Sunset on Another Time

She was perfect. In my mind, then as much as now, we fit together in every conceivable way. She was a funny, kindhearted, blackbelt, dirty blonde who loved Weird Al, the Beatles, and goofy teeshirts. We were inseparable. We spent hours on the phone, making each other laugh so hard that we couldn’t breathe. I made her a stuffed carrot. She scotch taped angry eyes and a mouth on him and named him Sargon. We listened to each other cry about boys and pretended to fight like we hated each other until we would both collapse with laughter.

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I blame myself for losing her. Her world grew and spread with maturity while mine was systematically shrinking because of my anxiety disorder. Then I got hurt over something stupid and I let her slip away. We grew up, grew apart, got married, stopped calling.

This is not a boo-hoo-poor-me-I-have-no-friends post. I am by no means friendless. In fact, I could even say I am lucky enough to have three best friends, two of which live in the same house as me. Friends I trust with my core (something I don’t easily hand over). I am not trying to downplay this blessing. I just miss her.

She was the one and only Christie. There will never be another one like her. And it makes my heart ache to think that, since she’s the only she, that I will probably never again have what we had together, that perfect symbiotic, we’re totally the same but totally different, mixture of salty and sweet. A girl that I could tell the hard stuff too, who would listen instead of judge. A girl that could see me make a fool of myself and turn it into an opportunity to make me feel real and beautiful and accepted.

This has been a hard season of life for me. I’m struggling. I’m not unhappy, but the harshness of day to day is making me more than usually nostalgic. I used to be able to look back on the past with more of a gentle sigh. Now, it’s heavier, almost a burden, to pick up the pieces of yesterday for a moment’s remembering.

I miss her.

Sunset is one of my favorite parts of the day. I love seeing the sky splashed with brilliance and color. Each one is individual, from the cloud formations, to their chosen shades of reds, purples, and yellows. I have a tendency to snap pictures of almost every sunset I see (my Instagram feed is FILLED with them). Image-1But like many things, the pictures I grab with my cell phone rarely do justice to the rich layers of color, or the golden glow of the clouds hugging the fading sun.

Christie is a sunset. I can’t get her back because that time in my life has faded and the pictures left in my heart will never do justice to the brilliant light she shed on my life when she was part of it. It hurts. Goodbye’s always do. But the nice thing is that sunset happens every night. So I’m just going to wait, with eyes open, for the next beautiful thing to come along and flood my heart with light.

© Rachel Svendsen 2016

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My Library

Map of Hunterdon County and new cement sidewalk
Hunterdon County Library, complete with map and new cement sidewalk.

Everyone has a favorite place, a spot they go when they need to remember how to breathe. Mine was two miles away. It smelled like dust and paper. The silence inside echoed with the occasional interruptions of crinkled pages or fingers tapping on a keyboard. It was my library.

But it’s not mine anymore.

My husband lost his job. He was a music teacher and the only one in his department not tenured, so when cutbacks came, it had to be him. In the surreal fallout of the crashing words, “I don’t have a job next year,” God took hold. The dust is settling now, and the change I’d craved has found my husband in seminary and us moved in with my in-laws.

I was surprised at first how little I cared about it all. I’d been aching and struggling for months leading up to this and the whole event released a lot of pent up anxiety about life. We majorly downsized, getting rid of excess clothing, furniture, and possessions. Even books! Can you believe that? We unloaded nearly 150 books to the free shelf at the library. I kept wondering if the librarians would say something to me. I went in once a week with a bag full of books and loaded up their shelves. It may have been my overly self conscious nature, but I swear they were eyeing me maliciously after the first four bag loads.

I brought good stuff though, not your typical 50 cent paperback romances. I brought Shakespeare and Dickens and poetry anthologies. The kind of stuff that I used to greedily snatch up and drool/gloat over on social media. Some of my favorite finds were “Stardust” by Neil Gaiman, “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, and “Joyland” by Stephen King. I always stifled a joyous squeal when there were classics and, more often then not, they landed cosily into my bag.

My new library doesn’t have a paperback exchange. It doesn’t have a lot of things.

It doesn’t have the same librarians. The faces that I recognize, that recognize me and call me by my first name. I used to work with some of them. I used to shelve books there (600s, 800s, biographies, and occasionally fiction) which, let me tell you, is a book lovers dream job. The bottom shelf of my cart began empty, and by the time I left work would contain a hefty stack of books for me to check out and take home. They know me. They know what I read. They watched me take out all those wedding books and congratulated me when I came in and changed my last name in the system. I know them. I can tell when they’re having an off day, or tired, or sick. I know when they move the furniture from one day to the next.

I took my last trip there about a week ago. My last trip with my last bag full of books for the free shelf. They got a new lady about a month ago and she was the only one at the counter. She doesn’t know me, if she had, I would have said goodbye.

I had no more books to return, I could not justify taking anything out, so I just left. I walked out of the atrium, making sure to hold the door for strangers walking in, a habit I’d taken to over years of patronage. It always gives me a satisfying split second of interaction with other locals who I felt a natural kinship for because we were there for the same purpose.

My feet hit the new cement sidewalk. They just fixed it. The brick walkway they put in when they remodeled shimmied and settled into a barely navigable minefield, dangerous to both the handicapped and clumsy. I looked over at the outside seating area with its four backless benches. I could close my eyes and see it, just a few months ago, when I sat there with a child’s picture book. Spring had just blossomed and flower petals dripped over the pages while the tree above me read over my shoulder. I blew them off before I turned the page. The pink raindrops fluttered to the ground into the sea of their fallen brethren, covering the sidewalk until it was invisible.

I’m a sickeningly sentimental person, but honestly, it’s a short list of things I’ll miss about where I used to live. Perhaps the list is so short because this place looms so large on my heart. It has been my haven for over 20 years. Those were my books, my librarians, my children’s room, my corner desk beside the floor to ceiling windows, where I would sit and write for hours. My scents. My sounds. My memories.

As I pulled out, I took one last look back at the stone edifice, at the metal outline of Hunterdon County screwed into the side, at the trees, sidewalk, and parking lot. And, just between you and me, I cried.

View from my cubby
View from my cubby
Outside seating area
Outside seating area
Their garden
Their garden

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

A Second Goodbye

She ducked behind the display. Perhaps he hadn’t seen her. She felt him move towards her before she saw him. She picked up an item on the self and examined the price tag on its base. He spoke her name. It was a question. Could it really be her? His voice was all too familiar. She braced herself and turned around to look him full in the eye.

“Oh my gosh it is you!” he said. He raked a hand through his hair and looked her over. “Wow. I’d never have imagined meeting you here.”

Or anywhere… she mentally sighed.

“How’ve you been. You look great!”

“You too,” she mumbled. It was the right thing to say, but was it a lie? What she wanted to say was, “You look exactly the same.” He was smiling. Words were rolling out of his mouth. Falling from his lips. His lips. The same lips that had stolen her first kiss. The same lips that had…

He was so easy, carefree. How could he be so calm? How long had it been?

“Wow, how long has it been?” he echoed. She blushed at the absurd fear he could read her mind. “Five years right?”

“At least,” she muttered. They had been standing there several minutes. The greeting was over. Next was the horrific part.

“What have you been up to?” he asked. Perhaps he could read her mind…

“Oh this and that,” she said. He smiled.

“That’s appropriately vague,” he teased. The same smile touched his mouth. The same glint brightened in his eyes. The same sense of humor colored his words. “You here with someone?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “I’m on business. Just passing through. In fact I’ve got a meeting to run to so I should go.”

“Ah.” The knowing look in his eye. The little smirk. They knew each other too well. Three years pouring yourself, heart, soul, and body, into one person can leave little room for secrets.

“It was good to see you again,” he said. That awkward moment of saying goodbye. Do we shake hands? That seems odd and formal for two people who’ve…who’ve…known so much of each other.

He did it. He put his arms around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She managed to close her hands gingerly around his back. She could smell his aftershave. He hadn’t changed that either.

“Take care.”

“You too,” she mumbled back.

He was gone. It was over. The moment she had been dreading in her dreams ever since they said their first goodbye. She’d rehearsed for this meeting, aloud of all maddening things. She watched her face in the mirror, planned all she would say, and how she would behave.  Those rehearsals had been useless.  She could see them fluttering out the window with her script, each page separated and dropped lazily to the ground.

She was shaking. She went to the register and purchased the item in her hand. She didn’t see what it was until they slid it into the blue plastic bag. A paperweight? It looked like there was an insect incased in it. Gross! What was she going to do with that?

Useless memento in hand, she walked out the door. She looked both ways along the busy city sidewalk. She was looking for him. She always looked for him. Now that she knew he hadn’t changed his haircut, and still wore that same jacket, she would wonder if every look alike she spied walking away from her was him. Before now she could tell herself it wasn’t. Now…

She was walking. Where was she going? Back to the hotel she guessed. People brushed past her. Strangers. But somewhere in that mass of unknown faces, somewhere in that city…her first love. Her first kiss. Her first…everything. Shared memories and moments connected two moving bodies, two beating hearts, in this hurried mass of humanity.

He was gone again. Maybe they would run into each other tomorrow. Maybe five or ten years from now… or maybe never. That was their second goodbye. She thought the first would be their last. She’d hoped it was the last, but she made the right decision then just as now.

Hadn’t she?

© Rachel Svendsen 2014