Life. A carousel in motion, whizzing by and turning everything into a dizzying blur. As it spins, every once in a while I catch a glimpse of my life. A girl with no goals, no ambition, and definitely no smarts. An average sort with nothing inside but an abyss of fear, and the knowledge that Daniel is leaving. Just like that. All good things must come to an end. Whoever said that ought to be smacked.
“The Whole Earth Garden Club,” Daniel whispers in my ear.
Just a few days before the holiday break, Daniel and I are sitting in a classroom after school, making lists on index cards of our achievements and of clubs we joined while in high school. The yearbook editor has asked this of all seniors, part of the annual tradition for the graduating class to boast about how amazing they are, in the back pages of the yearbook, in between the ads congratulating us for being such “high” achievers.
I’ve participated in some activities, but neither of us is really the kind to join clubs. Which is why we’ve been grasping for what to write that would make us sound, well, involved.
“The Whole Earth Garden Club! Write it down. You’re now a member!”
“It’s nothing, which makes it perfect for us. You, me the gang. We are now official members of the most exclusive non-club in the world!”
Daniel places his thumb and index finger together and holds them to his lips, as if he is smoking a joint. “The Whole Earth Garden Club. Forever high, er, high achievers. So put it down.”
I giggle as I write it on my index card, feeling for the first time as if I belong to something, even if it isn’t real.
“Any other club ideas?”
“How about the Reconstruction of Tara?”
An homage to Gone with the Wind, a film we’d seen together. I quickly add it to my list, enjoying the harmless, creative folly, and wondering whether the yearbook staff will see through our folly and omit our lists. And that’s when I remember that Daniel’s leaving soon.
I watch him. He’s engrossed in his index card, adding fictitious interests like ballroom dancing, basketball juggling and snake hypnotism. His slick, black cowlick hanging over his forehead almost covers his right eye, as these new-found interests cause him to grin with glee. He doesn’t seem to notice how handsome he is with his angular features and chiseled chin.
As I study his profile, I wonder about the sadness I see in his eyes. A faraway, forlorn look that even the excitement of leaving soon for college can’t shake. Even when he smiles, the flecks of sorrow in his eyes are still there.
I put my hand over his so that he looks up at me. “Promise me you won’t forget me. Promise you’ll write and come back often.”
He laughs. “Kiddo, you’re the one who’s going to forget me,” he teases.
But he can see I’m being serious and his face softens. “Okay, I promise. I’ll give you my address and we’ll write every week. I’ll come back once a month, at least, and you’ll get sick of me. It’ll be like I never left.”
________________________ ** ___________________________
New Year’s Eve brings us together one last time before his departure. Sitting in the basement of my house we’re listening to the Beatles’ Let it Be album. I am laying on my stomach on the couch flipping through a recent issue of Life magazine, while he’s sitting on the floor going through my stack of records.
“You know,” he says, as if he’s been thinking about it for a while, “I’m leaving day after tomorrow and you still haven’t asked me about college or where I’m going to live or anything.”
I sit up and think about this for a moment. Well, of course. I don’t want to talk about the future. I just want to focus on the now.
“You can tell me about it in all the letters you’re going to write,” I say. “But not tonight. I’d rather talk about it tomorrow.” It occurs to me I’m sounding a little like Scarlet O’Hara when she says, “I’ll think about it tomorrow at Tara.”
“This high school thing was getting old for me,” he says distractedly, as if there’s something else he wants to tell me but can’t find the words. “I don’t belong here anymore and I’m pretty sure neither do you. I’m so ready to go. Aren’t you?”
And that’s the difference between us. One of us is ready and one of us wants to run around the room screaming her head off. Only that might raise alarm. So instead I smile and pretend to agree. I can hear the refrains of “The Long and Winding Road” on the Hi-Fi, and I think of the path I’ve taken so far. I think about school, and about Jake and George, who have already moved on. And then I think about James. I’ve run into him in the halls between classes, but have pretended not to notice him, even though I can feel his eyes steadied upon me.
“Guess I better go and finish packing.”
“It’s not even midnight,” I point out emphatically. Please stay just a little bit longer, I want to say.
But, he stands up and, reluctantly, I walk with him upstairs, to the door.
“You and I will always be friends,” I hear him say as he puts on his winter jacket and scarf.
And there it is. Friends. Nothing more. I feel the words pass through me like a cold draft, drifting through the window panes on this frosty night.
And then he is gone.
I close the front door. The door to my house, my walls, and my life. Still here in my little town on Long Island. Daniel is free, about to start a new life at a new school, and I am held captive by own doing and my own thoughts. By fear, too. And I feel a crater in my heart.
What will happen to me and who will even care? I am heading down a long and winding road that I don’t want to be on, yet I can’t stop myself. Limited by my lack of ambition and just plain dumbness.
Three months until college notification letters. Six months until graduation and nine months until college, assuming I get accepted. Somewhere. I look at the clock. Almost midnight and with it, a new year. Well then, I guess it’s true.
All good things must come to an end.
All good things. And, frankly, there’s no turning back.