Sunday evening was always more enjoyable than the morning at Pleasant View Baptist. A laid-back atmosphere of blue jeans and talk of the day's afternoon football game before the service is a better fit, and I don't even care for football. Brother Larry never failed to deliver some goofy greeting as soon as I stepped through the side door, and Brother Ben made me feel at ease with his generous smile. The church was my second home throughout the eighties, and I wouldn't have changed anything. I was familiar with every face behind those walls regardless of what day or night I showed up. However, one young woman managed to catch me off guard on an August night in '88.
The instant the door shut behind me, Larry, my youth director, screamed from down the hall by his office, "Brother Chris, in the building!" He caught me off guard a little, but I'd think something was wrong if he didn't. We struck up a conversation, and I greeted Brother Clegg as he passed by to shake my hand along with a handful of others. On most occasions, I'd listen intently to whatever my youth director had to say, but distraction reared its beautiful face on this particular evening. She appeared out of nowhere from around the corner and walked right by me, pausing long enough to show her smile before vanishing into the auditorium.
"Hey Chris, are you still with me, buddy?" Larry said before snapping his fingers to bring me out of my trance. I forgot I was speaking to anyone for an instant, and my chest filled with incandescent fireflies fluttering around, tossing me into a lightheaded frenzy.
"Wait, what? What did you say, Larry?" I muttered while trying to recover.
"You were looking at that girl, weren't you? It's Lynette. She's Aleta's sister from Illinois. I can introduce you?"
"No. No, no. Absolutely not," frantically escaped my mouth, trying to avoid any embarrassment that would surely accompany the introduction. After excusing myself, I headed toward my usual spot, which happened to be a couple of rows down from and directly behind some girl who robbed me of every ounce of sense with a passing glance. It was only the back of her head, but I couldn't pull my eyes away the entire hour. I usually at least hear a couple of things during the sermon that hit home or give me something to think about but not this night. My brain refused to work at all. Any lingering thoughts zipped right through the ceiling out into space somewhere, leaving me mesmerized by the stranger.
Toward the end of Brother Clegg's presentation, Lynette briefly looked to her left, giving me a glimpse of her profile. The fireflies in my chest swirled around as if they would eventually burst through my ribcage and fill the entire room. Her body turned to face me with no warning, while her brown eyes pulled me in, igniting an unfamiliar sensation. Our synchronized smiles signaled an undeniable connection between two kids who had no choice but to give in. A friendship began before a single word inched from our mouths, sculpted by a gaze and a grin.
After the final prayer and without hesitation, we approached one another and introduced ourselves. We ended up outside and immediately began talking like we'd known each other for a lifetime. My interaction with any female until this point never failed to be riddled with awkwardness. Once she told me her family would be leaving Clarksville the next day, I knew there was no time to waste.
"Would you like to go see a movie with me? I'd like to see Young Guns; it's playing over on Madison Street," I asked, hoping she'd say yes with every ounce of energy in my soul.
"I'd love to see a movie with you, but we need to ask my parents first," she responded.
Her mom and dad agreed to let us go on a date as long as we returned safely and promptly after the show. They reminded their daughter a long drive started early the following day before we left together. The two of us didn't hold hands on the way to the car, but the shoulder-to-shoulder stroll made me happy regardless. Being close to her filled me with joy, and I believe she felt the same. I made sure to open her door before walking around to the driver's seat. It was only a few steps, but it was longer than I wanted to be away from Lynette.
Keeping my eyes on the road was next to impossible. The darkness hid Lynette's face, but each streetlamp provided me with enough light to catch a few minor details that would permanently etch themselves into my thoughts. And I didn't want to miss one opportunity to admire the subtle glow from her skin with each temporary flash. Our hands met for the first time on that drive to the cinema, and her touch sent electricity through my fingertips directly into my welcoming heart. We'd only met moments before, but neither of us could deny the allure.
Before entering the building, I knew the movie was a mistake. The last thing I wanted to do was sit there in silence for two hours. Our time was precious, and I wanted to explore her thoughts, make her laugh, and leave with a memory of Lynette and not Billy The Kid. After walking through the lobby and taking a seat, the film began right away. Before the opening credits even finished, her head found a place on my shoulder, and it fit as well as two tiny puzzle pieces. Once I squeezed in as close as possible, she directed her attention away from the screen and back into my eyes. It wasn't long before every seat and bag of popcorn vanished around us, and we kissed.
"I don't think I want to see this movie anymore," I whispered, hoping for the same response.
"Let's go somewhere else," she said into my ear.
We ended up at a nearby park with enough light to reveal her face, so I didn't have to settle for brief photographs. Euphoria tangled into a mixture of despair hovered above us and all around, sending surges of emotion through our bones rattling the earth beneath our feet. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere else in the world. But the pain of her departure in a few short hours slithered around our minds refusing to let us forget our fate even for a moment. Laughter could not hide the rivers of tears flowing down our faces, to each of our necks and finally meeting where our bodies touched under the moonlight of a celestial Tennesse summer twilight.
I drove Lynette back that Sunday, knowing it could be the last time I saw her. The torture of saying goodbye overwhelmed my innocent seventeen-year-old body to the point of breaking me in half. But the happiness we found together in those few hours was worth the agony of a broken heart a million times over. Lynette and I fell in love, but the words went unspoken. It's not something two people have to say to understand when it's there to see and feel. We said goodbye, but we both held onto that gift of time and the hope of picking up where we left off someday.