“We can put them like this…” She said, pointing down to the cobblestones dismantled and awaiting new arrangement. Bent down in a squat, her head looked up towards him using one hand to shield the sun from her eyes. Dylan held the handles of the wheelbarrow and asked once more about her idea for the yard, just to make sure he got it right. “Yep! We are going to have the best backyard on the street when we are done!” Johanna exclaimed, playfully, knowing he would smile and cheerfully agree.
The early morning rays of sun shone brightly through the leaves of the black locust tree, warming Dylan’s freckled shoulders underneath his overall straps. The bandana around his head quickly soaked up the sweat as he bent down, pulled up stones, and piled them into the heap beside Johanna. She arranged them carefully in a new pattern around the base of the old tree, occasionally distracting herself from the pleasant work by simply gazing between the man busy in his task and the work they were doing together.
Dylan paused as a breeze kicked up through the branches above them, as if the wind itself beckoned him to cherish this moment for more than mere yard-work on a Sunday afternoon. He reached out and stroked tenderly Johanna’s cheek, moved from his perch to close beside her, and came in for a kiss. The dirt on his fingers smeared into her face but the coolness of it only added to the sweet gesture.
“What was that for?” She asked, finally coming up for air.
“I just love you,” he said, softly. “We have fun, you know?” His eyebrows arched, his lips curled into a smile, and he reached in his pocket for a smoke. He balanced on his feet and rested his arms upon his knees. She studied his pose and memorized the way he looked.
Johanna melted into the seconds as they fleetingly passed around them, wishing she could slow time or stop it altogether, just to capture his face and how his eyes truly shined with such peaceful, purposeful love. “Come on,” she beckoned, grabbing his hand in hers and lifting them both to their feet. Without another spoken word between them, the next hour washed them both in passionate love, and in his arms Johanna felt a sense of belonging she had not experienced before.
Laying in his arms, twirling his chest hair between her fingers, Johanna stared up at the man she loved. “We are so young still, Dylan, how do you know this is going to last?”
“How do I know we’re going to last?” He responded, briefly removing his hands from her hair to use them for gesturing, “That is simple… Because you’re my best friend.” He smiled, revealing that perfect happy face that still made her melt – when she knew he loved her purely – his eyes would curl up and his entire body would shake as he laughed it off.
She removed her gaze from his and caught a glimpse of her dirt-stained fingernails as they moved across his chest. Sighing to herself, she then focused on the life they dreamed of building. Simple enough, really.
“All we need is love, music, and dirt to till.” Matter-of-fact she spoke these words aloud, cleaning the grime from her hands.
He leaned up just far enough to make her take notice, and when her eyes caught his again, he was practically sitting up in the bed, almost making her fall right off his chest. Johanna positioned herself directly in front of him and asked if everything was okay. Dylan softly whispered, “yeah, little butt, everything is perfect. I just want to look at you…”
She sat there, almost timid, unnerved by the direct attention even after convincing herself she was used to it by now. Without another syllable uttered from his mouth, Dylan moved in closer to his girl, pressed both hands against her face, and kissed her so she felt it in her bones. He pushed her backwards, causing her to fall in a cascade of sheets onto the bed, and then he moved himself beside her, one hand still flush against her cheek.
For hours they remained here, sharing between them few words, but saying more than words could convey even in their grandest finery. She knew in moments like this that he wanted nothing but her, and he allowed himself the surrender to whole love, and both enjoyed the ease of it all.
My fingers are no longer dirt-stained, and it has been years since I was that young woman on that bed. The bed he built for me from a snow storm and fallen branches of that same locust tree. It has been years since I felt the touch of my first love on my skin, or smelled the scent of his neck. I have not since those days seen the black oil on his hands after work or watched in agony as he dug metal chips from his sore fingers. In all fairness to reality, can I even say I still know the man at all?
And yet, sorely as if recovering from an injury that I fear may become chronic, I still feel as though Dylan is a part of me somehow. His life is his own, and the journey beyond our season of love has been one Johanna is not privy to; I know nothing of his daily routine, or even of the dreams he now holds dear. Could I venture to guess they are the same? A life of love, passion, wisdom, science, and the never-ceasing quest for the perfect guitar riff?
He knows nothing of me. He has never seen me mother my children or wiped the tears away when I struggled. I wear the same perfume as I did then – does he smell it when a woman walks by and remember the girl he used to love? Simple questions full of undertones that most people dare not ever venture into, let alone mention candidly.
Yet, I find a peaceful surrender to these memories helps me cope with the reality that I no longer know the man I once gave my whole heart to. It helps me to remember he was real, and that our love was real, and even in short reprieves from the positive memories – when I recall the hard ones – I still would rather share my story of love, laughter, and passion than to pretend – for the sake of making some people uncomfortable – that it never happened.
It is rare I see a certain flower, or hear a certain song… hell, some days it merely takes the mention of a word arranged in the correct order – I am there again, and I remember how I became Johanna as a young woman. I appreciate what our love taught me, and that it meant something so dear. I value the dirt-stained days of yard work, garage music, and porch kisses. I value that I am aware enough to revere those days, because they create a sense of understanding that, if I want it, I can achieve the same peace in love in the future.
Dylan is my blueprint. The precipice on which to stand and ask myself if love is truly love, or if the mere fact that it was better with him means I have more searching to do. He was my favorite memory and my recurring dream…
But, alas, what I have learned most of all, having loved that blue-eyed man, is that…
My best memories are behind me, but my best days are ahead of me.
At least, that is the goal. That is what I hope to achieve by writing this.
We only get so much love in a lifetime, and many people cope with the loss of that love by pretending it never happened. Is that not the easier solution than to feel the loss and hurt? Is it not more prudent to say it did not mean that much, did not feel that good, or did not change you – rather than to accept something you had, that you valued greatly, is merely but a memory now?
I cannot operate this way, and I make no apologies for that. My mold is different, perhaps; but ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet? If not, these visions of Johanna will keep you up past the dawn. Embrace it, dear lovers, even you who lost. For having felt this fire and passion, longing and desire, tenderness and truth… Having felt the pain and loss, the wishful nights begging to forget it… It means you lived, and caught a true glimpse of something rare. I write because I realize my treasure. For it is mine to hold, and mine to share. All great stories must be told, and Dylan is the beginning of mine.