Romantic Guessing Games in West Knoxville

In Sacred & Profane by Donna Johnsonleave a COMMENT

Riding the bus downtown from West Town Mall seems to take forever, so I began to regard with interest the couple across from me. So engaged were these two with one another that they took no note of me studying them from behind my large dark sunglasses.

It was difficult to discern their ages or the nature of their relationship, but there was a great deal of love and tenderness between them. Not, I might add, that kind of frantic misery one feels in a new and exciting romance, but the kind of settled love that endures over a long period of time.

No, I had the feeling, watching this couple, that they had been created and put on the planet for no other reason than to love and cherish one another and to sustain each other through the inevitable days of tedium and angst that being alive on the planet Earth entails.

I was having difficulty, even with my relentless, probing scrutiny, determining the nature of the love between these two. The woman stroked the dark hair of the man—or was he a mere boy?—as he nestled his head against the woman’s shoulder. Both seemed to be of indeterminate age. They looked as though they could be anywhere from 18 to 35 or more. Further, was this couple a mother/son duo, lovers, best friends for life, or—and this last occurred to me almost as an afterthought—perhaps twins? This seemed unlikely, but all things are possible.

There was a mutual sigh of contentment between the two and a shifting of postures so that the two could feel ever more closely entwined. Now not only was the boy/man’s head resting in the downy curve of the woman’s neck, but now the woman’s head rested on the boy/man’s head, so that they were a bit like swans who turn in toward one another and away from the world at large.

All at once the woman turned and saw me watching them. I reluctantly turned my gaze towards the rain-heavy trees outside as we passed the entrance to Sequoyah Hills. In the instant that the woman looked at me, it was clear that she was a mature woman, perhaps in her late 40s.

Summer is beginning to wear me out, with its long, scorching heat and rainy days that only make the heat more miserable afterward. The wet heat seems to form a kind of glaze or gel over everything; a feeling of suffocation dominates. Surely the trees must weep under all that wet foliage and wish for a time to become something else besides a tree—a gazelle, perhaps, or a lion, some kind of creature with the freedom to be somewhere else than standing day after day alongside Kingston Pike, watching the cars glide relentlessly by.

All of a sudden I hear the rustling of packages and umbrellas and the ringing of a bell, the signal that the couple across from me had reached their stop. The boy/man sat up and opened his blue eyes and I could see that he was not the woman’s son at all but a boyish man of about her own age. It was with a piercing envy and longing that I watched them saunter down Kingston Pike, carrying their packages and holding hands. I compared their easy familiarity and intimacy with my history of exciting, romantic beginnings that almost invariably ended in anger and violence.

I vowed within myself to look for peace in my next relationship, rather than passion. Or, better still, to walk the path of my destiny alone. And just at that instant, a handsome man carrying a violin and speaking with a French accent boarded the bus. As our eyes locked for an instant, I thought, not without chagrin, let the games begin.

Donna Johnson describes herself as a person who thrives on breaking the rules other people have made while also creating rules for herself that do make sense. “My rules do not necessarily follow the law set out by the government and law-abiding citizens,” she says. “They follow an inner law, one unto myself, and when I attempt to go outside this, to conform, disaster follows.” Her stories are often about people who are not recognized by others, who may even seem invisible, but “they often have a great truth to share if one but listens.”

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