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The Paths We Take #23: Too Young

Jul 24, 2018







They said we were too young; we didn’t care. We were ready – ready to destroy each other.

“That’s my favorite,” were the first words that melted off her tongue and dripped into my ears. I was three bites into my mint chocolate-chip ice cream when I shifted my head to see her pointing at the cone, green streams of ice cream flowing down my hand. Seeing her for the first time was like seeing the sun for the first time or watching your first snowfall paint the landscape pure white; I was mesmerized.

“Sorry… Most of the time I’m kind of invisible,” I blurted out after staring at her for what felt like a minute. She shook her head from side to side to let me know that I wasn’t.

That same day we sat down at the picnic table at Mary Jane’s Kitchen that overlooked the river. The sun caught her hair just right, making it look like a swirl of melting caramel. She was wearing a violet sundress; the strap on the right kept sneaking off her shoulder when she put her arm by her side.

I was seventeen, and it was the last week of my junior year of high school; she was only a sophomore, and over a year younger than I was. I’d seen her at school, but we didn’t cross paths much. She was part of the tribe of artists, musicians, and academics; I was the invisible guy – good at blending in with all of them.

“What are you going to do after you graduate?” she asked.

“I was thinking about the Army; that’s what my dad did,” I said. I wasn’t certain that was what I was going to do, but I thought she would think it was cool.

“What if you had a girl here, and then they shipped you overseas?” she asked as she leaned in closer towards me. “What would you do then?”

“I’d take her with me,” I flirted. She liked the answer, and she let me know it with one of those smiles that you see only a few times in life. It was the kind of smile that radiated pure excitement and hope; the kind that made you feel like you were the only one that matters.

She pulled a camera out of her purse and snapped a photo of me. “Now, I’ll always be able to see you. You’ll never be invisible again,” she said as she showed me the image. “I always have a camera with me,” she explained while she snapped another photo.

I asked for her number, and I called her that same night. I knew it wasn’t cool to be so eager to call her, but I didn’t care, and I knew she liked me too. We started going to the movies that summer; the movies turned into evenings at the park- we loved the park; the evenings turned to day-trips to the Poconos, parking lot make-out sessions, and sneaking out at night just to talk.

We were the definition of young love, and everything else blurred when we were together. We both didn’t have any real friends anymore; we didn’t need them. Her parents seemed to like me, and mine loved her; they even made it a point to invite her to family get-togethers without even asking me about it.

After I graduated, I joined the Army like I said I would. She had a tough time with me being away. We talked as much as we could, and I promised her that I would spend every second with her when I was home.

We made it through the first year, and then after she graduated, I asked her to marry me. The diamond was half the size of an average diamond in most engagement rings, but she never did care about rings, necklaces, or even flowers. I liked that about her.


They said we were too young. We didn’t care. We were ready.

We ignored our parents’ pleas for us to wait, and we got married in the Baptist church she grew up in. It was a small wedding, our not-really-friends attended along with our families, whether they were happy about it or not. We were happy. We muted everything, and everyone, out. “We are the only true lovers left,” she would say.

She moved to Fort Bragg with me that August after we married; that is where the fairytale slipped into reality. I was in Iraq for a year; she was alone at home. She started taking online photography classes to pass the time, not that she needed to; she was better than most professional photographers. She had an eye for capturing the perfect moments; our spare room was plastered with photographs that told a lifetime’s worth of stories.

She sent me letters at least twice a week – writing was her second passion. At first the letters were full of optimism, and she talked about all the picnics we would have, the places we’d travel to, and the restaurants we would dine at when I got home, but after a few months, they changed. She started writing about how lonely she was, and that I should’ve known this wouldn’t work out for her. In one letter, she accused me of seeing another woman, but then she apologized in the next letter.

When I came home from Iraq, those moments where everything else was just a hum in the background were over. The photos in the spare bedroom had been ripped off the wall and strewn on the floor like discarded cigarette butts. She changed; we changed.

“I wish I would’ve stayed in Red Pines. I don’t get to see you anyway; at least I have family back home,” she screamed the first night I was back. She even looked different, the shadows under her eyes made her look like she hadn’t slept in weeks; maybe she hadn’t.

“I didn’t know you would react like this. You said that you wanted to be together- that’s what I’m trying to do,” I responded. I could feel us start to unravel. “I’ve been gone for a year, and when I get back, you want to start it off like this,” I yelled, frustrated at myself for encouraging her to move there.

I slept on the couch in the living room, instead of in our bed with my wife – the thing I’d been longing to do for a year. The blue glow of the television highlighted our wedding photos that hung on the wall, the words “Forever Young,” the title of her favorite movie, hung on a string below the photos. The next morning, she apologized. She said that she didn’t know how to adjust to having me home, and that me being home somehow made her feel like I was further away.

When I left the Army, we moved back to Red Pines. She was glad to be home, and my father talked one of his lawyer friends into letting me work for him as an investigator. I mainly followed around cheating husbands or wives, but it was a job, and I needed it.

We rented a small apartment downtown, because she liked to go to the local coffee shops where the Covington students hung out. She would leave before I left for work, and she wouldn’t be home until after I got home. She started taking photos again. We didn’t have a spare room in the new apartment, so she covered a wall in the living room with photos of Covington students, the park, the coffee shops, and places that she spent the day.

“Every person that I photograph is happy,” she said one evening while we were eating pizza from Lucy’s, the small pizzeria that was a block from the apartment. “Are we happy?” she asked.

“I think we’re as happy as most people,” I lied, not knowing what she wanted to hear. I was hoping that she would smile, but instead she shoved her chair back away from the table, cracking the drywall.

“This isn’t how life is supposed to be; this is not living. We are poisoning each other. You never pay attention anymore- we don’t do anything,” she cried.

“We can’t keep doing this. Every day there is something else, something new that is wrong with us. Why can’t we just sit here and eat pizza? That is what people do- they sit down and have dinner, and then they figure the rest out,” I snapped. I could feel the heat on my ears and face and I wanted to rip the table from the floor and smash it to bits against the wall.

“I’m tired of pizza,” she screamed as she threw her plate in the sink. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know how to fix us. I thought we were doing everything we could. The wedding pictures shook as she slammed the front door, and I listened as the sound of the car faded into silence.

This is life, I thought to myself as I finished my slice, alone. I wanted to go after her, but I didn’t know where she would go – I had an idea, but I didn’t want to fight anymore.

She came back the next morning, still crying. “I don’t know what to do,” she whispered as she wrapped her arms around me. “I don’t know how to make all this work,” she said. After a few minutes, she said that she needed a shower and grabbed her robe from the closet.

“We’ll make it work,” I reassured her. “We can talk about this tonight… make some changes,” I said through the bathroom door. The shower sputtered to life. I grabbed my wallet and keys from the nightstand and left.

At work, I spent most of the day thinking about ways to make her happy. I reserved a room in Gettysburg. She always loved taking pictures of historical places; she said that she could ensure that history wouldn’t be forgotten. She wanted things to be remembered for what they truly were and not some watered-down version.

I left work thirty minutes early, hoping to break the news of our trip to her over an early dinner. It was a gray Fall day, but I didn’t mind it. The color of the leaves popped in the gray – that was something she taught me.

By the time I got home, it was too late. She was already gone.


We were too young; we should’ve cared. We weren’t ready. We destroyed each other.


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.