Occasionally, life throws a moment in time so beautiful you know even before it vanishes that this is something to remember. Nuances become vivid details that accompany the façade of a memory; nothing escapes from the photograph in your mind – time passes far beyond the moment, yes, but leaves nothing behind and carries it within the heart, by a song that was playing then or a smell from a shirt collar as a stranger waft by… By way not of conscious thought or material mementos, where I find myself tonight is in the framework of a life so long ago lived that though I recall it well, I converse with my memory still, trying to convince myself these recollections were indeed real. Can a heart, so willfully trying to move past a memory, ever fully embrace the present if a beautiful memory returns so easily?
The bus route made a straight line down 4th Plain, stopping frequently, but managing to make decent time consistently; he narrowed each stop down to seconds after a week of riding and knew from pick-up to drop-off it was typically only 7 minutes. On this morning, however, each mere second seemed to pass a thousand times slower – Come on… come on… hurry up! He thought to himself as one foot began to writhe up and down frantically, sending his knee into noticeable unrest. Mumbling under his breath he paid no mind to the woman across the row who had been staring at him since he got on, “She’s going to be gone if you do not hurry up!”
9:36am, November 6th 2003
Johanna roused from sleep and quickly wondered the time. Unsure of the layout of the room, she peeked around for a clock, satisfied that it was still early enough to stay in bed. Resting her head back on the pillow, she curled her arms up underneath the soft cotton to support her head and smiled to herself, pleased with the way the night had gone. I love him. Surprised by the thought but only briefly, something about it felt natural and easy, as if nothing need forcing but the pause of time to make this day go on forever. She did not care that her hair was a wreck or that she needed to shower. She did not care that her roommates would wonder why she never came home, or that her mother would soon be calling in need of a morning pep-talk. Johanna had one thing racing through her mind, on her skin, and in her heart.
He skipped off the bus on the corner of Falk and 4th, unsure if his feet could run as fast as his heart needed them to go. He had no clue whether she would still be there, but hoped, like all young lovers do, that fate would step in and deal him a delicious treat. A half a block moves swiftly under determined feet – he arrived on his front porch step, straightened himself up, caught breath, and quietly unlocked the deadbolt, turning his head over his shoulder with a twinkle in his eye, “her car is still here…”
She heard the keys hit the round table in the kitchen, perked up instantly, and felt her entire body radiate with anticipation. Quickly, she manipulated her body to appear most appealing, now quite self-conscious that she hadn’t brushed her teeth or made up her face. Before dwelling too much, she caught a glimpse of him through the cracked bedroom door. He unzipped his Carhart jacket, removed his beanie, and momentarily disappeared from sight before appearing in the doorway, opening it slowly apparently trying not to disturb his guest.
“You’re awake?” He said, softly, smiling, once his wide-eyed gaze found her brown eyes peering from a glowing face atop the pillow.
“You’re home?” She replied, unsure why a full-time machinist would be home before 10 on a weekday.
“My boss let me go early – we do not have any chain due until Monday – I told him there was a girl at my house and he let me leave.” As he spoke, he began to untie his steel-toed boots, never removing his gaze from hers. He pulled his shirt over his head and unbelted his jeans, leaving only underwear on. Without a word, he pulled the blanket aside and curled up close to the girl he had met only weeks before. She turned her face up from the pillow, barely able to control the huge smile on her face from swallowing her whole, and then reached a hand up to cup his face close to hers.
“I am so glad you came home. I do not have to work until 3 – how about we just stay in bed?” Johanna felt his head shake in agreement and noticed the sensation of his face tense up against hers and it did not take her long to realize he was smiling.
Hours of conversation and enough kissing to dehydrate them both, and it was evident to both Dylan and Johanna that this was something special. Each took turns sharing stories of youth and the misery of adolescence. He told her all about his childhood with a hardworking mother and mentioned the father he never met; she recalled tree forts, bb-gun wars, and fishing trips with siblings. He teased her for not yet acquiring a taste for coffee, and she told him how much she would love to have a garden where they could grow all their own food. They talked and kissed, and kissed and talked, and even spent hours that were only mere minutes just staring at one another, completely in awe that the other actually existed.
Johanna whispered into his ear after staring into his blue eyes, “I have a secret…” she teased, waiting for his reaction.
“I love you, Johanna.” As if he had never said those words to another soul on earth, he let each letter escape his lips like a chick tentatively breaks free from his hard shell. As he whispered those 4 words, his cheeks flushed and his lips swelled up, almost like tears were the next thing to come flowing out of him…
“I love you too, Dylan.” She ingested his words – the raw, engaging emotion of them – and no longer secret, nevermore, said at last yet so quickly that she, indeed, loved him, too.
Dylan pulled her in close, completely breathing her so deep inside of his heart that in that moment he knew this would be something to remember for a lifetime. Johanna melted into his embrace, surrendering for the first time in her life to real love.
“I have to go now, Dylan, I have to go!” She laughed at his insistence to skip work entirely, careless that she was wearing the same clothes as the day before. She had used his toothbrush, combed her blonde hair, and then had to will herself to walk down the two porch steps to the gravel driveway. She held his hand as he escorted her to her old gray Nissan, poured her belongings onto the backseat, and finally turned around to steal another kiss before driving away without him.
He first kissed her forehead, gently, tenderly, and then she felt his hand ease up behind her head while one thumb slid beneath her chin; he used his hand to turn her face up towards his and then kissed her deeply. For the first time in Johanna’s life, she felt completely safe and sure in the arms of a man. For the first time in his life, he believed in fate and destiny and thanked the cosmos for aligning the stars so perfectly the night they met.
Pulling back, sure then she would already be late for work, she looked up into Dylan’s eyes and said, confidently but with as much honey as she could muster, “Dylan, I have to go… I… I love you.”
“Don’t go… Stay with me?” He whimpered back, beckoning her not with persistence but with the simple truth between them that nothing in life was going to make sense from that moment forward unless they were together. Johanna brushed his wayward hair off his forehead, sighed at the handsome man before her, pulled back and managed to get her car door opened and then sat in the driver’s seat. She closed the door but rolled down the window…
“I am coming over after work, right?” She urged him to say yes, knowing they had not once talked about what would happen between them from this day on. Johanna was sure of one thing – they loved each other; it was imperfectly serendipitous, organic and heartfelt, and it did not require planning but instead the absolute surrender to passion and fate.
Sighing heavily, Dylan shook his head in agreement, not wanting to see her car back out of his driveway. He relished the idea of having someone to love, but cursed the afternoon for leaving him without her.
I have met many new dawns since that day. My lips kissed other lovers, tasted bitter endings,and felt the harsh sting of trial after trial. I realize life changes, people change, and perhaps have grown rather cynical about everlasting love in general – based solely off the speculation that most people are decent until faulted otherwise; all do falter, eventually, so why love now like I loved then? Risk. Risk with little reward.
So I thought… But that is a chapter for another day.
Where Dylan and Johanna wrote history is in the innocence of it all.
That is why these memories stick, though I find ample frustration that, indeed, I do remember it so well. From oranges and freezer pops to falling in the shower. From the first “I love you” of my life to the sweetest afternoons of gardening one can imagine. It was beautiful, and I remember.
Life, for me, is a complex array of emotions countered by thoughts wrapped up in one big hope that it will all be meaningful, at once or occasionally, sometime in my life. I choose not to erase these moments but to engrave them ever-deeply in my soul, so that I remember what it was to love greatly, and to have greatness in love again.
The present is beautiful in itself these days, though quite different than anything I ever imagined. But then, for Johanna and Dylan, their love story did not go anything like they hoped that day they spent in bed. Then again, is that not life for all of us? I just happen to write about it is all…