I’d hiked uphill behind Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center in Black Mountain, North Carolina. A summer breeze ruffled the nearby leaves and cooled the sweat on my skin. I turned around to a sea of greens my color-blind eyes couldn’t catalogue. A dirt road curled up the mountain toward the day camp and cloudless blue beyond. The perfection of the panorama pricked an ever-present ache.
I’d been twenty the year I scored the summer staff job in Black Mountain. But thirty-seven years later—just last week—one of my husband’s Grand Canyon University students lanced open the memory of the craving I’d carried around the first two decades of my life. Isaac sang about feeling the breath on his neck of the girl he yearned to meet—the woman he’d one day marry. Isaac’s longing, lodged in lyric, landed me back in Black Mountain in the skin of my younger self.
I continued up the mountain, like I did a lot of days, to talk to God. My spirit lapped up gulping mouthfuls of God’s artistry and nearness. But, today, His one—in my opinion—shortfall pinched like a stitch in my side.
God was invisible.
White clouds now scuttled across the North Carolina sky and I reached reflexively for the hand of my other half. But my fingers touched only air. I didn’t bother to look. I knew he wasn’t there. He’d never been there. A person so part of me that I’d missed him dozens of times before we even met.
Blue Ridge air wafted around me with the assurance I could become content alone. But today the need only intensified—for the specific man who “got me,” whom I could touch, who would touch me, mind, emotions, body.
“God, does that guy exist? Is there someone for me?”
As always, when I asked the question, I heard silence.
The next afternoon in my free time before running the Pritchell Hall elevator, I headed through the tunnel under Highway 70 to the lake for my volunteer lifeguarding stint.
While a group of girls who worked at Ridgecrest with me debated whether to sunbathe or swim, I stripped down to my neon yellow tank suit and dove into icy water that was nothing and everything like Shenandoah pool and Biscayne Bay where I’d mermaided my way through childhood. I retrieved my towel, wadded it into a ball, and swam it out to the floating dock. I’d need it later if anyone got into the water for me to guard.
I swam twenty laps between the ropes contemplating why God gave me clear guidance to transfer to a new college in the fall, but kept mum about a man.
I stopped near the shore and the girls surrounded me, whispering.
“Who’s that hunky guy on the dock?”
“A counselor at the boys’ camp.”
I glanced at the guy, whose dark hair curled on his neck and dripped water down tanned pecs.
The girls waded toward the middle of the roped area, careful to keep their hair dry.
I paddled on my back, eyes on the girls, and headed for the dock—the best vantage point for lifeguarding. Since I’d missed Mr. Perfect Pecs’ swim to the dock while I did laps and thought too hard, I’d better pay attention the rest of my shift.
I could lifeguard from the dock without flirting with the guy—a skill Jackie and I had honed to an art form in high school. Lately, I’d decided that anything that much fun had to be sin. My middle aged self thinks there are enough sins in the Bible without making up more.
The guy was even better looking up close.
I clambered onto the dock, gave him a curt nod, and grabbed my towel.
As I pivoted back the way I’d come, his voice rumbled in my ears. “Perfect day for the lake.”
“Perfect,” I agreed. “I love being able to open my eyes in lake water. I’m from Florida where either chlorine or salt stings your eyes.” I sat on the furthest edge of the dock and focused on my co-workers.
“I’m from Florida, too.”
Thirty minutes later I climbed back down the ladder and swam to the now-empty shore. The kid was in college, studying to become a doctor. Mostly, we’d talked about God—making the guy even more perfect, if that were possible.
The staff cafeteria buzzed with sightings of the hot boys’ camp counselor.
I eyed my best friend Darla across the Formica table. “I so cannot get a crush on him, not when half the female population of Ridgecrest has gone gaga over the guy!”
“I hear you,” Darla’s southern vowels syruped over me. “I’m just glad I have Duncan and I don’t have to get into that ol’ mess.” I could always count on Darla to be the voice of reason, no matter what my drama.
After my shift scooping ice cream in the Nibble Nook, I dropped into a rocking chair on the breezeway overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. I pulled out my journal. “Well?” I wrote, wondering where to start in processing meeting Mr. Perfect.
Then, it hit me. God had answered my question! He’d parked me on a dock in the middle of a lake that afternoon up-close-and-personal with perfection to say, I’ve got an intelligent, spiritual man who is perfect for you.
A warm flush washed over me.
I never saw that guy from the lake again. I would have figured he was an angel or figment of my hyper imagination, except that the female staffers continued to track his whereabouts the rest of the summer.
Miraculously I remained crush-free… for eleven days.
I sat in the staff dining hall with Darla and her hometown friends from Columbus, Georgia, when a guy I didn’t know sat across from me.
My brows quirked with interest and I elbowed Darla.
“Oh my word, Ann.” Darla made my name two syllables. “I forgot you don’t know each other. This is Andy Kelley. He worked here last summer and came to visit for the weekend. Andy, this is Ann Fetterman. We clean rooms together in Pritchell.”
As the group laughed and bantered, quiet explosions of attraction zinged back and forth across the table. As the group made plans for the evening, I noted Andy took charge. I liked leaders.
Andy’s dark eyes focused on me. “Come with us. Pizza in Asheville. It’ll be fun.”
“It’ll be more fun for me if you come.”
Well then! “Sure, why not.”
All evening Andy made sure I was beside him and the next day he begged me to take a walk. I was torn between wanting to kiss him and seeing the pointlessness of kissing a guy who was headed to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for grad school while I was transferring to Ashland University in Ohio. Still, he could be The One. So, I kissed him and he promised another visit, letters and calls—a tall order in the days long before cell phones with 300 college students sharing one phone.
After his second weekend visit a month later, my feelings popped and fizzed and filled the summer sky. We’d only had five in-person days together, but I wondered if he was the husband God had in mind for me.
In Ohio, summer, like Andy’s letters and calls, died by degrees. The dregs of my hope disappeared in December.
I pulled out that day on the dock and dusted off God’s promise. Someday I’d feel that breath on my neck.
A poem I penned my first year in Ohio:
Perhaps For Love
I rode a thousand miles between the yellow lines
That sometimes led me through the mountains, sometimes through
The open air, but always southward, sunward, home.
I missed the waving saw-grass and the needled pines
That grow between the beach and road the winter through.
And missed the winter heat that crawls from sand and chrome.
But I returned to the road and its yellow lines
To travel north another thousand miles of blue
Sky, white sky, grey, toward the bare trees and wind’s drone.
Perhaps for love, or something less, the chill that climbs
Round red brick buildings in spring will replace the brew
Of southern air in me, and I the north condone.