In 6th grade I joined the basketball team. The girls’ team. I couldn’t play because I was a grade too young. So I acted as the team “manager” and participated in every practice and attended every game.
Martha was a cheerleader. She enjoyed the chants, the curling of her hair, the sparkles and the rhinestones. I liked glitter, but I also liked the thrill and challenge of dribbling, shooting, blocking, and running.
That was us. She the “girly-girl” and me the “tom-boy”. Best friends with different interests. But we had one thing in common. We did. And it made us close, so close that we’d tell one another everything and anything. We dreamed together. We cried together. We learned together. Martha knew me.
Martha was loved, and I was tolerated. She was a boy whisperer. At that time she didn’t even notice them, but they noticed her. And I noticed them noticing her.
Forrest was a quiet boy. He was the nicest, kindest, most generous, well behaved boy in our grade. And, Forrest was head over heels in love, or at least “in like” with Martha.
“Sam,” he said one morning before homeroom. “Will you give this to Martha?” It was a note. Martha’s name written on the top folded section with a little lopsided, boy-drawn heart.
“OK,” I said. Forrest nodded and walked passed me into the crowd of students.
“Here,” I said to Martha as I handed over the note. She snatched it from my hand with a smile. She ran her finger over the little heart and looked at me with her eyebrows raised. “Open it,” I said.
I assumed the note would say something like “do you like me, yes or no?” That’s what all of the movie and TV show notes usually said.
With class just about to start, Martha put the note in her trapper keeper. She didn’t open it right away.
I could see myself and how desperate I looked. I’d floated up and away from myself. I wanted to know what Forrest said. I wanted to open that note. I wanted that note to be meant for me. I felt selfish for feeling that way. Martha was my friend. She was my best friend. She still is.
Alas, no notes came my way. Not in sixth grade, not in eighth, and not even during my sophomore year.
Pathetic, right? I cried and cried. My mother told me it was because I was too mature and too pretty for my age. But I could see what she couldn’t. That smirk. That glint in my eyes. That empty soul. I couldn’t be trusted. And the boys, well, they knew that without even realizing how.
Martha and I, we opened the note together under the bleachers by the football field that afternoon just before 4th hour. It was a word find puzzle with clues as to what words Martha might find. And the words, well, they weren’t as wholesome, nice, or gentlemanly as the Forrest we thought we knew. But, does anyone ever turn out to be the person we thought they were?
“Shit,” I said as I tripped in the darkness. “Where’s the flashlight?”
“I didn’t bring one this time,” said Martha. We made it to the cemetery in record time. And after chowing down on that Drost’s goodie box, I still had a few mint meltaways to look forward to later on the ride home in the car.
The cemetery is nestled at a junction in the road just outside of town. A bar packed with Friday night karaoke singers, pizza eaters, and lonely drinkers is just across the road. It’s a small cemetery with maybe 200 headstones of mostly families and family members of people who’ve lived here their whole lives. Everyone knows someone who knows someone with a relative up on cemetery hill.
My grandma is buried in the cemetery next to her own parents. Her plot is always neat and clean. A little chicks and hen plant and daisy grow by her side. And she’s under the shade of a large oak tree.
She’s in the main part of the cemetery. There’s a cluster of headstones back beyond the main grounds with only a few headstones to date. Eventually, the yard will be full of ancestors, but for now it is a field of cut grass and open skyline views.
“It’s really dark tonight,” I said to Martha as we made our way out to the open field. “The sky is so clear, look at those stars.” Glancing upward into the darkness, I thought of my grandma. Her eternal resting place just paces away. I smiled into the darkness and gave a quiet nod. Every time we come here, I always send a special thought her way.
“I think I got the full moon wrong on my lunar calendar,” said Martha. “I could have sworn tonight there was going to be an eclipse.”
“An eclipse. You know, where the sun and moon align and a bright silver ring of light flashes out of the sky.”
“Oh. All I see of the moon is that little sliver over there,” I said as a pointed to the north. Or at least, in my head I felt like I was pointing north. Directions and I are not the best of mates.
“Well, I thought we’d see one out here tonight. Forrest thought so too.”
“Where is he anyway? I thought he’d beat us here.”
“Not sure. We’ll just put down the blanket and wait.” We spread out the small sleeping bag and proceeded to sit next to one another. Martha grabbed her cigarette carton and took out a stick. The flash of her lighter made an orange glow over the blanket. A few puffs and the cigarette smoke was wafting in the night breeze. I laid back to look up at the sky above.
“Do you remember when we were kids and we used to play in the snow out in front of my house?” said Martha. “And, after it rained on top of the snow and the snow got a crust, we’d pretend we were digging up crystals?” I did remember. We’d be all bundled up, only our faces showing. Cheeks red and noses running. We’d play in the bushes out front by her flagpole. We’d sit in the evergreens and dig at the ice crystals with our hands. They were so pretty. So pure. Frozen snowflakes, falling and melting together one on top of another, over and over melting and molding into one substantial mass
“I do remember. We were such dorks.”
“I don’t think we were dorks at all,” said Martha. She stubbed out her cigarette and laid down beside me. “We were creative. And, we made due with what we had. We made up our own world and it was glorious.”
“We still kind of do that, you know,” I said. “Make up our own world.” Martha sat up then. She was quiet for a few moments and then she turned her face toward mine.
“This isn’t made up. This is real,” she said. She inched her face a bit closer. “This,” she said as she put her hand on mine, “This is real. This place is real. What we are about to experience, it is real. Everything else is a farce. Everything else we’ve ever known, we’re all just bits of matter floating around, bumping into one another. What’s real for one person is a dream for another. Reality is relative. Reality is only real when we choose to make it so.”
“Hey ladies,” Forrest said as he walked toward us in the dark. “How’d you beat me here? I know I left in plenty of time.” Martha leaned back and turned her head toward the sound of Forrest’s voice.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Martha. “We’ve heard that excuse before.”
“No flashlight for you either?” I asked Forrest.
“Nah. I have eagle eyes you know. And bat-like senses that help me navigate this here cemetery in the dark.”
I love the cemetery at night. The crickets, the bats diving for mosquitoes, the glow of the stars. And the stillness. The dead really know how to relax and take it all in. Obviously, they have no choice in the matter, but for me, that sort of quietness is heaven. I’m the most myself in this cemetery. I can see how calm I look. The tension from the game has completely left my body, my shoulders are at ease, and my eyes are alert but content. I look the prettiest here in this space. Surrounded by darkness, death, and silence.
Forrest unfolded a small blanket as he sat down between Martha and me. The soft underbelly of the fabric brushed against my face as it settled down on my lap. The warmth from the blanket against our bodies was almost immediate. It intensified his scent, the smell of vanilla and cinnamon, sweet and bitter, with a hint of espresso. We sat, the three of us, under his blanket and stared off into the dark distance.
The time passed. Slowly at first and then it gained momentum and seemed to speed by like a bullet train.
The darkness enveloped us. We were part of the nothingness of night. Each of us, individual bodies, eyes wide and minds clear. But we combined together as one mass of matter in the open space. My breathing slowed, my pulse doubled-back to match the flowing sap of the surrounding trees. Martha, on the other side of Forrest, was sitting just as still. Forrest rocked back and forth slightly, I couldn’t see it, but I could feel the slight motion, forward back forward back, his arm brushing lightly against mine.
Slowly, a glow appeared through the darkness. A small flicker of light. And then another. And another. In a matter of seconds, the darkness glowed, glimmering and shining in the distance before us.
I saw us there, sitting, the three of us shoulder to shoulder under a blanket in the night. I remained quiet. We all did. Without sound we could hear the light. I noticed each flicker grow in intensity and power. And then, just as quickly is a light appeared, it would fade in the darkness and a new light would emerge brighter and bolder in its place.