Summer was their favorite time of year, mostly because it was that season when they would take the time to visit their families and get away from their hectic lives for a bit and remind themselves of what really matters in life: love, family and friends. They sat close together on the bench swing out near the crop of trees by the old well, her legs pulled up underneath her in that way that only she could be comfortable sitting, his legs hung off the swing lazily, his bare feet softly brushing the grass and his toes occasionally giving the swing a push. There hung only a sliver of orange on the Western horizon, and it faded quickly to violet then black mottled with a million stars, far more stars than could ever be seen at home for the city lights. His arms were stretched out to each side along the back of the swing, her head resting on his left shoulder and body nestled against his side while her bare right thigh crossed over his lap a little. His head tilted over against hers and he nuzzled his nose briefly in her hair, having trouble deciding which smelled sweeter, her hair or the honeysuckle that passed by with the occasional warm breeze.
It was a draw in his heart, neither aroma winning, because the honeysuckle brought back his youthful memories while her hair reminded him of blessings no man deserved in a thousand lifetimes. His left hand would play with her hair and tickle her ear and neck while they swung quietly, and he would sip the homemade lemonade that sat in a cool glass on the little wooden table next to the swing.
He kissed her forehead, closed his eyes and let the laughter of children chasing fireflies take him back to his own childhood, but only for a moment. This evening, as most every evening out here during their summer vacations, he would try and pick out the laughs and giggles and innocent whispers of their two young daughters as they played with their cousins in the ever increasing darkness. Their screams were both genuine for fear of the dark but also playful and exaggerated, as most kids enjoy the dramatic. Blessed did not begin to describe how he felt in moments like this, and he thanked God for every second that life’s frustrations were far from his mind so that he could revel in the abundance he had with his wife and two daughters.
As if she could read his mind — and perhaps she could — she looked up, barely moving her head, and told him how happy the sound of those two little girls laughing and playing made her feel. Whether with his family or hers, there was joy in the simple things of life out in the country where the summer night was never quite silent but never aggravating with noise either. The crickets sung and the frogs croaked, the occasional bat flew by overhead, its wings telling of its flight just before its silhouette fluttered across the almost full moon and disappeared into the trees. The music of these country summer nights calmed her, calmed them both. Even the boisterous children sounded delightful to their ears. She closed her eyes and thought of her own youth, playing in the cool grass barefoot for hours, chasing her dog, running just to run. As their daughters ran up giggling for drinks of lemonade from their own plastic cups, catching their breath quickly then rejoining their cousins for hide-n-seek, she opened her eyes and just smiled. She looked up at him as the girls faded into the darkness, the lights from the fireflies seemingly transporting them to a fantasy world only for children, and she saw a single tear escape his eye and trickle down his cheek. Again, reading his mind as only she could, she knew what he was thinking.
As her hand took hold of his gently but intently, he closed his eyes tight for a second to try and hold back the tears, finally looking away so as to hide them from her. She need not see the tears fall in order to feel them. She could feel his emotion in the air, in his heartbeat, in the heat that began to come off his shoulder and neck. She gently kissed his neck and put her head back down on his shoulder while she stroked his fingers softly. He sniffled a bit with each memory that came back to haunt him, memories of a sad time, a lonely time. He recalled how he had given up hope so many times of ever having anything close to what he saw in his family that night. Countless times he had squelched the hope as it welled up inside him, the hope that he would find someone like her and that she too would see him as someone she had been looking for. The giving up of hope had almost become routine back then, a way to steel himself against the seemingly inevitable disappointment and pain that would follow believing in possibilities. The giving up was a poorly constructed suit of armor he would don over and over, placing the metal right against his wounded body and soul, nothing in between to cushion any blows he might receive. The giving up was never a thought out plan, rather a hasty act of desperation to try and protect himself from the pain that had already been inflicted. And yet, the hope was never really abandoned entirely. Even in the lowest and most painful of times, he would subconsciously hide away a tiny seed of hope next to that tiny seed of faith he kept in his pocket, never wanting to ever fully abandon either. And even when he would hide those seeds away and cover himself in that armor of hardened hopelessness, somewhere in his soul he knew those seeds existed. And even if he would not allow himself much time or energy to entertain certain hopes or dreams for fear of more pain, those tiny seeds sustained him until he was ready to sow them again. It always comforted him that when he would finally reach in that pocket as the armor fell off, there were more than just two seeds waiting for him; there were more than he needed to press forward for an eventual overabundant harvest.
The tears that fell that night were both sad tears, grieving for the man who had all but completely lost hope, and tears of joy and gratitude, happy for the man sitting here tonight with a woman who was more beautiful to him than he ever knew was possible, and happy for their daughters and the future and hope those two brought to him every day. He hardly knew the young man who he grieved for now, but part of him was still there inside. She was always ready to silently remind the man who cried tonight that the man he cried for was also the man she fell in love with. And even though he barely made a sound while he cried, if he even made a sound at all, she would soothe him with a gentle and quiet Shhh. That was all it took for her to tell him, “I’m here. You’re here. Our family is together, and this was meant to be. All we have to do is keep working at it every day, remembering how far we’ve come, both alone and together, never giving up hope for better tomorrows.”
With the sky now coal black and dazzling with stars, the fireflies all but gone and the children inside for baths and pajamas and movies with their Grandparents, his tears stopped and he smiled as he let his head fall back against her hand, her fingertips and nails gently tickling his scalp. He closed his eyes and smiled, amazed at how it seemed like a lifetime ago that he reached for those seeds that one last time, finding her as she found him. And that tiny bit of hope that never ever died was now a reality; all his waiting and time being alone, all the times he was wrong about possibilities before, all the questioning and lack of faith, all of that pain was worth it to be here in that moment with her and their daughters and their extended family. All his blessings — all their blessings — made it all worth while.
© 2004, Rus Wooton
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