The old folks have always said that love tends to hurt. Well, they were spot on when it came to Emie and me. I couldn't have been more than eleven when she moved into the neighborhood. Clarkstown is a quaint community, but that girl sure did liven things up. I caught her attention when I passed her house on my bike for the ninth time. The whole ordeal was my fault. She did warn me, after all.
Emily belted out, "Stop!" as soon as I zipped by her driveway. Her voice carried more authority than anticipated, so I complied and locked the brakes on my Huffy. Never judging a book by the cover finally made sense when I witnessed Emily throw her doll down in the dirt and crawl under the house to grab a weathered baseball. She didn't give a second thought to getting her Sunday best muddy.
Once the tiny giant stood up, she wiped her hands on her lacy dress and spoke again, "This is your one and only warning. You'll be sorry if I catch you riding by my house again." She pretended to throw the ball at me by the time she finished speaking. It startled me enough that I decided peddling could be better than hanging around to see if she was serious. My new neighbor stood at attention, ready to fire as I rode around the corner and out of sight.
Hours passed before I worked up the courage to soar past her yard again. After stopping up the street to check and see if the coast was clear, I decided to go for it. In one sweet motion, I relieved my kickstand and pushed off the pavement with my scruffy Converse. Luckily there was enough of a hill that I could build up plenty of momentum. All I had to do was pass her driveway, and I'd be safe. My confidence was over the top because there was no way anyone could hit me with a baseball at my supersonic speed. Like a runner winning a marathon, I passed her drive, flinging my arms into the air in triumph.
"I guess she knows who the boss is around here," I spoke into the wind right before I heard it. The sound was like a golfer smacking a ball on the course, except it was a baseball nailing the back of my head. Pain instantly followed, and my body flew over the handlebars onto the blacktop. Everything went dark until my eyes focused, divulging an angel. Emie crouched next to me with a look of concern blended into a precious innocence I'd never experienced. Her face was prettier than sunlight leaping from water drops before drying up on blades of grass.
"Water drops? Blades of grass?" She mumbled before continuing, "Why didn't you just listen to me? None of this had to happen, but you had to prove how big and bad you are. Now you're lying here talking nonsense and bleeding to death in the street." By the time I could lift my head, I had noticed grownups approaching in the distance. After stuffing the baseball into my pocket, I introduced myself to the girl who had tried to kill me, "I'm Jack." She said, "I'm Emie," right before the adults took me home. It was the first time I ever heard her say her name.
No one but Emie and me knew why I wrecked that Sunday afternoon. The doctor never questioned me as he stitched up my head. Mom and Dad figured I was being stupid and showing off. They were grateful Emie came to my rescue and even took me back to her house to say thanks for ensuring I was okay. When my folks left the room, the young baseball pro told me we'd be best friends from now on because she'd never trusted anyone as she did me. And that was precisely the moment we became the best of friends.
Life sure does move fast. Plans break, and situations get rearranged before we realize it most of the time. I began to grow and forget things that matter. Somewhere in there, girls became the culprit who kept me up at night instead of my fear of one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eaters. All females were aliens except for Emie. We'd often argue over small things like whose turn it was to swing from the rope to splash in the lake. Even when we fought, we grew closer, something I wouldn't experience with anyone else in my lifetime.
By the time I hit sixteen, I was driving my best friend to school and back home daily. It wasn't a long trip, but we'd often sit in front of her house talking for an extra hour or two. We discussed everything from the plans after graduation to the opposite sex. And it was all frightening.
"Whatever happens, we should always stick together, Jack."
"Gosh, Emie, I'm not even sure what I want to do yet. Everyone is pressuring me into college, but that's not what I'm passionate about."
"How often do I have to tell you to stop worrying about what others want you to do? Man up and make your own decisions. Besides, we still have a year to think about it."
"You don't even make sense. You're always telling me to be my own person, but you insist on us living in the same town forever. How am I supposed to make decisions for myself if they always have to include you?" Frustrated, Emie reached for the door to get out of the car, but I changed my attitude and continued, "Wait. Don't go; I have something to tell you. It's about the Christmas dance coming up soon." Emie takes a deep breath and listens, "This isn't easy for me to say, but I've decided to take Beth."
"Beth! What is wrong with you? That girl has no personality, and she can't even rollerskate. Jack, listen, you can do so much better than her. She talks funny too. It's like she's a mix between Cher and Walter Cronkite."
"Do better? Like who? You? At least Beth doesn't confuse me. At least she doesn't contradict herself every five minutes!"
"You know what, mister, I will now exit this automobile and retire into my home. Please do not talk to me again until you come to your senses. Don't worry about picking me up tomorrow; I can walk to where I need to go just fine!" Emie slammed the door, marched up the sidewalk, and inside.
Anger got the best of me as I threw the car in reverse and screeched out, not paying attention. The car didn't get far because I backed right into Mr. Ken's Cadilliac. He's the local pharmacist and has a reputation for being a nice guy. Let's just say I saw a completely different side of Mr. Ken while I waited for my Dad to show up at the scene. Emie came back out to sit with me while I was getting yelled at by the infuriated gentlemen. Emie and I sat there, trying not to giggle at the choice of words directed through my window while she held a bag of frozen peas to the knot on my forehead. We walked to school together the next day. Later that year, we attended the Christmas dance with each other.
I'm sure by now you've guessed that we eventually got married. We had kids, and those kids had kids, and it felt like our home here in Clarkstown was never empty. None of the children needed the excuse of a holiday to stop by to see us; they simply dropped by unannounced, which was fine by us. One year Emie had me get a real tree for Christmas. I slipped on the ice in the driveway, and she was the first to come to my rescue. It was only a couple of stitches on that occasion. Through all the hardships and minor injuries, the old song by Louise Armstrong has always stuck with me. We did indeed live in a wonderful world as long as we were together.
Our daughter Jessica, who turned forty last month, loves to keep the tradition alive, and I don't mind one bit. She'll drag her husband along with their three kids and spend the majority of the Christmas season here. They'll all help with the tree, and sweet smells always drift from the kitchen to fill the house. It's not just the scent of freshly baked cookies that makes me happy. The aroma, accompanied by love, is one fragrance I'll forever adore.
Jessica is her mother; whenever she glances at me, a look of concern blends into a precious innocence. She delicately questioned if I'd been speaking to Mom again. I explained a day doesn't pass without sharing a few words. Jessica then reminds me it's been almost twenty years since her mother died. After politely asking my daughter to shush, I closed my eyes and rested my head on the couch before supper. I'm sure she thinks I'm a senile old man, but the truth is I've never been sharper. Aside from losing my Emie, my biggest fear was getting used to her being gone. I'll never forget how hard she loved me and what it felt like to lose her. The pain reminds me of how wonderful this world is.
Years ago, Emie and me sat on the front porch watching the kids play. We knew it wouldn't be long before she moved on, but we laughed and joked anyway. "Hey Jack, remember that time you tripped over the garden hose in the front yard after I flashed you through the kitchen window? You walked funny for a whole week." I told her the old folks were right all along. Love certainly does hurt. But I wouldn't change a thing.