Hanging from the gun rack in the back window are the two prerequisites every teenaged country boy must display in his truck—an axe handle and a lasso. Neither of which seem to have been touched since he first put them there.
But I suppose he hasn’t had the time to either get into a fight or rope a steer. Not with the young lady beside him. Right beside him. The absence of bucket seats and a console has allowed her to sit practically on top of him. “That’s the problem with those old trucks,” the older men around town say. “No power steering. Takes a fella and his girl both to drive the things.”
The lack of power steering, of course, has nothing to do with it. Love does. Despite all the red lights, I should have been halfway home by now. I just happened to get stuck behind two people who consider a red light as the perfect excuse to kiss.
And boy, do these two know how to kiss.
It’s been the same scenario every time—red light/brake/kiss/breathe/kiss. And then, a few moments after the light turns green, she pulls away and mouths I love you. He stares, not quite believing someone this special, this perfect, could ever say such words to someone like him.
I could pass them. Could blow my horn to get his attention onto the road rather than her. But I do neither. Not because I’m some sort of highway peeping Tom. Because I am witnessing one of the truly great things in this cold, dark, depressing world.
Young redneck love.
It is a marvelous thing, this phenomenon. Not rare, at least around here. But special nonetheless. Here are two people barely out of high school, waging war together against both fate and circumstance. Common sense and reality says that neither are college material. Both have likely moved into the job force, occupying one of the many barely noticed positions in town. Cashier or factory worker, maybe. And whether together or apart, both will face the very future that so many here have been given: lots of worry, lots of struggle, and not a whole lot of rest.
Yet here they sit anyway. Despite all the odds. Because they no doubt feel the odds don’t matter. In fact, nothing matters. Nothing in the world. They are together. Apart they may be down and out, struggling to find their own places in the world. Powerless and lost. But together? Together there isn’t anything they can’t overcome.
Love does this to people.
It convinces them neither that the world is too big or too little, but that the world just doesn’t matter. They have their own world, one full of rainbows and blooming flowers. Dinner at McDonald’s might as well be dinner at Sardi’s. Watching the semi-pro baseball team play on the field behind the fire department might as well be watching the Cubs at Wrigley. To them, there is no best place in the world. The best place in the world is wherever they happen to be at the moment.
The final light turns green. One more kiss/breathe/kiss/I love you later, and he turns his signal on for the next right. I drive past and cast them one more look. She’s sitting even closer now, her head on his shoulder. Riding off into the sunset, just where they belong.
Tonight when my head hits the pillow and I thank God for both today and the promise of some tomorrow, I’ll pause and think of this young couple. I’ll say a prayer that the angels watch over them.
And I’ll say another that they hang on.
(First publishsed as a column for the Staunton News Leader on June 20)