My Southern Belle

 Each week I travelled past that house, almost within touching distance of the tree that stood so grey and spidery and dead looking in the front yard. 

I had passed by without touching it, without noticing it, like the recent years had passed me by but today I looked and thought of it in full bloom when it was transformed into a mass of perfumed, white blossoms.

Pendulous. Hanging in warm and exotic profusion. That is the way I had always thought of the Magnolia. The way the tree had looked at me. A reflection, an image of you and your glorious beauty. So beguiling and so entrancing. It was as if I had buried my face in an armful of flowers. A bouquet of magnolia blossoms. Like the scented air of each petal you had invaded my senses. A sweet victory was yours and I lived my life on clouds of gentle delight.

Oh, my Southern Belle! How you had burst open inside me and filled my life with joy and the wonder of happiness. Those days so intense and electrifying. It was like living as part of a continual electrical storm. And each time I saw you, no matter how often, it was a fresh thrill of excitement I felt when I looked at your face.

Because you didn't grow slowly upon me, unfolding, unfurling like a fern in the cool shadows of a deep forest but you exploded like a summer storm. A tropical, torrential downpour of uncompromising, undeniable forces that flooded into my parched and barren life and filled and swelled and awakened my senses to a shivering certainty of pleasure.

The briefest glimpse of you was enough to quicken my breathing, make the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand up and bristle. It was like being wrapped in a live electric wire. And the sound of your footsteps approaching in the distance I heard like insistent drumming of jungle rain beating a crescendo on a hollow tin roof. Bizet's Carmen played in the air and the abandoned, frenzied, staccato sound of flamenco castanets shook me to the very core.

You became instantly my filter, the medium through which my perceptions and images were received. My altered level of awareness gave me shifts of feeling exciting and dazzling like the coloured beams of light now visible through a prism. That prism which was my recognition of you. My adoration of you.

For, if you were my summer storm, my flash of lightning and the catharsis that burned into my solitude and banished aloneness, you were also my decoration, my icon set high on a shelf in a white washed chapel on a tiny Greek Island and each time I was to hear your voice I paid homage to you and I spoke to you with words of adoration. Every moment a song of praise to your loveliness.

So when you first aid, Hello! And I replied, Hello, it sounded to me totally unlike a polite, friendly and casual greeting but more a stirring, moving, inspiring sonnet or a clashing of cymbals or fanfare of trumpets.

I inherited an unexpected childish dream world of teenage fantasy where nothing was ordinary. All my impressions were imbued with the grace of buoyant optimism and glee and I felt reality about me through the pores of my skin. All sharp edges and harsh angles blurred and softened and radiated the rosy glow of your complexion. Everyday became for me an emotional roller coaster ride which alternated between a warm, contented serenity, as if I'd drunk a Valium milk shake, to the exhilaration of an ignited rocket that threatened to burn me out with sensory overload.

My feeling of completeness with you was natural and spontaneous. My reaction to you was an automatic consequence of knowing you. Why, if seeing your face was breathing in, then loving you was breathing out!

I embraced emotionalism and extravagant melodrama. I could be sentimental and silly and feel good about it. I was liberated from the constraints of responsible good taste and freed from the self imprisonment of staid conformity. I could wallow in excess. I didn't care that I was widely enthusiastic or syrupy. In fact, it was a relief to be all these. I felt empowered to embrace attitudes that all of a sudden were permissible and reasonable. A light heartedness that let nonsense loose from my usual reserve.

A light heartedness that came from the total, shivering delight I felt at your being near me.
And then, one day, you called me a gentleman. Later on you said to someone, "This gentleman." But you know, Scarlet, no one ever accused me of that before! I'm no gentleman. You, my Southern Belle, may be a lady but I'm no gentleman.

So there was only one thing for me to do. I took some red ribbon to the tree and made you a posy of white Magnolia blossoms.

And, in my mind, I sat with you in the softness of a gentle twilight on the front porch and we listened to a whippoorwill calling. And we breathed in the heady blossom fragrance as Stephen Foster songs played on in the ballroom and couples twirled past the window. I carried to you a silver tray and we sipped mint juleps as we thought of our old Kentucky home far away. And, smiling, I gazed at you as the cool light of the rising moon rose over the plantation and beamed down and sparkled in your bright eyes, your flushed cheeks and your crinoline gown.

All the while magnolia blossoms floated, seemingly suspended in the tranquil air like perfumed powder puffs and we watched together as the dreamy charm of the night spread over the fields.

Days later, at the end of July while that tree was in full bloom, you were gone.

There was very little warning or time for me to prepare. As if I could ever have been able to prepare.
The world didn't stop turning for me, it simply ceased. I ceased. I dislocated. I suffocated in this place suddenly without brightness. I entered a dimension where objects and events became disassociated images. I was no longer familiar with my surroundings. I examined in macro focus ordinary household items to place them in relative perspective. Knives and forks seemed deserving of close and serious study then I decided, after all, such consideration was pointless. And waking up in the morning was an unnecessary punishment I resented having to suffer.

I felt trapped. I could not cross the chasm that opened up and propelled me, hurtled me into a lost condition. I was like an alien in a strange land, without a roadmap and unable to speak the language or understand the signs. I was lost and confused and angry. Any place where you were not was no place for me. I was too helpless. I didn't want to be there.

Without you I was incomplete. I choked. Burdened with words I could no longer speak. Your words. I endured time that passed in torturous anonymity. I was in a place where no perfume intoxicated my experience and I ached for the vision of a face I could no longer touch. My eyes were dimmed by dull routine and I drowned in horrible panic at my loss of control. I was at the mercy of chaotic and random fear and anxiety. You had been my reason and now you were gone.

Then I realised the ultimate cruelty. In a heart that kept on beating and a mind that could no stop thinking, I found no peace. Slowly and inexorably time continued and I lived on.

Days drifted by like grey clouds across a dark, winter's sky and I witnessed them with the icy, impassive stare of a stone monument shrouded by swirling mists of indifference.

Then once, during those days of sameness, I smiled briefly. I don't remember why or when. Even later I laughed. I recollect how odd that foreign eruption seemed. Oh, how guilty I felt! I didn't have any right to smile. I didn't have your permission to have any form of life expression. I felt disloyal and unworthy of your memory. I hugged my austere blanket of vigilant mourning more tightly to me lest I betray you again.

But then, of course, I smiled again and I remembered you without trembling or shaking. Oh, my Southern Belle forgive me, but I eventually remembered you with thoughts of fondness! Fondness! How anaemic! My passions had poured from a fiery furnace, nothing so lukewarm as this memory. Hours and finally, days passed and the oppressive weight of your absence, inside me like a desolate landscape, began to lose it's desperate harshness.

I suddenly re-discovered flowers. My ability to see flowers had gone with you the one who had hung garlands round my heart and adorned my life with beauty. But one day I noticed a garden. Only noticed it. I didn't enjoy it.

Then, just a little while ago in June, I once again saw the Magnolia tree. The tree that had been invisible to me for so long. I looked at the slight swelling of the forming buds on the tips of the branches and all the memories of you, of us, flooded into me, over me.

I sat, unable to move and felt an earthquake shift about and reorganise inside me.

And I knew that the time since you had gone, that crushing eternity, had cheated me. Robbed me. It had healed my pain of losing you but it had also stolen my precious memories. It had taken away the raw acidity of my grief. At the same time the indiscriminate thief had taken, without my realising it, the freshness of my delight in you.

And now, as I looked at this little tree, it was as if you were beside me. I could feel you near me and hear the sounds of your footsteps, a metronome, beating an harmonic rhythm into me and dispersing, soothing my erratic discord and once again illuminating before my eyes smooth contours and soft and elegant shapes. I could hear your voice and now thrill to the thought of you.

For I see just as clearly as I see the blossoms and branches sway gently in the breeze, and did not leave me. Your imprint was still cast deep in me, continued to reside in me.

That part in me no longer mine. That place inside where beauty lived, where ideas were born. That place of thoughtfulness, of tenderness and warmth. Where feelings reposed until you claim them. That place inside you gave to me. You created and defined within me.

Your perfume filled the air and I knew that each year as I watched the Magnolia bloom all over my heart would break anew but I would be filled with familiar, quickening delight and sweet scented memories of you.

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