My world crashed the night Bud Morrow skidded off the curve east of town
and plowed his dad's new Monte Carlo into the grove. Folks blamed the
wreck on excessive speed. No one knew it was my fault. But as surely as
if I'd been in the car egging him on, I was the driving force. He was
just eighteen, and so was I. During these ensuing eighteen years, thanks
to Bud, I have come to realize a key truth: Don't peak early.
Until that June morning when my mother startled me out of a perfectly
good sleep with the news, my most taxing concerns had revolved around
prom dresses and dyed-to-match pumps.
"Chrissy! Wake up!" she had bleated, shaking the Tribune's early-morning
edition in my face. "Bud's been killed!"
I snatched the paper from her hands and read the story. I had no idea
how to respond. I was a kid. Death was unreal
Out of respect for Bud, I attended neither the visitation nor the
funeral. I couldn't bear the thought of looking at Bud laid out in a
casket, dressed in, of all things, a powder blue suit. He'd have hated
that. He never wore anything but jeans and T-shirts. He'd also have
hated his face waxed in mortician's paint. In those days, no real man -
not even a dead one - wore makeup.
Bud's mishap occurred within weeks after our breakup, which I had
instigated solely out of fear of my raging desires. The notion that he
might give a damn about me never entered my mind. I took up with Zach
Meyer to quell my heartache, but I clung to the naive hope Bud would
swoop in between me and Zach to gather me up in his arms and carry me
away on his white horse - that is, I clung to that hope until Bud
provoked a fight with Zach and Zach punched him in the mouth and knocked
his front teeth out. With that, any possibility of Bud and me getting
back together was shattered.
In anyone else's eyes, Zach was the perfect boyfriend. Apart from a
quick temper and a hard right punch, he was a nice boy. Considerate.
Clean. Reliable. He attended church and never mistook my virtue for a
personal quest. My inability to return his affection wasn't his fault.
Even now, I have only one criticism of Zach: He wasn't Bud.
Bud was everything Zach wasn't: exciting, edgy, cavalier, ruthless
-qualities that only enhanced his appeal. Like most of the girls at
Eaton High, I was wildly attracted to Bud and loved the cocky,
half-smirk of a smile he flashed to get his way. In truth, I thought I
lacked a single quality special enough to attract a boy like him. But
one afternoon in the school library he asked for my help in finding a
poem by Robert Browning.
"Grow Old Along with Me"? I asked, referring to the title, of course.
He just stood there for a long moment, peering deep into my eyes and not
saying anything. Then his lips started to twist into that half-smirk,
half-grin, and he said, "I think we might work that out."
I marveled then, and still do, that in the final winter of Bud Morrow's
life, he loved me.
Sadly, as often is the case for the very young, matters of the heart are
scurrying and slippery. It was that way for Bud and me. Late that
spring, shortly after we consummated our feelings for one another on the
leather-upholstered back seat of his dad's new luxury car, we called it
quits. On the rebound, I accepted Zach's class ring, and within a month,
late one rainy night, driving the consecrated Chevrolet at an ungodly
rate of speed, Bud attempted to shinny up a tree. And that, as the
saying goes, was that.
Guilt over Bud's death quietly consumed me, but I maintained an illusion
of indifference until shortly after the reopening of school - my senior
year- when I was forced to learn one of nature's cruelest laws: Every
action provokes a reaction.
My reaction was an emotionless withdrawal. Several weeks later, the
source of my melancholy grew shamefully apparent. That in turn forced my
parents' reaction, and they sent me to live with my aunt in California,
where I finished school. After that, although I never forgot him, I
never again spoke of Bud Morrow.
Imagine how surprised I was when one night last week, Wednesday, I
think, I arrived home from work and found an invitation in my mailbox to
a graveside reunion commemorating what would have been Bud's
thirty-sixth birthday. I hadn't a clue as to who actually sent it, but
the possibilities intrigued me. I left that morning before dawn and,
despite the blustery February wind, drove straight through by myself.
And now, in the cold, noon-day sun, here I stand at the grave of my
first and only love. Other than my boot prints, the snow was smooth and
virginal, and I feel strangely at one with the young man deep in the
ground under my feet.
"Hello, Bud," I say to the headstone. "It's me, Christina."
I kneel before the simple granite marker, a quiet testament that a boy
named "Bud" briefly journeyed through life. Letter-by-letter, my fingers
trace the inscription and I consider pressing my lips against it.
When I rise, I spot the distant figure of a man tramping through the
deep, snow-covered meadow off to my left. He is heading toward the
grave. When he is within maybe a hundred feet of me, he lifts a hand and
waves. I have no way of knowing if he is part of the reunion or has
mistaken me for someone else. I return the gesture hesitantly.
Up to now, the winter sun has done little to brighten the day. But, all
at once, as if Nature herself is suddenly directing the special effects,
sunlight washes across the young man's face. That's when I realize whose
face it is.
It is Bud's.
Aside from standing alone in the middle of a graveyard watching an
apparent ghost approach, I have no reason to feel uneasy.
The closer he gets to me, the more distinctive is the sound of his heavy
footsteps plodding through the snow. When the crunching stops, only a
few feet of empty space separate us.
"Hello," he says, flashing that cocky, half-smirk of a smile I had all
I feel as if time is hurling me backwards and I am too overwhelmed to
move. I will myself to step forward and study his features - the high
cheekbones, that small bump on the bridge of his nose, a pair of
luminous green eyes, the delicate curve of his jaw leading to a dimple
placed squarely in the center of his chin.
It is the face of my past - and my future.
I brush a lock of his tousled blond hair from his brow and say, "Hello."
I am vaguely aware that somewhere a raucous crow is cawing and a distant
locomotive is moaning, and deep inside my soul, instincts that have lain
dormant half my life are stirring.
I wrap my trembling arms around him and place my head in the bend
between his neck and shoulder.
"My darling," I tell him, "How I've longed to hold you again."
Sweetly, he returns my embrace. Our reunion becomes my vindication.
Then, at last, he breathes life into the word I've ached to hear since
the day I let him go.
© Janis Thornton
Janis Thornton is a staff writer for The Times of Frankfort, Ind., and a
contributor to "Chicken Soup for the Mothers Soul 2."
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