Melissa and Me

When we left home,
left our preacher fathers
for the parochial school my mother,
also a preacher, had attended,
we knew nothing.

That’s not true. We knew a lot.
We could quote the Bible.
We knew the words and melodies
to dozens of hymns and choruses
and spoke Spanish well enough
to spend a summer on the mission field,
you in Costa Rica,
me in Mexico.
We knew how to read people.

We found each other in the hall
of our first dorm. For all our similarities,
we were different.
I was a scholar.
You were a cheerleader.
I rushed headlong into trouble.
You sauntered into the mess.

What we learned that year
had little to do with algebra, history, or religion.

I learned to avoid the preacher’s sons
and the preachers to be,
the former sent here by their parents,
the later by hopes or a calling.
The local boys, just back from Viet Nam,
were safer and more fun,
despite their bags of weed and white crosses.

The school didn’t appreciate our off-campus education.
The letter I received at the end of semester
asked me to choose another fine Christian institution to attend.

I’m not sure what they determined were our sins?
We went to our classes.
We turned in our homework.
We were in the dorm by curfew.

Maybe it was the questions we asked.
Maybe it was our brashness.
Maybe it was the basketball player I’d started dating.

Her daddy blamed me.
My daddy blamed her,
and kept the letter secret from my mother.

You and I kept in touch.
We married.
Had children.
Married again.
Learned what couldn’t be taught in church.

You never lost your faith.
I gained a new one, in nature, in critical thinking, in love and kindness.

Then the pandemic. My son told me you were sick,
a blood clot. Not a stroke.

I wrote to you, and you called.
After all those years, and it was just like always.

Not Covid, you said,
but you didn’t know what had caused the clot.

Jenny lost her husband to Covid, I said.
My daughter, a widow, the daughter
you helped me raise when I left my first husband.

Two old ladies.
Decades of history, of education, formal and informal.
All those years, some happy, some tragic.

And somehow, we had survived.*

*from The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

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