by Jody Callahan
We sat Indian-style facing one another in her parents’ driveway. We both had long hair. Hers curtained her face because she kept her head bowed. Something about the wine we were drinking and our conversation made her do this. It was early summer, 1996. I’ve never cared for dates of things. That sort of chronicling seems only to mark how far away we are from the things that mean enough to remember.
We were talking about how special we were to each other. I wanted to confess to her that I was falling in love with her. I had already fallen, actually. But, I was going to confess to her that I was just then falling in love with her. I thought that it would give me wiggle room if my message wasn’t well received. I could always blame the wine or something. Spooked at the last minute by the possibility of rejection, I left out love altogether. I couldn’t get a read on her. Her long hair curtained her face. We killed the wine. I got into my car and I drove home.
Shortly after that we had our first kiss. Wine was involved there, too. And a light rain. We grabbed a bottle and snuck away from the party a friend was throwing to celebrate their first apartment. It’s been years now since we quit smoking and my memory erases the cigarettes that I know I smoked then, that she and I must have smoked with our wine. I’m positive we smoked while sitting Indian-style in her parents’ driveway. Her brand was Parliament Lights, always. I smoked those and Camel Lights alternately. That night in the light rain I surprised us both. I parted the curtain of her long dark hair and pulled her pale beautiful face to mine and kissed her. It wasn’t bravery or the wine. At that moment we had not been talking about anything that had to do with the state of us, and at this party I made no plans to confess to her my feelings, let alone act upon them. It felt as though that it were simply time. While we smoked and strolled and drank I was distracted enough for all the signs she had given me, that flat out told me she wanted to be with me, to snowball through my mind. So, I kissed her without a preceding confession. It was wordless, because words were dumb. The embrace was the profession. I kissed her unplanned for, haphazardly, even, because it was overdue. It may seem passionless to put it that way, but the importance of the kiss is its execution, not the mincing of words or fidgeting around beforehand; not the triumphing over previous fear. Nor is it the “claiming” of your woman. The kiss is not a sport. It’s not you versus the mounted tension of lost opportunity that has come before. It is the sloughing off of old fear and feeble dreaming. It is you and her present in the thin delicate breezes of being. It was Leonard Cohen who said “Love is not a victory march.”
The party died, and we were getting wet in the rain. There were two available couches to us in the living room. She slept on one, I the other. We were the first of those who stayed over to awake the next day. There was some awkward morning conversation, both of us feeling the night before must be remarked upon. She got up and made coffee. She handed me mine, and it seemed to me she wanted very much to say or do something. Having my own vague determination that both saying and doing were in order, I said and did nothing. She went back to her couch. She was in cotton shorts she had brought, and a t-shirt. The girl was leggy, and this made the small shorts seem even shorter. I asked her to get onto my couch with me. She said, ok, and in a flash she was with me under the blanket, her coffee fresh, steaming and abandoned by that other couch. We spooned there until she had to leave for work. The TV was on, but I can’t remember what we watched. Strange that my memory puts a modern flatscreen TV there when those had not been invented yet.
On the subject of leggy-ness, she was leggy, but short, if that makes sense. Proportionately, I guess. But, in my mind I’ve always seen her as tall, exactly as tall as me. She had a big personality, and was full of energy. That might be why. She was strong in spirit and conviction. She saw things through, and fought for what she believed in like no other. There was a time I got fired for a bullshit reason and she was out the door before I could speak another sentence about it, and when she returned I was re-employed. The manager of the café that fired me was himself fired. This happened. In my head she is tall. This spell is broken when I remember us holding each other. Both of us standing on even ground, her head gets buried in my chest. She could never be hugged hard enough. She would have let me break herself against me if I had tried. She also liked to be tickled. Really. She wouldn’t fight me off. I’ve never known anyone like that. I’m sorry for this aside. It’s important to me to get everything down. I really am getting to the bomb.
We hadn’t had a date yet. Before the kiss we would just hang out, drink, and talk. And smoke. I have to remember that we smoked a lot then. I wanted a date, but dates before being together make little sense to me. By virtue of the date, people cannot just be themselves. I’d have to be better than myself. Better clothes than I’d normally wear, better hair, better banter, a better person. But I wasn’t a better person before, only after. This is getting hampered by the logistics of remembering. Anyway, I planned our first date.
I was nervous. We had initiated a bond between us, but nothing was solidified, nothing in stone. She could walk away at any moment. I could have, too. Not that either one of us wanted to, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t fizzle, especially in the thin flimsy breezes of being. I thought a date would help that. We scheduled for ourselves a time and place to be together in a new capacity. That capacity, I hate to say, was as boyfriend and girlfriend. We would hang out as we had before, but this time we’d hold hands, kiss intermittently, deadlock each other’s eyes randomly, dramatically. I would be annoyed by this now, but not then.
In the summer of 1996, I decided I wanted to take her out to dinner and then to the newly opened Centennial Park. Atlanta was hosting the Olympics. I don’t remember the dinner. Not where we went, what we had, or whether we liked it. I don’t remember getting to the park, either. I’m sure we took MARTA from a park and ride station (Kiss and Ride, I believe they call those stations down there.). I’m certain of this, because I remember after the bomb we were silent on the train together. It was miserably hot out. It always is in the summer in Georgia. I hated being hot. Not she. She could absorb the hot weather. I don’t remember a time when it was too hot or muggy for her. Winter would be a whole other deal. A Georgia winter, mild as they are, was somehow too much for her. At night she’d put her hands under my shirt, on my chest. Those petite frigid hands were painful. It felt like she was taking my life from me. That I had to brace myself for her to do this, and that I couldn’t help but wince when she finally placed her absolute-zero hands upon me, made her laugh. Why am I bothering about winter?
Anyway, we’re at Centennial Park. The bricks of the walkways and those surrounding a dancing fountain were dedicated to people who had donated a certain amount of money to have bricks dedicated to themselves. Her parents had donated. We looked for their brick. I think we found it, or maybe not. We moved on to a stage where loud, cheesy rock’n’roll music was being performed. They were a sad and obnoxious, aged and bloated band. We went to check it out hoping it was some bygone, washed up ex-famous group we might know of. They were nobody. I think they were, anyway. I know that upon inspection we suddenly lost all interest in them, and on the music’s merit there was no reason to linger. We turned around to explore other areas. After a few steps there was a loud pop like a giant fire cracker going off. It was loud enough that she and I, and everyone froze. We all for a brief moment paused in still life. I felt my teeth move. Then, she and I, and everyone laughed at our shared fright. For a second we believed it was just a stage effect from the awful rock band. We turned around to see the “effect’s” result. What we saw were people running and screaming toward us. Some had bloody pants and t-shirts. A girl was being carried by two of her friends with a gaping hole in one of her legs. The depth and width of the wound with the amount of blood running out transfixed me for a moment. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I was holding tightly to my date’s hand. She was holding tightly to mine. I pulled her to me. She seemed grateful that I was holding her. I know that I was grateful. Not sure why grateful was the feeling. I know we didn’t run or panic with the rest. We should’ve. I mean, at that moment we didn’t know a bomb had gone off, we thought it was a pyrotechnical effect gone awry. Still, we shouldn’t have just stood there holding each other in a panicking crowd of wounded people.
Security shooed us away. They ushered everyone out of the park. The MARTA station was nearby. I can’t recall if anyone was talking about a bomb. No, they were. I know now, because the realness set in on the train once we understood how close we were to it, mere yards. Had the band been any more interesting we would’ve been right next to the explosion. We were quiet. Everyone else was talking and speculating. She was cradled in me as we both held onto the same hand bar. At our Kiss and Ride destination we must have said something to each other. Maybe we smoked a cigarette. We had to have said goodbye, but I don’t remember it.
I remember speeding home.
My aunt was staying with us for some reason. She was on the couch. She’s my mother’s sister. Their familial traits are uncannily similar when they cry. I’ve seen my mother cry plenty. The only time I have seen my aunt cry was at the funeral a little over a decade later. I think I woke her up on purpose. I turned on the TV knowing the news would be all over the event. By this time the reports were of one killed, a woman, a teacher, I believe. I told my aunt that where all those police were with the emergency vehicles and yellow tape, and amid all the speculation on the nature of the culprit, was where I had just come from. I was there, I said. I was bragging a little. I was for some reason proud to be where this random violence had taken place, when it had taken place. I was present for a big deal, for a thing that was going to change other things. I was in love with my girlfriend. That was our first date, and people got hurt and bloodied. A lady died. My aunt said I was lucky to be alive. Luck, I remember thinking, was exactly right. Luck covered everything that night, and set in motion everything since. Looking back, it all seems so fated. But that’s not true. I was simply lucky to be there, lucky to be with her. It all could just as well have not been.
A couple of days went by. We hadn’t seen each other, but I’m certain we spoke on the phone. I wrote an awful poem about the event. I remember ending every verse with “she died, she died, she died!” To speak to the awfulness of the poem, it was more indignant than somber. I was for some reason upset with how the media was handling it and what weepy things that those who weren’t even there, for Christ sakes, were saying. However the media was handling itself, and however weepy those who weren’t there may have been, I’m certain my indignation was unwarranted and childishly silly. More likely, I was upset that I wasn’t on the news, having been there and all.
I probably read her the poem over the phone. She probably said that she loved it.
We met up at a nature park by Buford Dam. It was the first time we’d seen each other since the bombing. By then everyone was blaming a security guard for planting it. Later, it would come to light that he was, as he insisted, innocent. It turned out the bomber was the same fundamentalist Christian that was bombing gay bars and abortion clinics in Atlanta. It was many years before they finally caught him. Again, I don’t remember the traveling it took to pick her up, the conversation and cigarettes while driving to the nature park by the dam. No inkling of the hike up a wooded foothill. But we wound up there, in the woods, about midway up the trail, both of us staring at a deer that in turn was staring at us. She loved nature. She loved wild animals. A thousand times more spiritual than I, and I am not at all spiritual, she felt honored by the deer’s attention, felt that it was a sign.
When the deer moved on I couldn’t help but kiss her. This time I did so very passionately. We were finally caught up to where we should be. It was then I learned that I could pull her into me so far, wrap my arms around her so tight that she would let me break herself against me. She told me she was glad that I kissed her, glad that I brought her to this place to talk about the bomb, and our feelings toward it. We weren’t in favor of it. I imagine for her it was a reboot of the first date reset in a tranquil, natural and peaceful place. I think that’s where she resolved herself to my companionship. From then on we would not be boyfriend and girlfriend, I’m so happy to say. We then became known to all our loved ones as a single vessel called Jody and Tara.
For me the deer was a deer, no symbol. I resolved myself to her companionship just after that bomb went off and its concussive wave stopped us dead in our tracks and rattled every tooth in our skulls, and we turned to see the bloody and panicking crowds. It was Nick Cave who said, “The sky will throw thunderbolts and sparks…but I’ll come a-running straight to you.” In the sudden violence, screaming, and terrified faces we found ourselves amid, my first choice was to hold her, and be held by her.
I have this little life in Brooklyn now and I feel the distance between myself and those things that I care enough about to remember. She has passed and gone a handful of years ago. That’s when I left Georgia for good. I couldn’t be there anymore. I try not to dwell on her, and that’s gotten easier as time continues on. I can’t remember my own mother’s birthday. Seriously. I don’t remember my brother’s, nor the birthdays of any of the closest people to me. A couple of weeks ago someone was talking about something having to do with the month of May. Her birthday is in May. May 11th, the only date I’ve ever held on to. And for a very brief moment I couldn’t remember that. It was just for a second, not even, but it shook me.