that I was raised with. I didn't know what I thought anymore, and not knowing made me ache to my core. My blue skies began to fill themselves with the black smoke of hellfire that I feared would consume my immortal soul if my doubt was left unchecked. His kind smile and gentle demeanor beckoned me to come forward with my terror. We talked a few times, and he invited me to share lunch once. I still remember the ketchup dripping down my fingers from my hamburger, as I tried not to look like a slob. I thought I might throw up a little as he casually opened the conversation. He asked me if I liked Bob Marley. My brother had just introduced me to Bob Marley, so I was able to recount the one song that I knew with the confidence of an expert. As the conversation progressed to the matter at hand, my woes of eternal damnation, I found myself speaking more fluidly and comfortably. My thoughts were no longer masked by my rose-colored crush glasses. He was a believer and I wanted the secrets. I needed them.
At that time in my life, I needed somebody who understood why it was so important to me that I believe again. Somebody who could comprehend my terror and shame. What I didn't know I also needed, was someone to tell me that I wasn't crazy or bad. He reassured me. He told me that it wasn't wrong to question what I believe, that thoughts are thoughts. It was like a warm spring rain, hearing those words. The burden that had coiled itself tightly around my heartstrings eased.
The point is not whether I came back to my original beliefs or not, now or then. The point is that he was the someone there, at that turning point in my life, who offered solace and wisdom in the way that my soul required it. He did not tell me what to believe or not to believe, just that I should "be good and keep thinking". His coppery hair caught my attention, but his genuine compassion is what made me remember him long after the crush had dissolved.
He popped back into my head this morning, and I wanted to see what he was up to, how he was doing. I looked him up. He died 6 months ago.
...I wonder if he ever remembered me, too.