Flashback Friday: Love (in the time of Typhoid)

I headed straight to her cabin after I hung up the phone, but Kristin wasn't there. She had probably escaped to civilization with the other counselors for our one day off. I thought maybe if I could say it out loud, it would sound crazy, and I could return to my senses. But I never had the chance.

Instead, I wandered up the mountain, further from my senses, fingers fidgeting inside my pleated pockets, Sierra Nevada soil stowing away in the tread of my knock-off Birkenstocks.

My sister had no idea how she'd sent me spinning with the news. He was my high school boyfriend, my high school best friend. But we'd called it quits a year ago, just days before my graduation speech. She must have figured I was over him by now. Really, I had figured I was over him by now.

I had figured wrong. Because after news like that, you could put a bonnet on my red head, puffed sleeves on my shoulders, and call me Anne Shirley. (And I don't mean the breaking-a-tablet-over-Gilbert's-head Anne Shirley. I mean the oh-I've-been-dreadfully-wrong-and-I've-loved-you-all-along-Gil! Anne Shirley.)

My Gilbert had succumbed to typhoid fever on a medical missions trip to Bangladesh. My sister assured me he was okay. Better than okay, really. She said he returned more mature and full of purpose. She even offered the approval I'd always hoped for back when we were dating. "He's a really great guy. Are you guys totally 'over' or is there something there? Because he's been asking how you are."

I walked, one thought in front of another until I was years ahead of myself, until the sun slid behind the sugar pines.


Six weeks later I woke to my 19th birthday, an invisible sophomore transfer student lost in a university of thousands. The few I'd met thus far knew me as the flannel and bead-clad girl that came from California. I liked that label, but still I struggled to answer the question that came with it. Why trade sunny skies and beaches for icy winds and corn fields?

I walked downstairs, stared at Box 427, pleaded with it to prove I was known and possibly loved.

It answered me with a slip, a 1/10th of a millimeter sliver of hope. I traded the slip at the window for a package with my name on it.

I saw his unmistakable cursive J, my name in his handwriting, and my heart launched four floors high. So when I made it back up to my dorm room, package in trembling hands, my heart was already there waiting.

I opened the card first. His words were friendly, full of good wishes for a happy birthday and a year of growth. He told me again to "dare to dream". (He was always telling me that.)

And then I opened his gift.

And maybe I read between the pearls. Maybe he didn't mean to say it wasn't over. But when I felt the bracelet smooth and cool across my fingers, slid it to my wrist, it was like trying on a possibility I'd long dismissed as a fairy tale. Like this dream of mine--that my first love might be my true love--could be real, if I dared.

I draped those Bengali pearls around my wrist this morning.

I can barely believe it's been seventeen years.


In case you're wondering, yes, that's a picture of the card he gave me. And yes, we have no less than six comprehensive years of correspondence stored away, starting from the first high school note we passed. (Well, not the very first note. He had to eat the first one to save my honor. But that's another story for another Flashback Friday.)

So now it's your turn! Just copy the permalink to your post into MckLinky, and leave a comment to let me know you've joined the Flashback Friday party. The theme this week is LOVE (mainly because I wanted an excuse to be a total sap on the old blog). But you're also welcome to write about any topic you choose, just as long as you take us back in time a bit.

Next week's theme: SCHOOL DAYS

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