We all called him Fen. Amongst other things.
Fin-Ter. Fender. Lego-Legs.
I didn't know him. Didn't know anyone heading into my first year of high school.
I'd lived away the year before, my friends were all a year ahead and moved on and I was new and shy and quiet. Unsure of how to make friends. Sensitive to social rejections real or imagined.
I joined band. The only elective I had free that year, my other courses already spoken for by the program I'd moved high schools for. Played the flute. One of several girls sitting pretty in our chairs while the rest of the instruments made real noise, serious hoots and clashes.
I'd wanted to play drums, percussion, so I'd steal glances at that section whenever we had a break. Or were warming up. Or packing up.
And that's where I first saw Fen.
Fen played the bass. Electric. Stood just behind the percussionists with their kettle drums and snare drum and cymbals . He seemed shy too. I don't know how I knew this; there's sometimes just a feeling of kindred spiritedness with other shy people that I can't explain. Maybe it's the smile our eyes have when they catch, before they look away, but he seemed shy. Except with me.
Not that we talked. But he made me laugh. He'd do silly things when he'd catch me looking. I have a clear memory of him spinning around and around on the floor, his hand on his sheet music as if he were a human top. He always had a smile for me; a twinkle in his eyes. Eyes that weren't quite hidden behind his hair.
I don't remember when we first talked, or how or why, but I was nervous of him. Hell, I was nervous of everyone, but something about him was both comforting and nervous-making.
But safe. And scary. All at once.
Fast forward through months and a year and Fen and I are friends. Not hang-out-at-the-mall friends, but friends nonetheless.
He's sort of on the fringe and I never feel like I fit in anywhere and maybe this is why I feel safe with him.
We have conversations deep at night that teenagers have no right or need to be having. I tell him that my soul looks like quicksilver. He tells me his is sealed in a box with curtains covering the only window and he'd open the curtains for me and for his wife. No one else.
It's never romantic between us. Probably because we're both scared. And shy. The idea of being with him terrifies me. Terrifies me because it'd be too much. Too intense. Too close. He'd know me.
I don't know where our life would take us. I'm still scared of him. Utterly terrified of letting him that close.
I move away, he writes me once. A letter I still have. Talking about memories from high school. Shared stories. The one time I yelled at him because I thought I saw him smoking.
Remember? He writes. I was flicking off the crumbs from a fig newton.
I smile, my eyes laughing as if he's back across the band room from me.
Later that year he starts dating someone. Has a girlfriend. I'm broken hearted. Had never imagined he'd move on from me. Never imagined he'd kiss anyone unless it was me. But I tell him I hope he's happy and I remind him about the time his lizard jumped when he was feeding it and latched onto his nose because I want to laugh.
I keep the crying until I'm off the phone.
I let him slide away.
My second or third year away from home we reconnect. He says he has friends in town. He'll come visit. Stay with them. We can meet up. See each other. Go out. Talk.
I know this is it. Can feel it in my bones that if I meet up with him we'll end up talking into the night and once the sky grows dark we'll kiss. His lips will touch mine and it'll all be over. I'll follow him everywhere. Follow him into his lifestyle that's so very different from mine. So very free and wild and full of adventure and nowhere near the safe, close, normal, expected life I've built for myself. So I let the phone ring.
The night he comes to town and we're supposed to meet up, I let the phone ring.
I don't pick it up. I don't answer. I don't take a risk and see what happens.
I don't jump.
I don't try.
I don't find out what it would be like to be held by him, embraced by him, physically, not just emotionally loved by him.
I let him slide away.
I send him Christmas cards, hear from him once. I apologize for being too scared to meet up with him. And then he's gone. Out of my life. I don't hear from him again.
He doesn't exist outside of my memory. None of my friends have kept in contact with him and he's a non-presence on the world wide web. I know this because I search for him regularly.
Until I found him.
A few months ago, one of my random searches of his name popped up with a website. And you know how the internet works, so a few clicks later I found a picture of him.
Mature. A man.
The boy I'd loved and known is a man. A man who doesn't look like the boy I knew. A man who may not have anything of that boy left in him. A stranger. A man living as an artist. Living the life I wasn't brave enough to pursue.
But above all the rest; a man I don't know.
And I wish I knew him. Wish I was the woman standing next to him.
But this incarnation, this version of me isn't, wasn't ready for that. I don't know who I'd be now if I'd met him that night. Don't know who I'd be if I'd moved into his place back in grade 10 after a painful fight with my parents when he offered; said his Mom wouldn't mind.
I miss him. My Fen. Steffan.
I miss the feeling of having my heart living safely in another person, and having that person in the background of my life.
Fen will always be in my life, he was so much of my growing up. Was my anchor during my worst years, my light and steady rock when I was drowning and flailing and hopeless and dark.
Fen understood and never had to say anything and he was always there. I always knew he'd be there, and I'm sorry I let that slide.
I've stopped sending him Christmas cards; I asked him to contact me if he was still getting them.
He didn't, so I won't send them anymore.
I know this hasn't explained it, this post. Hasn't explained enough the connection we had, the safety I felt just knowing he existed in my life. I'll never be able to put into words what Fen was and is to me and for me and who he is and the spirit that I hope he's now letting free, but I love him and am so grateful to have had him in my life when I did and I'm so grateful a part of my heart and soul and spirit will always have him safely inside.
I wouldn't be here without him. Never imagined he'd grow up.
But we both did.
Love you, Fen.