on the old airfield

It ends at the old airfield. I fall down and I bawl my eyes out, because it’s all gone and I can’t get it back. Then it starts raining and I have to get to the boat.

But no, that’s not right. That’s not how it ends at all.

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It starts at the old airfield.

It’s church camp, and for most of us it’s the first time we’ve been this far from home. We’re giddy and there’s the romance of it all. We’re as far west as we can get, we’re all we have out here, we’re 21 and we’re all in love.

The sky’s greying, with streaks of pink. It’s the only place we can get a phone connection. I’m feeling the chill in the wind and the height of it, but at least I’ve brought a jacket, the hand-me-down from Carl. The grass comes through the old concrete in tufts. Vinnie is standing tall and solemn, and he looks into the distance like the hero he is. He’ll need every ounce of that for the storm that finds him a few years later. And Danny is there too, talking and nodding and bobbing his head every few seconds. Jin is there. And Sal, and Javi, everyone’s there. We walk around on our own or in small clusters, the breeze was sweet and Jesus was alive. The dying sun made everything look beautiful. And then we take a photo, on a cliff, on the western edge of the world. But I’m not in it, because I think it’s funny that I’m taking a photo of them taking a photo.

And then I’m gone. I follow Danny as he gets shipped out. He settles down and finds himself a girl. I try a few times myself, but no luck. A few more of us ship out too, we’re at the eastern edge of the world now.

The breeze is not so sweet out here. We’re not 21 anymore. And there’s so much else out here. I start teaching. Danny heads a congregation. Most of the guys marry and have kids. Some of them have problems with their wives. I exploit my parents’ kindness. A couple more Danny’s show up in life – there’s three now I think. One of them is wise, sardonic and cynical. The other has a winning smile – his wife is my kid sister now. I get older and I forget what date it is. My hip hurts when cold rain comes in. The kids at school get all my attention – my parents none. I curse God when exams come, and I curse him because the airfield is gone, and there’s no breeze and I’m not 21 anymore.

Some nights I go back to the airfield. I take a long, long train ride in an empty car, to the edge of the world. There’s fields all around. I walk up the cliff to the old airfield. And then I fall down and bawl my eyes out, because it’s all gone and I can’t get it back.

But so much of it isn’t real. The airfield was real. But I wasn’t crying at the airfield. The wind was real. Danny was there. Except he wasn’t, because that’s not his real name. None of their names are real. The rain wasn’t real either, or the boat. But now I’m at the airfield, and I’m bawling my eyes out because it’s all gone and I can’t get it back. I want it back that I know Vinnie is tall and fearless, that he isn’t sad and just holding it together everyday. I want it back that I haven’t disappointed Danny so much over the years. I want it back that I could flirt with Jin without a care in the world. I want it back that we were all in love, and that we were all we had. I want it back that the breeze was so sweet and Jesus was alive. I want it back that the edge of the west showed so much promise. I want it back that I could’ve been in that photo. But I stood outside because I thought it would be funny. I want it back that I didn’t decide to grow outside all these years.

So I start crying. And then the rain comes down. Thin drops, then fat drops. The boat is waiting down the cliff. I have to go there because God needs me to keep sailing past the edge and find whatever place he has next. I’ve made it all up in my head because it’s easier that way. That way there’s no one at the airfield. There’s no Vinnie or Danny, or Sal or Jin or Javi or anyone else. There’s just me crying about the edge of the world.

————————————————————————

So it all ends at the old airfield. The rain is starting to come down. The boat is waiting down the cliff.

But that’s not right. That’s not how it ends at all. Because I’ve made up so much of it.

It all starts at the old airfield. We’re all there. We’re all we have in the world. We take a photo. I’m not in it. But the breeze is so sweet. Everything is just beginning for us, out there at the edge of the world.

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