By Sara Siegel
My father assumed I would crave school for the boys I would meet there
and eventually befriend. He worried to himself about how he'd fit all
my rowdy, rambunctious friends under our small roof. I did love school
I still do but not for the boys. I took quickly to reading
and history, sneaking books on the tractor when I was old enough to
drive it myself. Math, though, I've never understood quite so well,
but I study hard nevertheless. When I was in the lower grades, Hank
would tease me when he passed the barn as I practiced my multiplication
on the cows' udders. The older I get, though, the larger the gap grows
between me and whoever is around the farm. If I'm good, they know, I'll
be moving on. Moving out. Going to college, even, while they stay behind,
here on my father's farm. But I yearn only for Susannah.
Though others tease us to our faces and behind our backs
I know they assume we solidified our status long before we did. Susannah
and I couldn't care less. We fell simply into love, unaware that it
had even happened. We held hands as children, running along my fields,
and made faces to each other through her family's hen house. I'd started
throwing pebbles at her window once we were old enough to sneak out,
and some nights we still walk the mile to the stream behind her house,
looking up at the stars, discussing our shared future. We argue about
where we'll live, but never about our family or our jobs. We'll have
four children: a boy, two girls, and then a boy. She'll become a nurse,
like her mother, and I'll teach, like her father, while writing my world-famous
novels in the summers.
On nights I don't sneak to her house; she sneaks to mine, her tall
and lanky body climbing deftly up the trellis. Then she'll beg me to
climb down with her, instead of using the back staircase, but she knows
there's no way the trellis can hold my weight. We lie in the fields
with our ears to the ground, to see if we can feel the earth's vibrations,
like the animals do. I pluck the long blades of grass and trace up and
down her arms until she shivers. She picks the flowers from my garden
and hands me a bouquet of my own lavender and bluebonnets.
When we were little, her family went to New York for a week, to visit
her mother's older brother and his family. Seven endless days I longed
for Susannah. I shaped the hay from the barn in the style of her hair.
I squinted my eyes at the warped glass jars Rosaline used to hold preserves
until they matched the liquid green of Susannah's eyes. When they returned,
she came straight to my house and told me all about the big city.
It was freezing, she said, colder in spring than home was in the winter.
Everyone walked fast, like they had some place real important to be,
and people lived squished in big buildings that reached so high in the
sky her neck ached just from looking up. There were bridges and street
fairs and parks, people of all different sizes and ages and colors.
So many stores, and so many vendors who didn't speak any English. I
marveled at it all.
She handed me a snow globe she had bought on her very first day there.
The city of New York, all those big tall buildings, shrunk down to fit
in the palm of my hand, enclosed in a glass sphere. It said NEW YORK
in front of the buildings, in red capital letters. I held it upside
down and shook it, letting the snowflakes fall slowly over the buildings.
And that's what New York has become for me: a busy, bustling city, shrunk
down tiny, quiet and far away, with snow descending over the entire
scene. A place that means something, even though I've never been there,
since Susannah has walked along its crowded streets.
This year her family went away again. This time to the beach, and with
me in tow. I had assumed that Susannah and her family had seen the ocean
while they were in New York, but she tried to explain to me that they
didn't really have beaches there, that even in the summer no one went
swimming, since the water was murky and brown.
We stayed in two rooms at the beach, Susannah and her parents in one,
me and her two older brothers in the room next door. We got to the hotel
late, after driving all day, and went straight to bed the first night.
I laid awake long after her brothers had fallen asleep, pressing my
hand to the wall, trying to feel Susannah through the empty space.
We spent all day at the beach. Her parents woke us up before seven
every morning, and we trekked out to the sand, laid out the hotel's
blue and white striped towels, and went off to our various activities.
Her parents would stroll along the water together, never getting in
the ocean to swim not once! only walking along the edge
so they could feel the waves at their feet. Sometimes I could see them
partway down the beach, stopping to kiss. Her brothers would usually
lie out with us for a little while, then run off when they saw some
girls, or would go play football in the ocean, leaving me and Susannah
with the towels.
The water astounded us, how big it was in all directions. If we looked
along the beach, we could see people and umbrellas and towels dotting
the sand. The blue stretched on forever, and for the first time, we
saw mountains off in the distance. Susannah declared straight away that
she had fallen in love with it all, the ocean, the beach, the mountains,
but it still took three days' worth of coaxing from me to get her to
step into the ocean, even up to her knees.
Her and her parents' room had a balcony, and on the last night, while
her brothers were watching TV in our room and her parents were having
a drink at the hotel bar, we sat and watched the sunset over the water,
turning the ocean a million different shades of purple and red. I asked
her why she said she loved the beach so much if she didn't even want
to go in the ocean, and she said that she did want to go in, but it
terrified her. She didn't even really care for the beach all that much,
either. She loved it, she said, simply because it ached with possibility.
The sky slowly darkened around us as we sat holding hands, and eventually,
a few stars burst out above us. All the while, the mountains and waves
remained, constant and steady, just beyond our reach. And since then,
that's how I think of the two of us, with our future spreading out wide
before our feet. We are just aching with possibility.