Ode to Forgotten Skin

2016 Barrett Winner

2nd Place Ayat AL-Tamimi

“You’re 16, you don’t know the meaning of love,” she says to me.
I click my pen, tap my fingers, feel the itch in my skin. As if I can’t open up the pages of a dictionary and find

“A feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.”
Somehow, I thought that the definition would be more Hallmark, that
There would be something in the yellowed pages and cracked spine about the fact that your voice shifts the tide, that
Your smile is the rising and setting of the sun
The warm breeze flirting with the edges of my skirt on a summer day, that
The sound of your laughter causes hurricanes in my stomach that destroys worlds with their sheer force

“You’re 16, there are fish in the sea,” he says to me.
I lean my head on his shoulder and wish it was yours instead
Oceans of liquid nitrogen wash over me with those words, flooding my lungs and freezing my chest
How can there be other fish in the sea when you’re still floating around,
Bobbing through an ocean of sweaty bodies and over caffeinated teenagers?
How could I ever dream of finding a new coral reef when I have already built cities in yours,
Using the bones in my back to lay down the epic that would be our love story, if you would just
Look me in the eye, grab me by the hand, kiss me on the check, and leave volcanoes in your wake
Erupting under my flesh, burning down every wall I ever built, every bridge I was too scared to cross

“You’re 16, you only think you’re in love.”
And that may be true but,

I took a B in math class so I could watch you rub sleepless nights out of your eyes, and
I can’t help but find myself wondering what keeps you up at night, if
It’s the math problems we’ve just been assigned, or maybe things aren’t going so great at home, or maybe, just maybe,
It’s the sound of my laughter, and the way my eyes fold up into crescent moons when I smile

I took a B in math class so I could watch the light bounce off your skin, and
Do you even know how beautiful you are?
How warm you look?
With tan flesh pulled taut over mountains and valleys
Do you know that you look like the sun bent down and pressed a kiss to your lips?
And that I am I am so infinitely jealous of the sheets that get to caress your skin every night while you spill your four a.m. secrets into their folds
That I wish it was my neck you were pressing your lips against,
Teeth carving maps in the junction where jaw becomes neck becomes shoulder becomes chest

I took a B in math class so I could watch your pen flit across the page,
Watch your messy handwriting fill sheet after sheet with useless equations that we’ll never have to see again, because
We’ll be too busy watching the Sun rise and set in each other’s eyes

“I’m 16, and you’re right. I don’t know the meaning of love.”
But I do know the colors in your eyes, all brown and hazel and hopes and dreams
I know the timbre of your voice, laced with awkward and bad jokes
I know that my hand fits perfectly in yours and that the ridges in your palm feel like home, but

I’m 16, and
I’m rambling at this point, words tumbling over the page and into a sea of ink, because
I’m still looking for a word that means

A feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
That doesn’t rock people to their core the way “love” does
Because even though the word never slipped past my lips,
You won’t look me in the eye anymore