Down the roads that are more pothole than street, past the boarded-up windows and the year-old for sale signs and the gravel swept neatly from faded old welcome mats, there are memories that come only with the arrival of their bearer.
These are sights that stop existing when they leave the field of vision, places that fill up the heart but not the mind. They need to be seen to be believed.
He came bearing a bike he would’ve stolen as a child, eyeing suspicion that he’d scoff at back in the day. You could have told past-him this, but he wouldn’t have listened. His present self, too, needed to be seen to be believed.
There was the wreck of a rec area, more weed and mud than grass and dirt. There were the monkey bars he chipped his teeth on, the playground where he got in his first fistfight.
Eyes followed as he rode past–hungry eyes, but eyes that knew they couldn’t push too hard. This was obviously someone who didn’t come here often. They had no idea.
Here was the block he once rode around with no hands, with nothing but his ass to steer the circles. Here was the net-less hoop he used to play on, that same corner of backboard that had torn off years ago after an aborted alley oop attempt.
His work’s khakis were getting frayed and wet from the loose gravel that shot up from the bike’s chain, but he didn’t mind. Here was the old block. Here were the memories.
Here was the lake he fell into after misjudging the thickness of the ice. Here was the alley he’d found the used condom in, the one he’d thought was a strange, wet balloon.
The creek that always died out before reaching the lake, and the pipe it fed into, the one he got stuck in and had to holler for help to escape from during a game of hide and seek.
And there was the old neighbor, his eyes not used to seeing this young man in khakis and dress shirt, and so not seeing the boy he used to know. The boy in torn-up jeans and hand-me-down shirts.
Here was the park where he’d first kissed her, when he’d thanked the moonless sky for covering up his blush. There’s the forest preserve where they walked and talked for hours, where he first told her he loved her.
His throat was dry and hands shaking on the handlebars, but there were some things that needed to be seen to be believed. And until he saw her, he couldn’t leave. Not now and not ever.
There was the doorstep where he’d cried for as many hours as they’d talked all those years prior, where he said someone else could take the scholarship, that he didn’t need it, and she’d insisted he couldn’t pass this up.
There’s the bus stop where he said goodbye with a “see you later,” knowing at the time that he was likely lying. But he’d make good on it now. He had to.
There was her old apartment, the numbers still nearly falling off and name still spelled wrong. He got off his bike and set it down where they’d first looked up at the stars together. He didn’t bother locking it.
To the door she’d pushed him up against all those times with rough kisses and the delicate ones to soften the blow, too.
He knocked. And he watched. And he waited. And he turned around to the bike with his khakis and his dress shirt. And he took a step toward it.
But the door’s creak stopped him. And he turned. And he saw her.
Some things need to be seen to be believed.