November 11, 2012

John Says Goodbye (Excerpt: The Universe is a Very Big Place)

       John stood in front of his pickup truck, all his earthly belongings tied up in the truck bed under an old tarp. Before him stood his family and friends––the majority of the community––all of whom had come to say goodbye and to wish him luck in his new life.

"I can’t believe you’re going," said his mother, grabbing hold of him, her press-on nails digging into his back. Tears ran down her cheeks, etching rivers through her pancake makeup. Standing there before him John realized what a tiny woman she was and he was surprised he had never noticed. She always seemed so big, strong and capable, but as he hugged her goodbye he realized she wasn’t Superwoman after all.

"It’s not forever, Mom," he said, standing back to look at her. He could see the roots of her hair, grey with the beginnings of grow-out. She spent two Fridays a month at the Samson Beauty Parlor to maintain her natural color, but time was winning the war on her head and it would have horrified her to know.

"I got you a present," his mom whispered in his ear. She presented him with a package wrapped in pink and purple paper, probably left over from his niece’s birthday party last week. His mom, a proud Scotch-Irish woman, wasted nothing. No wrapping paper, bow, or even tape was discarded. Each was placed in an old shoe box ready to serve again at a moment’s notice. His family had been recycling long before it was fashionable.

"Open it now," his auntie called out from somewhere in the crowd, and his brothers elbowed each other good-naturedly. They were obviously privy to the contents of the package. John smiled and nodded, turning his head away from the sun.

"Ah, thanks, Mom. I can never have too many pairs of underwear." John waved the stack of white Fruit-of-the-Looms in the air, bringing laughter from younger members of the crowd and nods of approval from the elders. His mother squeezed his arm.

"That’s so in case you get in a car wreck you will always have clean underpants. Read them," she instructed, hiding her mouth behind her hand so that John wouldn’t notice her bottom lip tremble. John flipped the pair on top. On the back were the words John Smith delicately embroidered in cursive scrawl. "Me-ma did those for you last week," said his mother, nodding to his grandmother in the front row. "Even though she has the arthritis."

John walked towards his grandmother and gave her a long hug goodbye. She broke free and saluted him, assuming he was off to war because that was the only reason anyone ever left Samson. Generations of Samson men had died for the Red, White, and Blue and his grandmother lovingly sacrificed every one of them because that was the cost of freedom. John saluted her back and then he went to each family member and friend, shaking the hands of the men and hugging the women.

"Remember," said his grandfather. "Buy American, vote Democrat, and don’t wear colored bandanas or people will think you’re in a gang."

John nodded and grasped his grandfather’s hand firmly, feeling the heavy veins in the man’s thin arm. "I won’t forget."

John made it through the crowd, doing his best not to cry. Midwest men did not cry. When he had finished his goodbyes he made his way to his truck and watched as his mother turned away. She had said she couldn’t watch him leave. He waved once more and then drove, refusing to look back in case he changed his mind. It wasn’t until three hours later at a rest stop that he saw the card on the passenger seat.

Dear John,

You are a good boy. Losing you is like losing my arm. But if you really love something (or someone) set them free. And so I am. Follow your heart. I hope you find your adventure.


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