Authors: Donald S. Smurthwaite
Tags: #ride, #retirement home, #cross country, #North Dakota, #family, #car, #road trip, #bountiful, #Utah, #assisted living, #graduate, #Coming of age, #heritage, #loyal, #retirement, #uncle, #adventure, #money, #nephew, #trip, #kinship
Love Can Make You Feel Dizzy
I think Uncle Loyal enjoyed fishing. He sloshed around the stream and cast his fly every which way but where it should have been, and he was so noisy that fish in the next mountain range over could have heard him coming, and they booked it for deep water. Kept me on my toes, though. The fly on the end of his rod came uncomfortably close to me more than once. One thing I didn’t want to do was have Uncle Loyal perform fly-removal surgery from my ear or hand or worse. I never let him get much more than arm’s length from me, and there were a couple of times he might have tumbled and taken an unscheduled bath if I hadn’t reached out and caught him. I did not want to call Aunt Barbara and explain that her father had slipped, fallen, cracked a rib and a hip, and that’s why she had the bill from the search-and-rescue folks that included two thousand bucks an hour for helicopter time.
But he liked fishing. I could see that. He enjoyed being in the mountains, looking at the scenery, standing in the cold water. Okay, I’ve got to say it, here it comes, you’ve been warned—I think he’s hooked on mountain creek fishing.
He ran out of gas late in the morning. He told me to go ahead and fish upstream on my own. He told me he’d be fine, he just wanted to rest. It took a little convincing, but eventually I gave in. I looked at him over my shoulder before heading around a bend in the creek, and his eyes were closed, a smile on his face, and I bet he was dreaming of big fish.
Speaking of big fish, once I set out on my own, I absolutely and positively killed that creek. It was ridiculous. For a while there, about every other cast, I pulled one in. I let them all go—no reason to keep them, better to let them go back home and grow up a little—but it was one of the best fishing streams ever. Big fish, too. Most of them fourteen to sixteen inches, a couple that nudged up to eighteen. It was bliss. It was righteous. The fish would come out of the water and sort of glub at me, their little fish lips saying, “Okay, you got me. You gonna let me go or what? Please, mister? I got a wife and kids and a job finding insects . . . and, say, it’s getting kind of dark out here, and I can’t breathe so hot. Please?”
So in they went. I got back to Uncle Loyal early in the afternoon. He asked me if I caught anything, and I told him a bit of a lie—okay, it was a straight-up whopper—and said no, the fish just weren’t biting that day. I didn’t want him to feel bad. I think he believed me. I think he didn’t know that my name would long be remembered by the fish in that little Montana stream: Levi, king of the creek fishermen.
We don’t do much else that day, although we manage to fit in a couple of loads of laundry. We eat the leftover food that we bought the night before, except for the jerky, because I bought like twenty pounds of it, and by late afternoon, we are both back at Marty’s cabin, taking a well-deserved siesta.
I wake up long before Uncle Loyal. He is sending big
sounds toward the ceiling. I lay there a while, thinking about the day, the fish, the gorgeous stream and mountains. I am feeling good, feeling happy. I am also feeling lucky.
Maybe that’s why I decide to sneak out of the cabin and try to dial up Rachel.
“You’ve got to know,” Uncle Loyal told me, and he’s right. I gotta know. I hike up a small rise in the late afternoon light and hope that somehow I’d get decent reception. I try to fool myself a bit, wondering if I have Rachel’s phone number. Of course I do. I had it memorized. I saw it at night when I closed my eyes. I had looked at it on the scratch paper she handed me the last day of school in the spring a hundred times, loopy numbers in her thin, pretty handwriting.
“Can I get your phone number?” I had asked.
She seemed surprised. Maybe
is a better word.
“Sure, yes. Of course, Levi. Here. Wait. Let me pull a sheet of notebook paper out of my binder. Here it is. And my e-mail address. This is fine. Thanks.”
“Are you sure? We’ve just hung out and dated once. Are you sure this is okay?”
“Yes, it’s okay. I’d like it. Let’s stay in touch this summer.”
“Okay, we will.”
I stayed in touch, sort of. I wrote her a few light e-mails that didn’t say much, text-messaged her about once a week and certainly didn’t tell her about my summer job. She wrote back the same kind of light, vacuous e-mails and didn’t tell me much about anything other than it was really hot in Arizona, as if I didn’t already know that. But I thought of her often. Correction: I thought of her all the time. I practiced what I would say to her when I talked with her. How clever I would be, how she would think, after one of my displays of brilliant conversation, “He is the man for me. I want to create worlds with him.”
But I never quite could work up the courage to
Rachel. It’s a lot easier to hide behind a text message, an e-mail, Facebook. More than once, I had the cell phone in my hand in a place free from my younger siblings, ready to talk and dazzle. But my fingers mysteriously failed to work, my brain suddenly stopped, and the only thing in my entire system that seemed to be working properly were my sweat glands and my thumping heart.
Is this love?
The room would light up. I would know that I would know. That’s what Uncle Loyal said.
Could the sound of her voice light up the darkening skies of Montana?
“Only one way to find out, Levi.”
Great. I was beginning to talk to myself. By the time we arrived in Utah, Uncle Loyal would have more marbles than me, and I’d be the one needing a rest home.
My heart is banging hard in my chest, my stomach, my legs, everywhere, and I have to be honest, my fingers are anything but steady when I flip open my cell phone, dial the number, and wait as the beep, beep, beep rang in my ears. An answer. A little kid. A little brother.
“Hi. Is Rachel in?”
“Yeah. I’ll go get her.” And then I hear a shriek. “RRAACCHHEELL! It’s a boy.”
A few agonizing seconds go by. My heart rate goes up even more, probably pounding away at, oh, a nice steady two hundred beats per minute. My mouth goes dry. I could hang up right now and she’d never know.
And neither would I.
That’s the thought that gets me.
Steady up, Levi.
I need to
“Rachel! Hey, great to talk with you.”
Nice, Levi. You’re sounding like an elders quorum president greeting a black sheep who makes an unexpected appearance at priesthood meeting.
“You’ll never guess where I am. In Montana. Standing on a hill. It’s almost dark, and I went fishing with my great-uncle, a guy named—ready for this—Loyal. What a crazy few days I’ve had.”
We’re not clicking. I can feel it. This is not the misty-eyed moment of magic for me. There is a void. Maybe she is engaged. Maybe the invitation is waiting for me at home. The evening air suddenly feels chilly.
What? Here it comes. Be classy. Wish her happiness, success, health, and beautiful babies. But they could have been my babies! Our babies!
“But who is this?”
Oh no! She doesn’t even know who I am. The next sound you hear is the hissing from my pretty balloon as it deflates. She’s forgotten. I waited too long. She’s engaged. Yes, that’s it. Maybe she’s married. Maybe she has a kid. No, wait. It’s only been three months.
“Levi. I’m Levi. Levi Crowne. From Bountiful. Remember me?”
Of all the pathetic words ever spoken in the history of the world, and I exaggerate not, they must be
uttered in sheer desperation from a male who thinks he might be in love to the girl he thinks/hopes/fantasizes might be in love with him.
“Levi. Oh, Levi. I’m so sorry. We were eating, and it’s kind of noisy here, and I guess I just didn’t expect to hear from you right now.”
Okay, get centered, Levi. She apologized. She didn’t have to. A good sign. Take it, buddy.
“Where did you say you are?”
“What are you doing there?”
“It’s a long story. The short version is that I flew to North Dakota, and I’m driving my great-uncle back to Utah so that he can live in a retirement home.”
“That sounds very kind of you.”
Kind? No. Very mercenary of me. Six hundred dollars worth of mercenary.
“He’s a great guy. He’s in his eighties. But he’s smart and kind of funny. We’re getting along great. I taught him to fish in a stream today. He seemed to like it. A lot.”
“That’s nice. Fishing. Wow. Fishing.”
I can sense a critical juncture in the conversation.
She does not want this conversation to veer off into the Levi Huntin’ and Fishin’ Manly Outdoors Show. Quick, Levi! Talk to her about something else. Save this conversation! Rise from the depths of loserville!
“How is your summer going?”
“Fine. Good, I guess. Not much to do here. What are you doing? Are you working?”
It was the question I dreaded. No internship. No clerking in a law office. No jumping out of airplanes to fight forest fires. What I am is—alright, philosophers of the world—what I am, which is what Popeye the Sailor Man used to say. At least he had his spinach. And Olyve Oyl.
“I’ve been working at a grocery store. It’s not what I wanted to do, but the hours were good, the people were nice, and I earned enough money to get me through my senior year. I’ll probably need a job on campus, too, but that’s okay. I know how to work and I don’t mind it.”
That’s it. The truth. I bagged groceries and swept the aisles. I cleaned up the messes little kids left behind. And I’d need to work my way through my senior year. My father is a portrait photographer who charges half of what he could get. That’s why I need to work. Would it matter to Rachel?
If so, she didn’t show it
There is a pause for a couple of seconds and something fairly amazing happens.
I stop worrying.
I don’t know why, but I stop worrying and I stop trying to think of something clever to say to her. I just stop trying so hard. And the tone of our conversation changes, and the skies seem a little lighter and the air not quite as sticky.
“Do you wear a grocer’s apron?”
“Yes, I do. And I look
“I’m sure you do look cute in it. It’s probably a boring job, but if it will pay your school costs, it must be a good job.”
“You’re right. These days, almost any job is a good job. It meets my needs. Like they say.”
“Then it doesn’t matter.”
I liked that answer. It
“No, it doesn’t. That sounds like something my Uncle Loyal would say. He’s got a lot of wisdom. I think you’d like him.”
“I’d like to meet him. Loyal. That’s a name of someone who sounds wise. Loyal. It’s a good name. I can’t imagine anyone not understanding life with that kind of name. It just sounds that way.”
I take a risk. “Someday you
meet him. I can work that out.”
I couldn’t quite believe it
. I was using Uncle Loyal to score points with a girl.
Shameless! Selfish! Trading in on one man’s honor! But I didn’t think he’d mind. And it seemed to work. Note to self: women dig Uncle Loyal.
“Yes, someday. I’d like to.”
“It’s incredibly beautiful here.”
“I imagine. I’ve never been to Montana, but I can imagine lots of mountains and lakes, and the sky must be gorgeous.”
“That’s about it. There must be a million postcards of this state because everywhere you look is amazing scenery. Beautiful. Especially where we are now.”
The conversation pauses, but it isn’t an
pause, and I take in a deep gulp of air and listen to the chatter of birds and the air rustling the pine needles. I can almost see her smiling, eyes upward, dreaming of what the sky in Montana looks like. Come to think of it, the sky did look beautiful just then—coral and gray, pink and blue, like a big lake of colors all turned upside down.
I will take her to Montana someday, and she can see it all for herself. This is all fairly romantic, I think. I am very cool at being romantic. I have hidden skills, I am discovering.
You don’t need words to make a conversation,
I think. I’ll need to mention that to Uncle Loyal and find out what he says. It sounds deep, like something Uncle Loyal would say. It sounds wise, at least as wise as someone my age can be. Or as wise as I can be.
“When you get back . . .” she says. Another decent sign.
“When I get back?”
“Let’s get together and talk and do some things. If your uncle is in Utah, then maybe we can visit him. He might be lonely.”
“I’d like that. Yeah.”
“So would I.” She pauses. A significant pause, I think. “Things were rushed at the end.”
“I’m glad you called.”
And after that, we don’t say much. Nothing much at all. Nothing that I can remember anyway, other than it all felt good and right.
She wants to see me again. I know that because she said that. Life isn’t that complicated, Levi. Love isn’t that complicated, Levi.
And I remember this from Uncle Loyal, philosopher, man of light, man of wisdom, hunky heartthrob:
You will know when you know.
Do I now know? Maybe.
Somewhere when I was blasting along the plains of North Dakota, Uncle Loyal said that to me, or something very close to it. It seemed like weeks ago, maybe months ago. But what was it? Two days, three days? Not long. I can’t remember. What I need to do with Rachel, what I need to do next, is figure out what kind of relationship we will have. DTR. Define the relationship. I think again of what Uncle Loyal told me. This is what he said: I need to walk into a room, a room where she is. I need her not to see me, at least at first. Then, I need her to turn toward me. And it will be then, at that moment, that second, I will see if the whole room lights up, if everyone else fades to dimness and, for me, all conversation stops and the world is set back on its heels. I will need to look at her face, look into her eyes.
And then, I need to feel if it’s all right.