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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Creekside Lullabies - A Short Story

Most of us spend a lifetime thinking, but take very few moments to actually remember.  This is how I was for the majority of my life and at the age of twenty-nine, I felt as if it were time for me to be making a more steadfast effort at having something important to look back upon fondly in an older age.  You see, I always grew up with my grandparents telling stories which were no big deal to them in the instance they were happening, but were entirely fascinating to my juvenile self.  Growing older, my grandparents had all passed away and I began paying attention to the similar stories my aunts, uncles, and parents began telling.  Some things come naturally with age, and I really believe a good story can be told by most who are from generations before my own.  Still, I questioned if anything worth telling would ever cross my path.

I hate water, and I hate being wet.  When I was a child, going to the pool was the “greatest” thing ever during the summer, but I later realized the only reason this was implanted in my head was because of my friends who enjoyed it, considering I actually didn't.  After a day of swimming in a pool or at the beach, my desires often faded and I cared not to return for at least a year.  Apparently I am not completely alone in this, but there are few who have such an aversion to water as I do.  
At least once a month I would be running on the paved “Greenway” near my house and become caught in a sporadic, undetected downpour.  The only solace on the path I tended to run was underneath a highway overpass about halfway through my thrice weekly jaunt of four miles.  Luckily, the summer rains in Georgia tend to be spotty at best and as long as I could push a little harder to make it to that overpass a bit more quickly, I could cut down my rain exposure by at least half the distance.  

Then it happened.
  
My runs were always a time of reflection and thought, and even though I had music blaring in my ears, my mind tended to overlook it as ambiance and go to places it had never before ventured.  During these soundtrack-inspired Greenway runs were when I first began thinking about what stories I would have of interest to the next generation; regardless of whether or not I were to marry and have children to pass on said stories.  Being caught in my fourth, and expected, pop-up shower of the summer, with my brain and thought process in tow, I picked up my pace knowing I was only a quarter of a mile from a temporary weather barrier.  When I arrived, there was a beautiful woman standing there with the same idea as I.  She had apparently come from the opposite direction at a much farther distance because she was much more drenched than myself at the time.  Her old softball jersey looked as if it weighed ten pounds and she was wringing the water out of her shoulder-length hair.  She looked up and noticed me standing there on the other side of the path.

“You know, it seems like this happens to me every other time I come out here.”  she said.  I replied “That's funny, because I was about to say the same thing.  I'm surprised I haven't drowned yet.”  After the initial stupid joke she did not laugh at, we did actually hold a conversation as we waited for the rain to move out.  Bethan was her name, she was three years younger than me, an assistant manager at a bank, but studying for her Master's Degree in her spare time.  I was fairly set in my career but for some reason she seemed more interesting than myself and most others I knew yet I couldn't seem to pin down why exactly.  The rain passed over a few minutes later and we parted ways but as she was putting her left ear bud in place said “I'll see you here soon, I'm sure of it.”  then smiled and ran away.
I spent the next three weeks thinking about her on occasion, wondering if I should have asked for contact information because she seemed so much more interesting than anyone else I had met in recent time.  Making a new friend is always a good thing, if nothing else and I wanted to see her at least one more time; then I was finally able to make that happen after those long weeks.

The Greenway that Bethan and I ran on follows beside a creek and there are benches set up at random intervals for the entire length of the trail, with one being right beside that very highway overpass where she and I had met three weeks prior.  A Sunday afternoon in July had sent me on my usual run, but this time I stopped and sat at the bench I had mentioned previously.  I needed to write something down that had crossed my mind because I was sort of a freelance writer at the time for a secular, motivational blog.  I took out my phone to jot down a few notes as not to forget anything when I saw a shadow on the ground in front of me stop and turn in my direction.  Looking up and putting my phone down on the bench, Bethan was standing there, smiling at me, “I thought you had died or something.  Where have you been?”.  I replied “I was hoping to run into you again soon, but its been nearly a month and at least one downpour since then.  Trust me though, I've been looking for you every time I have come out here.”  “Well, we can fix that!” she said, picking my phone from its resting place.  Have you ever seen one of those stupid romance movies where the sun radiates behind an image of a beautiful woman as if she is glowing?  Had there ever been an actual point in reality of such a thing happening, it was in that very instance and I was there, living it.  When we were both drenched and under the overpass at our first meeting I did not pick up on how beautiful she really was.  She had these little freckles on her cheeks that I could barely make out and her hair had the most incredible color of brown and blond bits staggered about.  Still smiling, she handed my phone back to me:  “Now, don't let this happen again!” and she quickly scurried off before I could say another word.
  
I made this agreement with myself long before I met Bethan that any new woman I was interested in would be contacted by me with actual, spoken phone calls – no email, no text messages, no social media ties, but with real,  tangible conversation.  That night, I called her and we talked for about an hour.  Apparently she had taken a job as a nanny and left her temporary banking career behind for a more flexible schedule which allowed her to focus more on school.  This was the reason for the big gap between our first and second meetings.  Because of this, the only days we had been on the Greenway at the same time were the random Sundays tied to the even more random hours we had decided to add onto our weekly routines.  We ended up talking on and off for a few days when she finally spoke up and said “This Sunday, meet me at the bench at two o'clock.”.  “What bench?”  I said, but was immediately hung up on.  This is something which had drawn me into Bethan's world since the first time we met.  She said what she needed to, never batted an eye to explain herself, and then walked off with me having a few unanswered questions to ponder.  There was always a bit of mystery to her because we never actually said “goodbye”, even when we met in person again the next time at the bench beside the overpass.  This was as if the both of us knew when the time was right to stop speaking and part ways, so as not to spoil anything growing us together.  

We began building a relationship which was not at all within the typical expectation of most our age.  The more I saw her, the more I became infatuated, but also the more I became aware that both of us were completely comfortable the way we were.  Oddly enough,  after a considerable amount of time, we never quite passed the point of holding hands, even as a few months had ticked by – we didn't need to.  This was different, and somehow worked for both of us perfectly because neither her nor I expected anything from the other since we were happy to just be there, only having the company of one another.  She had no expectation of fancy dinners or expensive trips and neither did I.  She wasn't interested in any sort of night life or living in excess like most of our generation, nor was I.  We spent hours on my couch as the cooler, fall air crept into season, just watching the flames dance in my fireplace while talking about life, family, and experiences we had both been through.  To me, it seemed as though I was finally recognizing those stories I had heard from previous generations, exemplifying within the experiences I had lived, even if I originally thought my own would never exist.  I was beginning to understand that sometimes we have to really pay attention to little moments in order to put together a bigger picture.

Mid-fall, on my couch, again listening to the faint crackle of the kindling engulfed in a steady blaze before us, my life felt as if it were coming together for the better.  Those few months had made me step away from the overactive thoughts during my runs and instead lead to thoughts about how to better myself and keep a more relevant outlook on my own life.  I wasn't changing for Bethan, actually, I wasn't changing for anyone, but Bethan was helping me to realize who I really was while building something of an incredible bond with me in the process.

A few days later as I was driving home from work a bit later than usual, the temperature had dropped considerably to the point of freezing, which is very unusual for that time of year in the south.  I was in my car, on the highway and had just hung up the phone with Bethan after figuring out our plans for a late dinner, even though she had to be up early to take a final exam.  Every day when I left home in the morning and returned at night, I drove on the very same overpass she and I had met under, beside that very bench where our relationship had first began.  And every single day, I crossed that spot, I was completely thankful for something which only held significance to the two of us.  

The next thing I remember was a sharp pain on the right side of my body and the feeling of blood rushing to my head, almost like you feel when hanging upside down off the monkey bars as a child, but not entirely.  When the blood rushed to my head and created that familiar, dull throbbing, it immediately stopped for a fraction of a second, resumed, and then stopped again, as if in a sequence or rhythm.  I couldn't see anything and I wasn't sure what was going on until my eyes finally focused ever so faintly and for a split second saw nothing but my own blood and shattered glass all around me – I was also upside down.  I could move my right arm a little, enough to realize there was something not quite right about what was happening in my ribs, like something was forced into them.  It was getting difficult to breathe and the pain had become much more severe, though my head had stopped throbbing as my heartbeat was beginning to slow.  That time my grandfather told me “Sometimes you have to bleed to know you're alive.”  had suddenly began making sense to me, even if nothing else in that moment did.  I could smell something burning as I drifted in and out of consciousness; a mixture of plastic and gasoline with a flame reflecting off the blood-stained glass before me.  This was not the same fire Bethan and I had spent so many nights watching while cuddled under a blanket.  This flame was intense and frightening before being extinguished and everything, including myself becoming drenched in stagnant water. 

The weird thing about death is that it seems to begin with pain, which gets worse and worse, until it finally peaks and you can no longer feel it at all.  When the pain subsides, the chill comes, and you have this feeling rush over you as if you have never been more alone.  Some people say your life flashes before your eyes in a moment on instant clarity, but I will tell you that isn't true.  Regardless of how quickly and unexpectedly your time happens to come, you do get a chance to remember, not just a few things, but everything.  Instead of death coming quickly, it tends to cling to you and your reality slows down as if to say “You get one more chance to think it all over.  Make it count.” and you have a sense of realization you will only ever have right then, at that very time.  

The last thing I remember was a scream.  I had never heard Bethan scream because there had never been a reason for me to hear it – until that day, when I knew it was her.  That was when I cried for the last time.  Someone had their hand on my shoulder and I felt one tear roll from my eye and down my forehead.  After that moment, I have no idea what happened.  I was obviously in some sort of accident somewhere near the very spot where Bethan and I had met and I know I didn't survive.  Part of me wishes I knew what she was doing now - if she has finished her degree yet, met another man who has replaced me, or maybe even married and had children.  Actually, I don't even know how long it has been since that day as I lost all track of time when I awoke upside down, bleeding, and soaking wet in my car that night.  I hate being wet and I hate being alone.  I can't tell you what exists once your life is over anymore than I can tell you what has happened to Bethan since the day my own life ended, but remember this and keep it close to your heart:
Never take life for granted, not yours or anyone else's.  Everyone has a story to tell, so tell it.  Learn to love those who love you with everything you have.  Leave a legacy behind because you are not guaranteed to make it through another day.  Appreciate everything.

Grace and Peace,
-Drew

 -Add me.  Stalk me.  Tweet me.  I really don't mind.-
Twitter:  @JDrewSilvers
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