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Into Seven Pieces
The thing about happiness is that it’s always short-lived. But when you are happy, you feel like you’re on the top of the world. Like you’re in a hot air balloon, and nobody could pin you to the ground if they wanted to. The very best part is knowing when you are happy, you are untouchable. Above petty issues like global warming and poverty. The feeling that even if you eat two packs of fudge cookies and drank a six pack of Miller Lite with a promise you won’t get hung over or sick the next morning,it could never reach the happiness in your soul itself. But, when you soar above the clouds far beyond reality, sometimes your vision gets obscured. Sometimes, even though you want to see the earth as a safe haven, it isn’t. Maybe it’s because you’re so high up you forget what it’s like to be grounded. Maybe it’s because you can’t see behind the fluffy white clouds of heaven. Or maybe it’s just because you don’t want to. I had a date with a man named William J. Alexander. He was tall, he had brown hair, and he was on the varsity hockey team at his high school. He was active in key club at his school in Scusset, Massachusetts. We were going to hang out after school because he was part of a Jesuit Volunteer group and he was in the town for recruiting. I was kind of debating becoming a member. This was the story I told my mother. If she knew that I had a date with a seventeen year old agnostic mechanic who lives in Maine, I figured it wouldn’t go down so well. I also had a feeling if I told her I was skipping fourth period mathematics and fifth periods Earth Science to go on this date I can guarantee you I wouldn’t be alive you get through this first paragraph. In actuality, William J. Alexander isn’t completely a lie. He is part of this whole story as you will come to learn. Not that active, But he’s there. I hiked my backpack up on my shoulders and walked into school. I wasn’t too concerned about skipping because it wouldn’t go on my permanent record. Eighth grade isn’t a particularly important year. The only trouble would be getting out of the school after I got in. They, meaning the nut-job school committee thought it would be appropriate to put camera at the front doors so we could see who was entering and exiting the building. It was really supposed to make sure people with guns wouldn’t be able to get in, which is stupid because if they had any they would blow down the door and not give a damn about the high tech security cameras. But as it is, it really only hindered my attempt to ditch halfway through the school day. The first three blocks passed without any considerable happening so I made my escape through the gym doors that were, conveniently, left open due to the temperature. Our freak school runs a fever of one-hundred-one degrees on a regular basis. I left my backpack beneath the tree and tucked my math paper into the back right pocket of my jeans. Looking left and right, I ran across the street and into the woods. I was lucky I was a good runner, not like I expected anyone from the school to chase me, but because people tend to notice skinny blonde girls sprinting through forests when they are supposed to be in school. I dodged my way through the brush and hit the road again. No cars today, I ran across the road and behind the white Unitarian Universalist church. I could see the fence of the graveyard coming up. With one leap I hurtled myself over the poles and slowed to a saunter. I had come here a lot of times when I was younger. I used to come here and sit in the middle of the graveyard and think. It didn’t much matter what I thought about, just that it was quiet and I had the opportunity to. The real draw about a graveyard is that you can go and sit there and it’s pretty much an unwritten rule for no one to bother you. All you had to do was plop yourself down on any grave and it was like a wall of solitude had been built around you. I always wondered why a graveyard was like that, and why dead people held this sort of awe and quiet nature surrounding them that made the creatures with the beating hearts wary. I never felt that way. I made my way through the rows of graves and looked for the man I was waiting for. I saw him.
“Hey, Will.” I said
“Glad to see you’re doing well.”
Will didn’t respond. He never was really one to talk, ever since I knew him. I sat down on his grave and re-read the familiar headstone,
“William J. Alexander – 1961-2002; a good man”
For a grave that was pretty old, it was also pretty shiny. Someone must take care of old Will. I checked my eyeliner in the part without the engraved lettering and realized even though I booked it a mile to the graveyard I hadn’t broken a sweat. Thank God.
I leaned up against Will and inspected my nails and my jeans, which only had a little bit of dirt on both of them. Oh, well. Like he would care. He’s always covered in dirt anyway.
I glanced to the road and saw it was empty, as usual, and double checked to make sure even if anyone did pass they wouldn’t be able to see me from the road. They wouldn’t.
Out of things to do I pulled the paper out of the back of my jeans and read it for the hundredth time “Meet me at Will’s, 12:15 sharp.”
I sighed. For someone who would make a point to write sharp after the time you would think would have the common courtesy to be exactly on time if not earlier. Here I was. 12:30. Here with Will, and only Will.
I turned to my companion,
“You think he’s standing me up Will?”
I said it more to me than him, just because he was making me nervous, that Will.
When people don’t answer you, they generally have something important to say.
I laid on his grave, and closed my eyes.
I felt a warm force on my shoulder
“I don’t like the fact you’re sleeping around with other guys when I’m out of state.”
That voice. That smell. That hand.
My eyes flew open and I flung myself into his arms.
He smelled like gasoline and peppermints and boy.
My favorite boy.
“I thought you were standing me up!”
I put my hands on my hips and did my best to look incredibly stern. I held up to note with sharp underlined fifteen times and pointed to my watch.
“Will you believe me if I said I got caught in a traffic jam on route 3A?”
His smile was half up-turned on the right side, and his carhart jacket sagged on his shoulders.
“No, But I’m going to pretend you’re not an absolute fool who needs to get a watch and learn how to use mapquest.”
“I didn’t get lost!”
“Psh. Yeah right.”
He wrapped his arms around my waist and I breathed in everything I missed about him. He looked like he grew four inches since I last saw him, which was really only two months ago. I could see his Timberland boots were worn for wear, His jeans rode lower so I could only see the tips of his plaid boxers, and God knows when the last time he had a haircut was.
“You look like you went through a trash compactor, bud.” I tousled his hair
“You look like if those jeans get any tighter I might have to help you get them a little bit looser.”
I laughed and let him go. The stuff he said sometimes made me wonder how I could go so long without him.
“So you thought I was standing you up with old Will here?”
He sat down next to me by the headstone and took his jacket off so we could have somewhere comfortable to put our bodies.
“Pretty much. You know, he’s not much company.”
“Yeah, and last time I checked it was pretty illegal for you to be dating such an old fart.”
“Look who’s talking!”
He pushed me off grave and pulled me to my feet.
“Did you know I missed you like hell?” he moaned, slipping his hands into the back pockets of my jeans
“Did you know that I missed you way more?”
He locked his fingers in mine and we started walking up and down the rows of graves.
“Tell me everything I’ve missed in good old Duxbury.”
I thought for a second, trying to think of something of substance to give him. I talked to him on the phone last night, and then I IM’ed him last week, I couldn’t remember. What had happened?
“Well…..I waited for you.”
“Oh really? What was that like?”
He kissed my head and murmured something into my ear.
“Zach, what?” I half-laughed. The stupid boy couldn’t talk in English if he wanted to.
On that note I saw my lunatic of a boyfriend hike up his pants and sprint like a lion was chasing him up three rows of headstones in two seconds and disappear off a different cemetery road.
“Damn it, Zach!”
I kicked into rabbit mode and sprinted after him, pushing the hair out of my eyes as I tried to keep him in my sight.
It sounds stupid, when you think of it. Me chasing the love of my life I hadn’t seen in two months around a cemetery at one o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday when we really should be in school, but it was always like that between us.
I whipped around the corner and finally saw him.
He was sitting on a bench in front of the war memorial for the fallen Vietnam soldiers from my town, which consisted of twenty-two, a large number for our tiny population.
He was panting like he just ran a marathon, and not 800 meters.
“didn’t- beat- me.”
A smile spread across his face and I tackled him to the ground.
We laid in the leaves from the trees while we caught our breath.
“When you just sit in class and are reading, Shakespeare, or whatever you were reading that last time I saw you-”
“The Tenth Circle.”
“Yeah, do you ever like, think, I don’t know.”
I rolled onto my side and looked him in the eye.
He kept his face toward the heavens, blinking only a little, stony cold.I could see him trying tophrase his thoughts into words. I wanted more than anything to step inside the abyss of his brain and pull out everything he was thinking.Everything he ever thought. He turned his face at a slight angle so I could see his eyes, baby blue with lashes I would kill for.
“If, like at the end of the book you ever wish you can forget the story so you can read it again and be excited and scared in all the same places.”
I’m not going to say that Zach not a deep person, but his questions were generally somewhere between the surface of a subject to a couple feet under.
“Well, I don’t know. I always feel like every time I read it, I learn a little more. Maybe stuff I missed the first time through, because I wasn’t paying enough attention. I guess I just learn new stuff and get excited and scared in new places.”
He hadn’t moved throughout the entire explanation and was staring up into the sky with that furrowed look in his eye. A leaf fluttered and landed on his shirt, and I realized I was pretty cold having on only jeans, converse, and some old t-shirt I spent hours in the morning deciding whether or not it was too thick. Apparently not. I curled up in the nook of his arm and felt the warmth radiate off him like a heater in high gear.The familiarity andjoy enveloped me as Iclosed my eyes and handed myself over to my senses. I snuggled closer near the crook of his neck and breathed quiet breaths until I began to lose thought.I felt him as he turned on his side and wrapped his arms tight around me, as ifI were a safety raft he was holding onto. Like if he let go, he might fall into an uncertain death. An uncertain future.
Looking back on this, I found itconfusing how even then I realized that maybe the boyfriend I loved so much and shared so much with may have been more than the teenager I chased through graveyards and discussed the meaning of life with. Even now, I look back and wonder if I should have known. If there were signs or clues that could have led up to a different fate for my Zach Onslow. If there was anything, even now, I could have done for the boy in the gasoline-stained jacket that drove a red pick-up and ate swedish pancakes on Sunday mornings. If I could have somehow changed the future byknowing the details. Signs that weren't there. Or if there were, maybe I had been blind to them. Maybe I didn't want to hear them. Because even on that thursday afternoonas I hugged him tightly, I think we knew we held on for different reasons.