Part 11: Hungry Hearts
After our moment in the kitchen that afternoon, things seemed changed a little bit. Maybe we had a new respect for each other, or perhaps that heart to heart conversation took us from complete stranger to new friend. Either way, I did feel more comfortable around her. It’s a scary thing to feel exposed to someone you just met. My deepest sadness had been revealed to her, and maybe in a small way, she had revealed her own. Feeling a need to get out of the kitchen, and indeed the house for a while, we decided to take a walk in the orchard. We could have wished to be alone and retired to our rooms, but I was aware that I didn’t want to bear my burden alone anymore. I realized we all needed someone to talk to. Bottling things up inside would just destroy a person from within. And even if you knew you wouldn’t have that person to talk to forever, you still needed them now. “Thanks for everything, summer,” I said, as we walked amongst the trees.
“Thanks for what?”
“For trying to get me out of my shell.”
“I didn’t do anything, Matthew. You needed to let some things out and I was there.”
“Yeah, but I feel like ever since you showed up you have been trying to get me to relax and…I don’t know…be a little more like you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want you to be like me. I wouldn’t like you too much if you were.” She laughed. “I like you the way you are. You are an interesting guy. It’s been a long time since I met a guy I want to know more about.”
“I’m not that interesting. I’m just a forty-five year old has-been. Or never-was.”
“Don’t put yourself down so,” she chided. “You act like you’re so old that life is over.”
“Some days I feel like it.”
“Well, forty-five ain’t old.”
I shrugged. “If you say so.”
I noticed she wasn’t telling me how old she was. Maybe she wanted to keep that barrier between us. If that was the case, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I mean just because we had become new friends didn’t mean anything beyond that. She might find me interesting, but I’m sure not that interesting.
“So what do you do, Matthew?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you travel all the time, staying in old farmhouses, or do you have a real job?”
I laughed. “Well, I guess I’m a writer.”
“Well, I had a book out. It didn’t do too good. My publisher decided to pass on anything else I’d written.”
“What else had you written?”
“As a younger man I tried my hand at music journalism.”
Her face lit up. “I knew it! You’re a music nerd. “
“Yeah, but a very boring one. I didn’t have anything bad to say about the bands or albums I reviewed. I loved the music too much to be critical about it. I covered the Southern Rock scene for a fairly decent magazine. Unfortunately by the time the time the eighties hit, the southern rock scene was dead, so I was a bit too late.”
“I was a bit too late too,” she said. “I was born in the eighties.”
There it was. A woman never says exactly how old she is, but she always finds a way to hint at it. And her hint made me feel incredibly old. She must have realized this because she let out a long sigh. “Okay, stop guessing in your head because you’ll get it wrong. I’m twenty-nine.”
“It’s okay, I wasn’t guessing.”
“Yes you were. I think part of what make you so nervous around me is the age difference. You think I’m so young, and that you’re so old.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Fibber. I’ve seen it in the way you treat me. I say things and you give me that look as if you aren’t sure what’s appropriate to say back. Like today, I know you wanted to say I looked nice when I came home. But you didn’t, because you were afraid of what I might say or think. That I might think you a dirty old man or something. Let me tell you something, a secret if you will. A girl likes to be told she looks nice. “
I didn’t know how to respond. She was right, of course. I felt like there were boundaries to keep, and that if I crossed them, even innocently, they would be construed as something bad. So, I had tried to keep things casual and simple, while she had been trying to get me to relax and be free. In that way, I guess we clashed. Perhaps the age difference did show. But, walking with her now in the orchard on a sunny afternoon, I did find myself relaxing. So much so, I wanted to reach for her hand. Still, I felt I shouldn’t. This wasn’t what she wanted. Just because a person thinks you’re interesting, or wants to be your friend, doesn’t mean they want to be touched. Even though I knew I needed someone for emotional support, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be touched either, even if it was something as simple as holding hands. I lived in a world where people put up fences around themselves, cutting everyone off from each other. And if you let someone inside your fence, it changed everything in your relationship with that person. So Summer stepped inside my fence and took my hand. If I was feeling I shouldn’t reach for hers, maybe she felt it was up to her, or it would never happen.
Walking hand in hand through the orchard was nice. I can’t properly describe how it made me feel with her soft, warm hand in my own. It had been so long since I had held someone’s hand like this; I’m not sure what it meant. Ashley never was much for holding hands, nor any public displays of affection, unless she was trying to assert her place as my girl, and then only at the beginning of our relationship. In the later years, I felt it was just for show, and rarely genuine affection, that made her reach for me, unless it was in private and relegated to the bedroom.
“What ya thinkin?” Summer asked, noticing my mind had wandered off somewhere.
I squeezed her hand. “I was just thinking about how nice this is. Walking with you.”
She smiled, and it was like a ray of sunshine. “I like it, too.” She started swinging her arm and we walked on like two teenagers softly clutching hands. “I kind of had a rough morning,” she added.
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“”I thought I was ready to see someone today.”
“If you came here to get away from someone, well, I guess I came to find somebody.”
“Does this guy have a name?”
She looked down at the ground. “Yeah, I’m just not sure what it is. He changed it since the last time I saw him.”
“Did you find him?”
“I thought so…but it wasn’t him. It made me think I’m not ready for this, and I should just go home.”
“Is he like my Ashley?”
“Yeah, he is in away. I mean, she ruined you for other people, and he ruined me in a similar way. Because of him, I can’t hold a relationship for long. I can’t trust anybody, can’t even say I love you without breaking down crying, which tends to freak the guys out.“ She shook her head. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“Maybe you want to trust me,” I answered. “I trusted you with my hurt.”
She smiled. “Yes, you did.”
We walked on in silence for a while. I got the impression she was deciding what to say, or how much of her pain she wanted to reveal.
“My mother died two months ago,” she finally said. “She was a brave woman. All my life I remember her facing down every bad thing that happened to her like she was some kind of war hero. She got sick last year and she tried to face that bravely too when it was diagnosed as terminal cancer. I went to stay with her and in the past year I think she unloaded on me everything she ever wanted to say about my father.”
She let go of my hand because it was starting to shake. I wanted to grab it back but I thought it best just to let her have her freedom. For a brief moment, I looked in her face and her eyes held this look, as if she might bolt and run at any moment like a wild horse out on the range.
“He left her…us, really…when I was seven. I remember sitting on the front porch waiting for him to come home from work one day and he never showed up. I waited until dark and momma made me come in. The next day she told me he wasn’t coming back. When I asked her why, she told me he decided he had a hungry heart and wanted to be somewhere else. I thought at the time she meant that one day we’d get to go to that somewhere else he went and be a family again. But it never happened. Eventually,, she just said he didn’t want either one of us, and that I should get used to it. I’m still not used to it.” She looked up at me, her eyes dark and serious. “Every man I have ever known doesn’t stay either. They all want to be somewhere else. They always run.”
“I won’t run,” I promised.
She stared at me so hard, I had to look away. It was making me very nervous.
“Yes, you will. You’ll get a hungry heart, too. In your defense, you can’t help it. You’re a guy.”
“Hey, wait a minute, that’s not fair. Not all guys are like your father.”
“No man I have ever known has stayed. Not just my dad, but every…single..guy. And I think sometimes that maybe if I could find my father, he could tell me why every man is like that.”
“Summer, I’m not like that. If we were..you know together…I wouldn’t do that to you.”
She shook her head sadly. “I wish I could believe you, Matthew. I know you mean well, and want to be the ideal friend, but you can’t fight your nature.”
I grabbed her hand this time and stopped her right there in the orchard. “Look at me,” I said, and she obliged me, looking at me with her dark smoldering eyes. “As someone said to me earlier, My god, what has he done to you?”
I couldn’t hold her gaze for long, so I looked down, and she saw it as something else other than my own shyness. “What does it matter, Matthew? You won’t even look at me for long before your eyes turn away. How long before the rest of you turns away?”
“I’m right here. I’m not turning away.”
“But I am,” she said, and the dam nearly broke, tears building up in her eyes and threatening to stream down her face. Before that happened though, she did what her eyes had originally told me she’d do. She bolted and ran. Without a word, she turned and ran deeper into the orchard. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to chase after her, the other said let her go. I debated the things I would say to her that would make things alright, but maybe there was nothing I could say to right the damage her father had done to her. It’s sad how one person can ruin you for life, can have a dark effect on you, and be a shadow in every relationship you have afterwards. Summer had her father, I had my Ashley. And like two trains going off the rails, we were dying in the wreckage.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.