We stood next to the old train tracks at the edge of town in the cold February air, wearing our matching aviator caps. I liked my goggles down, but Jessie wore hers up, just like Charlie Broadmoor did in the movie Flightpath. Nobody kept watch over us, and nobody was there to keep us out of trouble. Nobody ever was back then, it’s just not how things worked. It was just me and Jessie.
She was the girl next door, and my very best friend for all of time. We stood there, side-by-side, staring at the dull grey fog, where the train tracks disappeared some fifty yards out. The old hand car still worked, and despite its rust and many splinters we could still pump the lever up and down to make it go. Jessie, forever the planner, had fashioned a makeshift sail, just in case we needed it for the journey home. It was made from an old broomstick, and a bed sheet from her mother’s linen closet.
In my backpack, just the essentials. A pack of gum and some candy, a peanut butter sandwich, four marbles and my father’s Boy Scout pocketknife, now handed down to me.
As we stood staring into the fog, the church bell rang at the center of town. A man had passed away and they were holding his funeral. I wondered how he died. What he was like. How old he was. What they would say at his eulogy.
Jessie stared down the tracks into the foggy abyss. She looked as fearless as anybody I had ever seen, even more fearless than old Charlie Broadmoor pulling that ripcord. Jessie feared nothing. She met every challenge straight on, and with grace.
“What do you think we’ll find in there?” she asked.
“Adventure,” I remember telling her. “Definitely adventure.”
We pumped the hand car down the track, straight into the fog, until we could no longer see the place where we started. Once inside, we searched high and low for monsters, and dragons and giant mutant slugs that only eat your face, leaving you to wander the earth for all of eternity looking a horrible mess. Jessie came up with that last one. She had a flair for the dramatic.
After searching in vain, in need of a break, we sat in the fog, on a rotting log. We shared my sandwich and discussed our plans for what to do if we ever found them. We agreed that they must have heard us coming, and had gone into hiding long before we ever arrived. We would be quieter the next time.
That particular adventure might have lasted only an hour, but I never forgot it. It ended with our mothers calling us back to our homes, just a short run’s distance from the rusty old hand car. It was time to wash up.
The creatures in the fog were safe for now, and they would live to haunt another day. Jessie and I would be back, however, with the very next fog. Rest assured.
That was the day I realized it. I liked Jessie. And I liked her not just a little. I liked her a very great deal. It was our first adventure together, and I never could have imagined the countless adventures that would follow. Some were good, and some were not. That’s life, really. Even among the good, some were better than others.
A found treasure. A lost tooth. A scraped knee, a loving embrace and the premature death of a parent. High school graduation. Moving from our childhood homes to attend college in different cities.
The stress of managing our budding careers and supporting each other through it all. Dealing with ends that just wouldn’t meet. Finding a way to make them.
The innumerable joys of our wedding day. Four tragic miscarriages. One miracle birth, the doctors even said as much.
A puppy found in a stocking on Christmas morning, and the day we decided it was finally time to put the old boy down.
Raising our miracle daughter, watching her, worrying for her, teaching her, guiding her, protecting her, providing for her, sacrificing for her, wishing the absolute best for her. Giving her away on her wedding day, and welcoming our first grandchild into this world. Then our second, and our third, each a miracle in their own right.
Planning. Saving. Retiring. Building a healthy nest egg and making the best laid plans to enjoy our golden years together. Cocktails in Maui, watching a perfect sunset, eating a perfect meal. Losing our luggage in Greece, permanently.
Planning a safari in Africa. Receiving a diagnosis.
Treatment. Remission. Recurrence. A life lived beautifully and ended far too soon.
As I drove here today, I reflected on the fog and the tracks and the hand car. I thought about the church bell, and what they must have said at that man’s eulogy so many years ago.
I wondered what I would say, standing here, delivering one of my own. I think I’ve probably covered it. I also wondered what Jessie would want me to say on her behalf. I think it’s quite simple.
Be present. Love with abandon.
But most important, go on adventures and enjoy them for what they truly are. You never know where they will take you, and that’s just simply fantastic.
I would be grateful if only we could have a few more together. But as things stand, Jessie has gone back into the fog, alone for now. And doubtless, I’ll catch up with her in my own time. When I do, I know she’ll be waiting for me. In the meantime, however, I’ll just have to go on a few of my own. I think that’s what she would have wanted. Until then I’ll look forward to telling her all about them, when we reunite in the fog once again.