Creative Nonfiction Coming of Age Sad

It's near midnight and the October chill stirs regret for leaving my dorm without a jacket, but I can't bring myself to go back. Instead I have to just stand here and stare, cemented to the sidewalk. I've only been here for a few months now and large buildings like this still get to me–I think they always will–but that's not what has me frozen in place.

My eyes rove over the Cherokee Gothic architecture, drinking in the contrast of red brick to beige, spotlighted against the clearest night I've seen here yet. I've made daily treks past this building for months now but the quiet and stillness of night frames an entirely new experience. I know that in this moment, I am completely alone in perceiving this beauty.

A few hours ago the two-story tracery windows glittered in the sunset. Now, a warm glow emanates out through them; a hearth inviting you to step inside and make yourself at home even though the last of the students and staff inside will be leaving soon enough. From their perches at the tops of turret towers, gargoyles guard the entry to hundreds of thousands of books, many donated by collectors of rare tomes. 

As I consider all of this I realize that, still, I haven't touched on what has me in its grips. I try to move on toward my destination but my feet lead me to a bench instead. I sit, but not in the middle. It's as if I'm waiting for someone to join me. Suddenly, my heart is yanked to the ground and I realize why this is happening.

I've found you.

I had wondered where you went after I stopped feeling you on the hill back home. It happened right after I moved out and on the weekends I was able to make the trip back, I visited you. I stayed longer than before, leaned against cold black marble, and traced my fingers over the raised metal on your Veteran's footstone. I cried, of course, but this time it was different: I felt like I'd lost you for a second time.

People told me over and over, "He'll be with you, always." Sitting there on your grave, I felt betrayed and lied to. All of them were wrong.

Now, hot tears streaming down my face, I'm grateful that you're the only one to witness this moment. I can hear you telling me how important education is, and with those true memories I almost feel your arm around my shoulders right then. I can almost place that feeling into the memory of walking into the Bizz for the first time as if you were physically there. I can almost hear you whistle and say, "That's one hell of a library, Sister."

You're with me here, hours away from anywhere I have true memories with you. I know now that you walk beside me on my way to class, you watch my rehearsals, and you'll be in the audience right next to Mama and the boys for my first and every subsequent concert and recital I perform in.

A door swings open and two exhausted students head toward their next destination, dragging their feet and talking quietly together. I hide my face and hope that they're going somewhere to sleep, like I should be, and that they don't look my way and question the girl sitting on a bench by herself in the dark. The clock tower strikes midnight, and after a deep breath, I stand and slowly walk away.

The emotions zipping through my mind and stomach now blend joy and sorrow. I'm crossing a stage to shake my superintendent's hand and to receive my high school diploma, and I'm crossing the cemetery lawn to place the first handful of dirt onto your casket. I'm settling into my dorm room and I'm settling my belongings from your house into my bedroom at Mama's. I'm telling you about my day at school, and inviting you to go to church with me on Wednesday, and harmonizing with you in the car; I'm laying my right hand on your arm, right above the tattoo you got in 2011, and I'm yanking my hand back when I feel something foreign and cold where I expected your familiar warmth.

These things all occupy my mind with such fullness that I forget where I'm going, swiping my ID and entering the music center proper rather than the rehearsal studios across the street.

Or perhaps I didn't forget, but just wanted to show you where I spend so much of my time. I think you would love this building as I do, especially the elegant Kerr Gothic Hall that we–that I am standing in now. You would look at the pipe organ in its second floor alcove and tell me about how you would love to learn to play it just because you wanted to play Toccata and Fugue in D minor thanks to the classic horror movies you loved to watch. If it was early morning the sun would be filtering through the wall of stained glass windows facing the east, casting gentle beams of cream and blue light across the ruddy tile floor. In the day you would see students crossing in and out from performance halls, classrooms, and offices, many of them carrying various instruments with them. You would reach your arm around my shoulders just like before, give me a gentle squeeze, and tell me you were so proud of me and excited to see and hear all of it.

It's a quarter past midnight now and I have to accept that I just won't be able to get in any valuable practice tonight thanks to how firmly distracted I am. I don't mind, though. Finding you here, in my new home for the next four years or so, is worth so much more than practice tonight. You'd probably scold me for skipping out, but that's okay with me right now.

I know that I'll be able to feel your presence with me always, but this time with you feels special somehow. I'm savoring it. I turn my eyes over the red-bricked walls once again, this time with a glimmering wonder that I haven't felt here in months. 

Finally, slowly, I push through the door and head back to my dorm, where a picture of us from my toddler years is tacked to a cork board on my wall right next to one of me, Mama, and the boys at my first college band rehearsal. We know you were there, too.

November 12, 2022 00:01

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