So Long, So Long


Image by Unsplash, a free photosharing site

Friday, September 7, 2001

Hoboken, NJ

She was in all ways different. 

She didn’t have much in common with the rest of us, but she never had. The running theory was that she planned it that way, But I never saw how you could always want to be different. Such a rebellion was something you tried out once or twice, when your parents got on your nerves. When you needed a breather it was easy to throw on your shades, slump down somewhere and wonder if maybe you were a genius. 

But anyone else would be through with that charade within the hour. Eden was different. Always different. And, as far as we knew, she had no desire to make any sort of point of it. Not for-profit or anything. And it certainly wasn’t as though she wanted to show off to anyone. It just seemed to be in her nature. We were sure she wasn’t a genius – preserve our own egos, you know. But we were sure there was something different about her.

In younger years we used to laugh at it. That was the only way we could make ourselves feel better about how strange we felt. Great big rollicking laughs that made our sides hurt until we started sobbing, and then forget what it was we were laughing about.

Troy was good at making us laugh. Especially at her expense. But she was easy to laugh at, anyway. He’d make a joke, whisper something about Eden that the rest of us usually caught onto – and even though I disagreed sometimes, I went along with it. 

And then Troy would ruffle my hair, kiss my cheek, and say “Come on, Sal, it’s all for fun.” And I would frown, and he’d ruffle my hair again for good measure. 

Every now and then I would stick my bottom lip out. “Did you ever think maybe she heard you?”

“Why’re you being so sour about it?”

“You never think about stuff like that.”

“Darn right.” 

He would smirk at me, squint his eyes as though smiling into the sun, and twist side to side with his hands on his hips until I couldn’t keep my frown together anymore. He was so darn stubborn. And infuriating.

And every day Eden bounced back – at least it seemed like that. Sometimes I forgot she probably couldn’t hear all Troy’s jokes about her in the first place, so maybe it wasn’t like she was wounded at all. She wouldn’t have told us otherwise – she was too much of an angel. And can angels ever really be wounded?

She entered the classroom right on time on Friday the seventh, only the third day of school. But she’d told us she was going to visit her mother in New York, and you didn’t ever press her on that. There had been whispers about her parents ever since they told us what “divorce” meant in the sixth grade. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed like everyone’s parents started fighting. I guess it was something that was always going on, only now we were old enough to handle it. Now it was all they did. Fight.

Though if it rubbed off on any of the rest of us, it sure didn’t rub off on her. She remained just as much an angel as she’d always been. It flowed from her. When you were tired of the buzz of the downtown and wanted some peace, or just didn’t want to hang around with anybody, you’d hike up to her place, sit on the little white bench beneath her second-floor bedroom, and close your eyes as Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme streamed out her open window, wondering if she even knew you were there.

So in the classroom, when she did enter it, you felt you had a special connection to her that not even she knew about. You knew the tunes that were circulating in her head, and it felt as though you finally had something on the map – a little piece of the puzzle at last put together.

The other kids all cushioned her like a delicate ornament, shuffling out of her way without a word – not out of intimidation, but respect. And, to an extent, love. So Eden would hobble down the path clearly paved for her, hunching beneath a rucksack that dwarfed her, a million forgotten keychains jangling in an off-tune unison.

Was a single, pointless third day of school really worth the getting up early, and the long walk to school, and the sidewalk soda stains that would make your shoes sticky? Probably not. But she wouldn’t miss it. She never would.

Time didn’t really pass with Eden. She looked just about the same every day as she did in your memory of her. Perhaps she did it for that exact reason. Today, as ever, she wore her icy blonde hair (some people swore it was white) tucked neatly behind perky ears. She was dressed in all white, light jeans with no rips and one of those white shirts that turned colors when you stood outside in the sun. Round Lennon-esque glasses framed her indigo eyes, magnifying them so she looked like a curious bug. A brown suede shoelace was looped several times around her wrist, a peace sign faintly inked onto the skin just below her ring finger nail. A tiny chain with a little jewel set in it hung close to her neck, bobbing slightly when she sat up straight.

That morning Mr. Stokes rambled on for what felt like centuries about why Organic Chemistry was going to be the most important class we ever took, going over the syllabus for the third time (he’d covered it once a day with us, all three days of school). Every second my eyes grew closer and closer to shutting, and staying glued that way. But then Troy would snap his bubblegum. And someone would cough. 

And out of my hazy September reverie I woke to see Eden sitting straight up, hands folded in her lap, neither passionately enthused nor evidently repulsed. You could tell she was taking Stokes’ word with a grain of salt too. But she watched him with respect. Unattached, perhaps indifferent, yet unmistakable respect. And I just didn’t understand.

I let it carry me to the end of the day, let it walk me back to the little white bench under the window, where she played So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright until a dented car rolled up and beeped. The music turned off with a click, and then with another thump and the slam of a door, then a loud whoosh as the window shut, Eden was out. Her canvas bag, with enough of everything for the next few days, swung lightly over her delicate shoulder. 

She pivoted right around and saw me – though she didn’t look the least bit surprised. Rather, she looked as though I was an expected guest, one she was thrilled had at last shown up. As though she was about to say, “I knew you’d be here!” 

Eden waved gaily to her chauffeuse, nodded at her until she nodded back and put the car in park.

Eden turned back to me, pointing back to the car with her thumb. “My mother.”

Well, I would have thought.

At this point I really had no idea what to say. It would be difficult to think of a worthy explanation for why I would randomly be sitting beneath her window, other than that I was a stalker and a loner with no one else to talk to. Which wasn’t true.

Luckily she had the coolness to look past the awkward circumstances. She was always so cool

I at last let out my breath. “Heading out?”

Eden nodded, gesturing to her bag. “New York. Just for a few days. Visiting my mother.” It got so quiet I could hear her breathing. “She likes it when I visit.”

All I could think to do was nod. I could hear Troy’s laughter in my head, growing ever clearer as I watched Eden pick a dandelion from the sidewalk crack.

It was kind of a silly thought, imagining someone like Eden existing in a place like the city. She was so frail, with her little shoelace bracelet and pendant, and her big blue eyes. She’d get crushed.

But there she went, with a final nod and a fond wave to me, seat buckling her bag into the backseat and then clambering into the passenger beside her mother. Her radio was off, but I swear I could still hear the closing lines sailing through her window. 

So long, so long…

Eden wasn’t in school next week. Or the week after. But she was in the crash. And she was in the rubble. And she was in the paper. 

She was in all ways different.