Friday, November 19, 2010

What was I thinking?

When I saw John Ulysses Martin asleep on that stone bench in the Clarksville cemetery last February, my heart jumped in my chest. He’d not changed one iota since he left for the University of Virginia four years ago. Four very long years!

Oh how my heart reined sorrow as I stood on the station’s platform with my parents and watched his train pull away. Puffs of black smoke, the forlorn blast of a whistle, and his smiling face hanging from the window were all the memories I had to cling to. Was he waving at me? I couldn’t tell, but judging by his exuberant grin I doubt he even knew I existed.

Think of it:  to be going away to the University of Virginia! A dream fulfilled at last; a chance to go and learn, and then come back, triumphant, as a Professor of Ancient History at Stewart College right here in Clarksville.

But when he returned he neither inquired about me, nor came to my parent’s house on the pretext of a social call to see how I was, how I’d fared during this long, wrenching absence.

So, it wasn’t until today, some five months after his return, that I saw him when I was taking a walk through the cemetery. I was lost in my reverie, looking at the ancient tombstones and wondering what these long forgotten residents were like. Farmers and doctors, lawyers and two murderers, wives and still born children – all laid out in disarrayed grief, placed (or tossed) there by bereaved families.

Like a forgotten body awaiting burial, John Ulysses Martin lay very still. Was he frozen with death? He moved nary a muscle, not even an eyelid twitched. But when I peered, I noticed the slow rise and fall of his chest. His old woolen jacket was unbuttoned, exposing his starched white shirt and colorful cravat. At the pretentious semblance of a breeze, his wavy brown hair billowed like a cobweb stirred by an impish spirit.

Oh, how I wanted to go to him, grasp his angelic face in my hands, and kiss his lips. And when his intelligent blue eyes opened, tell him I loved him. Had loved him ever since I was a thirteen-year-old girl standing and waving from a cold, forgotten train station.

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