It was...quite early in the year 2000. I'd thought we were moving toward renewal and a kind of hope. But I'd been very wrong. Flowers sent to an address not my own, the screen showed the truth - which was quite strange as it was perhaps the only truth that bank account ever gave me, now that I think about it.
Oh, I'd fallen - physically and mentally - and I had absolutely no reason to keep trying. A sliding door separated us as he spoke with her quietly on that deck. But it might as well have been all the night, all the sky, all of forever between us. I distracted myself with movies, my life only within them. I could don the characters and move, breathe, as though I were still living. But it was silent as the tomb inside.
I put this movie on that night - the wind still cool in late February. And I remembered the light, that golden warmth.
I remembered Texas. All the pain I'd left there in my youth didn't dim the place in my mind. There were still gentlemen and skies and freedom in that place. It had always been a sort of...if only I could go back and forget what was there proposition. But my life had gotten busy and that thought was forgotten among the trinkets and parties, the acquisitions and finery. A silk purse from a sow's ear, you might say.
I watched that movie, the slow and quiet courting, the mourning and the dying...and an ember in my heart caught wind and the smallest heat was felt. Enough to bring tears that choked and caught in my throat. I didn't bother to hide them from him anymore. His penance, I reckoned. No more of that silent open-mouthed weeping in the shower of the months previous. He'd earned this and he'd get his fill of it.
It took a very long time to move past that heartache. I gave him an early release, nothing vindictive and hardly any demand. But what I thought was healing was really just a kind of...burial. I would not be that kind person. I would believe nothing and no one. Which allowed me anything. A terrible freedom.
But I'd still watch that movie now and then and wonder. Where was that gentleman and could I truly slow life down that way? Let it all go by with only a small town as company? I sometimes think that fate intervened because I was absolutely destined for tragedy.
He was late picking me up, a borrowed truck too dirty for his taste and his own too unreliable for this event. He had to clean it before letting me in it though I only learned that later. I can remember opening the door and seeing him in a casual button-down shirt, perfectly pressed jeans, and his quick donning of a cap as he came in. When he opened the truck door for me I was reminded of all that I'd surrendered. Every courtesy neglected for mere...satiation.
It was easy to like him and his slower tempo. I began to feel more settled inside and it took less effort to smile. The fireworks of July that year were not only in the evening sky. Under them I felt myself uncoil into his arms, accepting him as he was and for how he made me feel.
I would watch with pleasure his process each morning - the belt just so, the keepers precisely stationed, the boot jacks necessary for those damnably sexy motor boots. And I would wait at dusk for him to ride up, a warm towel in the winter to thaw his face of the icy rain. But he would talk, sometimes, of Texas. Of the base he patroled, the scenery he missed. And of the Rangers there - of their reputation as being the best of the best. He'd always sought out that level of performance in all he did. It would be the most natural thing to desire...
He had a book, One Ranger, and he had the DPS screensaver loaded. He was making choices. But it was a call to the author - his number listed - that settled it. "Well, we won't come to Georgia to get you..." Show up, he meant. He had the packet completed in a few days.
I can remember when he came in that evening, the letter on the counter. I stood and watched as he opened it, his future crinkling in his own hands. There was a smile, a gasp, a look of uncertainty, and hope all at once. Oh, I'd told him it'd be okay, I can imagine him thinking. But what about now? When it was time to "gee or haw"? I suppose my own smile and tears answered.
It's been such a long path to this time and place. I can hardly remember that pain of Before. Only the movie brings it back in pieces and the snippets fall into place and I can recall that subdued horror. But it only takes a country ride, some walking in pastures, to settle me back...
This place - it's not simple. It is a state for people of wide consideration, generous latitude, and solid character. It will chew up and spit out those of weak constitution. They will leave it, in a huff. Or never come at all and give it a dismissive glance. In error. In vast error.
Smithville is just a bit down the road from me, now. I can hardly have imagined telling myself, sitting on that sofa those years ago, that I'd be able to walk those streets. That those small town squares would be a short drive away. It was such a dream to me, then. That gentleman, that old truck, and that old small town. And now that dream is real. It is mine. It is ours.
And I hope to hell I never forget it.