I finally reach my destination: the funeral home. I was unsure as to how I should proceed from here, but decided to simply drop off the card politely and nothing more. I wouldn't be attending the funeral proceedings later in the evening and at 9a.m. none of the family would be present. I hoped the funeral home employees and owners had a protocol for this, and presumed they likely would. I walked in briefly and told the director my intention.
The funeral home director proceeded to call me sweetheart while telling me she noticed I was on my way to work, and then inquired as to which construction company I worked. I was wearing a t-shirt and capris, so I was uncertain as to how she reached that conclusion but she did so nonetheless. It seemed I wasn't the only one presuming things this morning.
I let out a chuckle as I returned to my car. Even with my child-bearing hips, people in this town still thought I gave off a masculine vibe. That hadn't changed. People here were also still just as nosey as ever. Thankfully, that nosiness lifted my spirit a little. She had already assumed the reason I wouldn't be present was because I was working, and I didn't have to give her a reason. She didn't have to know the backstory. She didn't have to know that I was sending a condolence message to a friend I could no longer call. Her nosiness was directed in a much more miniscule facet of life than the inner-workings of the long-lost friendship I had on my mind.
I found this brief interaction oddly humorous. The woman's assumptions made me further realize why the strict administrative professional lifestyle I recently left hadn't suited me. I didn't conform to that arena's standard. It was practically impossible with the common impression I exuded. As much as times, places, and people change, sometimes they don't. This interaction was just further evidence. I resolutely decided to revisit this small town just to see how much had and hadn't changed. I was already out here, so why not?
As I drove through the small town of Salem, I was overwhelmed with many memories and past experiences. I had already passed the local bank my grandparents' deposited and withdrew money from on my way to the funeral home; a bank my brother and I frequently received Saf-T-Pop suckers from during their visit. Across the road, ironically enough was the dentist's office we attended for many years. These memories flooded back and spread a smile to my mouth's edges, despite my anxiety about the potential interaction and arrival at the funeral home.
Across from the funeral home parking lot in which I currently sat was a restaurant. My family and I had attended several Christmas parties here for both The Rifle and Pistol Club, and the National Wild Turkey Federation. It didn't look like much on the outside, but inside decorated with lights it shone beautifully. It had changed names and owners several times, but still remained one of the few dine-in places in town.
On the right-hand side of the road next to the funeral home was the relocated florist's shop still owned by a woman I went to church with many years ago. Her husband had been one of my Sunday school teachers back in my church going days. I had seen them both out a few times since, and had always strove to say "Hi." It always took Kenny a minute or two to recognize me, but Mimi always remembered me. My hair had gotten a bit longer since then, and I was slowly integrating a piece or two of femininity into my attire. I wasn't willing to compromise in certain areas, but I didn't mind the earrings dangling beneath my lobes or the heart necklace hovering above my shirt. I supposed it still wasn't enough of a feminine difference after recalling the comment from the funeral director just moments before. You can't change who you are, and really there isn't a need to.
I drove past the manual car wash that took only quarters. How many times had I washed my parents' and grandparents' vehicles there and tried to do so efficiently while spending as few coins as possible? To think that at a point in our lives, my brother and I fought over who received the opportunity to do a chore!
Further down the road were the Little League and Minor League baseball fields. I recall a few friends and memories from my own Minor League days, but many more from my brother's baseball days with each. I had spent quite a chunk of my days at these fields and despite my lack of interest in sports, I didn't mind it.
Those days made me think of first crushes, best friends, and silly conversations. I recalled the many times I spent with the set of twins I was very close friends with. Their younger brother had been around the same age as my brother, and I so desperately looked forward to the times they played against each other. The older twin and I made jokes and laughed at the younger twin's expense, especially his bee phobia. We found a dead bee on the ground and put it in a canister. I named him Bartholomew thinking I was funny; he did not find it so. Nothing says you have a crush on a boy like scaring him with bees, right? Man, was I terrible at flirting. Though every time a bee came near us, he clung onto my arm and took cover behind me, and I relished every second of it. Even though I was the one instigating, he still counted on me to protect him; and I was proud to be his protector.
My crush picked on me too, and surprisingly, more ruthlessly. I suspected he might be just as bad at flirting as I was, and maybe he was even into me just a little. I looked for every opportunity to sit together on the bus, at school, and at our younger brothers' baseball games. I had high hopes for my chances as he seemed to trust me in every regard. Then, like most young love, my hopes were dashed. His girlfriend met him at one of the games our brothers' played against each other. I waved at him, and he refused to even look at me. I was heartbroken. I understood he had a girlfriend now, but did he have to totally ignore me?
His slightly older brother knew how big of a crush I had on him, and explained it to me gently. When the girl left, my crush acted like nothing had ever happened and it was business as usual. I kept up with the new routine. They split up not too long after, and he went back to the same playful goofball I had a crush on. Each new relationship he would into though, except for those he wanted me to help him into, and he would go back to ignoring me again. Knowing this, my feelings would never reignite for him. When I finally started dating, he became jealous. He surprisingly confessed his feelings for me right after I was engaged to my husband, and I was obviously far over him by the time that happened.
His older twin and I, however, would remain friends to this day, and see each other as practically family. My once-crush on the other hand, would only reach out if he needed something. While I thought we were close, it turned out to be a mere co-dependent relationship. Meanwhile, along the way, I had established something much more significant: a true lasting friendship with his older brother. He and I would look out for each other, and always wish one another success in our relationships and endeavors.
Isn't that what the teenage years are about; crushes, heartbreak, friendship, and discovering the meaning of value? I'd say I was pretty lucky to learn such lessons.
Those weren't the only memories that happened at that old Little League field. I still remembered the last time my former best friend and I went there together. I was showing off my car and driver's license, and we had the best time together. I chuckled as I wondered how much she would have laughed had she known what happened to me at the Little League field the week before graduation.
I wore Bermuda shorts and socks with tennis shoes on the day of my brother's tournaments. My fashion sense was bad, but in truth it hasn't changed. I sat in partial sun and partial shade, and being May it didn't seem likely that I'd get a substantial sunburn. Oh, but I did! My legs looked like a certain hat belonging to a certain cat. What I did to correct it later only made it worse, and I had to wear a form of makeup on my legs to conceal my color variations in my white graduation gown. Had she seen me she would have remarked "you're such a dork!" indeed.
I feel a bit saddened that she didn't get to see it, and that I didn't get to walk with her at graduation. Though, truthfully, being that she was salutatorian, we wouldn't have walked together anyway. I would still see her for a few years after, despite how brief those times were. I would still be hoping she was achieving her dreams while I tried achieving mine. It would be on me to keep in contact with her, but I would keep it up regardless just as I did with the card today until I knew for certain she wanted to truly part ways.
My older twin friend would tell me to let her go, but he would also tell me he could understand why I would try to hold on. He would tell me that he's glad I hold on as much as I do. He would tell me that even if he wanted to let go, he's glad I would hold onto our friendship regardless. He'd say he's glad to have a friend like that, and he'd also say he will return the favor. Honestly, it isn't just me who has kept in contact with him. He has truly returned the favor. Some birds migrate, but he and I aren't migrating birds. We are, however, loyal birds and that is what matters.
The warmth from those memories and life lessons finds me, and has yet to dissipate. I've always been a bit of an odd bird, but I've found people who love and support me for my oddness along the way. I find that these same memories, experiences, and friendships might just contribute to my reasons for refusing to migrate. Just because you refuse to migrate, doesn't mean you refuse to grow. In my stance to stay, I find myself growing and learning more than I would have if I had left.
Author's note: This is a portion of a series, but is written with intention as a stand-alone piece if you do not proceed further. I thank you for your support regardless of whether or not you proceed with this series. If this has caught your interest, Part One, Two, and Three are available on the links below. Part 5 will be coming in the next few weeks. Thank you for any and all support. <3