In the imagination, it’s a dock, or maybe a train station, early in the 1940s.
He’s leaving to join the military, with the ultimate destination either in Europe or the Pacific. She’s his girl, perhaps a high school sweetheart.
As they’re saying their goodbyes, she says, “Forget me not, sweet William.”
In all likelihood, most everyone in their hometown calls him “Billy,” as the only ones who call him by his given name are his mother, the enlistment center or the draft board.
They promise to write every chance they get, and maybe they do. Maybe he survives the war, sustained by thoughts of her back home, and they get married upon his return (if they weren’t already married when he left), staying together for decades until death do them part.
Maybe he does forget, or maybe she does, the letters never sent. Even if they do remember, maybe she meets someone else, or maybe he does.
Or maybe he never makes it home.
Regardless of what happens, at that dock, that train station and all the others like it — real or imaginary — around the country, in that moment, they meant everything they said.
“I hope we stay in touch so I can start picking on you about how much older you are than me.”
Words written in a a high school senior yearbook … by a sophomore, so “how much older” is only two years.
That’s the kind of relationship they have — cracking wise, giving each other grief. But of course they’re going to stay in touch.
Except they don’t. They see each other periodically over the next few years, and then it stops.
There’s no argument, no falling out. Life just … happens. It wouldn’t be the last time.
“I’m glad you were here. I’ll miss you. Don’t forget about me.”
More from the yearbook, and … nothing.
Other words indicate friendship, but just … nothing, even after searching for clues. Maybe something will come up that causes the proverbial “Yes, of course” slap in the head, but there’s no flash of recognition.
Memory is not fun sometimes.
“Hopefully, we will always keep in touch. I can’t imagine life without you.”
One last message from the yearbook, but this one stuck.
More than 30 years later, like so many other people, their relationship is mostly on social media, but they’ll always be close. It’s impossible to imagine life any other way, and as importantly, they wouldn’t want to.
They had another friend, though, another one they couldn’t imagine life without. Except he’s gone, and while they’ll never forget him, they think about him a little more this time of year.
Three messages, three requests to remember — in those moments, everyone meant what they said, but one faded away, one fell away and one stayed strong.
It doesn’t change when you get older. High school friends you promised to stay in touch with become college friends you know you’ll be “brothers” or “sisters” with for all time become coworkers who feel like family, maybe because you see them almost as much.
Sometimes the relationships last, and sometimes, even if people mean for it to happen … they don’t.
Regarding the photo, it was fun to think of it as a silly, charming, perhaps overly melodramatic plea for me (or somebody with my name) not to forget someone, and while it made for an interesting writing prompt, I think it was just a sign identifying the the plants on the part of the trail where we were walking.