a short story.
Johnson and Caren met in the Summer of 1968: one year too late for the summer of love. Johnson was the kind of man who was talked about a lot. Or more particularly, he was the kind of man who Caren was spoken to a lot about. Caren was told wonders about his height, his personality, his sense of humor, and his love for Otis Redding. Johnson was, in fact, the perfect man for Caren to dream about.
But this is not a love story. I promise.
By the time that Caren met Johnson she was sick of hearing about him. She had heard of his crystal green eyes and his superb conversationalist skills. Everyone Caren knew, in turn knew Johnson; and everyone who had met either of them would recommend the other.
The people would ask: Have you met Johnson? Y’all are so much alike.
To which Caren would politely reply: So I hear, but so I have not.
The week before Caren met Johnson, there was a great deal of concrete pouring going on in her world. The building across the street was gaining a foundation, and the street itself a sidewalk. Caren, feeling alone and one drink past rational, went along with some not so good friends late one night. She ignored her creeping wariness and joined the caravan only to find herself toe to toe with the freshly poured cement sidewalk.
And despite her better judgment, she wrote also.
When Caren did meet Johnson, she forgot what she was doing. Though for months she had waited to meet Johnson, it was not until she had actually been formally introduced to him that she realized she had, in fact, met him already. She had been ignoring him seconds before when suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, it happened.
Caren, said a fellow student of little consequence, have you met Johnson?
And she rolled her eyes and grumbled no, despite the ungentle appearance it gave her.
Wait just a moment, said the boy behind her, You are Caren?
And in that moment, Caren forgot that she was in chemistry class. She forgot that she was wearing a dress and she forgot that she was Caren. All she could think about was the rapid rush of blood escalading quickly into her cheeks.
And there was Johnson.
He was in tall in a way that was uncomfortable: 6’ 7” and lanky. He was a loud-mouthed know-it-all who was a continual breach to her focus. He made horribly masochistic jokes that when called out for their crudeness he responded:
Well that’s a big word for such a pretty girl
And the only Otis Redding song that Johnson ever relayed, he whistled. Under his breath. During class. Out of tune.
I thought your name was Carrie.
I thought your name was John.
Caren turned back around in her seat and tried to breathe. She could feel his eyes on her. She could feel them the same way she had felt last summer, every night. She could feel them the way they felt when he’d started ignoring her. And she could feel them the way she felt them when he talked about his unnamed summer fling behind her in class. She tried to ignore the burning in her cheeks, but it did not work.
Now, you wouldn’t happen to know who wrote our names in the concrete on the corner of Dean Keeton and Whitis do you?
And Caren’s cheeks bloomed redder.