i have always felt as if the sky and i were linked in some ineffable manner. as if the sun and the clouds and the stars were all under my command. just waiting for my every order.
on this particular night, the sky cries out. the town slowly floods. streets overflow. families hide inside their homes, unsure of how to live in such a wet world.
you see, up until tonight, this town hasn’t seen rain in nearly two scores. but i guess it was inevitable that i would one day run out of whiskey and all that it dammed would gush from the clouds.
i am the only soul wandering the streets tonight. i walk past street signs and graffitied walls i haven’t seen in years. this route used to be a second home to me. i would take this same route every night with the moon full in the star-studded sky.
i had pep in my step back then, but tonight the journey isn’t quite the same. the moon is nowhere to be seen, the stars are silent, and the sky is roaring. two scores of pent-up thunder echoes through the sky and vibrates my entire being. an occasional streak of lightning lunges ferociously toward my small town as if an attempt to destroy the bitterness of its very soul.
i jump the fence separating me from the local football stadium. i look around and study the details; it is so different from what i used to know. the field is no longer dirt with tiny patches of grass, but rather bright green turf. the scoreboard is digital and plagued with advertisements. the home bleachers are taller and wider than back in the day, though this small town hasn’t grown nearly as much in population.
from the sky, a streak of light plummets down, hitting the top of the flagpole. i watch as the lightning wraps and tornadoes down toward the ground below. with a loud crack, the cement separates and snakes in my direction. i pray that the earth may open and swallow me whole, but the snake ends at the tip of my toe. the sky thunders again with a mocking laugh.
i make my way to the visitor’s bleachers. i walk below them and feel a sudden silence; the rain hasn’t stopped, but the sound above seems to have been muted.
though the seats appear new from a distance, i can see from down here that this side of the stadium has just merely been repainted. luckily for me, they didn’t bother to repaint anything below.
i should explain myself a bit, i believe. my name is unimportant and nowhere in this story will you find it. this story, in fact, isn’t about me. i am in this story, i am in nearly every scene, but i assure you i am not its protagonist. you see, i can only tell truthful stories if i was there to witness or participate in that story. if i attempted to retell a story that i had merely heard, i would be certain to miss details. often the details would be mundane, but occasionally the details would be colossal. so, for that reason, i will only tell stories that i know.
this story is about rose tennen, the lovely rose tennen. the sun was always high in the sky when rose was around and the clouds crowded the sky in her absence. if there was ever a man who didn’t believe in god, he would quickly confess after only seconds in her presence. she was pure enough to make angels envious and the devil bow his head.
the spot i stand in, beneath these quiet bleachers, is the very spot her and i used to meet every night. we would sit here from the moment our parents went to sleep until the moment we had to rush back home. if i knew the groundskeeper wouldn’t tear it down, i would have built a palace beneath these bleachers and spent eternity with her in my arms.
unfortunately, eternity is a myth, or at least that’s what i thought. i later discovered that eternity is as real as the pain in the deepest corners of my soul, but it’s not the same eternity we write about in novels. no, no, no. the eternity we write about is filled with love and hope and the ability to soak in it endlessly. however, real eternity is quite the opposite. it is still endless, but love and hope are nowhere to be found.
the day i discovered eternity was the day i lost both those things, love and hope. but i am getting far too ahead of myself. eternity is never where the story begins.
i examine the scratching’s below the bleachers; many sharpies have run dry down here. i spot hearts with initials and wonder if their new partners have the same initials as their old.
i continue walking, but i promise you my walk is not aimless--it is only delayed. i know exactly where the drawing i desire is located. it has been 37 years since i last walked these steel canvases, but i still dream about them nightly. if my mind was to be emptied of all things, i promise you the location of this drawing would be etched so deeply into my psyche that even with a blank mind i could still tell you exactly where to find it.
i am merely delaying.
drawings of unicorns and bicycles and gang symbols and artist tags enter and exit my peripheral, but still my mind can see only one thing: her.
finally, i summon the strength to change my path from delayed to intentional. i walk anxiously to the spot etched within me.
the drawing is of two interlocked cribs; i wish you could see the beautiful details rose put into them. her drawings never cease to amaze me.
i know, i know, you are wondering what this drawing means. allow me to explain:
rose and i were born only hours apart in the same hospital; this town only has one hospital, so there wasn’t exactly a plethora of options. our parents have known each other for years. her father and my mother went to high school together, met their spouses when they went away for college, and all became close friends when they returned to this small town.
this being so, our parents were always together. they liked to drink. they called it social drinking, i called it excessive. either way, no matter how you categorize their drinking habits, the results are still the same. they would put our cribs facing one another so we could keep each other company as they drank themselves nearly to death in the next room.
our baby eyes would spend most nights staring blankly at one another. i remember my parents once telling me i would sit and watch her with mesmerized eyes; i guess i was in love even then.
i wish i could recollect to you what my thoughts were as i stared at her day in and day out, but unfortunately my memories of that age are nonexistent. i like to imagine they are similar to the thoughts i have today when i think of rose. pure enchantment. pure wonder. pure thankfulness. pure love.
i suggested our first drawing be of two cribs, but it was her idea to interweave them. she said, “we should interweave them in the same way our souls have been weaved together, deeply and with such force that not even god could pull them apart.”
she couldn’t help but to speak so poetically. i am fully convinced that her bones were the transcripts of the original psalms, her skin the cover of the first bible, she was held by the foot and fully submerged into the soul of god. she was poetry.
a few canvases over is another masterpiece by rose, a tree with the number three carved into its trunk.
like i said, rose and i were together a lot as kids. one afternoon, when we were three years old and our parents were inside drinking away another day, we entertained ourselves in the backyard. we played every game we could think of, mostly tag or hide-and-go-seek.
one turn, as i hid so deceitfully behind her father’s bbq, i spotted a twig on the ground. i knelt down and picked it up. i decided i was better hidden on my knee, so i stayed in that position. i twirled the twig around and around.
i could hear rose nearing the bbq. then i looked down at the twig. my mind flashed back to a commercial i had seen recently. i remembered the man getting down on one knee, similar to the position i was currently in, pulling out a ring, shaped much like the twig in my hand, and asking a particular question.
rose came around the corner.
“rose, will you marry me?”
she yelled yes! and ran inside the house. i was unsure what the next steps were, the commercial had ended after the woman said yes and then moved on to the next.
minutes later, rose came out in one of her fairy dresses. she looked beautiful. she always looked beautiful.
we stood beneath the tree in her backyard and married.
a few paces over is a third drawing: a swing set.
one day after class, when we were in the second grade, our parents were late picking us up. i can only imagine what they were off doing, instead. either way, i am glad they were late. in fact, i wish they had never picked us up from school that day or any day after that. i could have stood by that swing set with rose until our bones rotted into the dust they were always intended to be.
after waiting fifteen minutes out front rose and i grew impatient. rose decided we needed some entertainment, so she began to chase me. she chased me through the basketball courts, around the tetherball poles, and throughout the schoolyard.
i headed straight for the swing set. as i reached it, i felt her hand grab tightly onto my shirt. she had caught me.
i turned around, panting for air. even at the age of seven, she was the most beautiful person i had ever seen. she, without warning, leaned forward and kissed me.
to this day, i cannot walk past a swing set without thinking of her. or that kiss. or all the kisses that followed. but, again, i am getting ahead of myself.
the next drawing is a simple one, but the tragedy behind it is complex: a frown with the number 8 written below it.
there was a time when rose and i didn’t see each other every day. in fact, there was a time when rose and i were countries apart. that time lasted eight years.
you see, her father and my mother knew each other since high school. it was only later that we, along with her mother and my father, learned exactly how well they had known each other. or how well they continued to know each other throughout the years. you could say that they, much like rose and i, were lovers.
their love began to fade when they went off to college. and it nearly faded away completely when rose's father met rose's mother and when my mother met my father. but the fading fire was sparked once more when they reunited. apparently, one night, after one of their many drinking rampages, her father and my mother were left alone in the same room.
that night started an affair that would last years. at the time, i would have never thought it possible, but after the damage had been done, when i looked back the signs had been so obvious. i remember my mother dragging me to rose’s house at the oddest of hours for impromptu playdates. i distinctly remember the two of them disappearing for hours on end, but i was so infatuated with rose that i didn’t care nor notice their absence.
this happened often. and the occurrences became more and more frequent. i didn’t mind, though, it just meant more time with my love. i guess you could say that the affair was mutually beneficial.
until it wasn’t.
one day, as rose and i played in the backyard, i heard a scream and a thud. rose’s mother had come home early from work and her purse had dropped hard on the floor with her discovery.
seconds later, my mother walked out to the backyard, her shirt only half buttoned, her hair a complete mess, her lipstick smeared onto her cheeks, and she pulled me by the arm. “let’s go!” she yelled, as if what was happening was somehow my fault.
i turned back to rose and said, so innocently, “i’ll see you tomorrow.”
but i didn't. i didn't see her for another eight years. after the infidelity had been uncovered, rose’s family moved halfway across the world.
i never understood why either of our parents remained married after such defilement to their relationships, but they did. kudos to them. i guess.
eight years later, rose’s paternal grandmother became terminally ill and rose’s father wanted to be home with her, so they moved back to this small town. i hate cancer as much as the next guy, but considering it brought rose back to me, i am perpetually thankful for cancer.
the disdain between rose’s parents and mine, however, didn’t cease in the slightest over those eight years. my parents sat me down, once the news had reached them that rose was back in town, and told me sternly i was not to associate with the tennens, especially rose.
as if they, mere humans, had the power to separate two souls that god had many years ago bound together.
we quickly decided that the bleachers i currently stand below would become our nightly meeting place.
as you can imagine, with two seventeen-year-olds madly in love meeting in the middle of the night, explorations were had and discoveries were made.
which brings us to our next drawing: a heart with the initials rt + mine within it.
i know, i know, i know. earlier, as i stared at drawings foreign of my own experiences, i laughed at hearts similar to this, but it’s because i walked the same campus as those other initials and i know for a fact that none of their loves ever reached the depths of ours.
this heart and our initials rested above the spot that rose and i--well, it is where our bodies merged and our souls officially became one.
the next drawing is where i met the true definition of eternity. it is where cribs untwined and collapsed.
this is the only drawing that was done by my own hand, and it is very obvious to the eye. it is a poorly drawn dress, or at least what was intended to be a dress, with a question mark beside it.
one night, i arrived a half hour earlier than our usual meeting time. the sky above was stirring, along with my anxiety. i began drawing the dress.
prom was coming up and i knew there was no better way of asking. this bleacher held all of who we were and i wanted those nights, that night and prom night, to be etched forever into the story of us.
i finished the drawing a few minutes before i expected her arrival. i waited eagerly.
an hour passed. rose was nowhere to be seen. another hour passed. then another. then another. nothing.
a few hours later, i awoke to the chirping of birds and the slow rise of the sun. rose never showed.
disheartened, i returned home. i dressed for school. i jumped on the bus. there was a strangeness in the air. the chatter was nonexistent. the faces were all filled with gloom.
i found a seat next to a buddy of mine and asked why everyone seemed so down.
“it’s rose,” he said, “she’s dead.”
at that moment, the sun disappeared and clouds rolled over the town. my heart stopped. i couldn’t think.
rose…. is dead?
the clouds opened as tears rolled quickly down my cheeks. a storm had begun.
the school circulated with many rumors, stupid rumors that i won’t even dare repeat, as they could taint the truth of the story.
police reported rose was driving near the high school around one in the morning. they were unsure of why she was on the road. but i knew. she was driving to see me.
a drunk driver hit her and fled the scene of the accident.
rose was discovered with a note in her hand that said, “remember us.” the police said it was nothing, but i knew it was everything. that note was the truth.
a few nights earlier, rose had come to the bleachers in a complete panic. i tried to calm her down, i told her it was nothing, she was only imagining it. i was so stupid. i could have saved her. but i didn't.
she told me her mother had seen her sneaking out. she knew we were seeing each other.
i cannot be certain, as i said earlier any story i wasn’t there to witness could never be told with full truth, but a part of my soul was there that night and that part of my soul is telling me the following is true.
rose’s mother caught her that night, but rose refused to go back into the house. she wanted to see me. she needed to see me.
she ran to her car and wrote a quick note: “remember us.” she recognized the look in her mother’s eyes and knew what was to come. she tried to reach me, but her mother reached her first. all she intended to do, or at least all i hope she intended to do, was stop her from reaching me. but instead, she ran her off the road and killed her own daughter.
the police never did consider me a reliable source. they told me, “your soul cannot witness.” little do they know, your soul is the only true witness.
we say that eternity is forever spent with love and hope, but that is not eternity at all. time spent in love and hope whizzes by. there is never enough time when love is involved. eternity is the time you spend where both love and hope have no chance of ever existing. they will never make an appearance. they are gone.
these 37 years have been eternity. moments filled with pain and agony, both of which i cannot escape. though to us it is only 37 years, these moments last forever. they are eternity.
i have returned to this spot so i can be filled once more with love and with hope. i have come here to end eternity.
i pull the sharpie from my back pocket, pull off its cap, and create a new drawing. i draw her face, her smile, her twinkle. i include every detail i will never forget.
then underneath i write, “i remember.”
and with that, the storm ceases.