Charlie was a friend of mine.
A boy, age 10, and I still nine. We shared the same grade and the same teacher, Mrs. Tadeshi.
Charlie was somehow untouchable and his mere presence carved out a space between him and the outside world. He was like a flask filled with quiet confidence: he was otherworldly and me, unworthy.
We sometimes walked home from school together. Not side by side, but in line with Charlie behind me. Charlie was sturdy, both in build and demeanor, while I was a ragtag, wispy towhead, a ball of frenetic energy. Perhaps that was why Charlie liked me, perhaps I somehow reminded him of the crackling sparks set off by his beloved rockets.
We walked in silence. Charlie trailed a stick in the dust and gravel, making a sound that served to unravel the pent up shame, anger and blame that encircled me like a tourniquet. The boy was a comfort for a girl in need of a reprieve from the staring, judging eyes of little girls with brittle giggles, and punishing, disapproving words of our grammar school teacher. The further away from school we got, the more the tourniquet loosened its choking knot, setting free a joyful, ebullient child, free to prance like a frisky pony or buzz like a mighty bumble bee. Charlie would sneak a look and give me a shy smile. Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I’d jump on him for a piggy back ride. Charlie would always comply.
During show-and-tell at school, Charlie brought his rockets. His homemade rockets that were as tall as me, painted with lush, saturated colors. He set them off on the playground; even the principal came around for this spectacle. His rockets shot high into the pale, blue sky, then crackled, sparkled and burned in a blaze of glory, a forerunner to self-destructing art. Charlie was ahead of his time.
We’d part as he turned down Tippi Canoe and I continued on to the next street: Paris Hill Road. But one day Charlie said “Come with me. I have something to show you,” and so I did.
We arrived at his house; the windows were dark and lonesome. Charlie veered toward a side gate and took me straight back to a wall of blackberry vines intertwined with the languid limbs of an old willow tree. “This way,” he said as he took my hand and we wound down, through, and round until we reached a clearing. In front of me stood a teepee, constructed with narrow, wooden planks, painted all the colors of the rainbow. “I built this,” Charlie said as he opened the door. As we stepped through, he switched on a light and revealed another world, a world of glass pipettes, mysterious liquids, copper wiring, soldering tools, sheets of aluminum, rivets, and brackets.
Rockets of all sizes and various stages of completion were everywhere. Tubes of paint and other unidentified objects and smells fascinated and riveted me. “This is my lab,” said Charlie. “I’m an inventor and someday I will fly across the galaxy.” “Can I come too?” I asked. “Of course, you’ll be my co-pilot,” Charlie replied.
That night I was awakened from a deep sleep by a deafening explosion. I tried to scream but there was no sound. My ears rang and my nose bled.
And so it was. My beloved Charles took a ride on his rocket through the galaxy but did not take me with him.
“In the midst of loneliness, in the midst of fear. In the middle of feeling misunderstood and rejected is the heartbeat of all things….the genuine heart of sadness. Just as a jewel that has been buried in the Earth for a million years is not discolored or harmed, in the same way this noble heart is not affected by all of our kicking and screaming. The jewel can be brought out into the light at any time and it will glow as brilliantly as if nothing had ever happened…..the genuine heart of bodhicitta (wakeful human nature]) cannot be lost. It is here in all that lives, never marred and completely whole.” ~ Pema Chodron
Author: Melanie Jackson
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Editors: Katarina Tavčar; Caitlin Oriel