Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Monday, May 18, 2009

Choices, part 4.

So I've decided that this little story has a name: Choices. And I think I've figured out where its going. I'm not sure how long it will take to get there, or who will join the party along the way, but it's good to have an ending in sight, I think.

I crashed in Flagstaff for the night, and rolled on east the next morning. I’ve always been a morning person. It was always my favorite time in the Garden, and nothing had happened in a few thousand years to change that. There’s something fresh about a morning, when the promise of the day hasn’t been spoiled by having to deal with other people yet, that always makes me look at the world with a little lighter eye. So I rolled east. I knew I’d eventually start to feel where Eve was. We could all always find each other. Me, Lucky, Eve, Cain. Yeah, Cain’s still around, too. I tend to steer pretty clear of my firstborn son, not because I haven’t gotten over what he did to Abel, but because he hasn’t. He and Eve stayed in better contact with each other than with me. I guess they feel like they both carry a burden I can’t understand. Families are like that, I suppose.

But I had no hint of Eve, Cain or Lucky this time. I headed East because I’d been living in the West for so many years I assumed Eve would be somewhere far away. I last knew she was in America a dozen or so years ago. I was in Los Angeles and I felt her. She never made contact, and I knew better than to try. I figured she’d probably stayed pretty close to the East coast since then. It’s also got more big cities, and Eve’s done a pretty good job of losing herself among people for a while.

I love America, with its big wide expanses of country. Europe has nothing like Texas, where the whole world seems flat. There are some parts of Africa that are similar, but yet not. America has a vibration all its own, a youthfulness that carries across even though the land is no older or younger than any other piece of dirt. You see, a country tends to take on the characteristics of its inhabitants, and Americans are quick, vibrant types. Always impatient, like kids. So the country feels young. I like it, it makes me feel like I’m only 2,000 again.

I got hungry around Amarillo, and I swung into a little diner I’d visited once acouple dozen years before. The same tinny bell rang as I walked through the door, and the same (or more likely so similar to be interchangeable) old men looked up from their places at the counter as I strolled in. My boots clicked across the same checkerboard linoleum, tracks worn colorless near the door and in front of the cash register. I nodded to the cook behind the counter as I crossed the room, knocking the road dust off my jeans as I made my way to a booth near the jukebox.

It was late afternoon, and the sunlight streaming through the dirty windows had taken on a golden-amber tone as that big ball settled low in the sky, just starting to tinge the horizon with fire. I’d just turned to slide my jeans across the cracked red pleather seat when I heard a gasp and a crash of broken crockery.

“Shit, Myra! What the hell’s the matter with you?” the cook yelled at the woman who stood, stock still in the middle of the floor with coffee spilling all over her feet. I took one look at her and my heart sank a little. I knew her. Biblically, as they say. And if anyone’s qualified to use term, it would be me. She was older, of course. The blonde hair that once spun gold out of that afternoon sunlight was now a dishwater bland, with more than a few streaks of grey shot through it. The little crinkles that used to appear in the corners of her mouth were permanent lines now, and she didn’t seem to float across the floor like she used to. She was a little heavier than when we last met, but not fat. Just a woman’s body, not a girl any longer. Not a girl for a long time, I suppose. But her eyes were the same. The eyes never really change. As long as there’s still a person in there, the eyes are the same.

And her eyes held more than just a spark of recognition, they held an entire bonfire. They burned into me with 25 years worth of questions, answers, speculations, loss, love, forgiveness and more than a little pain. But oddly enough, not a hint of regret. I was glad for that. I didn’t want her to regret anything about our time together. I certainly didn’t. Of course, I knew it was fleeting at the time, and she obviously had waited for me to come back. And when I did, it was two decades later. And I still looked exactly like I did the day I left that little diner, intending never to return in her lifetime.

That’s the key to being who we are, to living like we do. It’s not to refuse to make connections. We’re human, and we need those connections as much as anyone. It’s to know when the connection has to be severed, for both our sakes. It would be impossible to live with someone who doesn’t age without growing to resent them as your youthful vigor fades. Love can turn to hate very easily, and there’s nothing worse than being hated by someone who once loved you like you were the only two people on earth.

Just trust me on that one. I’ve got a little perspective.

It’s just as hard on us, giving our hearts to someone we know will die in what is just an eyeblink to our lifespan. So we hold back. We can’t give ourselves completely to a mortal, and that’s the kind of thing that perceptive lovers pick up on. And after a few millennium walking the earth, you’re not interested in dating rocks anymore, so you’re going to have perceptive lovers.
So we make brief, incredibly deep, incredibly vital, soul-touching connections. And then we sever them before it gets somebody really hurt. We hope. Sometimes we miss, and the person we leave is in stasis for the rest of their lives hoping we’ll come back. Dad, I hope that’s not what happened to Myra.

So I sat there, and I looked back at her, and she looked at me, and I looked at her, and after a minute she seemed to convince herself that I wasn’t really me. That’s the logical choice, after all. I mean, who goes through 25 years and still looks like they’re in their twenties? Other than Dick Clark, and I know his secrets, so don’t sweat it. After an eternity that couldn’t have been longer than a few seconds, Myra ran to the back, where I heard her ask someone back there to “cover for me.” Seconds later I heard the screen door out the back of the kitchen slam, and then I could just barely hear the sound of someone sitting on the back stoop, striking a match, and taking the first long drag off a cigarette.

“Boy, mister, you got her wound up tighter than a clock spring at midnight. What’s the deal? She know you? Cause I’ve never seen you before, and I’d remember you.” The voice came from my elbow, and as I looked up the arm from the coffeepot I saw a nametag that read “Emily,” an apron over a uniform and the pretty face of a twenty-something blonde girl with a pixie smile and a cute upturned nose. And then I saw her eyes. Or more to the point, I saw my eyes in her face, and I knew that my life had just gotten a little more complicated.

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