Mine: A Fictional Interpretation of a Taylor Swift Song

Thursday, May 22, 2014




Mine


In the place where the creek meets the forest, there’s a bench. Painted a deep mahogany and bruised through the years of cuddles, kisses, and contemplation, it sits invitingly and beckons to mind the sweetest of memories. Late at night, after a day of light rain, the bench is a refuge where peace is found amidst lightening bugs dancing to the trickling song of creek meeting stream.
The first summer we met, I was scared. I had been burned one too many times by small-town boys with even smaller minds, and the last thing I wanted was to fall in love again. Love, I had learned, didn’t last. I’d spent the past two decades watching every loving relationship around me crumble under the weight of carelessness, and for a girl who cared too much, I decided I was better off on my own. Meeting Benji was a fate I didn’t expect.
He was working as a part-time waiter at the restaurant where I frequently came to read when life got too crazy. The coffee was cheap and the fresh baked bread was a treat I could never refuse, but I mostly went for the peace. Located on the outskirts of town, tucked beneath a hill and a thick blanket of trees, the restaurant was the perfect hideaway for solitary over-thinkers like me.
“Plotting your escape?”
I jumped a little at the sudden sound of his voice. Immersed in calculating the financial details of the trip to India I’d been planning, I hadn’t noticed he’d been clearing off the mess of plates, breadcrumbs, and glasses in front of me. Accounting wasn’t my strong suit, but it was necessary at the moment. If everything went according to plan, I’d be leaving in just two short weeks, and I hoped to have every last detail covered long before I zipped up a single suitcase.
He was wearing a plain, white t-shirt, jeans, and Nike-brand sneakers scuffed with mud. His dirty blonde hair was sun-bleached in globs of light around his head, and was cropped in a messy bedhead. A five o’clock shadow of gold was spread across his face and framed the full-lipped grin that indented his cheeks. I noticed the smile tickled the brown in his eyes with a little glimmer of light, and that he had a farmers tan that was visible through the loose sleeves of his shirt. The nametag-shaped sticker pasted onto the center chest of his shirt was scribbled with his name: Benji. I wondered if it was short for Benjamin, my favorite name for a guy, but I didn’t ask.
“Something like that.” I said, giving him a polite smile.
He grabbed a wet rag from a bucket of suds on a nearby table and began wiping down the space in front of me, carefully and skillfully avoiding the edges of my organized piles of papers.
“Where to?” He asked.
I blinked my teal blue eyes, and tucked a honey gold curl behind my ear. Was he serious? I was a regular, but I’d rarely been spoken to before. It was usually pretty obvious I came here to be invisible. However, a quick glimpse around the room confirmed the impossibility of invisibility. We were the only ones here.
“India.” I answered.
He dunked the rag into the suds, and let the excess drip onto the floor as he made his way to the empty table next to me.
“India?” He asked.
I nodded.
“To teach English.” I explained, and he nodded.
“Cool.”
I turned back to the series of numbers in front of me, and tried to determine where I left off. I was pretty sure I was calculating the cost of groceries for a month, but I couldn’t be sure. I decided to start over. Better to recalculate than miscalculate.
“So you come here a lot?” He asked as I reached for the calculator.
“Yes.” I answered, grasping the calculator as I watched him gracefully swirl the rag around another table.
“You don’t talk much?”
“Not really.”
“Why not?”
I looked at him. Why not? It was such a simple question, but held a complicated and much too personal answer. Because nobody cares to listen. I shrugged.
“You know,” he said, turning to meet my gaze, “in my experience, it’s always the quietest people who have the most to say.”
He swiped the rag across the last table, and then tossed the rag into the suds. A few bubbles flew into the air, and disappeared with a subtly audible pop. He picked up the bucket of suds and bounced it with his knee to get a better grip.
“We’re closing in five.” He said, nodding toward the cat-shaped clock on the wall behind him.
It was almost nine. I quickly began gathering up my papers. Where had the time gone? He carried the bucket through the swinging door that led into the kitchen. I heard the slam of the bucket against the counter, and the slippery sound of sudsy water being poured down a drain.
“Thank you!” I called as I stood to leave, binder full of papers and calculator in hand.
“Yeah, no problem!” He said. “But hey!” He burst through the swinging door, wiping his wet hands on his jeans. “Before you go, can you tell me your name?”
“Misty.”
“Misty. Cool name.” He said. “Anyway, there’s this party down by Sweetburdy Creek tonight. In the old Burdy Barn? I was going to head over there after I close up. It should be pretty chill if you feel like crashing. And if you feel like talking later, I shouldn’t be hard to find…and I make a pretty decent listener too.”
“Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” He said. “See you later!”
I flashed him a smile, and left into the crisp night air.

***


The sound of crickets and the passing of wind through the wheat stalks were my only greeting when I stepped out of my car. If it weren’t for the distant glow of a light through the abandoned Burdy Barn, or the smattering of cars parked in the clearing nearby, I would have assumed I was the naive victim of a killer who called himself Benji. What was I thinking anyway? I’d never accepted casual invitations to crash a party before, and certainly not from a complete stranger.
Then again, complete strangers didn’t usually bother with me at all. My shield of invisibility had always been enough to keep away any attempts at friendly conversation more often than not, and the few who dared to try were easily discouraged by my politely terse responses. However, Benji had charged through my shield and seemed eager to capture my soul. At least that was how I felt it. Logistically, I knew there was a more realistic answer: I was the last customer before closing time, and I knew all too well the laws of customer service. But if he only wanted to get rid of me in perfect customer-comes-first fashion, why invite me to a party with a promise of conversation? There was only one way to find out.
Fighting against every cautionary cognitive reasoning, I trailed my fingers along the wispy stalks of wheat as I made my way to the glowing light in the distance. The Burdy Barn had  once been the main source of pride and joy in the town of Sweetburdy. It had housed the annual Sweetburdy Ball, the monthly livestock auction, the craft fair, and provided the single source of shade when the Sweetburdy Fair & Rodeo showed up for the summer. Built by the town’s founders a generation after the signing of the United States Constitution, the barn was a relic of glory until an unexpected flood left it destroyed beyond repair. Ten years later, it was the perfect setting for teenage rebellion, dangerous dares, and otherwise reckless rendezvous for the town’s youth. I’d managed to keep my distance for the past decade, preferring to keep the idealized memories of it’s entertaining past untarnished by it’s current state of rot.
The wheat stalks ended a few yards from the barn entrance, and the cloak of darkness, stars, and chirping crickets was replaced by a bath of lantern light and table-slapping laughter. I entered the barn silently, giving me a few moments to observe my surroundings.
A group of people I recognized from my graduating class sat around an old oak table in the center of the barn. They appeared to be playing a drinking game with cards and cans of Mountain Dew, using a lantern placed in the center of the table as their source of light. Across the room, in a secluded corner piled with couch cushions, flickering candles illuminated Benji’s serious expression as he scribbled in a sketchpad, earbuds inserted into his ears. He didn’t seem to notice my arrival.
“Hey!” One of the girl’s shouted, and I snapped my attention to the table. She was looking at me. “I know you!”
Her name was Bren, as I immediately recalled, and we had taken the same Home Ec. class in high school. During a class trip to a local farm, she’d boldly announced (to the amusement and embarrassment of the entire class and visiting tourists) that the Pineapple Jam we’d been given to try tasted like “really good semen.” We didn’t interact much in school, but Bren wasn’t the type to believe in acquaintances. One conversation was enough to become friends (or enemies) for life.
“Yeah! You’re that quiet girl who reads all the time! Missy, right? We took home ec together!” Bren shouted. “I’m right, right?”
“It’s Misty.” I said.
“Is it? I didn’t notice. Maybe it will storm! We could use the rain.” I didn’t bother to correct her. “Why don’t you come join us? We just made up this drinking game. It’s hilarious!”
Four pairs of eyes were suddenly penetrating my shield, and I knew I didn’t have an option. My face flushed, and Bren smirked before scooting over to make room for me. I cautiously took a seat beside her.
“How do you play?” I asked, and the whole table exchanged a glance before erupting in bold laughter.
“Who the hell knows? We’re making the rules up as we go!” Bren said. “Watch a few rounds. You’ll catch on.”
A few rounds later, I still barely comprehended the game, but I had gained a basic understanding of the group around me. There was loud-mouth, brutally honest Bren, of course, who was still proudly living with her single mother, and had no plans for herself expect to live hard, and play hard because “you only live once.”
Then, there was lean and nerdy Tommy who worked in the local music store that also doubled as the town’s library. He was incredibly intelligent and seemed to have a mind filled with the most interesting of facts. His band, The Lonely Skulls, was scheduled to perform at the Sweetburdy Fair & Rodeo later that summer.
Sitting beside Tommy with glowing skin, bright blue eyes, and a shiny curtain of mocha-colored hair was his girlfriend, Lucille, whose mother owned the local cafe. She didn’t talk much except to explain her dream of opening up a cafe philosiphque, where coffee and freshly baked goods were served along with discussions of life’s greatest questions.
Wendy sat cross-legged across from Lucille, a diamond engagement ring glinting from her left-hand ring finger and a matching heart-shaped necklace dangling from her neck, drawing attention to the cleavage peeking out of her v-neck designer dress. She talked about her business-savvy husband incessantly, bragging about the frequent trips to exotic locations he took to expand his consultation company, and the gifts he lavished her with upon his return. I noticed she would reach over to touch Tommy at every opportunity, prompting him to scoot closer to Lucille until he was teetering over the edge of his seat.
Nobody cared when I didn’t join after my observational few rounds, and their endless conversation and boisterous laughter would have drowned out any attempt to speak anyway. I left the remnants of my invisibility at the table, and slipped away to the quiet corner of the room unnoticed.


***


The soft beat of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” sent out a muted echo as I approached. Benji’s serious expression had softened a bit, but he still wasn’t paying attention to the world around him. I was able to take a seat on the couch cushions next to him before he noticed me. Bob Marley was cut short as Benji pressed a button and gently tugged the headphones out of his ears.
“Hey,” he said, smiling slightly, “you made it.”
“Bad timing?” I asked, gesturing toward the sketchpad he’d been furiously scribbling on since I arrived.
He looked down and I leaned forward slightly to see what he had been drawing. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked important. And complicated.
“Awh, nah. It’s just an idea. It’s nothing.” He said.
“It doesn’t look like nothing.” I said. “What’s the idea?”
He shrugged, looked down at the sketchbook, and then met my gaze.
“Have you ever been to a concert?” He asked. I shook my head. “Really? Ever?”
“Well, I went to a church camp with my cousin one summer, and the worship service was similar to a concert, I think, but other than that, no. Concerts aren’t really my scene.”
He nodded and bit his lip, staring into the top corner spaces of his eyes.
“Worship service. Okay, I guess that counts. But how close were you to the band? Could you feel the beat in your chest? Literally, I mean?”
I nodded. I felt every note as a stabbing pulse that went through my chest and ricocheted off my ribcage. It was intense, especially for a church camp, and specifically for me. I had trouble enough handling the noise of typical daily life.
“Yes, I could feel it.” I answered, and his eyes glittered with excitement.
“That’s my idea!” He said. “Well, part of it at least.”
“What’s the other part?”
“The other part is converting the sound wave energy of music into something we can reuse for more than our listening enjoyment. I want to find a way to convert music into electricity.”
“That sounds…impressive.”
He laughed.
“Yeah.” He said. “But it’s not that hard. Plus, I’d have an excuse to see a lot of concerts. For research, of course.”
“It sounds hard to me.”
“Which part?”
“All of it.”
“Even the concerts?”
“Probably especially.”
“What’s so bad about concerts? Other than it 'not being your scene.'”
“Noise.”
As if on cue, somebody (probably Bren) turned on a stereo at full volume and shouts of laughter permeated the air. I looked at Benji and he nodded in understanding.
“Come with me.” He said, getting up from the couch cushions. “I think I know a place for you.”

***


The place was a single, wooden bench shrouded in darkness and steps away from the creek. It was too dark for me to see much of anything, but Benji knew the way perfectly, and I followed the faint sound of his footsteps on the grass beneath our feet. He sat down on the bench with an exhalation of breath, as if it was the only place on the planet where he could find relief. I took a more cautious seat next to him, aware of the prickle of splinters against my back, and how it was too dark for me to see anything except the glint of moonlight through the tree branches above me. I avoided looking at Benji, though I could feel his gaze on me, and we sat in an awkward silence for a moment. That’s when he put his arm around me. I tensed, scared of the unfamiliar touch, what it meant, the entire situation and all it’s possibilities, but at the feel of his touch on my shoulder I also felt…peace. Protection. Safety. Home. It was a quite a conflict of feelings.
“So are you seeing anybody right now?” He asked.
“No.” I answered, and a fire alarm went off in my chest suddenly. I half-turned to face him directly. “I would hope this should be obvious, but are you?”
He chuckled.
“No.” He said.
I didn’t want to believe him. His honesty would be unfamiliar to me. Everything I’d learned so far about men, especially every man I’d let into my life, taught me that men couldn’t be trusted. But I didn’t see any sign of deception in Benji. I relaxed in my surprise.
“Well…good.” I said.
And with that our small talk faded into the real and deep conversations I always longed for and never really received. My walls came crumbling down as we shared our hopes, our dreams, our beliefs, the unique ways in which we saw the world. We talked not as strangers, but as two parts of the same soul finally reconnecting. We lost all sense of time.
That night, we lived by the moments.

***


Every night for the two weeks I had left before my escape to India, Benji and I met at the bench to talk. Every day, I would spend half my time planning my escape and the other half obsessing over what I was going to talk about with Benji. Any topic planned, though, would flee my mind the second Benji’s arm was around my shoulders. As we sat on the bench, our only thoughts were on the moments that passed in the spaces we had made together. Our conversations swirled around the present. We let our pasts float away with the wind. We knew their only purpose was that they had gotten us here.
But I was still a girl who lived for the future, and float as it might, my past still haunted me. I wasn’t ready to surrender to love, and I wasn’t ready to give up my dreams. And so, though we never said it, we both knew the last night before my flight would be our last goodbye.
“Can we keep in touch?” I asked.
“Of course.” He said.
“I’ll write you.”
“Sounds great.”
We kissed. Slowly, deeply, a kiss that took me completely by surprise. I’d never felt like melting before, or like the world had stopped spinning just for us. I wondered, for the first time, had time stopped? If I looked at my clock, would time be standing still? I felt like it would. I could feel the parts of our soul melting deeper and deeper into each other.
We said goodnight, but we meant goodbye, and the next day, I boarded a plane with my future in mind, while Benji left town for school and never looked back.
We didn’t keep in touch.


***


I spent two years in India learning how to love. I arrived as a teacher of a language I knew well, and left as a student of a language I never thought I’d ever learn. Though I found peace, Benji crowded my most consistent thoughts. Though I learned love and acceptance, Benji was the one I gave it to the most. Though contact with one another had ceased, Benji was the one I felt closest to. But I couldn’t figure out why, and so I tried my hardest to deny my memories of Benji and the short time we spent together. When that didn’t work, I diverted my attention inward, and researched heavily the depths of my own soul, trying to find the answers to the questions I didn’t understand. Who am I? What do I want? Why am I here?
I returned home unrecognizable to those I left behind, but found that I finally recognized myself. For the first time, I could look at the world around me and see the truth, and the truth is love. Living honestly is living with love. Living with love is living with the eyes of your heart wide open.
But even with the wide eyes of an open heart, another year would pass before I would see Benji.


***


I didn’t stay in Sweetburdy.  Though a part of me would always call the small town home, the rest of me belonged in the big city called Agape. It was only an hours drive from Sweetburdy, but contained a more perfect balance of action and peace. I rented out a cozy cottage in the part of the city most shrouded with lively trees, and attended college courses at the university nearby along with the few close friends I’d made and kept after my stay in India. On weekdays, after classes and homework, I was the nanny to a sweet little girl named Lila, and on weekends, I went paddleboarding at the nearby lake, and volunteered at a local animal shelter. Benji still frequently crossed my mind, but I was content enough exactly as I was. I wished him well, and often thought of seeing him again, but I had long given up trying to find out how. What was meant to be would be, of that I was sure, and I had stopped trying to control the question of when. I knew the answer would always be when you’re ready.
That time would come, as it would turn out, exactly three years after our last goodbye.
The day fell on a Saturday, and I had returned to Sweetburdy for the weekend. After learning how to love the woman who had raised me with hate, and forgiving the man who had raised me with fear, I found great contentment in returning to my family home as often as I could. The restaurant I had frequented to escape had been renovated into Lucille’s cafe philosiphique, and was a much bigger success than the previous restaurant had ever been. My parents and I cherished the visits we made and shared delicious meals “on the house” that we always overpayed for anyway. It was the kind of place you wanted to give all your money to.
     It was also where I first met Benji, and on this particular weekend, after a lovely meal of strawberry-banana crepes and the meaning of life, I was struck with nostalgia so strong I felt my past bleeding into my present. I told my parents I would meet them at home, and escaped to the bench by the creek to clear my thoughts.
     And that’s when I saw him.
    Three years, two days, and 8,000 seconds after we last spoke, he stood in exactly the same place as he did that night. He turned around to face me and we both froze for a moment. I took in his grey t-shirt, his darkwash jeans, the sneakers on his feet, the freshly shaven face and slightly longer blonde hair. His eyes were trailing mine at the same time, taking in my bare legs, the curves of my dress, to the soft honey-gold curls falling around my shoulders. Our eyes met, golden light meeting Caribbean ocean, and I felt myself melt.
    “Misty.” He said.
    And just like that the distance closed between us, and we wrapped ourselves in each other’s arms like we had never left.
    We decided then, we never would again.

***


It wasn’t always easy to stay together. We didn’t always get along, but we were always willing to work it out. We’d both grown quite a bit in the three years we spent apart, and now we both knew better how to love.
However, I was still the skeptical one, and I wanted to make sure we did things right. I kept the place I shared with my closest friends and he kept his one bedroom apartment a few streets over. I stayed the night so much, though, I kept a drawer of my things at his place.
“Can you believe it?” I asked one night as we lay lying on the couch at his place.
“Believe what?” He asked.
I pressed the palms of our hands together and intwined our fingers.
“This.” I said.
“Us?”
I nodded.
“Do you remember the night we met? You took me to the bench by the creek, and you put your arm around me.”
He smiled, and kissed my forehead.
“Yes, I remember that night.” He said.
“And the night before I left, when we said goodnight instead of goodbye.”
“I didn’t want to say goodbye.”
“It wasn’t goodbye.” I said. “Who knew?”
It’s been said that we were made with love for the sole purpose to love, to connect with others on the deepest and purest of levels. Or really to accept our connection with others on the deepest and purest of levels. I didn’t believe in that before Benji. It was a concept I struggled to accept. I knew intuitively that love and honest acceptance were the answers to everything, but I couldn’t quite give up my fear of both to embrace them fully. Hence my trip to India. I was escaping to a world that I thought could teach me to embrace what I was most afraid of. I didn’t realize my lesson had already begun with a part-time waiter in my hometown of Sweetburdy. He taught me how to rebel all my pessimistic views on love, and how to embrace each moment with an open heart, and I taught him to do the same. It wasn’t intentional. Like everything in life, it just was.
And now we were here. He was mine and I was his, and we were in each moment together. With love and acceptance, we lived exactly as life intended.
Occasionally, though, my over-active brain would start to worry me. I’d think of my parents, all the unhealthy relationships and patterns I’d developed through the years. I’d think of how true love couldn’t last, how it didn’t even exist. I’d begin to think we were just idealizing each other, projecting our fantasy lives onto one another. It was time to get back to the reality where we actually hated each other. It was time to accept we were only hoping for dreams that would never come true.
“We’re not your parents.” He would say when my thoughts would turn dark. “We’re not our past.”
“How do you know that?” I would ask. “How can anyone ever know?”
My thoughts were darkest after graduation. The real world had bills that needed to get paid, and a workforce that wasn’t always the most rewarding. I compared my struggle and hopes for career success to the success of our relationship. Were we just hoping? Could we really sustain ourselves with hope and faith and effort?
“I’m not your job!” He yelled during a particularly emotional argument.
        His words took me by surprise. He was right. He wasn’t my job. He was my love, and in my skepticism I had confused the two. My fears for career success had correlated so closely with my fears for success in love that I’d completely merged the two. I’d gotten lost in a torrential hurricane of fear, and was so busy drowning that I didn’t realize the sun had been shining the whole time. The hurricane had only existed inside my own head.
I reacted to this realization the way I tended to react to all surprising situations: I ran. I took off into the street, barefoot and half dressed, a mess of tears and mascara running down my cheeks. Benji ran after me, of course, and since I had no real destination in mind, he caught me in his arms the second I stopped. I braced myself for the inevitable goodbye. It was the first time I’d ever ran away from him. We’d always been able to work things out before. I didn’t see any hope that this time would be the same. It was time for us to say goodbye. For good.
But then he smiled.
“Do you remember how we felt sitting by the water the night we met?” He asked.
I nodded.
“You’re the only person in this world I’ve ever felt connected with, and every time I look at you, I know you feel the same way. I fell in love with you that night, and I’ve fallen in love with you every day since. Misty, you are the best thing that’s ever been mine.”
When our lips met, I couldn’t deny the truth. As impossible as it seemed, we were connected with a love that could never die, and it was the best thing that had ever been mine.


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