If you lived in the town where I grew up, we would have called each other on a telephone with a crank on the side. I would have cranked the phone once and the operator would have asked whose line I wanted to call.
When I said your name, she would have said something teasing about us being too young to go steady, and we would have to speak in a code because we both knew that the operator would call your house later and tell your mother what we said.
If you lived in the town where I grew up I would have been able to send you little notes through the post office in an envelope with nothing more than your name and a two cent stamp. It was better than when at the school we had to exchange Valentines with whole class and we bought a box of those cheapie heart-shaped cards that said “Be My Valentine” and just scribbled our names on the bottom. I mean, because why would I want to exchange Valentines with Raymond Drake, who wanted to beat me up all the time?
If you lived in the town where I grew up you would have been the girl who left school with me one day when we thought the teacher dismissed the class, only to find out that when we got to my family’s coffee shop that we left early.
And the next day when all our friends teased us about how much trouble we were going to be in, and how everybody knew we were in looooveeee, you looked at them and said, “So what?”
And if I hadn’t been before, I was then.
We would have sat on the rocks along the lake and pitched small stones at frogs and run through the waist-high grass in the summer catching fireflies. We would have raced our bikes out to Bachelors to buy a root beer and sat at the rickety picnic table under that slanted fir tree and softly touched finger tips under the table.
If you lived in the town where I grew up you would have wondered what the hell I was doing when as a nascent labor leader I convinced the seven other 9-year-olds who were raking blueberries of the patent unfairness of being asked to work over previously raked bushes and led them on a four-mile forced march back to town because we went on strike.
After you tried to talk us out of it, you would have joined us in the march home, grinning and shaking your head at the idiot you were hanging around with.
You would have hiked with me up along the trout brook to the spring at the top of the mountain near the abandoned farm and stood nervously along with me as the little boy-girl kisses we had shared became something else and I swooned at the sweetness of your mouth and understood for the first time what was true tenderness.
And fell into the depth of your eyes and in that moment realized that the kid I’d been hanging around with for my whole life was now a young woman, that the cute little girl who used to race me down the dusty main street or catch my eye as she waited on customers at the counter in the coffee shop as I washed dishes in the back was the most beautiful woman I have ever known.
If you lived in the town where I grew up we would have stood that last night in late August down the side of your house away from the porch light, but then finally walking to the back of the summer church to talk because the windows at the house were open, and we both would have had fear in our voices as we tried to sound brave and reassuring because the next day one of us was leaving because a town of 400 is no place to grow into the world and the chances were real that we both would never come back.
And we would have tried, but the letters would grow infrequent, the telephone numbers out of date.
But maybe one summer, one of us would have stopped in front of the general store and excitedly walked through its narrow crowded aisles, and walked along the still dusty streets to point out the home where you grew up, and the two-room school house that is now a fire station, past the empty spot where the old hotel once stood next to the brick building where the coffee shop was; stood on the lake shore and pointed at Halfway Rock, where we spend afternoons making out, and all those things about the place and times and each other, all the things we knew, would again be real.
And maybe in that reverie was a thought of those moonless summer nights when we’d swim out to the raft that was anchored offshore and lie on our backs, holding hands, speaking in whispers because the whole town would hear us otherwise; sometimes just silent as above us the universe exploded into a billion stars and we’d count the jets on their way to Europe and smile at the shooting stars flashing green against the black sky.
And you’d squeeze the water out of your blonde hair and flick it off your fingers at me. And we’d touch, and kiss and hold, and know that even as the universe expanded to infinity above us, there was only that moment, only that kiss, only that fire in your eyes. The moment that filled us.
If you lived in the town where I grew up, I would have loved you for my entire life. And nothing else would have mattered.
Michael Stephen Daigle
- The gospel according to Oswald: ‘It ain’t about dreams, and peace, just about war until the end.’
- The start of a new Nagler book. Maybe. Possibly. It’s a mystery.
- An audience of one
- Reading at Mouintainside, N.J., Library at 1 p.m. Saturday (June 17)
- Wake the gray day
- What’s next for Frank Nagler
- Two readings events this week: Wednesday and Saturday
- Sitting in traffic with Nanci Griffith