It’s my birthday! As my birthday is progressing, I have decided I’m going to talk about that which is my favorite to talk about. I’m gonna tell you all about the love of my life. This is a section of my autobiography. It is the third volume, and the thirteenth book of the autobiography titled Reality of the Unreal Mind. This section is called The King’s Concubine. It’s about the times when me and my wife almost got together spanning from the last day of eighth grade til six years later, when we actually did connect. So today we talk about the near-misses of love. This is the third post in this series. I will be releasing them all day.
Now we’re talking about my day, and I live on a 48-hour schedule. So a new one of these will be coming out every two hours and 45 minutes from now until 2 in the morning on the 24th, when I go to sleep.
Waynesville, every July, has a festival called Old Settlers Days. This area has always been small, but settlers came through here in the 1800s and some of them stopped.
There is an old building that served as a stagecoach stop. To this day, it is kept up and in good repair by a committee of citizens dedicated to its history. It had a cook and served meals to travelers. It had rooms and beds for let, and the gifted program in the middle school had archaeological digs there where they found old pots, arrow heads and other sorts of treasures.
You should go check it out. It’s pretty badass. Buy a coffee mug or some other souvenir.
This is right downtown where the courthouse used to perform hangings. A hill right across the street was the first army post in the area. This city has a lot of history. It is a city I love, in an area worth visiting, a place where small town values still matter and the citizens are committed to moving into the future while honoring the town’s past.
That is what Old Settlers Days is all about. But that is not what Guardian found there the summer between eighth grade and his freshman year of high school. What he found was his soulmate, but she was not for him yet. He saw her and had never seen anything like her before. Let’s see what he saw, and let him describe the effect she had on him.
I don’t like telling other people’s stories.
I don’t remember who I came with. Grandma would have been right. Maybe parents. This was before they locked themselves in their misery, refusing to go out to things like this and refusing to have anything to do with any sort of city-wide celebration. It may have been them.
I walked away from them pretty early. There is not a lot to see at these things, and I bumped into a girl I had known a year ago.
This was Plan, in a blue and white checkered dress, wide ’80s hair standing bold off her forehead and billowing out around her head. I saw her and thought she was cute, so I went to go talk to her.
She was a year ahead of me in school and had been friends with Less for a while before disappearing from our life altogether. She was cute and I didn’t have anything to do. She was standing near a teepee where the gifted class had set up a few old artifacts from Native American history. She met me, came to laugh and talk with me, and soon we walked away out into the rest of the fair to laugh, smile, and flirt with each other.
We passed booths selling fruit and I think I bought a pear. We passed a booth where a man had forged a few weapons. That is being generous I think. He had made a few knives, shoddy blades fit into buck horn handles. I wanted the one with the strong curve in the handle that was almost a crescent. It was a beautiful knife, and I wanted to stay and stare at it. I knew Rose would never buy it for me. She did not know about my knife obsession, but if my grandmother was with us that day, she might have.
But Plan was moving on, completely uninterested in hand-forged knives, and I weighed my options. I could stand at a booth of objects I would most likely never be able to buy, or I could follow a pretty girl. Well, I went with the pretty girl.
A few paintings. A few painted bull skulls. A few jars of jam handmade by the vendor. The fair had a lot to see and we walked the rows, looking at objects we were not going to buy, and talking. I have a clear picture of her standing with her hands behind her back, looking up at the sky with a smile on her face. I have a clear image of her smacking my arm playfully.
But what stands out the most were the duck races. There is a hunter’s tool called a decoy duck. They are plastic, shaped like a duck and painted to look like a duck. They have just enough under the water to make them float, and hunters put them in the water to show that the area is safe for ducks. Other ducks swim near, and BAM!
Well, at least I have been told that is what they are used for. It was this girl who told me, on this day at this fair. So, I will have to take her word for it. This right here is the closest I have ever come to duck hunting.
The fair had a few dozen of these, all painted with a number on them. You paid a bit, you got a duck, and you dropped it in the river that runs through the city and this park. The current carries the winning duck across a finish line and you get a bit of a prize. I bought a duck race for her and me.
She beat my duck, but did not win the race.
I liked this girl. I could tell she liked me, and even though I was still technically dating Hardly, I wanted to stay a little longer with Plan just to imagine being with her. Maybe kissing her or holding her hand. That would fall apart very soon.
I don’t like waiting, so let’s get there now.
I dropped my pear when she brought me to meet her sisters. I dropped my pear and stepped on it with a pop. I know this because when I got into my parents’ car, either my grandma or my sibling pointed out that I had the pulverized remains of a pear stuck in my sneaker.
I dropped my pear and stared. I only remember her face. I only remember her smile and her laugh. I stumbled up to her and stared. She turned and stared at me.
Plan was talking. I should have been listening to her, but all I could hear was my breath. It was like I was wearing a Halloween mask and my breath was loud in my ears. I was trembling, and realized Plan was introducing me to Bliss.
I can’t remember anything about this, nothing about Bliss at all except that she was there. She said something to me and I could not hear it or say anything back. I was looking at this other girl, this magical girl with a small beauty mark near her right eye and a smile to hold back the sea.
“This is my sister Bekah,” Plan said. “Bekah, this is Jesse.”
I stepped forward with pear squelching under foot and extended my hand. “I am Jesse,” I stammered.
Bekah giggled. She said nothing. She seemed unable to talk.
“I am so glad to meet you,” I said. I kissed her hand. I looked her in the eyes as I had been taught. Then, completely overwhelmed, I walked away.
I did not say goodbye to Plan. I did not even look at the little sister Bliss. If anyone existed between this place, this park, and my room, I cannot remember seeing them. I heard people talking to me, but only her face existed. Only Bekah and her beauty mark could be seen in my mind.
An hour later, I sat on the steps of our porch with a gallon jug filled with tap water, a butter knife, and a rag, digging, wiping, and rinsing mashed pear from my shoe. I looked up at the sky every now and then, and saw her face again.
I could still feel her soft skin on my lips and her long elegant fingers in my hand as I kissed it.
I never called Hardly again. It is fine, because she never called me either. But that was the end of that. And that was the first time I saw my soulmate.
Ronin had seen her the last day of school, and this is what Bekah said happened between these two days.
She went home after the last day of her seventh grade talking about a Mystery Man. A man who had tapped her on the shoulder, said, “You have a cute face,” and walked by. She and her sisters talked about the Mystery Man all the time, and Bekah tucked him away, never far in her mind. He was there to think about, dream about, and ask impossible questions about.
When she saw us at the fair and I kissed her hand and spun away, her sisters watched me go before they erupted, “What was that?” They stared as I drifted into the crowd and disappeared.
“That was my Mystery Man! That was him! That was the guy!” She spun to Plan, who stared at her.
“Jesse Teller is your Mystery Man?”
“Yeah, you were with him. What do you know about him?” Bekah asked.
“Well, he is pretty cool. Kinda funny. His sister is a bitch, but he is great.” Plan shook her head. “Man, Jesse Teller. Never would have guessed.”
The mystery solved, Bekah would begin to plan for the next time she saw me. Begin to wait for her first year of high school. But by the time it came and she was in that school, she had forgotten my name. She had forgotten to look for me, and we would have to wait five more years before we would be together.
But before then, we would continue to see each other and cross paths. The two of us would bump into each other again and again. Never quite hitting each other right. Never quite hitting that open space where we would stick.
This is just one tale of the missed love and the delayed story of Bekah and Jesse. There are a few more.
3 thoughts on “Old Settlers Days”
This is a special one.
Waynesville’s a special place.