December 2, 2003. Good byes were said and Mr. Trent picked me up at the hospital to take me to the airport. Between my discussion with him and phone calls to Joanna, I had the distinct stench of fish in my nostrils. Mr. Trent asked one too many questions in two too many different ways about what my plans were when I got back to Franklin. So with mixed feelings of dread and a bit of relief I got on the plane to Tennessee.
It was never so good to see Joanna’s face as it was that evening. She asked what I wanted to do and where she could take me out for my birthday. It sounded to me as though she was suppressing her enthusiasm which, if you ask me, is not healthy for some one…and I assumed that some one was me. So my answer was something to the effect of, “I want to go somewhere where no one knows me.” (Insert the sound of suppressed enthusiasm being squelched) The “oh” and longish-short pause that followed were unforgettable, and while she recovered quickly I resigned myself to the fact that it was more than likely not going to be a just her and I kind of evening.
“Well, before we go to Friday’s or something, do you mind if we run back by my house real quick to get your present that I forgot on my way to pick you up?”
“Sure. Whatever.” Followed in my head by, “Yeeeaaah, right. You forgot.” And another verbal, “Whatever”.
Cradling my splinted hand that had gotten cracked a couple of days before in a fit of enthusiastic joy while hugging my mother, I sat quietly in the passenger seat of the most adorable baby-blue bug convertible ever as Joanna kept getting phone calls from “friends”. Oh, we needed to stop by Kroger on the way to her house to pick up my present before we went out to eat too. I had almost forgotten about that. I must admit it was all a grand show! The only reason I was so anal is because I was so daggum tired and suspicious.
We pulled into the infamous Grant gravel driveway and there were no cars that didn’t have a Grant as an owner. Der and Mrs. G had gone to bed and Jesse was out and about somewhere or other. I relaxed a bit and was already to collapse on the nice big red couch as soon as we walked through the door. And in the 3 seconds too long it took Joanna to find the lights in her own house, all enraptured visions of comfy couches poofed from my dreams.
There, standing before me, was pretty well weigh every single person I knew in Franklin. If I had not seen the picture of my face and eventually apologized to Joanna, I’m sure she would still think that I was about to kill her. Truth be told, I was. I had never seen so many people in my life standing in the Grant house, staring at me, and then asking me what I thought. “Get-me-out-of-here,” was the first thought. “There’s so many people,” was the second thought. “Joanna put this together and I didn’t suspect until today,” was the third. I think what zapped the speech from me most effectively was the diversity of the people that were there. Mrs. G even commented afterward that there were people from my past, present, and those whom I knew I’d know better in the future. Young and old. From mentors to basketball girls, co-workers to students, choir members to room mates. Community was standing right in front of me. Someone just had to turn the lights on before I could see.
I wasn’t very talkative that night. I was soaking it all in.
Once I was an island—or at least considered myself one. I tried most everything in my power to alienate myself to some remote part of a hypothetical sea. I had to be taught, over time. But there was one mile marker, a point in time where I can look back. That was the one.