all hands through the salt lands
change of time - josh ritter
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7
Yes. Caleb was in the air, flying from Tennessee to Tampa, to spend Christmas with me. I'll tell you what I didn't know then: how did that happen?!
Yes. Caleb was in the air, flying from Tennessee to Tampa, to spend Christmas with me. I'll tell you what I didn't know then: how did that happen?!
It had been about ten days since I called and told him that we couldn't talk anymore. He had found a mustard yellow scarf that I accidentally left behind on my trip and he carried it around with him. He missed me. He was flattened. Deflated. And decided. He didn't fully understand why I couldn't (or wouldn't) talk with him anymore. Caleb chose to continue talking with my dad - a couple phone calls and texts throughout the week. My dad was excessively impressed with this boy, but he also understood my conflicted heart.
As the days went on, and Caleb's favorite holiday in history, Christmas, approached, he felt less than holly jolly. With plans to spend time with friends in Kentucky for Christmas, the Morris family packed up and headed out on December 23. Caleb spend most of the 15-hour drive scrolling through Facebook looking at pictures of a girl he couldn't talk to, sleeping and texting a dad in Florida.
Caleb thought about how badly he wanted to be in Tampa, not in Kentucky. He thought about how great it would be to see that "city girl" and meet her family. The thing about Caleb is that when he sets his mind to something, he can't be derailed. And all of a sudden these hopes and "I wish"s were turning into "This might work…"s and "I might try!"s. After arriving to Kentucky in the wee hours of the morning, Caleb helped the family unpack and unload, and fell asleep after his restless night. When he woke up a few hours later, he was jazzed. All it took to push him off the edge was a half-joke half-dare from my dad over text: "We have an extra seat at the dinner table…" Caleb called him. "Can I come? I want to come."
My dad loves the chase, the story, the good guy and the suspense more than Nicholas Sparks. He welcomed Caleb. The Kentucky house turned into a scene from The Amazing Race. Everyone was searching for flights on Christmas Eve. The flights were astronomically expensive. It flurried inside, instead of outside. The Morris family and their friends searched any and all websites they could think of, on any and all devices that could get signal. Someone finally came up with the idea of driving the 2.5 hours to Nashville, because the Nashville flights were radically less expensive. Done. They found a flight that had Caleb landing in Florida around 10:00 pm.
A car full of family and friends escorted the Excited Desperado to his twilight flight where he'd be whisked away to surprise the girl on his mind and heart. He'd never flown on a plane before. He'd never traveled anywhere alone before. He'd certainly never pursued a girl like this before! And he didn't really think much about what would happen when he arrived. He just went.
So there I was, standing next to a pot of beans, tomatoes and meat, with all eyes on me. Caleb was in the sky with Santa Claus. When I read the text I felt extremely, completely and overwhelmingly… nothing. I went blank. "I need to take a shower. Wait, right now? He's coming right now? I need to take a shower. But now? He… this is now?" My poor mom wasn't sure what to think - mom's have always been more sensitive to emotions. In slow motion I walked to the bathroom and turned on the hot water. I had the wherewithal to text my best friends back home. "So, Caleb is coming for Christmas?" My phone exploded. I didn't have the brain or the words to answer their questions.
While I showered, fears started to wiggle back in. I started to "feel" and I felt afraid. "I don't want to hurt anybody. I'm not sure quite how I feel about him. I'm nervous. He's coming to meet my family and I've only talked to him three times on the phone!" God truly interrupted my thought process in one of those unforgettable moments. "Just pray." I prayed and prayed and prayed. Like the water running down my head, peace ran down my heart. I left the bathroom with a calmed and even delighted heart. A complete transformation from when I entered. "This just might be a little bit fun!" Peace and courage, peace and courage, peace and courage. They cycled over again and again.
My dad and I talked as we drove to the airport. The drive was only about 20 minutes. I don't remember what exactly we talked about, but I know we joked and that I felt carefree. Years ago my dad made me a promise: "Kristen, I will never ruin anything that is good for you." My dad reminded me that this guy was a good guy, and that I needed to have fun and not over think the situation. We pulled up to the "Arrivals" lane and my dad let me out so I could greet Caleb alone. As part of my Christmas surprise, Caleb had my yellow scarf sent back to me, so I decided to wear it to the airport. I sat at the bottom of the staircase, watching the TV screens. I went to the bathroom to re-fluff my hairs. I went back to the screens. I un-tucked my shirt. I un-zipped my jacket. I re-tucked my shirt. Re-zipped my jacket. I tried to tie my scarf a couple of different ways. I put chapstick on. Cherry! Mmm. I went back to the stairs and screens. Oh my feet. His plane has landed. Oh my. Cue butterflies. I truly remember for the first time in my life wishing I had a paper bag to breathe into. It was a hands on the seat, arms straight, deep breaths, close your eyes, hold very very still few minutes.
Passengers filled the staircase. I watched behind a pillar for a skinny blonde. The first wave of folks died down. Another wave erupted and I waited some more. No sign of the Caleb Dude. After a third go-round I spotted him, but he didn't see me. My did he look precious. He had a small, in my opinion feminine, tote bag. He seemed a little frantic. He was just as long and lanky as I remembered. I snuck to the bottom of the escalator he was riding down and just stood there. He looked at me a couple of times but completely didn't "see" me. When he made it to the end we finally made eye contact and he almost fell over he was so shocked! I guess my dad thought it would be a fun surprise to not tell Caleb I was coming to the airport!
And there we were. In person. In Florida. For Christmas. With a yellow scarf. Many emotions. And no clue.
Our "hello!" was as strange as you might imagine, but also deeply sincere and memorable. You'll remember that we hadn't said a single word to each other since "I can't talk to you anymore" and now we were standing beside each other on Christmas Eve. The obvious and only first questions were asked "How was your flight?" "Not too bad! Not bad at all. How is your family?" "They're great! Yeah, great. Yours?" "Oh, good. Just… recovering from the long drive." "For sure." "Yeah."
We also quickly side-hugged. Side-patted? It was something I would tweet about if I saw it happen. Just…awfully silly and stiff. We made our way, with pleather lady bag in tow, to my dad's car. Caleb was wide-eyed. He seemed exhausted. As excited and eager as he was to come, I think it was starting to hit him "Now what?"
We chit-chatted and got updates as we drove back home. Caleb very formally and professionally introduced himself to my family. He looked everyone straight in the eye and used his full-name. "Hello, I'm Caleb Morris. It's nice to meet you." *shake shake.* He sat on the couch like he was sitting on a cactus - upright and light. It was late and the children had important sugar plum dreams to worry about, so they all jumbled to their beds.
Caleb watched and helped me wrap my last presents. He was appalled at my scattered wrapping technique. "I'm a perfectionist. I would never wrap anything like that." I laughed. "Well, I just might drive you off a cliff. I'm far from a perfectionist. I'm… a free spirit! Like a modern day Pocahontas." He didn't exactly laugh.
I can't remember what else we talked about that night, but we soon went to sleep. The next morning was a happy buzz of sausage smells, children, colors and enthusiasm. Bless his heart, Caleb sat on the couch next to me and didn't say much. He watched, stared and responded politely when spoken to. In the meantime, my brothers and sisters were jumping on each other. My dad was making jokes about sports and Seinfeld. Grandma told him he was fat. Someone was talking about "passing gas." We ganged up on Kevin. Shannon screamed. Dad yelled "NUEMAN!" Mom apologized to Caleb. Dude ran off to play his new video games. I was wearing shorts. Timmy laughed about how skinny Caleb was. "I walked into the room and didn't even see him on the couch!" We joined in. Then we made fun of Timmy for stealing Dad's clothes. Katie took pictures of everything. Lauren stepped on someone's foot. Someone spilled water. Someone else's stocking was missing. Aunt Pam and Mom gave Caleb a stocking they had filled for him so he would have something to open on Christmas. Caleb gave me a brand new, bright white, beautiful North Face jacket. I patted him. Dad started cleaning up all the wrapping paper. Mom called from the kitchen to make sure he didn't throw away an instruction manuals. Dad called the kids to get all their stuff or else it might get thrown away. Grandma disappeared with her gifts before the kids could break them.
My eyes were eNORmous. WHAT did he just say?!?! Not that I'm a prude or easily offended, but I'm he had NEVER said ANYthing like that before, and this was certainly not an appropriate time to be asking such a question. Besides, I didn't even know what he meant?! "I'm sorry… What did you say?" Caleb repeated "Do y'all use safe sex?" I looked over at my mom. Was I hearing this right? Is he about to go into this right here, right now, in the middle of family Christmas, with children all around? My mom was BRIGHT red, rolling in her wooden chair, with her hand over her mouth. "I know what you think he said! AAAh! HAhahah!" Well, yes, I know what I think he said, too. And I'm fantastically confused. Caleb had no idea what I thought he said. And I had no idea what he really said! And mom was laughing too hard to be of any help to either of us! "Sacks! Do we save sacks! Ah! HAhahahaha!" Caleb turned back to me "Yes, do y'alls save sacks?"
Then I let loose with my giggling. Caleb still didn't know what was so funny. His ears were turning redder by the moment. When we calmed down enough to explain it to him, he become sickly white. I thought he was going to faint. Poor little Christian boy. Just trying to help. He couldn't stop repeating over and over and over that that is not what he said. "Sacks! Like bags! I said 'sacks!' I promise! Sacks!" I know, Caleb, I know. Don't worry. It's perfectly fine. Just not what we were expecting.
I loved how innocent he was. I wondered if he knew how rare that quality was in a 20-something man. The rest of the trip was lovely. We took the little kids to the playground one afternoon. It was the first moment on the entire trip where I felt like I saw the real Caleb. We split up into teams and played tag. A few kids wandered up and watched us play. You know how little children are when they are shy? We asked them if they wanted to play and they said no, but clearly they were dying to join in the fun. Caleb finally stopped and told them "You can be on my team." He ran them through the rules. "Base is on the slide, you can't touch the mulch, jail is on the picnic bench." He was bent over with his hands on his knees and the little boys still had to look up to meet his eyes. They nodded their little buzzed heads and scampered off. Caleb counted really, really loud to let everyone know that time-out was over. And the playground was released to be crazy once again. Kids ran, Caleb jumped and chased, I played but mostly watched Caleb. It was a wonderful hour or so. We also went to Busch Gardens together (last time I had gone my dad interrupted his lunch to talk to Caleb on the phone!). The little kids loved competing over who would get to sit next to Caleb on the roller-coasters. He so easily, patiently and happily payed attention to them. He didn't make snide remarks about them behind their backs, he didn't try to shuttle ourselves away from them to get a break, he didn't ever snap or respond harshly to them. Instead, he joined in their theme-park pleasure and bet one of my brothers "a big chicken basket" if he could ride a huge coaster with his hands up the whole time.
|I've always always always always loved this moment. I'm so glad I took a picture of it. But even if I hadn't, I would have never forgotten it.|
For every abnormally impressive quality of Caleb's, I had a somewhat odd concern. He really struggled to have long conversations in person. He also sounded like a script. I'd tease him and tell him that I knew there was more he was thinking than what he was saying. If I'd ask him a question he would sit quietly and think for a long time (sometimes minutes) before he would answer. He truly looked like a deer in headlights, or like a toddler caught red-handed, but he wasn't in danger! Or in trouble! I kept wanting him to relax and "open up" (to use a term from The Bachelorette.) Despite his trepidation and strangeness, we still spent our nights talking late into the night… just at a much, much slower pace than I was used to.
What I didn't know was that he was hounded internally with questions. Questions about me - the way I acted, what I listened to, what I joked about, the loud-crazy-ness of my family. Questions about his own convictions, questions about facts versus feelings, questions about what he was supposed to, questions about God's will and how he was supposed to know it. Questions about Taylor Swift. Questions about social skills, sense of humor and personality. Questions about different beliefs, opinions and what is "right." My family was so different from his own, yet welcomed him like a brother. I was so bold and forthright, and he felt so trapped and unsure (when it came to worldview and conviction. Because he felt bold and forthright about his interest in me, while I felt quite unsure.)
I remember sitting in our living room on the last night of his trip watching him work through a thought he was trying to explain to me and I thought "There are things about this man that no human has ever known. He doesn't even know. He isn't hiding anything. He's figuring out everything. And nothing would go against his safe, nervous, calculated decision making process than abruptly jumping on a plane to chase after a girl that he isn't *sure* he's supposed to marry. This is huge for him. And he's trying. He's trying so hard. I want to know what is going on in there. I want to know what he's feeling and thinking. I wish I could understand. I want to know him."
We were drawn to each other, despite what would seem like weird "chemistry" or "connection." It wasn't effortless and lingering and flawless witty banter followed by deep, heart-pouring. We had to be very patient with each other. We both really weren't sure what was going on. But we both had that "something," "whatever it is" (Zac Brown Band anyone?) that kept us fascinated. And we also were fiercely committed to family being central, critical and blissful in our current and future lives. We loved to talk to each other about our families, our dreams for our future families, our best memories with our families, our lessons we've learned from families, and so on. It was our strongest point of compatibility ;)
That final night we talked until I fell asleep. He snapped a picture, tucked me in and went to his bed for a couple hours. We woke up at about 4:30 am to make my 6:50 am flight. He smelled like cream cheese and hair gel. I looked like cream cheese and hair gel (white and pasty?). We both smashed our possessions into luggage. While it was still dark we silently and sleepily rode to the airport. I said good-bye to my parents. He shook hands.
As we checked in for our different flights (me back to Maryland, he back to Oklahoma) I bragged to him about my many, many travels. "Oh yeah, I was first on an airplane when I was six months old. I've been flying ever since. I fly allllll the time. I know all about airports. Here, let me help you." He tried to make fun of me and my pride, but I bulldozed right over him. "You'll pick it up pretty quick as you start to travel more. It's super easy." He just smiled quietly and nodded his head. He hadn't learned to fight back with me yet ;)
We took our boarding passes and idly walked to security. Once there I knew just what to do. Shoes off, laptop out, jacket off, in the boxes, carry on up! Boom! Caleb fiddled and looked around and asked questions and had too many grey boxes. "What do I need to take out? Do I have to take my belt off?" I zipped around like an arrogant bumble bee showing him how it was done.
As his bag went through the conveyer belt I noticed the officer call for a bag check. Oh dear. They took Caleb over into the corner and waved a wand up and down him, then patted him down. His dear eyes looked worried, and he was genuinely confused, but so genuinely wanted to be helpful and honest. Oh dear dear man. The officer pulled out a pocket-knife (one of Caleb's stocking stuffers.) Caleb sadly had to have it thrown away ("But Mikey gave it to me! I love it!"). Once we were free to go, and re-assembled we charged to my gate. I was the first flight of the day and there was no plane at Gate C21 yet. We settled into two side-by-side chairs and reflected on the weekend. We measured our hands to each others (obviously without touching them even slightly!!!) I asked him if he had more pocket knives in his sack. He glared at me and said he'd dump a bucket of chicken on my head. I occasionally would check back to see if my plane had pulled up yet (it hadn't) so we continued on, lost in conversation (for the first time on the whole trip.) I was starting to dread this whole good-bye thing. We were getting into a groove! This was wonderful! He's wonderful! I like what's happening! How are we going to leave each other? He doesn't hug me… or touch me… or anything. He doesn't even say 'I like you.' This will be special.
"Hey, did you just hear your name?" I stopped talking. "That sounded like 'Kristen Snyder.'" I listened but didn't hear anything at all. "No? I don't think so?" We decided Caleb had been hearing things. I decided to use the restroom. I walked down the terminal while Caleb waited with my things. I felt airy and lovely and light. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. Wow. I looked like spinach with mold on it. Ragged and bumpy? I easily found an empty stall, entered it and locked the latch.
"Well, young lady, you got here with seconds to spare." A droplet of sweat slid behind my ear as I handed her my boarding pass. I looked back and saw Caleb still running. She scanned the paper and opened the door for me to enter the plane. "Hurry, hurry… everyone is waiting on you, Miss Snyder!" I walked into the walkway and looked back one last time. Caleb had finally caught up. I waved good-bye. He stood there and stared. "Hurry, Miss Snyder!" The door closed. And our trip was officially over. Without so much as a word.
(to be continued...)