But She Looks In My Eyes, And Makes Me Realize, And She Says Don't Worry Baby, Everything Will Turn Out Alright
"Stop here," I heard her say.
It was my second to last day in Georgia and the two of us had been spending it doing absolutely nothing in particular. I had already seen almost all I can of her city--did the whole Rose Hill Cemetary tour, saw the Douglass Theater, the Sidney Lanier Cottage, as well as The Hay House, my favorite landmark of the sightseeing up to that point. In truth, I wasn't very talkative that day and neither was she. We both knew it was my last night with her and, as much as we talked about my coming back, we both knew that if and when I did come back it wouldn't be for a very long time. Finding the joy when such sadness abounded proved to be a very difficult task, no matter how much we protested that we should make my last day a memorable one. For the last hour-and-a-half of the trip we talked about the most mundane of topics, filling time with inane banter because the truth of what was on our minds wasn't very conversational. I never understood why, if the subject matter isn't pleasant, people attempt to steer the conversation towards happier thoughts. It always rings false and most often only seems to prolong and deepen the melancholia.
When Breanne suggested we pull over before returning back home I was actually relieved to get away from the obvious tension, the need to fill silence. Perhaps we would find something off the road that we weren't able to find driving all that time on the road, I thought.
She had me pull over next to an abandoned church out in the middle of nowhere. It was a white, crumbled small building that had obviously seen better days. I wondered when the last time it had been used since, from the size of it, it had obviously served a small throng of parishioners. Like something out of Little House on the Prairie it couldn't have housed more than twenty families. Well, being a fan of Avonlea, which was also about a small tight-knit community, I became nostalgic for when small churches like this were the norm and not the multi-tiered behemoths that we have today. Quaint wasn't quite the word for how I would described the building, but it did stir within me a sense of history. Not only was the building older than me by half, but it also appeared to have been extensively used in its heyday. It had lived a full life and now it was living out its last days in solitude.
"Hurry up, slowpoke," I heard Breanne call out to me, turning around briefly, as she ran up to the church. She reached one of the cracked wooden walls, the paint faded to a brownish gray, and glided her hand over it.
"What's the rush, Breannie?"
"Can't you feel it? Can't you hear the people inside? There are so many ghosts here I cannot stand it. Come on," she said, taking my hand and rushing me inside.
As I looked at my friend that day, galloping headlong in front of me, I could not help but notice how excited she looked. There she was, in an orange Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt I had bought the year before in Orlando but no longer fit me, and a pair of blue jeans. Her chestnut brown hair was laid down, unencumbered, and swishing in the wake of her running. She was the same girl she had been for the bulk of my trip, happy to be showing me around, full of life and full of joy. She was so beautiful in her vibrancy. I don't know--sometimes when you think of people you are close to they invoke a certain mood. Breanne, for as long as I've known her, has always invoked this gung-ho, devil-may-care zest for life. She wasn't meant to be cooped up. She wasn't meant to be sad. She was meant to be just like she was that day, running without a thought in the world and all the more beautiful because of her ability to remain carefree.
I sure was going to miss her.
We found one of the front doors missing and walked straight in. Inside was amazing, if not a little dangerous. We found the wood rotting. I kept my mouth shut as she bounded away from me. She took off towards the front of the church near the altar, which she found holding up pretty well considering the damage the rest of the church had taken.
"Can you imagine, Patrick, how many people have sat in these pews or how many sermons have been preached up here. It's amazing--the ghosts places like this hold," she said, standing fully behind the altar. I sat down in the front row and watched her come around to the front of the massive setting.
"Did I ever tell you how much I love abandoned churches?"
"You may have mentioned it once," I said, a small smile breaking out on my face. She really was excited. She turned around once, did a cursory sign of the cross, and then came to sit next to me.
"I love 'em. I love all of it. I love the fact that so much life took place here before I was born. It's like a reminder of how this world and all of the people in it are all caught up in this cycle of love, sugar. Think about it. From the moment you're born you're taken to churches like this where you get received into God's love. Then every week you are reminded of how much love there is in the world. All these people gather around you every week and you know they are all there for the same reason you are, to stand togehter before your God to do him worship. There's a connection there that's strong and unstoppable. These are your neighbors. All of them are there with you to share their love with one another. And then, later, when you are old enough and ready, you come into a building like this with your husband or wife to get married. You announce your faithfulness to one man. You kiss and that's it. You are from that point on one entity, one soul. Then when you die, this is the last place where everyone comes to remember you. This is the last place where you get to hear how everyone loves you and how much they will miss you.
"Churches are amazing places, aren't they, Eeyore?"
"Well, I never thought so. But hearing you describe is almost enough for me to change my mind on them."
She batted her bright blue-green eyes at me. She liked it when I said stuff like that to her. Granted, I don't know how much of it's actually true. I mean--we're all guilty of telling people what they want to hear if only to bring a smile to their face. Providence knows that you haven't seen a smile until you've seen an effervescent young Southern gal smile at you. The one sitting next to me on that day had an especially beguiling smile so you could forgive me for embellishing the truth a bit to coax a sorely missed smile from her angelic face. Honestly, she did have a manner of describing places that was magical. For all my gifts of putting together a story I have never felt a strong connection for any one location. Often times, my description of locales breaks down into rudimentary adjectives--color, dimensions, and proximities. I have never felt the innate soul of a place. I have never felt something stir inside of me from simply standing in a certain spot. Not like her.
"I'd want to get married right here. I wouldn't even care if they never fixed up the place. I'd want to do it just like it is right now," she said, scanning across the whole interior. The manner in which the setting sun broke through the cracks in the alls and through the stained glass windows made it so that the shadows hung in an eerie stillness. It gave the church a mysteriousness allure to it as if a congregation of spectres could show up at any moment, could have been eavesdropping on our conversation just then.
"That'd be nice,"
"What, getting married here?" she asked slowly. "Or getting married?" she asked even slower.
"That'd be nice too."
If only I wasn't leaving I thought. More importantly, if I wasn't so far away. It wasn't so much the fact I lived in California and that she lived over here. It was being so far away in other ways. She was fourteen and I was eighteen. Anyway you sliced it somebody would be waiting for quite a bit before any actual thoughts of getting married could be seriously discussed. It wasn't for a lack of trying, though. Often times our late night conversations turned to thoughts of the future and the foolish plans kids who don't know any better make when they are playing at being grown-ups. I should've known better. I should've told her that there's a world of difference between how we envision our future to be at fourteen that at eighteen. I was almost sure she wouldn't feel the same about me at eighteen as she did at fourteen. I was almost as sure about that as the fact that I probably would feel the same about her at twenty-two as I did at eighteen. But, damn it all, I wanted to believe in that picture of the future right along with her. That's probably why I didn't dissuade her. I tried not to nurture the thought, but I didn't exactly try to talk her out of it.
Getting married to Breanne wasn't exactly the stuff my nightmares were made of.
Just like that the uncomfortable silence had returned. All the talk of getting married had only brought back the unfortunate truth that I did not live there. I would not be getting married in this church. In fact, I was leaving on the morrow. As much as I wanted to stay and as much as I'm sure she wanted me to stay, it was all impossible. I had a life elsewhere. I had school elsewhere. I had a job elsewhere. What did I have here, in this church, on the outskirts of this city? A terribly misguided, albeit intelligent, funny, and perfectly lovely, girl.
That was almost enough to make me want to stay. It should have been enough, actually.
After what felt like ten minutes of crushing quiet, she finally spoke.
"Do you really have to go tomorrow? Can't you stay for a few more days?"
"I promised I would get back in time for Christmas. Besides, I don't think your parents would want me to stay for all of the holidays with you. They've already been generous enough to let me stay these last couple of days. I couldn't impose any more than I already have."
"Forget them. Do you want to stay?"
"You know I do."
Like I said, ain't no smile like a Southern smile.
I thought about it for a second. I thought about how I could make it work. I could transfer to a university in Georgia. People transferred all the time. In fact, I thought it would do me some good to be in a new environment. It would give me a fresh perspective on life. And, for chrissakes, I was only working at Universal Studios. It wasn't like I had found a career. Also, I had to face up to the fact that I wasn't particularly close to my family. I still could visit them during holidays and such without feeling homesick. The more I thought about it the more I thought I had a chance in making this work.
I saw what would be waiting for me if I did. I took a good look at her. She was resplendent. She was everything I imagined I could want in a soulmate. She was quick-witted and funny. She was one of the only people I've known that could indulge me in my hare-brained ideas and still think it endearing rather than wacko. She was intelligent. She wrote pieces capable of fostering actual discussion rather than simple emotional pieces. And, Lord oh lord, was she pretty. She was the prettiest girl I have ever known in real life.
Put all together, there is a reason why I still refer to her as the little sister I had the hots for.
But then the thought of how much could change in a couple of years started creeping in. What if she changed her mind? Or, worse yet, what if I change mine? I'd be the one taking all the risk. I'd be the one uprooting my entire existence for a chance at something that may not even truly be there. I wanted to believe it could be real. I wanted to believe what we had would last forever and beyond. Yet I couldn't know for sure and if this thing had was to involve all that risk, then I wanted her to be right there risking along with me. I wanted us to--I don't know--meet halfway, like in Iowa or something. I knew that was impossible. I knew it'd be a couple of years before she could meet me halfway in anything. In the meantime, it would be the same old story. She'd be here and I'd be over there. The two of us wouldn't be together. The two of us wouldn't be here. It was all rather impossible.
I started to cry the more I thought about it. I hoped she thought I was just crying over the fact I had to leave the next day, but somehow I suspected she knew the truth.
I saw her turn to me, ready to ask what was wrong, but she looked into my face and saw the last thing I wanted to do was talk. I felt her put her arm around me and I just leaned my head on her small shoulders. We spent the last hour of that day sitting like that, staring at nothing in particular, not speaking, sharing what remained of the day in the most comfortable silence I have ever experienced. I think there were ghost present that day. I know that if there was some remaining trace of love in that building, some residual manifestation of the highs that church bore witness to, it was present there that day. Something was watching over us that day. Love recognizes love, and it knew that for all the bliss and jubilation of weddings and births that sometimes love guises itself in the sorrow of two individuals sharing a quiet evening together.
wouldn’t it be nice if we were older,
then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
As we left that day she held my hand the entire way to the car. This would be the last I could be sad. It wouldn't do to act broken up in front of her parents. It wouldn't do to start tearing up at the airport. That night was it. That was the last opportunity to show Breanne how I was really feeling and how much I did not want to go.
Before we got in the car I heard her say simply, "We're going be okay, the two of us. I swear on it, sugar. You and I we're going to be okay."
I haven't had reason to doubt her yet.