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The lights were dim. The music was so loud I could feel it pulse through my body. All the best jazz and blues singers sang their hearts out that late spring night.
Like most of the sixteen year olds there, my friends and I were in a circle dancing and singing along to the music even though we were all off-key. Some of us gradually went off to dance with some of the boys we knew from the neighborhood, but all my closest friends stayed.
I felt someone tap me lightly on the shoulder. I spun around, making it part of my dance, and began shimmying toward the newcomer of our group.
My eyes met his piercing green ones, and I stopped abruptly. The look on my face must have been amusing because he let out a small chuckle. I noticed I was staring open-mouthed and quickly closed it. I smiled shyly at him trying my best to look innocently cute.
“Hey,” he said. His voice was smooth and almost musical in a way. “Would you care to dance with me?”
I looked him up and down. He was handsome, tall, and confident. It was like I could hear my older sister’s voice telling me no. Play hard to get, she would say. Trust me. It’ll work.
“Thanks,” I began, “but no thanks.” I turned back around to my friends, who were staring wide-eyed at me.
“I promise you. I will dance with you tonight,” he whispered in my ear.
I glanced behind my shoulder at him. He winked, then turned and walked away.
“Are you crazy?” asked my friend Marilyn. “He’s the best looking guy in the school!”
“Yeah,” agreed my other close friend Lily, “and you just turned him down.”
“I know what I’m doing,” I promised them. “Jacqueline told me you have to play hard to get if you really like a guy. He’s more interested if you’re a challenge.”
“You know, Jacqueline doesn’t know everything,” Marilyn pointed out.
“But she does when it comes to boys,” I told her. “Look at how many guys she’s gotten.”
“Whatever you say,” Lily said with a sigh before she went back to dancing, but I swear I heard her say and look at how many breakups she’s had in the past month under her breath.
As we were dancing, a group of three guys came up and started dancing with us. They were old friends of ours. I was dancing with Lloyd. Lloyd wasn’t the best dancer. He was a heeler with his two left feet for sure. He spun me out, back in, and then out again.
As I spun out the second time, he let go of my hand, and someone else gracefully stepped in. I looked up at my new partner. To no surprise, it was the boy who had asked me to dance earlier. I knew it before I even saw him. Definitely predictable.
“I told you I would dance with you tonight.” He smiled. I noticed his smile was lopsided in a way that fit him perfectly and complemented the rest of his features. I blushed as I once again noted how attractive he was.
“Yes, you did,” I agreed. “Did you by chance plan that?”
“Actually, I didn’t. But it worked out rather nicely, don’t you think?” He winked at me.
“Yeah, it did.” I smiled up at him. My face began to grow hot, and I looked away.
That was when I realized we were slow dancing in the middle of a fast song. I let out a small giggle as I decided I didn’t care. I was enjoying myself. That was all that mattered.
“I’m Alexander, by the way. But please call me Alex. No one ever calls me Alexander.”
“Okay, Alex. I’m Evelyn,” I introduced myself in return.
“Evelyn. That’s very pretty.” He grinned at me. “It fits you.”
“Was that a come on?” I asked while really thinking he called me pretty!
“No, but this is,” Alex whispered as he lifted my chin and kissed me softly on the lips.
I can still remember the soft feel of his lips against mine. I can still feel the tingly feeling that traveled all the way down to my toes. In that moment, I knew I would marry this boy once he became a man. I suppose it was love at first sight.
Later that evening, I met up with my friends again. They were both very excited to hear about my dance with Alex.
“So? How’d it go?” Marilyn asked.
“Amazing!” I smiled brightly. After a brief moment I gushed, “He kissed me!”
“Dry up!” Lily shouted in excited surprise. “Did he really?”
“No, I’m lying,” I said sarcastically with a cheerful laugh. “Yes, really!”
“She’s goofy,” Marilyn giggled. “It’s so obvious! Evelyn loves Alex! Evelyn loves Alex!” She stuck her tongue out at me playfully.
They were right of course. I was in love. I obviously didn’t think it would happen that night nor did I think it would happen that quickly, but that was the night that I fell in love with Alexander Samuel Hemming.
I’ll never forget the worst day of my life.
Recently life had been hard as the United States sank deeper into depression. People everywhere were starving, and the smell of death and decay lingered in the stale air.
Alex and I got married in 1926 right after high school graduation. He has made me happier than I ever thought possible. Even though things had been rough, he always managed to bring a smile to my lips. Today was our sixth anniversary.
Alex has never been a drinker, but once in a while he liked to go to speakeasies with his friends. I wished he would listen when I told him of the dangers of it. They could be found at any time. Alex could be thrown in jail or worse.
That afternoon, Alex left to go to the speakeasy downtown. He didn’t say it, but I knew that was where he was going. He goes there every Friday afternoon.
As 5:30pm hit, I was beginning to grow nervous. Usually Alex returned home by 4:30. I paced back and forth in the hallway by the telephone. I prayed that nothing had gone wrong, and that Alex was safe.
“Please keep him safe,” I whispered to the God above the ceiling.
At 6:02pm, the phone rang. I tripped over myself trying to answer it. The voice on the other end was calm and clear. I could barely register the words he spoke. I slammed the phone back on the receiver in a hurry and rushed to the hospital as quickly as possible.
Alex laid on a white bed, covered with sheets. Only his face was uncovered. Red stained the sheets above his chest. Tears filled my eyes as I took in his appearance. His face was so pale.
“Evelyn,” he whispered, reaching out for me. I grabbed his outstretched hand. “I’m so sorry,” he spoke unevenly. “I should’ve listened to you.”
“Shh… Don’t worry about that now, my love,” I said with a shudder. Tears now blurred my vision.
He had been at the speakeasy when three or four cops busted into the building. Apparently, he tried to be calm and civil about it. That’s what the policeman on the phone told me. His friends, however, were not so calm. The place turned into chaos. People were trying to fight the police in an effort to escape. One police officer took his gun out and fired, hitting my husband in the chest.
I could still hear the policeman’s voice echoing in my head. “When the shot was fired, the bullet missed its target and went into your husband’s chest. The wound is probably fatal. You better prepare yourself to say goodbye.”
“Everything’s gonna be okay,” I told him, as I shoved the past conversation out of my head. I shook my head vigorously as reassurance that everything would be alright. I began to cry harder as I realized it wouldn’t be okay, and it would never be alright.
“I love you, Alex.”I realized my love for him was all I could promise him. I only wished to promise him more. I couldn’t promise him life or even hope. I could already feel him slipping away from me.
“Alex! Alex, please!” I cried. “Hold on, baby. Hold on! They’re gonna help you!”
He couldn’t die here. He couldn’t die in this hospital with its white walls and too-clean rooms. He couldn’t die in a place that was so lifeless. I had to do something. I jumped up and ran out into the lobby. “Someone! Help! My husband’s dying!”
The nurses and doctors just stared at me with pity. One plump, rosy nurse stepped forward. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” she began, “but there’s nothing we can do for your husband.”
I stared back blankly. “Nothing?” I echoed. “You’re not even going to try?” I turned and fled from their sympathetic stares.
“Come on, baby,” I pleaded, grabbing his hand. I prayed desperately that he would pull through, but I knew my prayers were empty.
“I’m so sorry all of this happened to you,” I whispered, pressing his hand to my cheek. “You know if I could, I would change all of this in a heartbeat.”
“Evelyn,” Alex whispered so quietly I might have imagined it, “you mean everything to me. Remember that”
“No! This isn’t goodbye! You promised me you wouldn’t leave me. Don’t leave me!” I pleaded over and over again. I suppose I was hoping God would take mercy on him, on me, on us.
“I love…” He never even finished his last sentence before God took his last breath away.
I slumped to the floor, my head in my hands. I laid there crying and cursing the nurses and doctors. I could never forgive them for standing back and watching him die.
“You could’ve saved him!” I screamed at them as they passed his room, hitting my fists off the cold, ceramic tiled floor. “You could’ve saved him…”
Later that night…
I couldn’t bear the empty feeling inside my heart. I couldn’t bear the unimaginable hurt that overwhelmed me. My whole world had just crumbled to pieces, and there was nothing I could’ve done to stop it. All I could do was stand back and watch it. Watch it fall, watch it crash, watch it shatter…
The rope was tan. The chair was black. I stood firmly on the chair, wearing the rope as a necklace. I kicked. Everything went pitch black and all pain ceased.
Happy anniversary, my love. We’ll be together again soon.