Althaea- September, 1966
I saw him exiting the park on his bicycle. He was surrounded by a light that drew my eyes from the sidewalk cracks I was studying as I made my way to the grocery store. I watched him from afar feeling an unfamiliar quiver in my stomach. I’m not one to get caught up in those fairy tale love stories most girls my age seem to live for, but something about him gives me hope that there is someone out there for everyone, even me. I guess most people would refer to me as a loner, and I wouldn’t argue with that description. It’s not that I prefer to be alone.
I can’t recall the moment when I began to crave solitude, more comfortable in my own presence than the questioning eyes of others. There wasn’t just one incident but a series of scattered instances that led me to believe it was best if I just keep my distance. People just don’t get me, and often seem uncomfortable around me. Initially, I thought that stemmed from the fact that they pick up on my energy the way I pick up on theirs but then I realized their discomfort was due to the rumors about me. It used to bother me, but it no longer upsets me to pick up the whispers as I walk past.
“I heard she’s a witch.”
“My parents say I should stay away from her.”
“Mine say to always smile at her when she makes eye contact, just in case.”
The whispers have been part of my environment for as long as I can remember. Like the wind softly blowing through the trees creating a light rustling of leaves, the whispers have become part of a background noise I can’t quite tune out, try as I may.
When I was younger I would run home crying, hands over my ears in an attempt to drown them out. I would burst into the house, and throw myself on the couch sinking my face into the cushions as my heart sank a little more with every statement that replayed in my head.
I would be lying if I said it didn’t still get to me, but like a battle-weary soldier I’ve learned to carry the weight of their words, shifting to ease the pain every so often before facing my next enemy.
Althaea – September, 1966
I’m usually careful to avoid Church Street on a Sunday between 10:30am and 11:30am. but today I got lost in thought, and before I knew it Pastor Scott walked across the street and invited me to come in for today’s service. He caught me off guard so I actually agreed to follow him into the church.
I slowly made my way up the stone steps. Fear and doubt started to slither around my neck with a snakelike grip. With every step I took, I became aware of a hushed silence replacing the light chatter outside the large red doors that threatened to open and swallow me whole. I knew I would not turn and run no matter how much my legs longed to sprint back down those steps, and break into a full run home. There was no turning back now, so I straightened my shoulders and allowed my own curiosity to be my armor and my shield. I reached for the wrought iron handle, and with a hand I wished was visibly steadier I pulled open the door just enough for my body to slip through and quickly stepped inside.
I’m not sure if it was the light that shone through the stained-glass windows, creating what I imagined was something akin to the aurora borealis with all its colors blending together to form a band of light that washed over the pews in the most beautiful blanket I had ever witnessed. I suddenly longed to curl up on one of the wooden benches, and let that blanket cover me in colorful warmth.
I yearned to open my heart and soul to the energy flowing through this space. I could feel it floating above me, and traveling around me like colorful silk ribbons being pulled by a bird in flight. Up to the cathedral ceilings and around the ornate paintings of saints, back around the altar and through the wooden benches, energy and light were all around me. Even my feet were consumed by it, a slow, steady and almost comforting vibration filled my shoes, and slowly made its way up legs that threatened to cease supporting me. As it made its way up to my stomach, I suddenly fully understood the phrase, “butterflies in my stomach” and caught my breath as a chill ran up my spine. As quickly as it entered me, it was gone leaving me with a slight quiver and a new sense of emptiness I couldn’t quite describe.
I stood rooted in place at the back of the church trying to make sense of what I had just felt, not sure I was comfortable with it but knowing I would spend my days seeking it out once more. As I came out of the fog, allowing the energy to leave my body I felt his eyes on me.
I wrapped my arms around myself trying to contain the energy I had experienced just moments before. Looking around, I took in several familiar faces that were actually complete strangers to me. My eyes stopped on two bright pools of green so bright I couldn’t help but return his gaze. He smiled, and with a slight nod motioned to the side door. For a moment, I wasn’t sure I understood, wasn’t sure he was looking at me instead of through me. A quick glance behind me confirmed his invitation was meant for me. I headed outside before my feet could protest.
I paced, reminding myself to breathe at the end of each turn. Eight steps to the right, breathe, turn, eight steps to the left. As I turned back, he stepped out in front of me, and I was lost once more in a sea of emerald eyes.
“Hi. You looked like you could use some fresh air. Sorry it took me a few minutes to get out here. I had to tell my parents I was going to the restroom. They are real sticklers for sitting through the entire service. How about yours?”
“Mine? Um, mine aren’t here. I should get going. They’ll be expecting me.”
“Wait, so you came to church alone? I’m impressed. Truth is, my parents drag me to church on Sundays. It’s not that I don’t have faith. It’s just I prefer to practice my faith after 11am if you know what I mean.”
He laughed and it was deep with a hint of childlike lightness to it that made me feel more comfortable around this boy than I had ever felt around anyone EVER.
“I’m usually up early. I like to see the sun rise whenever possible. Weird, I know but there’s something so hopeful about that time of day.”
Great, now he would think I was just as weird as he had probably already gathered from the rumors that constantly swirled me. I knew his family had only been in town a few weeks, but word traveled fast in this small town. Better to distance myself before he got the full scoop on me and my family.
“I have to run. See ya around!” I called over my shoulder as I headed down the steps
“Wait!” he yelled. “What’s your name?”
I stopped mid-flight and hesitated before turning back around.
“Althaea. Althaea Ray.”
“Althaea, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope to see you around. I’m James.”