She was chubby, a space between her front teeth and wild ringlets that intermingled in brown and blond across those fairy eyes. I was a scrawny little shit, smart as a whip, locked in a dance with loveless men and the horror of youth and poverty. I have a picture of us, her behind me with her arms locked on my nine month belly, laughing in the late April sun in 1990. Part of our love still spins there, somewhere lost on Water Street in an Alabama town of foodstamps, backyard gardens and the smell of our latest perm wafting like halos over our young faces. We called each other “sister,” and shuga; nothing births that kind of alliance like fear and youth and bad men. Her name was Kelli.
Still is. It crawled up my ass one day, beaten down and scorned and laden with three small babes, to take out. I left Scottsboro with such a vengeance that the soles of my feet still bear the scars, deep and pebbled like the life I carved within that valley surrounded by mountains. I ran. I ran so fast. I ran so fast that I forgot that I loved her. I was saving me. (Is it strange that Pandora is suddenly playing Radiohead’s “High and Dry,” Kell? Nah.) Baby gurl, if there is such a thing as sin, it was leaving without telling you: thank you for that time you threw me a baby shower, poor as you were. Thank you for the time you trusted me with all those secrets and we cried over wine coolers on the front porch. Thank you for the time you lent that sweet, Southern drawl across the phone line the last time a baby threatened birth–promising me my own courage to leave that mountain, that man, that torture. Thank you.
But. Time, geography and stupid, ignorant youth cleaved us. Religion in Northern Alabama slung its fat ass in between love and squatted there like an alien. In the mist of tongue-talkin’, snake’ handlin’ country souls, we were strange–and didn’t know our own names.
And spinning there, somewhere in the stick and blood of our own lives, we loved each other.
The last time I saw her, coming up on sixteen years, she was in a down-home rage with her fist in the air as my Chevy Nova sped out of those projects forever. Time went by, like sweet time tends to do. My babies grew and moved out, had their own hearts mightily crushed like a box of ripe maters, a few academic degrees accumulated on my wall and a sweet man took my hand for better or worse. Then one afternoon, sipping a cup of joe and smoking the afternoon cig . . .
A Gmail flag on my inbox, in response to a Witchvox article that I had written a few weeks before. Let me refresh you. About 20 years ago, you and I were inseparable. We did everything together, our kids played together and were like brother and sister; we were there for the births of our children. In short, we were best friends. Ringing any bells yet? Yes, it is Kelli.
Well. How ’bout those taters?
Guess who else is Pagan now?
You see, it’s true. Love finds a way. Kelli is not the only story that I’m thinking on tonight in this luxuriously 70 degree, February eve. For then, there’s my Robin.
In the spirit of not going on long, let’s just say: that’s a Christian I can get behind, baby. Woman has loved Jesus since she was old enough to breathe out–Georgia girl, she is–but has heard me out. Known my soul. Accepts my Pagan-ness. You see, I explained it to her, told her why, shared how I pray and hoped that she would love me enough to meet me in the middle. She did more than that, and through these twelve years, she has sustained my wild heart with hers in perfect love and perfect trust. She rocks me like a rock, oh baby. And there it is: I could have lost her, don’t think I don’t know that, y’all. I COULD have. But: I didn’t. Oh, sweet baby Jesus, I didn’t. Perhaps, I couldn’t, because real love finds a way. You feel me?
Then, there’s my Momma and my sister. I won’t break Oathes or tell their own paths, but I can tell you this: they both walk the path of Christians. Every day. They both follow this blog. It’s called cowboy-ing up, standing by family when the wind blows strange, but it took dead-on honesty out of me. I had to, um, walk on water. I said the “w” word, nice and clear–didn’t dirty the water of our trust by pretending that they understood what I was until I had claimed it, out loud. Coming out? Well, yeah. Can’t shove a toe out and then holler all sanctimonious-like: “I did it!” Naw. You didn’t. Not until it’s crystal clear and you’ve risked the loss of their soft cheek against yours, not until you have accepted the possibility of their anger, confusion or disappointment. To quote my son: Bullspit. Shit or get off the pot. (And, if the situation won’t allow for anything more, getting off the pot might be the most ethical choice for ‘yorn.)
Because love finds a way.
This post will not echo as poetically as the rest. It had to be done.
But, at the end of the day, how about this: have you ever walked on that kind of faith? Trusted that the love you have swum in like blood will buoy you through the moment? Known in your heart that, if you lost someone for telling them the hard thing, that at least you were bone-hard honest? Or–try this–imagined a moment in which, after some tears and a few ego slaps, the voice of a beloved says: I love you, no matter what.
If everything is intent, as many of us believe, then: what is our intent? To save those we love/need from the pain of dealing with the truth of our own identities? Maybe. I can see a case for that. But what I find too often is that we are a smidge more concerned with saving our own ass. Or, goddess forbid, staying blind to who truly loves us.
Because real love doesn’t know that road of judgment and denial. On either end. And as my toughest professor once reminded me: If it were easy, everybody would do it.
With love for Kelli, Mommy and Re,
P.S. The lead pic is of me and baby sis. The middle is of Rob and my silly ass, and the last is dancing with Mommy. Can’t wait to get one of Kelli.
P.P.S. Jillian goes without sayin’. Duh.
P.P.S. Kelli no longer has the gap, or the chub. I love her either way.