Folding the letter along the creases, I placed it in the envelope and slipped it into the back pocket of my jeans. Then, as if in a trance, I walked off the deck, across the grass, and climbed the wobbly barbed wire fence into Joel Hershel’s property. I paced back and forth over that windblown field--ruminating over Randy’s words just as thoroughly as those cows were down over the hill chewing their cud.
I didn’t know how to respond to such a letter and to the revelations it contained. For in no way did I desire to abandon Randy's friendship, but I also didn’t know how we could possibly maintain the semblance of a normal one, knowing all the while he wanted something more. I couldn’t ask him to wait on me because I wasn’t sure I actually wanted him to. What if he did wait, and I found someone at college? It just simply wasn’t fair: either stringing him along like a puppet in case I wanted to pick him up again and toy with his heart over winter and summer breaks or severing all ties between us. He’d surely get hurt in the process if I did the latter. And, if that percentage of intercollegiate marriages was correct, he’d get hurt in the process if I did the former.
Regardless of the different perspectives I took, the four years of college in front of a future relationship between Randy and me made the chances of it every coming to fruition not exactly improbable, but still quite uncertain. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope of Time: turning the cylinder filled with shifting patterns and starburst color while trying to predict what images the tenth turn would bring. There were too many variables swaying in the balance to know where I would be, or even who I would be, when 2008 rolled around.
It was odd, but I found relief in the fact no relief for the moment could be found. Thus reassured by futility, I wove through the grasses and went to climb the fence bordering our yard. But before I did, I looked through the French glass doors of our white rancher and saw my family moving inside like lead characters in a shadow box play. Father was seated at the kitchen table: his red suspenders hanging off his salt-stained shirt; his yellow accounting pad spread before him; his calculator (with the extra-large buttons for his 49-year-old eyes) to his right, and his carpenter pencil poised in his sandpapered hand. Standing between the coffee table and the couch, Mother looked like a teenager in tank top, shorts, and hair looped into a feathered ponytail. She was folding a pile of laundry, and the prim set of her mouth said she wasn’t enjoying it. Six-year-old Caleb was stretched across the rug before the empty fireplace, creating all sorts of politically incorrect mayhem with his anatomically correct action figures. Our older brother Joshua wasn’t home yet, but there was a covered plate in the fridge, a freshly made bed, and four anxious hearts awaiting his return.
I began to cry for the appearance of ease in their lives even though I, at the moment, was not counted among them. And the next morning when I left for college, this shadow box image wouldn’t be just an appearance but an actuality: my part shifting to that of an understudy from the place of a lead. Releasing the rusted wire of the fence, I sank down into the grasses and pulled my knees up to my chest. My hair hung over both sides of my face, and I wept behind the comfort of its curtain. I must’ve remained that way for quite a while, for the shadows behind me lengthened as the porch lights winked out one by one.
“Jolina,” Mother’s voice called from deck, “where are you?”
“Over here, Mom,” I said, but my voice was hoarse from crying, and I doubt she heard me.
A flashlight beam swept the yard. “Jolina?”
“Over here,” I repeated.
She drew closer and closer. “There you are,” she said, when the light ignited me in the darkness. My mother, also barefoot, clambered over the fence--her ponytail swishing like its namesake’s. She leapt over with a slight groan and asked, “You okay?”
Glad for the darkness, I stood and wiped my face on the shoulder of my shirt. “Yes.”
“It’s time for bed, you know.”
“Yes. Come in, now. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
She helped me climb the fence, and I helped her. Using the flashlight beam to guide us, we found our way to the deck. Her hand on the door handle, she suddenly stopped, turned, and held me to her. “I love you, my girl,” she whispered, and her cheek against mine was wet.
“Love you too, Mom.”
“Look,” she said, pointing above. The beam from the flashlight centered between our bodies sliced the night like a lighthouse beacon--letting me know that, whatever happened, I could always find my way back home.
Randy and I married four years later on September 27, 2008.