The front door swung open, and there she stood, wearing a nightgown. That instant, there was a collision of solar systems inside my head. Cosmic fireworks shot bolts of red and blue and gold streaks into the blackest recesses of my soul, leaving an undying afterglow. Atlas shrugged and the whole planet quaked inside my skin. My bones were the drumsticks of the gods, banging a tattoo beat that summoned unspeakable spirits from realms long forgotten to dance like laughing madmen on the floor of my heart.
Inside, anyway, that’s what happened. On the outside, my mouth dropped open wide enough to allow the entry of a small bird seeking a nesting place. My eyes—with utter disregard of any chivalry I ever pretended to possess—embarked on a embarrassingly slow pilgrimage from her face to her feet. And my tongue, in the moment I needed it most, became a blob of dementia mute to all speech. I was reduced to an open-mouthed, big-eyed, thick-tongued redneck farm boy with flaming cheeks.
When I finally met her eyes, she was smiling. I was 14 and instantly in love.
For about three years, in my early teens, my mom and dad sold me to a farmer and rancher named Johnny Burrell to be his indentured servant. That’s actually a guess, but it’s all I can think of to explain the diminutive size of my paychecks. For 12 hours a day, at $20 a day, I drove his tractor, moved his irrigation pipe, built his fence, worked his cattle, welded his equipment, washed his car, mowed his grass, carried his firewood, and did most everything else save dyeing his wife’s hair blue. Evidently, someone else took care of that chore.
She of the nightgown lived down the road about a quarter mile from Johnny’s farm. In the encounter detailed above, he’d sent me to her house to ask her father about borrowing a plow. I’m not sure I ever remembered, at the time, the purpose of my errand. Many times afterward, while I was putting propane in the John Deere, I’d see her. She was a runner, and there she’d be, striding along the roadway. I had yet to refine that male art form of watching women while thinking they don’t realize they’re being watched. So I just unconsciously stared until she passed by and was out of sight. Now that I think about it, I suspect it was then that I realized just how beautiful women are when they run, and how much I enjoy running alongside—and behind—them.
I never spoke with her again. Never told her how I felt. Never took her hand, pulled her against me, and kissed her lips. And now, almost three and a half decades later, I don’t even remember her name. I was a teenager, in love with the outside of a girl, with no idea if beauty or ugliness or something in between awaited me within.
What does it mean to love? You’ll figure that out yourself. Most of you already have, or are in the process. It certainly means more than to be “in love”, as mindblowingly awesome as that feeling is. I have loved, and been loved. It is the best, and the hardest, thing on earth. And, in the end, I believe, it is the most rewarding.
The language of love defies translation,
For the heart cannot provide dictation
Of silent yearnings that rave deep within,
Unsaid emotions that surge without end.
As the blind, a rainbow cannot describe,
And the deaf, the music their ears imbibe,
So for love, no verbs will ever suffice,
The most passionate nouns only entice.
Tongue-tied and helpless, bereft of all words,
A Lover speaks that which cannot be heard.
Yet if love be real, two hearts in truth bound,
Then volumes are uttered with nary a sound.