I’m awakened by the sun’s light slowly filtering through my curtains. My sleep has been dreamless and deep. I can’t remember what day it is. As my brain fog lifts, I remember that it’s Saturday. I stir under the sheets, bothered by the thought of something I need to do today. Ah, yes… photographs. My fortieth birthday approaches…is it two weeks from today? My daughter has asked me to pull together some photos she can use to create a presentation for my party. She’s excited and I know that my procrastination is breaking her heart. After my first cup of coffee, I’ll head to the attic to find the cardboard box that holds everything from my dreaded naked baby photos to my big hair prom photos, sorting through those that I can bear to have others see.
I do some stretching exercises and head downstairs to the kitchen, drawn by the scent of cinnamon coffee. God bless this husband of mine, who has left my favorite mug beside the carafe of his freshly made brew. He knows I’m not a morning person anymore. As I recall, that happened sometime in my early thirties, along with the beginning of crow’s feet around my eyes. I prefer to call them laugh lines and I’m rather proud of them. I believe they are proof that my life has been good.
Thankfully, the attic is cool today and relatively neat. I’m sure my husband has been up here rearranging things. He’s placed an old wing chair by a lamp for my comfort. I guess I’ve been complaining enough about this birthday presentation. He wants to make my job as easy as possible.
I sigh. I pull the cushion off the chair preferring to sit on the floor, then dump the entire box of photographs in front of me hoping that perhaps twenty will immediately catch my eye and I can make quick work of this project. Here’s the prom picture…good …here’s me in the baby bath with a big pile of soapsuds on my head…excellent! This is going to be easier than I expected. In the corner of the messy pile, I see a photograph that stirs a fond memory . It’s a Polaroid of me in my favorite plaid short set, hair in a messy ponytail, squinting and standing next to a boy with spiky black hair. The boy is too thin. He’s smiling, though the photograph has captured a sadness that takes me by surprise. I touch the photo lovingly, close my eyes, and whisper his name…“Jimmy”…
Jimmy McPherson was my best friend, my first crush. We were ten-years-old, thrown together by fate and the long distances between our other neighbors. I guess I would have been lonely if not for Jimmy, who was as smart as he was funny. It was no matter to him that I was a girl and I certainly never felt challenged by that fact. I could do just about anything that he could, sometimes, I could do it better. He nicknamed me “Peach” because my family grew the sweetest, drip-down-your-mouth-juicy, Carolina peaches in the county.
Summers were busy on our farm. My five tanned, muscular brothers helped my father with the work. The peach orchards were tended with a special care adding hours of work to an already busy dairy farm. Under the pretense of not wanting me underfoot, my mother would pack a big brown bag filled with ham biscuits, peaches, cookies, and sweet tea and drive me over to the McPherson’s farm. I never exactly told her, but I suppose she knew that I was helping Jimmy with his chores. His father and older brother carried most of the load at their farm. They had one or two hired men, but it always appeared to me that farming was more difficult for the McPhersons than it was for my family. I was happy to help.
When our work was done, we’d walk to our favorite spot for lunch. A peaceful place, a tiny cave inset with stones that were almost like chairs, with an overhang standing above a small pond. On hot summer days, when the air was thick and sweat flies buzzed around our faces, we’d cool off by the water. Jimmy would practice diving.
In this little world, far from the smell of cows and fertilizer, we talked about the future. Jimmy wanted to be a pilot and join the Air Force so that he could see the world.
I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to marry Jimmy. I could see that we’d have a good life on the farm. Of course, I couldn’t tell him. I’d say that I didn’t know what I wanted, afraid that our future plans would not connect.
One day, he pressured me for an answer. So, I told him I wanted to be a nurse. I couldn’t think of anything quickly.
“You as a nurse? I can’t really see it, Peach,” he laughed at the thought. “Nurses are all sweet and rosy. I picture you as maybe...let’s see…how about an archeologist, discovering hidden tombs or a stash of treasure somewhere?”
“What’s wrong with farming? I like it here!” I hoped to influence Jimmy’s thoughts.
“Nothin’s wrong with it for now. I just wanna do other things. Don’t you?”
It was on one of the hottest days, in the middle of another discussion about what I should become, that Jimmy decided he’d teach me to dive. While I was a good swimmer, I hated the thought of diving, preferring instead, to enter the water with some sense of deference. I tried to explain that to Jimmy. He shot down my protests.
“Come on Peach, once you do this, you’ll be hooked, I promise.”
He grabbed me by the hand and took me to an edge of ground, not too far above the water.
“Diving is the greatest thing, it’s as close to flying as any human can get. The trick is to plant your feet firm, let your toes feel the edge of the cliff. Then spread your arms to the side and think of an angel. You want to soar through the air, then move your arms in front of you. Enter the water soft, just like an angel landing from the sky. Hold my hand and we’ll jump together.”
“I’m not ready!”
“You are, Peach, now come on and try!”
Our arms were stretched out one on either side, our hands joined in the middle.
“We’ll jump on three. One… two…three…”
And for a few moments, we were angels. I felt the air surround me like the breath of God. We entered the water with a quiet splash. In turn, the water embraced and welcomed me.
Jimmy was right about diving. Now that he had a partner in flight, he seemed even happier about our daily trips to the pond.
He was wrong about me. I never left Carolina to find ancient tombs or buried treasure. I never strayed far from my beloved farm. I married, not long after college. My husband and I took over for my parents when they could no longer manage on their own. My brothers came and went, working until something better came along. The McPherson land changed hands many times, finally coming to rest with us when we bought the land to expand our orchards.
Much to my disappointment, Jimmy left and never came back. I know that he became the world traveler he wanted to be. We wrote to each other for a time. He invited me to London to visit him but I think I was too busy at college to go, or at least, that’s what I told myself. We lost touch as childhood friends tend to do when they are not joined by some commonality.
I look at the photograph in my hand and wonder what he would think of me now. In my heart, I believe he would think of me as a failure because I’ve lived a small, centered life. I’ve never had the desire to travel far from home. I’ve never discovered anything of worth, except my own happiness. I placed the photograph back in the box, deciding to keep this memory to myself.
On the morning of my fortieth birthday, I walked alone to the little cavern by the pond. I closed my eyes, counted to three, and flew from the cliff, just as Jimmy taught me. I imagined that we were holding hands and that once again, we were angels.
Author: Nina Roselle