Thank you to Sue for this wonderful prompt! (Hopefully this one won’t end up in the spam folder! 🙂 )
Who We Were
We grew up playing in fields, climbing stones, splashing through creeks and turning over rocks to find salamanders and crayfish. We knew what birds flew overhead, what cry that was in the night, when to plant corn so the seeds wouldn’t rot. The three of us loved our countryside, never imagining we’d leave until we entered high school where disdain and depression festered like an infection.
In four years, Darrel, Jake, and I grew apart. Darrel joined the football team, became quarterback, scored a scholarship to West Virginia State, which he deferred after 9/11 so he could join the Marines. Jake smoked weed and drank beer, learned guitar, began singing and writing music, and left for Nashville.
Me? I lived and breathed poetry, reading and writing deep into the night, but learned about herbs and tonics so I could take over running Mama’s shop. I never left the small Appalachian town visitors always mispronounced, giving it a latin sounding pronunciation when it was anything but.
These days memories prod like the sticks Darrel would poke at an animal to see if it was alive. He limped into the shop, so skinny, so pale I didn’t recognize him until he said, “Chantelle, sweet purveyor of sage.”
It was something he’d joked about in high school that hadn’t felt like much of a joke at the time, but more ridiculing, because he had a way out and I didn’t. Not that I needed or even wanted one. Yet, all the high school kids did so that was the norm. I wasn’t the norm then and surely not now.
“You look good,” he said.
I smiled my thanks and nodded. “You, too,” which was a lie. I’d never seen him look unhealthier, even when he was so sickly as a kid.
Maybe he heard the lie in my voice or knew because he looked down at the floor and nodded, accepting a truth neither of us could speak.
“Heard from Jake?”
“Yeah,” I said, my stomach churning. “He calls mostly when he’s down and drunk.”
“Nashville spit him out?”
I shook my head, thinking about Jake’s last call, how he’d sounded happy despite the Jim Beam slurring. I hoped with every breath that this would finally be his chance because he’d always been my one. The one who understood my poetry, knew how the song of the whip-poor-will made me feel, how abandoned I felt when he took only his guitar when he left, and not me.
“He’s lead guitar for that Cheryl Harper.”
I nodded, smiled. “Yeah. Are you staying?”
“For a while.” He looked down again, shrugged, before lifting his eyes to meet mine. Their blueness seemed darker as though everything he’d seen had transferred its darkness to his eyes. “I could use some help.”
I couldn’t help the surprise that must have shown in my eyes. Darrel never asked for help. “I’m here.”
“Thank you. You’ve always been, and I want you to know I appreciate it. I was unkind in high school and I’m sorry for that.”
“It was high school.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t become high school. You stayed you, Chantelle, the poet, the country girl.”
“The sunshine beaming off of every cornflower in the field.”
Darrel and I both looked toward the door where Jake stood, grinning.
The fact that after twenty years we were all together in my Mama’s shop unhinged me slightly and I could feel the tears despite my smile. The boys—men—both laughed because, despite all my tomboy ways, I could sometimes be a girly girl, the poet lost in her words and emotions, and now memories could be added to that. What memories they were!
After ten minutes, high school and the past twenty years were forgotten as we became the kids who once jumped from haylofts, slept outdoors on summer nights to stare at constellations, told ghost stories that didn’t let us sleep for days, and made believe stones that had carved faces were aliens from a galaxy far, far away.
Life may have changed us, but not who we were.