Self love isn’t selfish.
When I close my eyes,
I can watch the memory replay as if it were a dream.
The familiar scenes bring about the same smile,
albeit creases deeper than the last.
And more bittersweet.
My bare feet on the dash, you flash a smile at me as I turn and shift my whole body to the window.
I watch the rows of tightly packed Stepford houses spread out and become fewer and farther in between.
Hands pressed against the window,
like a child’s first time on a plane,
I watch as the sidewalks drop off.
The well-manicured lawns become yards
that grow larger and more unkempt with each passing mile.
The houses become their own;
peeling paint exposes the years of love they’ve witnessed
and the harsh winters they’ve survived.
Garages replaced by barns.
The grass by corn.
We drive until there is nothing
Nothing but an open expanse of impregnated stalks
swaying to the rhythm of the cool September breeze.
I close my eyes and feel the crunch and analgesic vibrations as pavement turns to gravel.
I open them just in time to see the green sign that boasts 100
and announces our arrival.
You grab my hands to steady them
while I take a few deep breaths to calm my nerves;
your mouth spills words reminding me I have nothing to worry about.
One more breath and I wrack up the courage to unglue myself from the passenger seat.
Breathe in, breathe out which each step.
As I reach the top, the door swings open to a tiny woman,
slightly older and grayer than I had expected.
She can barely contain her smile as her eyes dart back and forth between us.
I didn’t see much of you that fall.
By winter time, it became our Sunday routine.
I sat in the pew between your mother and you, your father to her right.
Your neighbors smiles grew wider each time they saw me and slowly evolved to a greeting and warm hug.
I sang quietly so I could delight in the croaky tune of Shorty’s off pitch hymn in the pew behind us.
Afterwards around your grandmother’s table we’d huddle,
all with cups of coffee minus you.
Town gossip, family gossip, the weather. Peanuts, candy, cookies, cake. Laughter, smiles, warmth, and love.
A breadth of unknown feelings I quickly became accustomed to.
Feelings I could get used to.
As the days grew longer the pews became emptier, the hymns quieter.
I remember the day when the man who stepped in as your grandfather died.
The day that croaky hum was missed.
The first time I saw you cry.
On our way to the funeral, we drove by that sign.
I have so many fond memories of sitting around the supper table listening to Mom and Dad talk about their younger years. And your grandma flipping through an album recounting days of the old sharply,
even though she barely knew her own name.
It was like a scene out of the movies, the perfect family.
Rewind fifty years, the town’s baseball team was thriving.
Your dad was the star of the neighboring town’s team.
Your mother the talk of the town.
Grandma couldn’t be more proud than when he took her only daughter’s hand.
They wed one Indian summer while the corn grew sky high.
Fall they overlooked their need for sleep and broke their bodies harvesting the land.
When winter came, they counted their blessings.
And spring they ripped earth fresh and sowed seeds to begin the cycle again.
Rinse, lather, and repeat.
One by one the neighbors grew too old to plow and bowed out.
Their disinterested kids sold out.
The children of the town slowly disappeared.
The fields sank into each other.
Johnson’s farm and Smith’s farm were now the Anderson’s.
The baseball team disintegrated.
The school shut down.
The houses that filled the two blocks we called a town, became quiet
as the large boisterous families they once hosted evolved to lonely tenants of farmers’ widows.
After years of solitude and a season or two of the flu, they too would move on to join their husbands.
I remember the day the church closed down and your mother cried. She was baptized there, as were you. She was married there, which we’d never get to do.
Your mother was a farmer’s wife. I truly thought that was my future too.
Our first garden was small but it gave color to our bland lot.
I remember crouching and digging hole after hole, placing each strawberry plant delicately in. Potatoes. Asparagus. Manure. I had poured my heart and soul into that soil.
It took my cuticles a week to get clean.
But I’ve never tasted a strawberry so sweet.
The ground was wet that year.
Our boots stuck in the mud and the combine slugged along, bogged down by the weight of the damp yield.
I shoveled and scraped that dryer, repeating bushel after bushel.
I have never worked so hard in my life.
Respite came with the bright light approaching in the distance, the steady hum growing to a loud growl. The John Deere namesake green tractor would slow then stop as I jumped into the cab.
I adored riding in the combine with your father. He could see property lines where I could only see corn.
Another bleak winter arrived.
I remember holding the hand of your grandma, frail in her bed. Her movements slow, not as agile as our card playing days. As she struggled with each breath, I saw that second digit of that green sign swinging on a breeze to her rhythm, giving us a glimpse of what lied beneath.
Spring you ripped up the earth
and I ripped out your heart.
As I looked out the rearview mirror, I caught a glimpse of that old green sign. The tears clouded my sight but through the blur I’m pretty sure the 65 turned to 64.
Some things are just not meant to last.
This is a first draft and very short. 900 something words. I would like to expand on it at some point. But it has been a real struggle to write and my wounds are still raw. Unlike most of my pieces, this is nonfiction (with a few creative liberties) depicting the dissolution of my last relationship and the parallels to the dying town my ex grew up in (and where our future would have been?)
Any and all feedback would be appreciated.