I’ve always been a pack rat. Not a hoarder of things, but of memories. Photos, cards, things people make me. I save all of it. Some of these items sit on my desk at work. Others are contained in a couple of boxes in a downstairs room in my house. A few are stored in a different place. A safe place. A place where not even disaster can touch it. There’s a fireproof safe in my closet.  It contains some things my wife gave me while we were dating, and there are some important legal documents in there, also. But those aren’t the reasons I bought it.

I bought it for the things given to me, made for me, and written for me by Sonja Jane Larson. I have letters, cards, notes passed in church (we all were teenagers once, right?), a sheet of paper with something she drew for me on both sides, a bandana she gave to me right before I moved. She wrapped it around my wrist and said, “Keep this to remember me.”

I remember you.

I keep all of these things in the fireproof safe. They are among my most prized and priceless possessions. When letters are all of you have left of someone you loved, they become more valuable than gold.

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Going back, part 2..

FBC Pompano Steeple. A guiding light of my youth.

Last week I wrote about part of my experience going back to my hometown. I wrote how it felt like a pilgrimage of sorts.

But that was just the first half of the story.

After I navigated the emotions of all I encountered on the first day, I drove to the church I grew up in. The church where I was baptized. The church where I met her and saw her for the last time.

And it seemed as if I had traveled back in time. Not because everything looked the same. Some things looked exactly as I remembered then, while others seemed a lot smaller than my recollections. Paint was different, rooms were rearranged, a building was completely gone. But the scents were the same.

And so were the people.

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Holding on..

We were standing next to each other in the lobby of the church. I was holding on to her, but she was clinging to me. Over and over she kept repeating the same words, “Please don’t go. I love you. I don’t want you to go.” We stayed in this embrace for longer than I had ever stayed in an embrace in my life. I was just a few months shy of sixteen, and nobody had ever hung on to me so tightly. Nobody had ever said they loved me over and over again. Nobody had ever begged me to stay. I had a great family. My parents had certainly made me feel loved since the day I was born. But this was different. I was a teenage boy. And she was a teenage girl. And she loved me. And she didn’t want me to go.

Her name was Sonja Jane Larson and she was beautiful. She was tender, her skin and spirit and words as soft and fragrant as rose petals. She was creative, an artist, a poet, a dreamer. I was nerdy, glasses set upon my nose and clothes that more than likely came from a discount establishment. I was awkward, unsure of myself, lacking confidence in who I was. We weren’t dating. I didn’t have a clue how to date a girl when I was fifteen. We were something better, something way deeper than an adolescent infatuation. Sometimes we’d hold hands as lovers often do, and I can still remember the way she would lean over and kiss my cheek for no particular reason. We were buddies, the best of friends, connected in a way that wasn’t necessarily romantic, but powerful in a way I still can’t quite explain. She just got me. And there are few people in life that really get you, you know?

And we stood there in the church lobby on a muggy south Florida summer night in June of 1987, surrounded by other teenagers, yet lost in our own little world, and she was clinging to me and I was holding on to her. And over and over she cried, “Please don’t go. I love you. I don’t want you to go.”

But I had to go.

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