Tag Archives: love story

4637 words about Tim

I’m going to time travel and remember…..

I was a true-blue Vancouver stoner from a broken family, whose generational sin helped alter all our lives. I put no substance into relationships but instead chained myself to pot, both to escape the reality as it was and to embrace the culture around me. I was indulging in teenage sex but had no self-worth in me to secure anything deeper than painfully meaningless embraces. 19 years old with no high school diploma in a lousy job with nothing on the horizon but monotonous emptiness. I was lost, but I only vaguely felt that back then; ha! Looking back at Christina, a young adult with so little insight into where her life would go – no real motivation to steer it – I am dumbfounded that I didn’t notice how unfortunate things had become…

Right now, sitting at these keys overlooking a little fishing bay, on an island stretching the southern-most tip of Texas, I am 32 years old, and I thank GOD I can remember where adulthood began and see very little materially-similar evidence that I am still like her at all. Today, it is my wish to talk through one of the most significant and impactful periods of my life that had everything to do with me leaving Vancouver and led me to where I am today. A time which shaped me and has since become one of the more difficult challenges I face: Letting myself be loved and loving someone else. I guess to start I’ll go back to where everything changed for me. From a wandering lost young woman to…

“Welcome back!” she smiled, ushering in an elderly couple with two laminated menus pointing the way to their usual table. As they took their seats, she took a khaki windbreaker to hang from his hand, “Frank, let me get your coffee. Ruth, do you want ice tea or coffee tonight?” Katherine walked three steps to the counter behind their table, set down his jacket, and fetched a hot carafe of decaf, turning back around to pour it in Frank’s mug just as Ruth decided she wanted tea. “All right, I’ll be right back.”

The restaurant was slow for a Saturday night though the constant rain had made the entire week lag during every 6-hour shift. She busied herself organizing glassware, refilling syrup containers, and chatting up the other idle waitresses. She took orders, made side salads, and stacked receipts to collect payment from sporadic satisfied patrons.

The entryway door jingled startling Katherine from mindlessly wiping the soda machine, she looked up.

This is one of life’s movie moments – as I call them (really, I just now made this up). Like when you hold your child for the first time, or walk down the aisle to your future – so in love, or when your daughter rides her bike without training wheels after you tried to teach her for days, or when you watch the baby take her first steps. Moments. Sometimes we do not know we are in them until they are too far gone to grasp, and only after looking back, if one’s heart is open, may you really appreciate the beautiful gift it was.

In that moment, a plan was realized in two perfectly imperfect strangers. In that moment, seeing him for the first time, a grand part of my personal story began to take shape.

I began writing this yesterday (Wednesday) and stopped there because I wanted to go deep about what I remember, and make certain I am honest here. For a lot of people who know me personally, there is increasing uncomfortable feelings looming in them whenever I write about this part of my life (I have been told, from a few different sources, that I should not delve into this anymore – I should be “over it” by now… so imagine the strength it takes to directly oppose that by going still deeper into it!)

The truth is, I do not believe this corridor of my history deserves anything less than this. It does not deserve to be forgotten, swept under the rug – there are countless reasons why I feel my work here is not yet done, and perhaps why it may never be done – I write things like this to explain why…

When I met him, my life had little direction. As I mentioned in the forward to the story I had been living at less-than my potential for quite some time. Though I was yet a young woman, and it seemed the world could have been broadened and my experiences more positive, I lacked the one very necessary ingredient that I could have used to change my circumstances alone: Self-belief. I did not believe I was going to do much, because I didn’t feel like much. Things had not gone right for me for many years, and the crushing blow of recent life events (or lack thereof) only furthered my self-doubt.

I sought love, but in the circle of friends I surrounded myself with – the parties, the alcohol, the pot, and the frivolous handing out of my most sacred self in the absence of love – it left me drained with little substance to hold. Love, though I sought it from others, was not found in my heart, not for me, and certainly not for anyone else.

Knowing this, back then? You could have asked my 19-year-old self and my answers then to these same notions would have been vastly different. The stirring of loneliness, the continual self-criticism, the escapism by way of drugs or drinking – – I could not have guessed that things were about to be so different, and I was about to find myself on a path towards all I had silently hoped for but could not have believed I would find.

That is who I was, and what I believed about myself. That these young men I spent so much time chasing, with their empty promises and, “I can’t date you because of your brothers…” After they used me for all it seemed I had to give, it left me thinking I must not be good for much else. If only one of them would get to know who I was before my world was broken. Before I stopped believing in myself. If only someone would dig deep, and see who I really was, I thought, then maybe, just maybe, things could be different… I had more to give, I just stopped believing that it even mattered.

That’s when I met him.

Katherine wiped the table just two rows over from theirs, glanced up towards the handsome man facing her from his booth, and saw him smile. He held his coffee cup to his mouth and drank it quickly, still smiling at her when he was done. She blushed intensely, marveled at the butterflies swirling in her chest, and tried to pretend like she didn’t care.

The truth was, she did care. Something about him was familiar from the moment their mutual friend introduced them. Justin made small talk with his dinner mate, Katherine waited tables, and Dylan planned his move – scribbling his name and telephone number on the outside of a used sugar packet. Out of character for a shy machinist, he never did things like that, but he had to know her.

The following two weeks found us together most of the time. I remember it so well, so much so that I often laugh at my memory when it comes to this. I remember wanting to do it differently and wait for things to go from friendly to intimate – something I didn’t normally even consider let alone put into practice. I wanted to get to know him, in a way I had not wanted to know anyone else.

I’ve often questioned the next two years of time spent with him, and believe now, some 13 years later since I met Tim, that I may never know what the purpose was. Because it was the first-time I was truly loved, and the first time I truly loved anyone else, but more than that – though not to minimize it – it was in that span of time I learned to trust another person, and myself, and I felt how good it was to be able to plan our future. I knew my future. I knew our life together, and what that would look like. I knew our children’s names and how he’d be the sort of old man who would wear overalls with a bandana sticking out of his back pocket as he mowed the lawn, and I’d be the sort of old woman who would bring him tea and use that bandana to wipe his sweat away before I kissed him just like I had done for 45 years.  I knew that he would drive me nuts and I would make him crazy because we believed differently about the world, the afterlife, and we would be the sort to bicker in diners over hot coffee but then go home and love each other because none of that compared to how deeply love went.

We were to live a simple life in the material sense, but greater than most have felt would have been our love. If he were here now, sitting here, remembering all of this with me as I dictate our thoughts, I know for certain he would agree that the one thing that made us so special, the reason it has been so hard, is that we loved each other in a rare fashion and that was the thing that promised to keep us together for the rest of our lives.

Only, it wasn’t meant to do that, and here is where my mood shifts from that of reverence for the great love I got to know, to blistering bitterness over the very thing that tore us apart.

It may seem easy for me to write this. Trust that it is not. For reasons that go beyond the very nature of exploring emotional history in my writing, but more than this because a key player in how we ended is no longer here to speak for herself, and perhaps I do her legacy – her memory – a great disservice by telling her side of the story, but only as I remember it? I am torn, and always have been, because it is my story, after all – it is the love I lost, not just his, but hers – but it is also a personal tragedy on her account. A deeply sad and hurtful part of who she became, and to those who knew her apart from the end years of her life, it might seem I wish to paint her the villain, focus all my love on him and all my anger on her, and thus validate this great love story – and the blame doesn’t fall on either of us, it falls on her.

To be clear, I do not wish to do this, and if I have ever made it seem like I do not blame him for his part in this, I was wrong to excuse him.

However, again it is my story, and how I do remember it is extremely personal – and I can assure anyone with any accusation against this, how I tell it, that it would be better to take my word for it and let me claim my history than it would be to try and tell me I am wrong. After all, there were three people involved. One, a tragic loss, the other is silent and has been a stranger to me for years, and the third – well, I think you know how she is doing…

Tim and I cannot know for certain that if things had not happened the way they did we would still be together. We cannot know that, just like with any part of our history – things happened the way they did and that becomes what you know and all else become dreams or mere speculation… None the less, I have always believed that he and I would have made our way in this life together. I would venture a guess that he feels that way as well.

I base this speculation on what happened after everything changed. He would not have told me about it had he not realized that keeping it a secret would damage us, and I would never know what went wrong. It would have eaten him alive, and the way that he loved me – we didn’t keep secrets from each other, and he knew more about me than anyone else in the world – there was no way he could keep that inside. Telling me was the obvious thing and unfortunately for me, the most painful thing – but having gone through a lot of life since that time, and having experienced keeping my own secrets from people I loved, I have great respect that he did, in fact, tell me. First chance he got.

I had spent two years building a life with this man. During that time the house we lived in was bought – we planted flowers and watched the roots of our labor and love turn it into our quant little fixer-upper home. During that time, his mother and he encouraged me to finish high school, so I did that and then went on to take credits at Clark, I got my first real job working at a mortgage company, and I learned what it meant to be loved. Truly… loved. We bickered about religion and politics and sometimes in my longing for us to be as connected in these issues as we were in everything else, I would cry and beg him to change (a classic young-love mistake) but then all I had to do was look at him and none of that mattered as much compared to how I loved him anyway. He taught me how to trust myself, and that I could trust him with my heart, and I fell into it entirely sure. So was he the night he asked me to marry him.

I became a version of myself that I could love. Loving him, trusting him, it made me stronger. It gave me a purpose I could appreciate. It challenged me and pushed me to want more for my life, because I would do whatever it took to stay beside him. He loved me for who I was, even when I was broken, and nobody in my life at that time was giving me anything even close to that. He let me see the parts of him that were difficult, and flawed, and we both held onto each other so tightly in our mutual openness and adoration for one another.

It was to be, then, obvious to anyone paying any attention at all, that what transpired to break us apart would devastate me. Indeed, it was worse than that.

Our life together, his and mine, was not by any means perfect. We were known for the beer in our fridge and the late-night music in the garage which often was played by a man, his guitar, and six or seven cold ones. I admit I loved his cigarette smoke lips and the lingering scent of beer on his breathe. It was a part of the man I fell in love with. He could pull out Dylan lyrics from memory in one breathe and ponder the meaning of life in another, while smoking as he strummed an acoustic on the porch. We were not pure, nor faultless, nor perfect by any means – and it was precisely this avenue of our life together that aided him to make this most dire mistake.

… I paused for quite a while, sort of just lingering there – remembering. I don’t intentionally remember him, or that time, too often. When I do it always hurts. I realize as I write this that I bump dangerously against seeming to long for him presently while maintaining that it is only history of which I speak; one might confuse the two. Just something I thought worth mentioning as I continue.

My world, in an instant, was broken. Soon to follow the obvious trauma of thinking I lost the man I loved came the actual loss of my mother, and so it came to pass that every single thing I loved, needed, and wanted was… gone.

When she died, he was the one I wanted to run to. I needed my best friend. I needed to cry, and scream, and completely shatter on the ground in his arms, but I couldn’t. I was told not to go to him. I was told I could not heal there, because there was where the pain began.

After our life completely fell apart, and I was no longer living with him in our little house on our little street, but instead a few miles away, I remember every single day was a fight not to run back there. This was made especially difficult by his repeated attempts to get to me by whatever means necessary. He showed up but I didn’t know how to go back – not when everyone I knew told me, in no uncertain terms, that you don’t go back after this happens. That it means – it proves – we were not meant to be. So instead of listen to my heart, which craved him entirely even though that would mean it would hurt and we would need to heal, I listened to the world. I listened to everyone whom had supposedly suddenly had my best interest at heart. The same people whom were not there before I met him when I was lost, and completely drowning in the empty shell of the person I’d become. The same people who never saw how much we loved each other, but only latched on to the various times I’d vent about him during a spat and use that version of our story to make me believe we weren’t supposed to be together anyway.

The only person who knew me deeply. The only one who made a huge mistake and then immediately saw it for what it was and risked everything to tell me. The only one who, at the very grand expense of losing me forever, broke himself apart just to be honest the very moment after he made that mistake… The only one who then spent nearly two years trying to make me see that I made the biggest mistake of all by walking away – by listening to everyone else – was Tim. I abandoned him because everyone told me that’s what you do. That I couldn’t have moved past it. I couldn’t have forgiven him no matter how badly I may have wanted to. People were well-meaning, I like to believe that, but sometimes I realize the mistake was that I shared with anyone what had happened… Alas, that’s one of those senseless things I needn’t even explore further.

I moved away because I couldn’t take it anymore. The devastating moment I learned that my mother had died – that very night – I wanted one person. The one person I could not have… Not when it didn’t matter for anyone else anymore what she put me through before she died – all that mattered then was that, she was gone. That trumped all my personal pain, a pain not even one of them can even understand let alone the fact that they didn’t have to endure it. I felt like I lost the ability to go back because the fact that I still loved him just wasn’t enough for them – how could it be enough after what happened? – and so I made it not enough for me. Somehow, I thought that if I went back, it would hurt them, and I valued their opinion more so than I valued my own healing.

When people hear this part of my history – even paid professional counselors (and believe me, I’ve seen many) I am always left feeling as though nobody really understands it. How can I talk about loving him so much, so deeply, and then talk about what happened, and then even mention that I still loved him after that? As if they expect the very act of betrayal itself should erase all the love we shared. I almost, at times, feel as though I may just be a fool, and maybe they are right…

But then I remember that I was the one. I was there the night I met this handsome man with piercing blue eyes and a brilliant smile. I was there when I felt my walls crumbling down and my heart opening to his tender touch against my cheek. I was there when someone, for the first time in my life outside of my family, accepted and loved me for who I was. I was there when he walked into the house after working each night and saw him rush to me, renewed by my embrace. I was there when we dug our fingers in the soil and planted seeds that bloomed as we lay side-by-side under the summer sun. I was there on the cold, rainy winter nights when we moved the mattress to the living room in front of the stove to watch the fire burn as we rested in each other’s arms. I was there to listen as he serenaded me with classic rock tunes on the guitar, and as he danced like Joe Cocker in the garage just to make me laugh. I was there when I bared my soul to him, and his to me, and we dreamed and laughed and talked about our future together…

I was there, laying my head against his chest, when his breathe was shallow and I could tell something was very wrong. I was there when he revealed that something had gone terribly wrong and he wasn’t sure how it happened but told me every detail a thousand times just to try and help me understand it. I was there to wipe his tears away the day I packed my car up and was ready to leave, while he sat on our porch crying, begging me not to go. I was there when he told me he was so sorry, and he would love me forever… even as I walked away.

I am not sure anyone could understand it. Not unless you walked in our shoes. Not unless you felt what we felt… Not unless you lost… what we lost. I know it’s the same for all loss – I can’t expect to understand how my brothers and sister, or my dad, deal with or dealt with the loss of our mom, and I’d never be in their ear telling them, “it’s better this way” … But that’s what I heard when it came to me and him.

I’ve got another side to this entire part of my life that is entirely devoted to my mother, but I purposefully left that out of this because now is not the time. I’ve still got 5 days on this island completely alone, and I am certain in that time, I will write about her. I will cry about her. I must go back, stand beside her, and deal with everything that comes up. For now, it is about him.

Tim is a stranger to me now. Some time before Layla was born was when he last spoke freely to me. He had just met the person who is now his wife and she was soon to be pregnant with their son. From what I understand he’s lived in her country of Slovenia and moved back to Vancouver, though I am not aware of where he is now.

One of the greatest struggles I have faced since leaving Washington is knowing that I left him alone and did not return, and so the fault of this – our fate – rests solely upon me. I am okay with that because my choice to do so ultimately gave me three daughters and an amazing husband – a life I am grateful for.

Yet the healing that still needs to take place – it is apparent to me that even having a great life, a thousand miles apart from my home town – does not change the fact that I still hurt about Tim. It still hurts me that this happened to us, and I think I would be inauthentic if I pretended otherwise, though I am sure a great many people would rather I pretend because my honesty makes them uncomfortable.

I am not sure I’ll ever get used to the fact that I don’t know him anymore. That’s the hard part about knowing someone so well, and loving them so deeply – now, he is just supposed to be this person that I once knew, once loved. Yet, I know he is one of the most important parts of my history. He…

He gave me love, for the first time in my life. He opened his heart, mind, and soul to me, and let me see him intimately. He learned all the details of my face, and smiled at me with a sparkle in his eyes that made me feel safe and wanted – flaws and all. We taught each other that true love is worth fighting for, though I only learned that after it was too late.

I will never be 19 again. I will never know that version of myself, broken and wayward, God-less and love-less. I will never feel what it feels like to watch that person fall away as I learned myself through the eyes of another person. I cannot go back there – to any of it. I know that. I just wish, sometimes, that I could find some box to put him in that would contain all of this, so that I don’t have to see it unless I want to. I guess I haven’t mastered the art of forgetting like some would hope by now I would. Truth is, I may never fully understand this, and maybe that’s where I just let it go. Leave it at that. A classic, “it is what it is” situation?

I am so grateful that in my life now I have someone beside me whom accepts that I am still mending these broken pieces, and he lets me love him imperfectly. He doesn’t begrudge me that fact, but instead, holds me through it. He shows me I have the strength left to tackle this, and tells me that even if I never break through entirely, and I feel pain about this for the rest of my life, I am still worth loving. It is amazing that he is the first person – indeed the only one – whom has given me such a gift in all the years since Tim. In that way, I know it is real love, because long ago, I learned what that looked like.

I got to know great love. I got to lose great love. I guess, because of that, I should count myself among the lucky ones… I’ve had it twice.

Tim will probably never know these words exist, and I sometimes wonder how or if he still deals with those two years, and the end of us, like I do. I’ve tried to reach out to him but have never gotten anywhere with it, a fact of which is both understandable and disheartening. Sometimes, I question whether I am imagining things as they were not, but instead have built this beautiful world of sunshine and flowers and us walking together through a perfectly green pasture under a clear blue sky. Then, I laugh that off and remember…

“Hey, Christina, this is Tim”, Justin said, looking over at his dinner buddy. That moment. His face. That’s when my life began.

Dylan’s Piano

AllieNoah

A hot fire popped and hissed inside the old iron wood stove. Glaring into the orange glow, feeling the warmth of it through her blue jeans, Johanna tried like hell to distract herself, ignoring the stare that burned into her back. He leaned up against the barn-style garage door, standing perfectly squared next to the side that remained closed; one arm rose above his head, fingers grasping the 2×4 frame atop the doorway, with the other hand occasionally drawing into his lips a puff from a Marlboro cigarette. Dylan, still roused from the excitement that she was on his property, barely contained the wonder he felt that she had come back to him. He stood poised, with a million dreams dancing within his mind about how he could convince her to stay, ready to drop to his knees in a moment if begging was what it took.

“Dylan,” she whispered so quietly that his only cue she beckoned was a dropped shoulder and a half-second glance back at him, “I wish I never left.” He rushed, almost too quickly, and kneeled down at her side, willing her wordlessly, with only his eyes, to say everything that remained on the tip of her tongue. She barely met his blue eyes before her own began to silently weep, this his only indication that what she had to say would not be anything like he had been hoping.

“Johanna, please…” His words, swollen with heartache, tumbled from his parched lips. Without another sound between them but the crackling of the fire in the stove they had built, both unsteady and unsure of the next right step, they simply cried together. Many times before this same scene played out in different spots in that small house, and each more real than the last; the dreams between them were fading before their eyes, and space and time seemed to dance away with admirable cruelty, certain that with each ticking second, it widened the gap between them. “Don’t leave, please? Just stay. We can figure this out, I promise.” He recklessly pleaded with fate to stop her from standing up to walk out of his life again, at least not before she answered him, one last time, “… Do you love me?”

“Love you? Dylan, all I have ever done is love you. Even before I met you I loved you. My entire life was spent waiting to be with you, don’t you see that? But I just don’t know how to love you now and it is killing me.” As many times as they engaged in this conversation, it never felt right to say anything other than what she hoped for, even after the beginning of the end. What she hoped for, as she stared into the eyes of her sweet love, was the chance to stop time. The opportunity to create a rift in the fabric of life and exist within it to grow old with the only man she had ever loved. “I just want to stay, Dylan, I just want to love you.”

“Then stay!” He stood up, gesturing with his hands in wild protest at the very notion that Johanna would not follow her heart. She watched him pace back and forth, eventually setting her eyes on the workbench where they had spent countless summer nights goofing around building things together. Watching Dylan break apart made life seem so unfair, and yet again, as every time before, just as quickly as a freight train running right through her body, the rage began to fill her eyes.

“I never wanted this Dylan. I NEVER wanted THIS…” Tears strewn down her red cheeks and all of a sudden the night air seemed to ignite with heat and she began to sweat. As Dylan paced, he watched his love fall apart – the mere idea of it, that damned nightmare, became real to him every time he saw her become angry – “what do you want me to do, huh? You want me to stay here, in this house, in our home, so that I can remember every time I see you … I can relive what happened here? I am not strong enough for that, Dylan, and neither are you!

“Then we will fucking move, Johanna. We can move to the beach where nobody knows us – we can start over! Would that fix this? Would that finally show you how sorry I am for hurting you?” Johanna’s eyes focused clearly for a moment, hearing his words, and she wondered if he meant it.

“You would move? Really? We can do that?” She said, walking closer to where he stood, now pacing in the driveway under the cool night sky.

“Johanna, I will do whatever it takes not to lose you. Anything, just please, don’t leave me.”

She paused, feeling her body ease from the intensity of her anger, and instantly, the passion of fear and rage subsided, replaced steadily by the undying love she felt for Dylan in that moment. Slowly, she stepped towards him, wiping the tears from her face. He moved in at the same time until they were once again holding one another in the tender embrace that had become a part of both their souls, uniting them each time their bodies interlocked.

“I don’t want to lose you, Dylan.” Her face nuzzled into his chest while his long arms wrapped her into him tightly. She inhaled the smell of smoke and her favorite cologne and felt his heart beating wildly beneath his chest.

The cold of night crept in all around them, and inside the garage, the fire began to fizzle out; late April still carried on its back the chill of winter in the Northwest, and Dylan knew instinctively that soon, either she would say she had to leave, or he could get her inside – all it would take were the right words… Sometimes, no words at all. He took a deep breathe, Johanna felt it and knew him well enough to know he was thinking hard about something, “What? Are you okay?” She said, pulling back just far enough to meet his eyes.

He stumbled through his words with obvious anticipation in his eyes, the moon shining down enough light that she could easily make out the lines of his handsome face, “Come inside?” He whispered, hopeful, almost as if he knew she would not refuse. She sighed heavily, trying quickly to determine whether or not she could handle what would happen if she agreed.

“Dylan,” Johanna mouthed, her brows furrowing slightly. Without another word, she reached her arm down, never removing her hand from his body, and found his hand at his side, interlocking her fingers into his. He smiled, certain his wish would come true. He turned for the garage, switched off the light, and locked the door with the padlock, grasping her hand tightly so he was sure she would not let go. Slowly, they walked together, hand in hand; had anyone been watching, the image of this moment would have been nothing short of two young lovers perfectly in-tune with the harmony of the universe, without a care between them or in the world at all. Inside each nervous heart, a quiet, looming question remained, though neither spoke it aloud for fear what it would mean… “What’s going to happen tomorrow…”

Coolscan

Walking up the stairs onto the porch, Johanna took a deep breathe, preparing herself to enter into the house – once her home, once the place she found peace and love for the first time – now a tortured mix of anguish and confusion for what happened within it, tinted by the lingering love she felt for the man at her side whose only mistake was falling into the trap of a black widow. She squeezed his hand tightly as she crossed the threshold.

He flipped on the light in the living room and the sand-filled green paint softened the shadows on the walls. Inside the house wood stove another fire, nearly put out by neglect, warmed up the room, and hanging on every wall were reminders of the work she once did to make that house their home. Before Johanna could fall into an abyss of dead-end memories, she felt Dylan pull her in close, and all at once she was in the reality of the moment. With one hand placed against her back, and the other still interlaced with her fingers, he leaned in and gently kissed her forehead. She paused as he pulled back, staring at every curve of his face while he gazed at her. She memorized the cleft in his chin and the one baby tooth in his grin as he could not help but awkwardly smile at her. She saw the sparkle in his eyes, and quickly felt the overwhelming rush of desire for him as the worry, the fear, and the anger melted away – as it always did – into sweet, perfect love.

“Can I play you a song?” He asked, pulling them both towards the upright piano that rested against the wall. “I’ve been working on this, hoping you’d let me play for you someday, sit down,” Dylan pointed to the large green sofa chair in the corner next to the spider cage, and as Johanna sat, Princess the cat jumped up onto her lap, happy to have her Mama home again. He watched the woman as she sat, inhaled a soft breathe of peace and gratitude, and then returned his gaze to the keys beneath his fingers. With the first stroke of a finger, the soft sound of piano filled Johanna’s ears and instantly, she began to cry. How many times had she sat in that chair and watched the love of her life play a song? How many times had they sang together, laughing, and falling deeper in love, as they lived out their simple life, in a simple home, sure that love was enough to get them through? Overcome with nostalgia but careful not to lose the moment, Johanna listened and wondered what song it would be, still unsure about the melody.

“When the rain is blowing in your face, and the whole world is on your case, I would offer you a warm embrace… To make you feel my love.” His heart poured into every word, and as he sang it, she felt the earnest truth in his longing. Pulled by the harmony, the sweetness, and the sight of her lover, Johanna removed herself from her perch and crawled to kneel at the bench beside him, extending a hand to place it gently against his back, knowing he would understand what the gesture meant.

As he played on, she marveled at their strange evening, and the way it felt so right, even after dancing between such intense feelings only to come back to love again – if as though it was designed to make them stronger, not tear them apart – Johanna felt herself release the pain, in that moment, and simply, purely love Dylan again. He quieted the keys and flipped his legs around the bench to face her. An oil-stained thumb reached down and wiped a single tear off her cheek. “I love you, Johanna.”

“I know, Dylan…” She pushed up from her knees, held her palms against his cheeks, and smiled before pulling him into a tender kiss. Both knew morning would come, but in that moment, nothing else mattered but that she was home again where she belonged. At least, for one more night.

There happens to be a photograph in my home of a woman sitting in a man’s lap, one arm around his neck, both staring in mock-seriousness into the camera. She smiles more than he does, laughing at the photographer – a mother whom once believed so much in her son’s love for his girl that they could get through anything. Every now and then, it is found. Rarely on purpose, but I admit sometimes intentionally. Not to pine for it, but to appreciate it for the beautiful thing that it was. Only for the sake of understanding it may offend some people do I not post it here, though there are times I wish I could.

As I wrote this tonight, most of it was drawn exclusively from real life – the location, the environment, and even dialogue shared between these two torn lovers. What is always most real, at least as the creator whom recalls with astonishingly vivid detail the things surely overlooked by the other, is that I remember how I felt then. I remember what it felt like to turn around and see a man standing in his garage doorway. I remember the placement of all the tools bolted to the workbench. I remember the smell of fallen Loral leaves strewn about the concrete floor. I remember the sound of the fire, and even things I left out here – like the blue book I wrote in that he kept in a toaster box on the shelf that he handed me to read – I remember. Sometimes, I seriously wonder why. Why can I recall how it felt to hear him ask me to stay? Why can I recall how mad I got when I realized, in that moment, why I ever had to leave at all?

Perhaps, true artists really are different from other people. I am a creator – drawn from my experiences comes the canvas of my life, and I know of not a single better portrait of true love, loss, and life after it to show the world that beautiful things can be made from tragedy. It was once real, so real to me that even now I have not forgotten it, and I can take those images, those smells, those words, and those feelings, and I can create with it something magical. So that, if even just at least, in some small way, I can honor what it once felt like to be that person whom believed in true love, without a hint of fear or trepidation. We were not perfect, not by a long shot, but we shared one essential truth between us: We believed in love. That is what I pour onto these pages. The love once fought for, and then, sadly, the love once lost.

Because it shaped me, to the core. It shaped how I treat relationships now, whether romantic or platonic. It shapes how I raise my children, so that I never leave them with anything but happy memories of their mother, and the absolute knowledge that I love them before myself. It shapes how I dream, and what I hope for in the future… In matters of love, Dylan taught me that I could overcome hurt, and pain, and loss – that I could grow, and become a stronger woman.

My life has since moved on, and I am finally learning how to be happy again. It only took seven plus years. But, I am really trying now. For the first time since I left that house, I am starting to believe in love that can last.

The greatest lesson I learned from Dylan is that you really never know where life will lead. I cannot say for certain if I will ever see him again, and get to know him in his life now. Get to watch him as a father, get to meet his wife. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. But, right now, I take from those days, and I honor them with the choice to love here and now, in this moment. Even when I am fearful, even when it is hard. Because, I lost love once… Real love. I lost it. And I would forsake everything I learned from that experience if I lost it again.

AllieReading

Just like the night

“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.

Visions for Johanna

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 onhurry 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.

1:07pm

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.

2:30pm

“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.

Memories.

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…

Without a Title, Chapter I

Wiping the counter with a stained, musty washcloth, she went about the work of a minimum-wage waitress at a diner, noting the time and trying beat exhaustion to make it another hour until closing. The other helping girls chat near the entrance, leaving Johanna without interruption; the way she preferred it – idle gossip was never her thing. Only a few sparse tables had any customers, regulars mostly, drinking too much coffee too late, and dining on bad food at a cheap price. Outside the restaurant the cool October air blanketed the patrons with the chill of autumn, and made the comfort of a warm booth more inviting than the stale coffee in the carafe on the table. It had not rained in about a week; unusual for a northwest city this time of year, but it was cold enough to wear a jacket which is what she saw first when he walked in.

Dylan stood tall and walked with quiet confidence, unwittingly catching the eyes of every waitress as he strode behind his dinner company to their seats. He wore the same carhart jacket her dad had, she noticed, and a beanie covering up what appeared to be slightly unkempt blonde hair. The hostess motioned to Catherine – her section – she glanced behind her in his direction, took a deep breathe when she noticed how handsome he was, and then walked over to get their order. “Hey! I haven’t seen you in a long time, Justin, how are you?” She hadn’t noticed this stranger’s company was an old friend from school. With a smile and a quick steal towards the other face at the table, she awaited an introduction.

“This is Dylan… Say hi to Johanna, we went to High School together.”

Blue eyes… She thought, That smile… Nearly losing all sense of herself, she fought off the urge to smile using all the teeth in her mouth, fearing he would think her too easy  to give the attraction away that quick; she swiftly asked if they wanted fresh coffee and water, then scurried off before he noticed her blushing. From behind the bar, she turned back just long enough to notice him stealing a glance her way, quickening the heart of a young romantic hopeful, and so casually causing her mind to race, Oh god, do I have something in my teeth? No way he likes me, too…? Old coffee now down the sink, and hot coffee refilling the blue container, she reached for two water glasses, filled her hands with the drinks and two clean mugs, then balanced it all back to the waiting patrons.

“How have you been since school, how long has it been since we’ve seen each other? I live with Dylan now – just down the street.” Justin smiled as he motioned over to his wordless friend pouring hot coffee, smiling shyly.

“He doesn’t talk much, does he?” She teased, looking directly at him. “What’s it gonna be, Dylan?”

Quietly, he ordered a chicken fried steak, nearly at a whisper, then handed her the menu without making eye contact. She wondered to herself what was wrong with this guy but decided quickly that his mystery was worth discovering. Etching their orders into her black folder, she busied along and left them to chat alone.

Thinking to herself, there is something here – I can feel it, she began to dream up the way their romance would blossom, and how great a story it was of how they met. Shaking her head at the private thoughts of a silly dreamer, she put away the notions of love at first sight and came back to reality by the ding of a bell.

Their food waited in the window, she garnished, wiped, and then carried over the hot plates to an old friend and a new stranger, asked if they needed anything else, then decided it was time to start cleaning her section. She felt herself blush before walking from the table, recalling the daydream she just had of their blossoming love story, sure he could see it written all over her face. He had not seemed to notice, so she picked up a rag and began cleaning; the task not as dull as previous nights, this time she had eye candy, and decided to make it fun. Choosing the tables in direct visual to Dylan, she began to stick out her tongue playfully, grinning from ear to ear, until he noticed – arranging sugar packets, filling syrups – all the while playing a fool just to get the attention of a handsome guest at a table a few feet away. He held his coffee up as if to cheer her on, she smiled bigger knowing finally – the payoff! He’s smiling! She thought, unfailing to note the sparkle in his eyes and the way his smile seemed to ignite his face in a pure, radiant glow. I need to know more of him, thinking to herself, unsure if she could be brave enough to make a restaurant flirtation more than what it is meant.

Train

That is all on the story itself for tonight. I am not even certain if I ought to post any of it anymore… Unsure if that matters from the point of making it mine, I mean, at this juncture. Intellectual property, I suppose, no big deal, right?

A lot of this journey, writing about this I mean, is cathartic. I am thoughtful about what I want to write, and have formed aspects of this tale in my mind, yet to be written, that are not at all drawn from real life, to color up the story, and to make it a bright example of what love can be when not tainted by bullshit and the politics of fading youth (that is to say, adulthood, and “experience” that teaches us love is not supposed to be this beautiful). What I love the most about the creative process, something like this – writing – is that it IS all mine. Not a single person can tell me what the coming words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters will involve. Yes, the content may be heavily familiar to some, at any given point, but there is nothing paint-by-numbers here. Archetypes exist, sure; the themes and plots – especially centered on love and the difficult heartbreak often associated with first love – are familiar to us all… BUT, this story, this love… It is mine alone. I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THAT!

In all this time, and I speak in years here, I held onto something I felt was a truth I would never shake. That love is once. Not easy shallow love. Not replacement for-now love. But true love. It happens once. In a lifetime. That is what I believed.

Did I expect my marriages to fail? Do I expect all current, future loves to fail? Because, how can one believe in a once kind of love and then ever expect to make it with anyone other than that once person? Well, this is what I have learned in all this time, but I will explore this no further tonight… These rhetorical questions are simply few of the themes associated with what I am writing, and my deepest hope out of this is to find peace in the conclusions that will come.

Perhaps, I write because in doing so I resolve the conflicts I have battled internally for years – because God continues to put it on my heart to get this OUT of me and ONTO paper.  May I show  that I am capable enough to forgive. To forget… maybe.

Suppose I write to come around to the conclusion that there is just a once love, or, perhaps, I write to illustrate that there is not. More than these, however, to show whose love has driven me, from heaven, to love anyone on this earth at all. The most wonderful thing about this process is I just do not know yet – honestly – I have NO idea where my heart will go on this journey. All I know, right now, is that I have to write it, now is here – now is the time.

Countless nights ago, I was in a diner, and I saw a man just a few years older than me escort an old friend into the place I worked. Tonight, I am a single mother with two children living a thousand miles away from the place I grew up. The bridge between where I was then and where I am now is long, paved with broken dreams and beautiful treasures, and I long to be completed in a way unknown to me before now – when this journey is finally walked to its end. I have known many trials and triumphs along the way, loved some amazing people, and love one still today. God has blessed and taken away, walked with me and never let me lonely, and this story is ultimately a testament to that.

Though right now I focus on a tangible love, the first love I knew in my life, what will arch over each avenue of this is the greatest love of my life. The reason I write at all – for the gift God gave me is pure within my heart, and He is the reason I want to do this. To close the circle, and finally become what I was meant to be. I choose to start where I began – when my heart knew love like none I have known – and end where I am today, a better version of myself… Hopefully – I guess we’ll see when I am finished.

coffee