The perceived problems of a teenager make life unbearable enough, and the lack of maturity make these faux-malheur uncopable. How much worse are things made out to be by the beginning of college. And yet, university life adds precious hope and the promise of new beginnings, the opportunity to leave an old life behind if it were undesirable. And so these two emotional fixtures, ends of the pole of a delivered life, blend anticipation with angst and create a fresh universe made from love and strife.
The formidable early fall climate blended the still frigid beginning of the day with a new warming within midmorning, so those unaccustomed to such a hustle leave for their 8:00 classes with a Burberry scarf and full jacket, only to be shedding these items on the way to a 10:00 class.
Jonathan Gamuret merely wore a sheepskin vest over a white pearl-button shirt on his first day of college. He found Cullen Auditorium where his 10:00 class met. Cullen was where he had freshman orientation just a few days ago, and it seemed the entire freshman class was here for this lecture, Bible-101 “The Gospels Of Christ,” jointly taught by Doctors Brekeen & Faulkner.
He wanted to sit at the back and near the door, but so did everyone else, and so the class filled in from the top down. Still, few were yet familiars, so rarely did someone randomly sit beside a stranger. The few cluster of people who sat by each other already knew each other, either from their dorms or from their hometowns.
Jonathan knew he must find a place soon, and then he noticed a young co-ed sitting second from the end on the second to the back row. There were plenty of good-looking women in college, a multitude even in this one class. But this one girl nabbed his attention and arrested his concentration. She chewed on the end of a pen while reading a single piece of paper, her one free leg swung metronomically as it crossed over the alternate knee.
When he heard someone say, “Will you please take a seat,” another fellow breezed by Jonathan and sat on the aisle next to the girl he had been struck by. When Jonathan noticed this, he gained his composure, and stepped passed the two of them and sat on the other side.
The guy on her other side elbowed her in a somewhat playful manner. It was enough to knock her from the armrest upon which her elbow rested, and she did see the humor in this as he did.
“So, what’s your name?”
“Oh, so are you from Florida?”
“No, my mom like flowers.”
“So, where you from?”
“Oh. I’m from Louisiana.”
“So is your name Louise?”
“No, it’s, uh …”
“I think I’ll call you Louise, since you’re from Louisiana, and all.”
As she spoke, she never took her eyes from the paper she was still reading. After this stumbling conversation, she looked at Jonathan and smiled, still with the pen in her mouth.
Jonathan nodded, and said, “Howdy.”
“Awfully bright in here, isn’t?”
“Well, isn’t the sun in your eyes?”
In an instant, Jonathan knew what she meant, and he removed his Stetson.
“So what’s your name?”
“So what do they call you?” said Louise, “John, or Johnny? Or John Boy, I’ll bet.”
“People who don’t like me call me that. People who like me call me Jonathan.”
“So,” said Florida, “Where you from, Jonathan?”
“Folks gotta place between Thurber and Mingus.”
“I know where that is.”
“Yes, ma’am. And I know where Buffalo Gap is, too.”
“Oh, I’m sure you do, being a proper West Texas boy, and all.”
“I wouldn’t call Thurber Mingus quite West Texas.”
“If you’re west of Fort Worth, you’re in West Texas.”
By this conversation Jonathan and Florida missed out on the summary of the class syllabus, and even though they did not speak during any more of class, they heard very little of what was said down below because all of their thoughts were well above the floor and the stage for the professors.
When that first class ended, Jonathan and Florida knew as little about the Gospels of Christ as when they first went into the auditorium; Not just because it was just the first day of class, but their minds failed to be on things above. After class they went together the short distance to Moody Coliseum for daily chapel. They sat together dead center of the right half on the floor. After chapel they strolled toward the Student Center to check their mail, of which there would be none on the first day, and to have lunch.
Heading up the steps, Louise caught up to them from behind.
“Hey Florida, You going to the Bean?”
“When it’s lunchtime.”
“Well, it is lunchtime.”
“Then I guess I’m going to the Bean.”
“Great, maybe we can sit together. Is that okay with you?”
“Oh, sure,” turning to Jonathan, she continued, “It’s okay if Louise joins us for lunch, isn’t it?”
The three of them walked into the Student Center together and to each other’s mailbox to see there was nothing there before they all got in line for lunch. The Bean is a buffet style cafeteria with several stations. Louise went in the burger line, while Jonathan and Florida queued in the hot meal line. When they got out, they found a spot. Louise never showed up.
Lunch conversation was all about yourself and your family, along with all of your interests and accomplishments. As they finished, Jonathan volunteered to get them each a dessert. Jonathan started to get up when Florida reached out and touched the back of his hand. It was their first physical contact, and something made him sit back down. It wasn’t the touch on his hand, but the look on her face, a sadness hidden beneath the beauty weeped out through the shine on her cheek.
“I should tell you that I promised my parents that I wouldn’t steadily date the first guy to show me interest.”
Jonathan’s soul felt grey like the skin of a dead man. He drained his soda from the glass is a gulp, and much of it escaped and ran down his cheek and onto his shirt. He looked down and she touched the back of his hand again, not with warning but with consolation. Jonathan smiled and looked up at Florida.
“Then it’s a good thing that I was the second guy. I mean technically, Louise was the first.”
Florida smiled back and squeezed Jonathan’s hand. He stood to get a couple of desserts. Before he left, he shot her a wink. When he returned with a pair of chocolate cake pieces with vanilla soft serve, Jonathan saw three envelopes placed where his tray was, one was pink, another yellow, and the last light blue.
“One of these envelopes has everything you want to know about me. Pick the right one and it’s yours, and so am I.”
Jonathan looked down at the envelopes. The pink one said, pick this envelope. The yellow one said, don’t pick this envelope. The blue one said, don’t pick the pink one.
“Only one of them is giving you good advice.”
Jonathan scanned the envelopes a few times back and forth before he rested his elbow on the tabletop and his cheek on his fist. He smiled and moved the pink and yellow envelopes back toward Florida and picked up the blue one. He opened it, and inside was a 3×5 card with Florida’s dorm room number and phone number, her complete class schedule, and suggested time for him to pick her up that weekend to go out. They managed several small dates before the weekend came and they were a bone fide couple by the time they enjoyed their first date.
Just as Freshmen in time turn into Seniors, so do often lovebirds become betrothees. And so it was for Jonathan and Florida, that they had a surprise for their graduating class at their Commencement. With the approval and foreknowledge of the University President, Jonathan and Florida ascended the platform once more after all the diplomas were handed out and all the speeches made. They took off their graduation robes. Underneath Jonathan had on a tuxedo and Florida wore a wedding dress. Dr. Money, the school President, presided over a quick exchange of vows and rings. No one thought less of him officiating since he served a minister before he ended up in administration. Jonathan kissed his bride and the assembly erupted in applause and cheers. When he had finished, Jonathan took the microphone from Dr. Money.
“Before you begin all of your graduation parties tonight, come out to Will Hare Park this afternoon for a wedding reception and one big graduation party for us all. The food will be catered by Joe Allen’s Barbeque and the cakes were made by Wal-Mart.”
Most of the Seniors showed up. A large and smileless black man whose brow glistened with well-earned sweat stood and cut the meat, and his mere presence gave an assurance that the food would be exquisite. The cake was delivered by the pair of Wal-Mart bakery mamaws who prepared it. They did not wear their blue polos and khakis, but fine dresses from an ancient world, reminiscent of the New Jersey Botanical Society from the nightmare scene in The Manchurian Candidate. They each took great pleasure in whispering to all the guests that they had served that they were “old ACC gals.”
While the afternoon shadows remained short, Jonathan and Florida left the reception. They climbed into the back of a white limousine paid for by Walter, Jonathan’s best friend, and priorly known as Louise. Jonathan poured ginger ale into a pair of champagne flutes. He topped them with a splash of orange soda. They toasted themselves and their future.
“Some wedding, huh?” said Jonathan.
“Just lovely. Better than Mike and Anne’s.”
“That is still the ugliest wedding I have ever been to.”
“I mean, I think it’s sweet that they wanted to use their club colors, but …”
“But not when her colors are brown and tan and his were red and black.”
“And where did they get that harp player?”
“Oh, I know. Wasn’t she the worst?”
“Either Mike or Anne owed her a lot of money.”
“Or she was related to one of them.”
“I’ve heard piano players play on the cranks before. That’s what it sounded like to me, like she was playing on the cracks on her harp.”
“Did I ever tell you what Walter did at their reception?”
Florida smiled and shook her head.
“He asked the harp player if she takes requests, and she said yes. And he asked how much, and she said it depended on the request. So he dropped a twenty and told her to pack up and go home.”
The newlyweds laughed.
“I mean, I liked the songs she played, just not how she played them,” said Jonathan.
“Yeah, I really like those old Celtic songs, but she played them like …”
“That’s right, Celtic Reggae. Soon it’ll be all the rage.”
Florida took Jonathan’s flute, drank what was left from both, and set them down. She reached out and hugged her husband. The two embraced with a definite calm reserved for the fortunate few who would ever understand what living for other meant. Jonathan maneuvered toward Florida’s face and he kissed her on the forehead. Florida looked up at him and smiled. They started kissing there in the back of their limousine, softly, and with all of the same caution as before they were married. It seemed the granted allowance for intimacy had not yet sunk in.
When the limousine entered Erath County, and had passed the Smokestack Restaurant and climbed New York Hill, Jonathan talked about life on his family’s ranch, where they planned to live. She had been there many times over the previous four years, and she had seen the livestock they owned. She had even seen various beeves branded or castrated. As she was peripherally knowledgeable with these things she became aware of how deeply they moved Jonathan. She really didn’t listen to his words, but how he said them, and there shone some ecstasy on his face as he spoke about ranching. And not just about ranching, but ranching on his parent’s place. And if she ever had any doubts, even a quiver of hesitancy in thought, she knew then that if they were to be somehow wonderfully blessed with a life together into the far winter years, that it would be together on the Gamuret Ranch between Thurber and Mingus. This she not only accepted, but now desired, even though she always felt some superstitious gnaw from within. As if this were all too good to be true, and that it would end for reasons and causes that were neither fair nor explainable. Leaving Erath County, they embraced and stayed silent.
Jonathan refilled the flutes with ginger ale and an orange soda splash. They had just began the decent down Ranger Hill when he had finished, and even though the grade is not too steep, if served enough to allow one of the flutes to slide down the table and onto the limousine floor. Florida could not stop laughing from the display.
Jonathan calmed her enough to look out of the back window. Heading east Ranger Hill goes down and then curves to the right just as you reach the bottom. Jonathan pointed out the tire skid marks that run the distance down the hill, but fail to turn left and end abruptly in the concrete center median.
“That’s just terrible,” said Florida, “I would hate to die that way.”
“How do you want to die?”
“Not like that?”
“Do you want someone to push you out of a window?”
Florida chuckled, and said, “Might be better than a wreck.”
“Might not. It’s now how you die, but how you lived when you die.”
“I know you’re right, it’s just …”
“It’s just nothing. It’s better to die having lived rightly, even if it is something considered a bad way to die, than to pass quietly in your sleep having lived unready for the world to come.”
Florida smiled, and said, “I knew I picked you for a good reason.”
“Kidding? I picked you.”
“I said hi to you first.”
“And I sat by you.”
As the limousine approached Weatherford, they came upon the only hill ascending that ran over I-20. A railroad track ran across it, and the red and white barriers were down as a train approached. They stopped behind an old rust-red Dually, and new white Ram stopped behind them.
“After we’ve crossed these tracks, we’re about an hour from beginning our happily-ever-after,” said Jonathan.
“Don’t say that. You don’t know that. Either of us could die at any minute.”
“In one sense, you’re right. But in another sense, you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m convinced that God wouldn’t put us together so perfectly if we were not going to spend decades and decades with each other.”
A Freshman let loose from his first year at McMurry advanced east with a careless speed in his monster truck high school graduation gift. He texted his old friends about when to meet and where. He neither noticed the stopped vehicles nor the coming train. He hit the Dodge Ram at 98 MPH. In turn the Ram crashed into the limousine, which backed into the Dually. The impact forwarded the Dually through the now shattered railguards and over the track so that his bed lay on the tracks. The front of the limousine became meshed with the back bumper of the pickup in front of it. And all the while, a train bore down on them.
In the flurry, Jonathan and Florida strove to get out of the limousine, but before they could open the door, the train crashed into the front of the limousine and the back of the Dually. This dislodged the limousine and it rolled down the slight hill and rested upright in the tall yellow haygrass.
The limousine driver popped out from the front. Despite having a hairline fracture of the femur and a concussion, the driver pulled himself to the back and opened the door. He helped Florida out. Jonathan lay unconscious. The driver reached across and pulled Jonathan free. The last tug caused them all to stumble backwards. This aggravated the driver’s already injured leg and caused the femur to snap cleanly.
A frantic Florida tried to revive her husband with light slaps on the cheeks and jostling of the shoulders. Jonathan soon came to and kissed Florida with a flair of desperation past its time for alarm. His senses soon returned and he grabbed Florida’s wrist, compelling her to move away where it would be safer. They crawled almost ten yards away when exhaustion took over and they collapsed on the spot.
The driver sat on the ground by the rear opened door. Jonathan and Florida noticed him and beckoned to him to come and join them, to get away from the danger. They were unaware of his broken leg. A baritone creak loud enough to signify the Great Day broke over the grounds, and the train leaned slowly until it toppled and rolled down the hill. Its last tumble brought it down on top of the limousine and crushed it flat, with the limousine driver underneath. Florida sobbed and Jonathan held her as the serious tones of emergency sirens and helicopters crescendoed towards the calamity.