It’s nine thirty. I’m in my car again. All I can do is stare at my phone. Is it too late to call? Then it hits me. Text her. I can do that. I can.
In a second, a text comes back.
It was good to see you today.
What else can I say? I’m stuck, really stuck. I can’t tell her how as soon I saw her, my heart started pounding and I felt light headed. I can’t tell her that until that moment I had been telling myself I didn’t miss her, didn’t think about her, didn’t feel like I lost the best treasure I ever found. She can’t know that I wait at the stop sign by Steak and Shake every morning sometimes for a few minutes fighting with myself to have the courage to go in.
Rejection digs so deep in me, risking it when I’ve been on the edge of the void of depression, requires courage I’m clean out of.
Call me. She texts finally.
I press the phone icon.
“Hi,” I say.
“Are you busy?”
“As busy as you are.”
I laugh. She giggles.
“Meet me at the park?”
It takes me fifteen minutes to get to town to Veteran’s Memorial park. She’s standing under the archway over the entrance. There’s a spotlight shining down on her black glossy hair. Her lips are shining too. She’s dressed in neat khaki capris with a pale pink loose T-shirt. On her feet white canvas sneakers. Everything about her is modesty and understatement. I’m consumed with the desire to wrap my arms around her. But as I approach the desire is tempered by how she looks at me, like I’m a friend, a brother. I suddenly realize I’m wearing the same beat up T-shirt I had on shopping today. Damn I could have at least put on a clean shirt.
She gives me a smile. Maybe I’m not just her friend. I don’t want to be just friends. Really. Can she tell? Am I dripping with desire, puddling all my feelings at her feet?
“That was weird.”
“What?” I wonder for a moment if I said my thoughts out loud.
“How you left that night and never came around again.”
“I’ve been working, a lot.”
She nods dismissively. “That call. It was my pastor. I have the chance to go to Costa Rica as a youth leader.”Her face is lit up. We start down the path. It’s not dark. There are fairy lights on the bushes that line the walkway.
“Over fall break,” she says. “I guess you’ll be gone by then.”
We’re walking side by side, close. I want to take her hand. I want to but I don’t. “I might stay,” I say. She stops, looks at me. “Would you?”
Why do I feel like this conversation has a lot more weight to it than just the words? What am I doing? It feels like a commitment. I should tell her I need to go, that I’m sick or something, anything to stop this. Instead I take her hand and she doesn’t pull away.
We reach the middle, where the gazebo is. I freeze a blanket of recognition drops over me.
I look at the lights outlining the octagon shape. There’s a glowing yellow light shining down on a swing. The back is carved with a scene centered on two swans with necks intertwined.
“I think my father made that swing,” I say. All these years and I never knew. We step up into the gazebo. Anne sits on the swing. “I’ve always loved it.” She runs her hand over the carved wood. “So beautiful. If your dad made this, he was quite an artist.” She holds her hand out, ushering me to the seat.
I sit down and I’m surrounded by my father as though I’m a child sitting in his lap. I feel the intensity of his mind, focused on carving it just so, planning the grace of the birds, the detail that shows the devotion of the two. The waters of a lake rippling across the solid surface. The patience of hours to smooth the surface, to join the pieces, to hang the cables. Then like a violent flash of lightening, the vision of a man throwing himself onto the swing, the jingle of falling chains, the sick sound of breaking bones. I’m there. The beauty of his creation becoming the beast of his anguish. An echo of regret wells up in me. How can I let these emotions overtake me? But I do, and I’m broken down next to Anne who squeezes my hand and says nothing, asks nothing, just sits there with me.