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Living and Loosing
Exactly one month after the fateful night I first saw her, I sat at our table. Checking my watch, I noticed only thirty seconds had passed since the last time I checked it. Never had she been even a minute late. After an hour and a few beers, I pushed my chair back. Reaching my pick-up, I heard the family sound of her motor. She flew into the gravel parking lot. Barely was the truck stopped before she flung herself out of the door and into my arms.
I felt the wetness of her tears soak through my gray T-shirt. “Please, can you just take me away forever? Never let me go,” she half demanded, half begged of me.
There was no fiber of my being that would ever or could ever say no to her. I held her closed and smelled in the scent of fresh air and lavender that hung on her hair. I wanted to stand there forever, her warmth filling the void that had always been in my heart. I promised her what she was asking, and hoped I would keep that promise for the rest of my life.
The moment I saw her, I knew my fate was sealed. Even in the dim haze of light offered by the bar, her raven hair shone as if in the sunlight. She sat by herself on a stool at the bar, both chairs next to her empty. She traced unknown designs on the table of the bar, her drink dripping with condensation. I began the pushing and shoving that would eventually get me across the crowed floor to where she sat. Pulling out the chair beside her, I sat down. Her dark emerald eyes didn’t even look up from her imaginary drawings.
“You come here often?” I asked, rocking back in my chair. I couldn’t believe that had just come out of my mouth.
She laughed, lightly, musically. When she finally looked up, her dark brows furrowed slightly as she scrutinized me. Never had anyone regarded me in such a way. I would never have believed it to be possible, but she seemed look not just at me but into me, into my soul.
Celia Featherstone accepted my invitation to return the following night for supper. We sat down at a table in the back corner of the Bullpen Bar, and I sat across from her, soaking up any information she would offer to me. I learned of her father William, a last in the line of Cherokee medicine men, from whom she inherited both looks and knowledge. As of her mother, she knew nothing more than a name, June. Yet her father told her she had her eyes, as green as the needles of an evergreen. She wove stories of her youth from and the small cabin her father owned far in the wilderness of the reservation. After we finished eating, she allowed me to walk her to rusted-out Chevy pick-up. Before she opened her door she turned to me. Pressing her hand over my pounding heart, I felt the warmth of her touch. Then she was gone, pulling away into the night. And every night, she would cover my heart with her hand, sending me into a strange amnesia, just to come back to the surface in time to see her tail lights.
Our first child came in the winter of the following year. Born on the coldest night of December, we named him William after Celia’s father. Motherhood suit her better than I could have ever imagine. It was like a life made custom for her.
She confided in me one night, I woke up to her constant stirring. She was crying. I sat up quickly and pulled her into me.
“I’m scared,” she heaved. I rocked her gently as she calmed down, her breathing slowing back to normal. “I have these dreams. I can’t let it happen.”
“Let what happen?” I asked.
She just shook her head, as if clear away any thoughts of her problem. She fell asleep in my arms. As much as it hurt her, she knew she was more like her mother than she ever wanted to be. But I also knew that she was much better than she knew she was. I believed in her in that she would never leave me or Will. I was learning to look into her soul the same way she could look into mine.
Our next child, Shane came two years later. Our baby girl, Taini, came the following. The next two decades came and went in the blink of an eye. Before we knew it, our small home was empty once again.
The night future son-in-law came to for permission to marry my baby girl, I couldn’t help but reminisce.
I proposed to her one morning in late spring. We took a morning walk to her favorite place. Her valley was a three mile walk down old red-dirt roads, and a steep climb down some rock faces on an old Indian trail untouched by anyone but us for at least 100 years. The small diamond on a simple silver band burned a hole in my pocket as we reached the wildflower meadow. She loped gracefully through the tall grass, her dark skin radiating in the fiery glow of the sunrise, the dew collecting on her shorts and bare legs.
“Marry me.” I told her.
She laughed as she had the first night we met, “I knew this day would come the first time I saw you,” she said.
The wedding was simple, as neither of us had much family. Her father, old, wrinkled and bent with age, arrived in an old, red International. He was still taller than me, a feat, considering my six foot two inch frame. He regarded me in a familiar way, seeing straight into my soul. He nodded, and embraced Celia as she approached. He said something I recognized to be Cherokee Celia always mumbled in her sleep, and she answered.
He turned to me again, “You are a brave man to ask for my daughter’s hand. Many years ago, this would not have been allowed,” his voice as clear and strong as the cloudless day.
“Father,” Celia began, but he silenced her with the slight raising of his hand.
“I’m glad the times have changed. You are her other half, her soul mate. Asiule ehu,” he reached toward me, grabbing my hand and joining it with Celia’s. He held our hands together, covering them with his as he his eyes glazed slightly and he sang a prayer. As he did, Celia’s eyes never left mine, searching my soul once again.
The next day, her father gave her away and she took my last name of Cooper as her own. As she read me her vows, her eyes stayed locked on mine as she recited them from heart. I told her mine, my heart fluttering like a tiny bird as I constantly looked up and down from the followed notebook paper in my hands. As much as I believed in her words to me, I never gave up on the fear that she would be gone, like smoke rings in the dark.
Life continued on for us. I worked and Celia filled her time with hobbies. Photography and poetry became her favorites. I always urged her contact someone, anyone to share her work with the rest of our world. She was selfish in that way though, and only wanted to share the beauty she created with me.
As we reached our 80’s we enjoyed our grandchildren who visited frequently. I woke up one night to find Celia missing. I got up, recognizing the now ever-present stiffness in my joints. I wandered down the dark hallway. The front door was open and a cool breeze blew through the screen door. Celia sat on the front steps, her back facing me. She didn’t look up as I opened the screen door. It slammed shut as I slowly lowered myself next to her. She twirled a sprig of lavender in her hands.
“I’m getting sick, Adam,” she still wouldn’t look up.
I took her hands into mine. “Look at me please,” I pleaded of her.
She looked up, and the clearness of her eyes still shocked me. I sensed a change come over her about a year ago. She seemed to concentrate on her movements more. She became too careful.
“I don’t think I can hold on much longer,” she said, “but I don’t know if I can let go. I can’t leave you.”
I broke down, knowing I would have to break the promise I made to her long ago. I had to let her go. She was in pain, and I was holding her back to this world.
I was surrounded by my children and grandchildren as we buried the most beautiful soul I had ever seen.
The moment I saw her, I thought my fate was sealed. Even in the dim haze of light offered by the bar, her raven hair shone as if in the sunlight. She sat by herself on a stool at the bar, both chairs next to her empty. She traced unknown designs on the table of the bar, her drink dripping with condensation and untouched. I began the pushing and shoving that would eventually get me across the crowed floor to where she sat. Stopping half way, I turned around and returned to my seat across the bar.