Jerry handed me the shotgun. I had never killed anything before.
Jerry stood off to the side with his two brothers, Ken and Steve. These country boys, sons of a soybean farmer, were going to learn this city kid, who was about to become their brother-in-law, a few things.
I pointed the gun at the mulberry tree filled with fifty or so starlings. I pulled the trigger and as I tumbled over backwards, eight starlings fell dead to the ground. The laughter of my future in-laws could not drown out my remorse and embarrassment. Those eight starlings remain a weight on my conscience, the embarrassment but a sad, transitory moment. Eight dead at the hands of a foolish young man. A foolish young man in love, or so he believed. No, I was in love.
I loved their sister, Cheryl. She was 18. We met in college, she a freshman and I a sophomore. She was the first woman I ever slept with. I say “slept with” because to say we “had sex” is crude and debases the moment. To say “made love” overstates the youthful passion which had captured us.
I was 19 years old. The landscapes of death and love are most vividly painted when young. We old have seen our share of the dead and dying, and love has lost its’ shimmer and has become a dusty, quiet gem.
I was mesmerized from the beginning. We walked everywhere together, my feet inches off the ground and our hands entwined. Quiet kisses stolen as we walked. I held her tighter than I ever held anyone. We could not bear to be apart. I waited for her outside classes as she did for me. I was never more alive. Every painful memory evaporated in her presence. She was a princess, a goddess, my sun and moon, my life and soon to be wife.
How to describe those moments when a young boy and young girl first fall in love? Time and wishful half-remembered fantasies intrude and perhaps the love was not as gentle as my memory. Still, it’s a writer’s job to put into words the beauty of such an experience. I am a poor writer and must rely on others to say how I feel. Compare her to a summer’s day? Count the ways I loved her? Out my senses, leaving me deaf and blind?
We were to live our whole young lives away in the joys of a living love.
Fifty years have passed since we touched. Fifty years since I held her hand, kissed her lips, seen her face, heard her voice.
In a dream last night, she came to me. Curled up in our bed, she looked up at me with that smile that first captured me. I leaned forward and said “I love you”. She lowered her head, closed her eyes and began to cry.
Eight starlings rose from the ground and the tree burst into bloom.