It feels like it's only been five weeks, or even just five days, instead of the five years that have actually passed since we were last together. She has never ceased to feel real to me. I can conjure her up in my mind in half the time it takes to say her name and it is completely effortless to do so, just like breathing.
If I just close my eyes, I can take myself back to that summer, to the sweltering, humid days that sometimes seemed to stretch on forever, and the cool, breezy nights that never lasted long enough. I see her standing in front of me, her dress billowing out in the wind, clinging to her body as she looks at me with that easy smile, the one that turned my legs to jelly and tied my tongue in knots whenever she threw it in my direction. I hear her voice, whispering, teasing, in my ear, her throaty laugh echoing in my mind long after her amusement has passed. I smell the perfume lingering on her skin, clean and light, a perfect mix of cotton and lilies and sunshine. I feel her thick blonde hair wrapped around my fingers as our heads lean in, foreheads barely brushing. I taste her lips, sweet and soft and slightly swollen with salt from the sea.
This is the Daisy I meet in my dreams, the Daisy as I knew her in the summer of 1917. This is the Daisy that I remember, the Daisy I am still in love with. I reach for her in my mind every night when I go out to the yard and stare at the dock, watching her light. I stand there for hours, surrounded by the night sky, and I look up at the stars and I wonder if she is outside in her own yard just across the bay, and in those moments it is as if we are still connected somehow. I often half expect to find her standing next to me when I look away from the sky and to the space beside me. Of course, she is never there; I only ever see empty grass and a dirt path unmarked by a second pair of footsteps.
But now, at last, here she is, in the flesh. She is standing in my house, right in front of me, and it is everything I have ever wanted, for her to see me like this, but strangely, it does not feel the way I imagined it would. We are closer physically than we have been since that summer, but I have never felt such a distance between us. I look at her and suddenly all of my memories are gone. I can't remember her smell or her taste. I can't imagine the feel of her skin and her hair. For one terrifying moment, I cannot even see her, even though she is standing a mere five feet away from me. And then, miraculously, my vision clears and she is there again, biting her lip and looking at me with questions in her clear blue eyes. We are staring straight into each other, with time scattered in broken pieces on the floor around our feet, and for the first time since I've known her, neither one of us can find the words to say what we want to say.
She looks slightly older now, but the differences in her appearance are nearly imperceptible. The passage of time has been kind to her; she still exudes the same radiant beauty that she always has; her hair and her eyes still glimmer with the ebullience of youth and secrets and innocence, and her smile is still absolutely devastating in the power it holds over me. On the outside, she looks nearly identical to the picture I hold in my mind from five years ago; to anyone else, she could be the same woman. But I know her face better than I know anything else in this world and I can see that she is not the same Daisy that I knew before. There is still ignorance in her expression, naiveté in her smile, but there is also knowledge in her eyes that did not exist five years ago, and the addition looks out of place with her delicate features.
Standing in front of her now, I feel even more inadequate than I did when we first met. I have never felt like such a commoner before her, even when we were young and I lacked money and a name, when all I wanted was to prove myself worthy of her love. I do not understand why I am suddenly so self-conscious. I have worked my whole life to better myself, and now that I have accomplished my goal, I should feel pride or confidence or fulfillment. But I don't. I feel more like poor James Gatz than ever before. And I realize now that that's all I will ever be to her. This is what I will feel like every time I stand before her. The poor boy pining after the rich girl. The stuff of countless stories and fantasies, only this one is playing out in my own life, and I'd be a fool to hope for a happy ending. I know this with complete certainty, just as surely as I know that I will always, always love her. I feel it in the slick, sweaty palms of my hands; in the back of my parched throat; in the depths of my suddenly struggling lungs; in the heart that will forever pump blood to the rhythm of her name.
I will never be enough for her.
And I am only slightly surprised to discover that this epiphany means absolutely nothing to my poor bruised heart. Because no matter how much pain she brings to my life, the fact that she is in it again is enough to justify this constant ache in my chest.
She will always be enough for me.