Somewhere in the distant blackness Suzie heard faint voices calling. As they grew closer, she knew they were calling for her but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. There were other noises, strange noises, that were approaching from all sides.
She tried to open her eyes then realized they were already open. She blinked hard and things began to come into focus. From out of the noisy blur a man appeared. He was sideways and in her face.
“What’s your name?” he shouted. The question was simple enough but it made no sense to her. It felt like she was watching it all from a distance.
Who is this man, she thought, and why am I bouncing?
“What’s your phone number?” He yelled into her face like she was deaf. The words were louder but still held no meaning.
Why is he bothering me? Suzie thought.
She heard clanging, rattling noises and tried to look around but could only move her head, as if she were tied down. By straining her neck, she saw that she was lying on a bed in a small, loud room with this stranger asking questions which, for some reason, she couldn’t answer.
“What day is it?” the man insisted. The words had a familiar sound but wouldn’t connect into actual thought. Was she drugged or just dreaming? She tried to ask her own question but heard only a stream of babbling numbers. The voice sounded familiar. After a moment she realized it was her own.
Before she could make sense of this she suddenly felt herself falling. As the room swayed precariously to one side she realized it was moving. She reached to steady herself but her arms wouldn’t budge.
“It’s okay,” the bald man comforted. “We’re almost there.” He had a stethoscope around his neck. A grating horn blew and the noise in her head changed. Now it sounded like a siren. Then she understood –– this was an ambulance!
How had she gotten here? What was wrong with her? She couldn’t put the pieces together. It was like waking from a dream and finding out it was true. It was maddeningly hard to concentrate with this chaos.
Where was Dennis? Where were the kids? Thoughts trampled each other as she tried to sort them out. The effort was exhausting. After a final frustrating attempt, she gave up and closed her eyes as the world swirled back to restful blackness.
You would probably like Suzie. Most people do. There are several reasons why and I don’t know which would appeal to you. She’s gracious, considerate, and makes people feel relaxed. She’ll laugh at your jokes and listen to your problems without giving a lot of advice. She’ll work in the church nursery, comforting crying children – voluntarily.
No matter where we move, she will soon find the oldest widow in walking distance and strike up a lasting friendship. She will adopt the kids in the neighborhood who have parents that work too hard or too late. She’ll feed your cat when you go on a trip.
In other words, we are opposites.
She doesn’t remember much about the ambulance ride to the hospital. In fact, much of this story is a big blank for her. Trauma, drugs, and anesthesia caused some of the gaps in her memory. Other events were so stressful that her brain, mercifully, blocked them out.
My brain, however, is seared with every detail, not that I blame her. It’s not her fault that she’s unforgettable.
It all began with a song. Seriously, it did.
The specific song was “Take This Hammer.” It was an old blues work song originally recorded by Lead Belly in 1940 and later covered by everyone from Flat and Scruggs to the Beatles. It’s about running away from a chain gang. I did it uptempo and in the key of E. The guitar solo symbolized the running part.
Stop laughing. I was eighteen.
Slaves, prisoners, chains – just the kind of romantic stuff that drives a co-ed wild. And yet, somehow, as Suzie headed across campus, whatever I was doing made her walk over. She was probably bored.
I’m told I was cute but I have no supporting evidence. I’d grown my hair out over the summer in New Mexico and replaced my big, black, Buddy Holly glasses with wire-rims. I was unbelievably thin compared to now and I don’t remember how I did it.
I played a Kent 12 string acoustic guitar that my Dad picked up at a garage sale. A monster to tune and a beast to play but I somehow tamed it well enough to do an instrumental version of Glen Campbell’s “12 String Special,” which Suzie doesn’t remember. You’ll just have to trust me; it was masterful.
What she does remember is that I was just about the farthest thing from her small town that she’d ever seen. Her mother would not have approved and later proved it.
I once jokingly asked her if it was love at first sight and she surprised me by saying, “Pretty much.”
Me? I never saw it coming.
Her voice was the first thing that got my attention.
It has just enough of that smooth, slippery, Southern accent to sound charming. And she is charming. It’s only later that she lets you see that wicked sense of humor that can zing a room into howls of laughter. No one expects it from her. It’s the voice, you see.
I kid her that it’s because she’s from the country, to which she takes great offense.
“I’m from the city of Forest, Mississippi,” she retorts with grand dignity, “population five thousand.” I laugh because I’m a sophisticated city boy from the state capital of Jackson. She never seems impressed. Perhaps it’s because in a battle of wits she could take me off at the knees.
She doesn’t though. Charming.
The first time I heard her voice I was trying to avoid people. It was my freshman year of college and it was going miserably. The first thing I had done on campus was to participate in the aforementioned talent show. It was part of the festivities to welcome new students. Most of the college showed up and when it was over I was surprised to find myself known around campus as “the guitar player.”
The second thing I managed to do was get dumped by my girlfriend of two years in a very public way. No warning. No recourse. I was evidently the last to know. Guys smirked. Girls looked at me like a pathetic loser. Make that a widely known pathetic loser. Great start.
I had picked the most secluded table on the Quad, as the grassy central square was known, and was pretending to study to avoid further humiliation. My true purpose was to brood over the Shakespearian tragedy of my life but after two weeks I was having trouble staying in character.
I hadn’t quite begun to realize that being known as the guitar player without a girlfriend might have some advantages when I heard her voice drift across the Quad.
“Hello,” she said.
Not quite ready for human contact, I glanced up, mumbled, “Hi,” and buried my nose deeper in the book I wasn’t reading. She didn’t take the hint.
“What?” I heard her question from a little closer. I sighed and looked up at the tall, dark-haired girl walking toward me. I said hello again in my best go-away-and-leave-me-alone tone of voice and poured over the now fascinating book, which I cannot recall. It was tragic, you see.
“What? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” she repeated pleasantly and smiled. Nothing ruins attempted brooding like a smile. As she walked up to my table, I looked up long, bare legs into aquamarine eyes. I now know they are hazel and change color with every outfit she wears but at that moment they were blue-green.
I decided, then and there, that Shakespeare wasn’t my favorite author. Tragedy is hard work when the sky is blue and the birds are singing. Funny that I hadn’t noticed them before. We talked that first time for an hour and a half. I was late to my next class.
It took years for her to admit that she had really heard me the first time I’d said hello. It remains the nicest lie anyone has told me.
My recent experience, however, made me cautious. Wounded trust heals slowly. We became friends, then good friends and then people began to talk. Then my mother requested I invite Suzie to Sunday dinner. It seems I’m always the last to know.
That’s the way great adventures usually begin. They kind of sneak up on you.