Today I found the picture. It was taken at my grandmother’s house, right beside the front door on our way out for the evening. I looked awkward and unsteady in my high heels, trying to avoid stumbling. His face looked stricken. He was never one for dressing up or for hanging too close to the parents of friends.
No-one had invited me. He didn’t have a date. The prom was three days away when our mutual friends said he should take me. I wish someone had warned me then about warm and cool colors and how to choose them to match skin undertones. Because I would never have worn yellow. But, we didn’t have that kind of information then. We just wore what Mama said looked good. He wore his big brother’s suit and it was clear he was not comfortable with dressing up. I guess his Mama said it was a good look for him.
My hair was frizzy in spite of the Dippity Do. His was too. There was much about him that was in direct contrast to me, but not his hair. He was a free spirit in constant rebellion against “the establishment.” I still believe that is why my tentative and fearful soul wanted to be around him and his rowdy group of friends. They smoked cigarettes and made frequent trips to the bootlegger. In their presence, I could release my gypsy spirit and I was no longer just the preacher’s granddaughter. I was brave, carefree… even careless.
Years later, he was the man behind the tall counter. He had surrendered. He was “the establishment.” He saw me as I pushed open the glass door. He stopped his work and his eyes followed my every step with the keen eye of an overly interested observer. I was awkward and stumbling just as I was on prom night. I was struggling with a heavy heart and a heavy weight in my arms. He knew. He had heard. Small town gossip travels fast.
He nodded and beckoned me to come to him. I hesitated. He nodded again and waved his hand. The waiting line was long and moving slowly. I broke the line and walked towards him. He reached for me and his hands brushed my arms as he pulled the heavy boxes from them. The others stared, taking it all in. They watched the quiet gestures of a lifelong friendship; a nod, a half-hearted smile, the quiet understanding of one terrified heart and another protective one. The package was addressed to my child fighting in a foreign war. He knew my heart was heavier than any package I could carry. He rescued me again.