The Dark Sky Shines...

December 14, 2007
The dark sky shines as the full moon bursts through a starless curtain of black. I move swiftly to the door. I feel like I am being watched. The old wooden doors of the church creak louder than all the owls perched in the woods in front of me. As I push the heavy planks, I feel a rush of cold air pierce my face. The smell of vanilla candles and wet wood drenches my senses and the dim light from the tiny wicks makes my eyes squint. I take off my soaked coat and lay it by the door. Shaking the water from my hands and ringing out my hair, a somber melody begins to play from the loft. I take a seat in the far right corner of the back row.

I feel surrounded in empty pews. The closest person to me is a man. He looks quite worn and wet. He is wearing jeans and t-shirt. His hair is mopped looking, a mixture of the summer rain and his soft curls. Although ragged, his skin is fresh and his eyes have life.

A man dressed in a purple robe walks slowly down the aisle to the left of me. He temporarily cuts of my vision on the man, goes to the front and starts a solemn prayer of chants.

One passed, I look again to see if I can trace anymore signs of identity in another wandering soul. Immediately our eyes link. Suddenly, I feel as if he looking into my soul, unleashing my secrets and watching the best of my heart. A steely blue, they are deep, dark, and mysterious. They are calm and tranquil, but still so fierce they pierce through me.

The music starts again and I stare at me feet dripping with the rain. As I sit in the silence of still air, I feel as though I am so alone. The congregation gets up and leaves out the rickety doors. The light dim and all that is left is the shine from the many candles. They make a light so innocent, so pure. The color of the stained glass is altered with the glowing flickers of the diminishing wicks.

I look around. I am the only one sitting, except for the man. He has his head bowed with his hands over his eyes. I walk over to him and gently touch his shoulder. He jumps up and breathes frantically and rubs his eyes.

"I’m s..sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to be sure you were okay."

"Oh, no, I’m fine. I guess I was daydreaming," says the man as he wipes tears from his cheeks.

"Are you sure you’re okay?"

"Yes, I’m fine, thank you. Are you here alone?"

"Why, yes, I just came in to escape the rain for a bit. I have a long walk back to my hotel and needed a break."

"Would you like a ride? It’s supposed to start thunder storming soon. I’m sorry I didn’t even introduce myself. My name is John, and I, too, just came in to get a break from the rain. What’s your name?"

"I’m Lynn. I just moved here from Virginia. I’m trying to find a really cheap apartment so I can still afford to go to school."

I extend my hand and shake with acquaintance. The longer I look at him, the younger he begins to look.

"I’m sure I’ll be fine walking. Its good exercise and I appreciate the offer. Have a great night, John. I hope to see you around."

I put on my jacket and opened the old door. The rain hit my face and dread overcame my mind as I set forth into the weather. Thankfully, since it was during the summer months, it wasn’t too cold; but with the night air and cool breeze of precipitation, a chill came over me.

My jeans are soaked through to my frozen skin; and from the knee down, the denim is caked with mud. My cotton tee is being pulled from my body more and more with every droplet. My long hair is curling with the water, as it lays on my back in a tattered mess.

Trudging through the wind and broken asphalt, I see headlights behind me. I move onto the shoulder and let the car pass. Instead of racing past and spraying me with the mix of rain and dirt from the road, it slows as it approaches my side.

The window rolls down and a wet face comes through. I stop and the last stomp of my drenched foot splash grass and mud further up my leg.

"Are you sure you don’t need a ride? I know you just met me, but I don’t bite...promise. I’m only offering."

"Well, I guess I could use a break from the downpour. Thanks!"

It is John, the man I met in the chapel. He seems nice, and I really don’t feel like walking in the rain any longer.

I throw my soaked backpack in the back of his Rav 4 and climb in the passenger seat. He tosses a towel at me and tells me not to worry about the seat.

As we go down the road, everything feels awkward. There is the static blow of the air conditioning and the muted sound of lost radio waves. What should I say to spark up a conversation? What do you ask someone you met less than an hour ago?

"So, John tell me about you."

"Are you sure you’re ready for this?"

"Why not. I have no clue where I am, what I’m doing, or where I am going to sleep tonight. Entertain me."

"Well, I grew up in the Outer Banks. My mom was a single parent trying to get by with what she could. My parents split right after my mom found out she was pregnant with me. My sister, Dana, was only three. The cops found my dad two months later in a ditch in Richmond. He died of a drug overdose. I’m kind of glad I never knew my father, but I had my struggles with taking the path in his footsteps. My mom stayed single until I was 12. Then she met Jack. He’s an okay guy, but I don’t like him. He didn’t treat my mother right and was emotionally and verbally abusive to me and my sister. I have loved sports forever and have been playing football since I was three. Growing up was difficult because I never really had a male role model. In middle school, I started getting involved with the wrong crowd. My mom was getting married and I never saw my sister. If she wasn’t at school, she was at work or at a friend’s house.

When she was 16, she got a fake ID and married her high school sweetheart. Now, she’s in Raleigh trying to make it by. She works three jobs and has two adorable little girls. Her husband is a great man and loves her to death, but doesn’t have a good head on his shoulders. But what do I have to say, I’m not the best person in the world.

When Dana left, I really started having problems. I had experimented a little in the past, but in my sophomore year, I lost all ambition and drive. My friends from middle school were still around and were still terrible people. I started drinking and partying and then the drugs worked their way into my life. At first, it was just at parties. You know how it goes; have a few drinks and some crazy person breaks out a plastic baggie and the fun starts rolling. Then, it was every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. No matter what I had to do, I would do it. It was like a religion for me. My next door neighbor became my best friend. I didn’t even like him, but he was someone I could get high with.

The day I turned 16, I got my driver’s license. It was exciting, gave me a new sense of freedom, and also opened a lot of doors that added to my troubled path. I started doing drugs during the week and spending entire paychecks on as much as I could buy. Since I could drive, I no longer depended on my neighbor to supply me with the needs to support my habit. I found someone in the city who sold everything.

Instead of just doing simple stuff, my addiction grew crazy. I did everything, smoked everything, and shot myself with everything. I did the craziest things and started going into debt before I turned 17. I had to pay for my insurance, gas and now drugs. I got kicked out of my house because I kept putting burn stains in the carpeting. Then I had to pay rent in addition to the other bills. I worked every night after practice and then went home and got high. My routine never changed and my attitude and health slowly got worse.

I had a girlfriend during the summer I turned 17, but we didn’t become serious until a week before my birthday. She was perfect! Not only was she beautiful, but she was sweet, committed, and was determined to get rich and get me to be clean.

I wish I would have listened to her the first time she took a joint out of my mouth. I remember that day perfectly in my mind. It was the first time I had ever seen her cry and the first time I had ever felt so ashamed.

It was the second week of summer vacation in June, and Elle and I had plans to go shopping after she got off on Saturday. Friday night came, and our plans were still on. She was going to call me when the cut her for the night, and I was going to pick her up from the restaurant.

I had spent the whole day with Paul (he was my neighbor) and I had promised her and myself that I wouldn’t smoke at all that day. For the few months we had been together, she had always begged me not to do drugs any more, and I would tell her I was stopping or was going to stop. I don’t think she ever believed me; because when she saw my bloodshot eyes, I could see the disappointment in her face. It never really hit me, because I couldn’t feel anything. No emotions or romance could be felt when I was high. I would just pretend to be me, but she could always tell when I was clean. She even told me one day that if I wasn’t the adorable, sweet person I was when I was clean, she would have never stayed with me.

As the night progressed, the pot came out and I started smoking. Elle called me at 6:00, which was really early for her to get off work. I wouldn’t have started if I would have known she would have gotten off so early, but she did. I felt so guilty and so filthy. I have never broken a promise before and it was killing me. So I didn’t let her know I had been doing drugs. I told her I was too tired from practice and we would have to go out another night.

I’m not really sure if she actually believes me that night on the phone. I loved her too much to hear the sadness that came from her voice on the phone. I was so depressed so I kept on smoking.

Around 7 p.m., I was still sitting in Paul’s garage. The door flew open, and Elle was standing there with a carry out bag from Ruby Tuesdays in her arms. A feeling of shame and anger at myself welled up inside of me.

Elle dropped the bag on the broken concrete. I’ve never seen her face so distraught. She took the joint out of my mouth and threw it on the ground. She knelt beside the plastic lawn chair I was sitting in. I was so high, I couldn’t even focus on her eyes, but I could make out the tears streaming down her soft cheeks.

She looked me in my red eyes and brushed the hair away from my forehead. She held my hand and said, "Johnny, I don’t know how much longer I can take this. Not only did you break your promise to me, but you lied to me about doing it. I will not date someone who is a drug addict; but if you’re willing to let me help you and make a hug effort towards coming clean, this can work. But, if you’re going to keep doing this to me, I’m going to leave you and find someone who has respect for their body and their mind. I can’t stand seeing you destroy yourself."

Even though I felt like a rubber person, I could tell she was very upset and so was I. I kissed her hand and said, "Baby, I’m gonna try." She got up and left me there, sitting in that chair. I got up, walked home and went straight to bed.

The next day, I saw her at work. She greeted me like she always did...a hug, a kiss and a deep look into my eyes. When she looked at me, I wanted to apologize so badly, but I couldn’t make the words come out. Work that night was so awkward, but she forgave me even though I didn’t deserve it. I have no idea why Elle stayed with me after I completely deceived her trust, but she stayed with me, and I love her for that. I tried for about a month to stay clean, but I couldn’t do it. I wound up moving in with Elle and her family. She watched me so intently, but I still found a way to sneak in a joint here and there.

My senior year went by very quickly. I worked all the time, and Elle was still there for me and did whatever she could to help me, but I couldn’t stop getting high. That summer was the best summer of my life, but also the worst. I was doing really well, and Elle and I became engaged. I loved her so much.

One Friday night in August, Elle and some of her girlfriends were going to a club, and I stayed at home. I went to Paul’s house to help him fix something in his kitchen. We had stayed friends, but I didn’t let him influence me anymore.

I walked past his room and saw a joint sitting on his bureau. I kept walking, but the whole night I couldn’t stop thinking about that tiny roll of paper and weed. At 10 p.m., we were finished working and started watching TV. He started smoking pot, and I just watched him.

The smell blew into my nose and awakened my senses. It brought back so many memories; some good and some bad. I sat there fidgeting, trying to resist the temptation.

After about 10 minutes, Paul looked at me and hand it to me. I had entered a whole new world as a completely new person. All thoughts, emotion and senses left my body and I felt so good.

Two hours later, I was completely stoned. I scrambled for my cell phone in my pocket. I couldn’t read the name on the ID, but I picked it up anyway. A frantic, hysterical voice was on the other line. It was Elle.

"Baby, I need you to come get me."

"What’s wrong? Where are you?"

"I’m downtown. Jenna left me here, and I have no way home. I don’t have any money for a cab. Please just come and hurry. I’m really scared."

"Okay, I’ll be right there."

Trying to gather all of my senses, I got my keys and hopped in the truck. I drove to get Elle, trying to get there as quickly as possible. It was 1 a.m. when I saw her sitting on a bench outside of the club, looking petrified.

I rolled down my window. A smile came across her face, and she ran to the passenger side. She looked so worn and flustered.

"Why are you wearing sunglasses? It’s dark outside."

"I don’t now. I like these glasses."

"You’re lying to me!"

"No, honey, I would never lie to you."

"Did you get high? Have you been smoking?"

"No, I gave it up. I told you I wouldn’t, and I don’t break my promises."

"I don’t believe you."

She pulled off my sunglasses and looked into my eyes. Tears welled up in her eyes and rolled down her flushed cheeks.

"I can’t believe you! Not only did you break your promise, but then you lied about it!"

I don’t want you to get mad. I’m sorry. Please forgive me."

Tears were streaming down her face, and her cheeks were rosier than before. Her hands were shaking as she frantically wiped her eyes. Guilt and shame flooded my body, and my breath shortened. With a raised voice and much disappointment, she said...

"I feel so betrayed. I thought you were past this. I thought you changed. You promised me. You swore. I thought you loved me more than this!"

In hearing the words, "I thought you loved me more than this," I started to feel angry.

"I love you and you know that. Nothing I will every say or do, or you say or do, can change that. I don’t understand how my love for you can be altered by the fact that I messed up. I slipped. I’m sorry. I lo....."

Cars swerved, crashing. Windows shattered, glass flew, and cold sweat hit my lips. Screaming voices, a screech of wheels echoed in my mind. Suddenly, a cushion hit my face; the air bag protected me from slamming into the dashboard. I had no control over the car any more. Terror flashed in my head, along with a sharp pain from the impact. Flashing lights appeared in my peripheral vision, and I could hear sirens along with the exhausted breath of Elle.

I opened my eyes. I was lying on the grass. I felt a pain in my head and an ache in my side. Nothing felt broken or cut. Immediately I thought of Elle. Where was she? Was she okay? I jumped up and searched for her, pushing through paramedics and police officers. I saw my truck; the right side was gone.

She was on the ground. A broken beauty. Her hair was in her face and her fingers were bent in agony. I rushed to her side. Her mis-beat breaths had whispered words in them. Tears were still streaming down her perfect cheeks. I took my hand and brushed the hair from her face and wiped the tears from her eyes. I picked up her weak hand and held it in mine. Her lifeless, limp fingers wrapped around mine. I kissed her and I felt tears come down like water.

"Please, Elle. I’m so sorry! I love you. Please don’t leave me. Please forgive me. I love..."

"John...I... you...with everything."

I started crying hysterically, as thoughts of life without Elle overwhelmed the scattered thoughts of my mind. Her breath grew shorter and her hands un-draped mine. Her eyes slowly closed as she took her last breath. I screamed, "I love you," and pulled up her body. She was gone. Life would never be the same again. She was gone because of me. I had killed my beautiful Elle; the love of my life.

After Elle died, life was never the same again. Every day was a monotonous struggle to get through. I came clean, just for her, but I always wonder, to this very day, every night, every minute, if she forgave me and loves me with the passion I loved her. I moved here to go to school. I got a football scholarship for Duke, but I just felt like going for a drive tonight to get away and wound up here.

That was three years ago, and I still can’t get over her. I miss her with all my heart. I miss the way her hair fell on her face and the way her eyes twinkled when she was happy. I miss the way she bit her lip when she was nervous and the way her voice got high when she was serious. I miss her giggles and seeing her face outside my window. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop thinking about her. I want to so the pain will go away, but I don’t because I don’t ever want to forget that I’m still in love with Elle.

Tears are streaming down his face, and he pulls to the side of the road. He is gasping for breath as he wipes his face.

"John...she does love you. She misses you so much and wants you to know that she forgives you and will always love you until you can see her again."

John turns to me with a stunned look on his face. I open the door, grab my bag, and trek down the road. I feel strange; like someone else was controlling me. I turn my head and see the SUN on the shoulder of the road with the headlights on.

It’s been a long night...

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