Friday, July 8, 2011

A Canyon of Sun: A Love Story

When Tillie was younger, she used to dream of her big wedding.  Ever so carefully, she would assemble all her stuffed toys in neat rows, put on her prettiest dress, and pretend to put on make-up.  She picked forget-me-nots, buttercups, sweet Williams, and Queen Anne’s lace from her mother’s garden to adorn her hair.  She put on a plain silver ring and pretended it was a princess cut diamond engagement ring sparkling on her left ring finger.  As she walked down the isle -- which she had crafted from her pale pink sheets -- she imagined all her guests gazing at her adoringly.  She practically heard them whisper, “Look how gorgeous she is,” “what a lucky man to marry such a beauty,” “everything about this wedding is so elegant.”  Of course, Tillie pretended she didn’t hear the doting whispers as she made her way slowly down the isle, but they always made her smile and feel oh-so-good about being Tillie.  As she reached the altar – which, on days she didn’t play wedding doubled as an Easy-Bake Oven – she looked bashfully upwards, in a way she would continue to think of as her signature flirtatious glance.  Always, to Tillie’s disappointment, there was never a groom.  She had to put the ring on her own finger and kiss a specially adored teddy bear on its black, cloth nose.  “Someday,” Tillie said to herself as she cleaned up her wedding guests. 
“Someday” was a mantra Tillie repeated to herself a lot in life.  When she reached middle school and popular boys asked her friends to dances, Tillie was left alone.  Not even the unpopular boys wanted to ask Tillie to the dances.  When she looked in the mirror, she couldn’t find anything wrong with herself and, having confidence that she was smart and fun, Tillie didn’t understand the problem.  Tillie went to the dances anyway on whim, hoping that there would be some boy there, maybe from a different school, who would sweep her off her feet and carry her into the sunset.  Tillie was hopelessly set on romance.  Sure, once she was there, all dressed up, Tillie was invited to dance once or twice, but, Tillie thought, her suitors were considerably more obliging than romantic.  She left most dances heartbroken.  She watched boys ask girls considerably less attractive than herself (and most definitely less poised and well-mannered) to dance while Tillie remained static on the uncomfortable tin chairs.  After several hours of this sophomoric torture, Tillie would promptly stomp off.    

Tillie’s mother had always taught her that one could meet the love of their life anywhere, so Tillie always dressed for the occasion.  At school, she wore her nicest clothes and, on sunny days, large, elegant hats, like a lady.  Although she had certainly seen all her schoolmates before, a new boy might show up and Tillie would be horrified if that boy should see her in tattered jeans and t-shirts like the other girls wore, looking uncomfortably ordinary.  It seemed to Tillie, however, that that’s what boys her age liked:  ordinary.  Tillie then reasoned that, if a boy wanted ordinary, he wasn’t worth her time and she would continue waiting.

Tillie got to high school and found that it was more and more difficult to find classy outfits.  She settled for skirts and dresses with flare that set her apart from everyone else.  Her teachers commented on her style, calling it “smart.”  During a parent/teacher meeting, her English teacher expressed some concern to her mother about Tillie’s style, suggesting that it kept her apart, socially, from her peers.  Tillie, who was in attendance, huffed at this remark, whispered to her mother that “someday someone will come along who understands my style” and promptly left.  

As Tillie’s junior year of high school approached, she started dreaming of the prom and the wonderful way she would look at such an elegant event.  If only someone should ask her.  Independent as she was, Tillie didn’t dare to go alone to a high school prom.  “Preposterous,” she said to her mother, who had suggested the idea, “absolutely preposterous” and promptly stomped off.  Tillie’s mother tried to reason with her.  She even bought Tillie the most beautiful prom dress Tillie could imagine.  Like one from a fairly tale, it was tight and ruched at the bodice and flowed out into thick, sequined taffeta.  With the dress, Tillie’s mother had bought an exquisite, thin diamond necklace.  Tillie was almost sold on the idea, but knew she would be humiliated looking so wonderful without a date.  Tillie spent prom night crying into the pale pink taffeta.  

After high school, which was a bitter disappointment, Tillie went to college.  She didn’t go to an extraordinary university, although she was a rather extraordinary student, but chose a large state school.  Tillie’s first roommate was blonde, popular, and, by Tillie’s standards, much too thin.  Rosalyn, that was her name, had boys in the room nearly every weekend.  Tillie was both disgusted and jealous. The first semester dragged by slowly as Tillie searched for someone to connect and talk with, besides her roommate who Tillie did not like very well.  

Tillie watched countless girls from her school find boyfriends, lose boyfriends, find new boyfriends, get engaged, and prepare to start their lives as married women of the world.  Horribly jealous, Tillie window shopped, pretending to be a bride until she almost believed she was.  Her mother told her to be patient and her girl friends told her that, someday, the right man would surely come along.  “Someday,” huffed Tillie, and promptly left.

Tillie chose a major in English literature and ravaged through timeless stories of hopeless romance.  She imagined herself in Jane Eyre’s prophetic moors or the subject or a Lord Byron poem.  As she eased through Byron, she wished one day for a man as elegant as the poet to recite such prose to her.  She enjoyed imaginary romanticism so much and lived so vicariously through novels and poetry that she wrote her thesis on love in the time of Jane Eyre, the likes of which her college had never seen.  Her thesis was so well crafted she earned several collegiate awards and her name in college archives.  Her professors and other critics said her work was “moving, intellect meets true yearning.”  Tillie almost found this comment insulting – what did they know of her yearning – and she very nearly promptly left when, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a young man staring at her.  

She turned very slowly, absolutely flummoxed as to what to do in such a circumstance.  She stared at him for quite some time.  He waved a friendly wave.  Tillie sort of shook her hand in the air.  He looked puzzled but stepped closer.  Tillie lost her breath and didn’t speak.  

“I read your paper,” the young man said.  Tillie didn’t even move.  He continued, “I thought it was excellent.”  Still, Tillie was paralyzed.  The young man stood in front of her for a minute, waiting for her to say something, anything, but she didn’t.  The young man sighed.  “It was nice to meet you, Mathilda,” he said as he turned to go.
Tillie watched as he turned, the event happening in dramatically slow motion.  “It’s Tillie,” she called after him.
“So you do speak?” he said as he turned back to face Tillie.

“Not often or well,” she said, and he laughed.  

 “You write remarkably,” he said.

 “You speak remarkably,” she said.

 “Then perhaps our conversations will be stilted.”  

The young man, whose name was Jeremiah, took Tillie out for coffee that afternoon where he found that she, too, spoke remarkably well, and about interesting things.  They engaged in long conversations about history and literature, biology and health, animals and plants, theology and mathematics, and the foundation of the world.  They found they had a difficult time running out of things to talk about.  For three weeks, incessant chatter from the both of them led to four or five-hour discussions until one day neither or them had anything to say.  Instead, Jeremiah kissed her.  Tillie, who had been kissed before, but only by boys who were not worthy of her lips, kissed him back and smiled as they parted, certain that now they would always have something to talk about.  

They spent the next year talking and kissing and falling in love.  After graduation they travelled around the United States seeing landmark items and taking ridiculous photographs, in addition to kissing and talking and falling in love.  They stayed in cheap hotel rooms with prefab furniture where they fell in love and kissed and talked.  When they reached the Grand Canyon, for once, Tillie could not bring herself to words.  The vastness of the desert and the strange beauty that lay beneath her feet was epic and she could voice nothing adequate.  Nor could Jeremiah who, at the moment, seemed quite nervous.  Tillie assumed he was scared of heights as her heart, too, was somewhat palpitating at the prospect of a disastrous fall into the gorge below.  

They had arrived at the Grand Canyon at 9:30 that morning and they remained in that same spot until 4:30 that afternoon.  Both Tillie and Jeremiah were so taken aback by the scenery and felt so overwhelmed by the nature that they sat in silence all those hours.  They didn’t eat, only sipped water so as not to dehydrate in the desert heat.  

“Jeremiah,” said Tillie not looking at him.  “What time is it?”

Jeremiah looked at his watch and immediately cast his eyes back towards the canyon.  “4:30.”  

“Do you think we should start our hike?” she asked.

“No,” he answered, and wrapped his arm around her waist.  

Tillie liked the way she felt with him.  She felt like herself, but better.  Also safe and cared for, loved, unjudged, and beautiful in his eyes.  She remembered her prom night, crying into the pale pink taffeta and the stories Jeremiah had told her about his prom.  He had gone alone.  Tillie thought him brave for that.  Her mother did, too.  Tillie knew then that she would never have to spend another night crying into fabric.  Jeremiah wouldn’t let her.  Whenever Tillie was upset, which wasn’t often, he comforted her, rested her head on his chest and kissed her hair, her eyes, her tears, her lips, and told her countless times that he loved her and that he would always be there for her.  Tillie inched closer to Jeremiah.  Jeremiah knew that he would never have to brave another event alone.  Tillie was always eager to join him on excursions and she would help him find the right outfits and fix his hair so his cowlick didn’t show.  

“Tillie,” he said, and she rested her head on his shoulder, “Tillie, I want to grow old with you.”  Tillie sucked in her breath, sure of what was coming next.  He turned to face her and grabbed her hands with great passion.  “Grow old with me Tillie,” he said excitedly, and she nodded.  “Grow old with me and see the world with me.  And when we’re too old to walk, promise me we’ll get two Hoveround Power Chairs and roam the world together.”  Tillie laughed as tears of happiness streamed down her face for, as foolish as it sounded, that was exactly what she wanted too.  “Marry me, Tillie.”  He offered her a princess cut diamond engagement ring from a black velvet box.  All of Tillie’s childhood hopes and dreams flooded through the Grand Canyon as she accepted Jeremiah’s proposal.  And for another six hours, the couple sat and watched the sun set on the Grand Canyon, falling in love and talking and kissing.

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