Milky warm like coffee creamer or Half and Half, the September sun baths your face in a glorious refulgence of amber. And calmly, quietly, like a growing blade of grass, awareness seeps in to your nostrils like the sent of dry red pepper. It permeates your ears like the drizzling of a weak rain. Taking your first long opened mouth breaths, the pressure on your chest brings a smile to your lips. And the quaking of your heart, the shivering of your apprehension and goose bumps arrive after you open your eyes.
Light brown, potato skin colored, shoulder length hair covers golden-iced tea eyes and eighteen year old pudgy cheeks. She sighs soft like butterflies fly when she sleeps and it might just be the most comforting sound you’ve ever heard. Her body sways in contrast as her smaller tanned frame takes meeker breaths than your own. And her black, throw back, Miami Vice t-shirt and green shorts are no longer covered by even just one of the few cotton throws surrounding the folded out futon-bed. Three sheets, one checkered in rubber ducks and the other two composed of a plaid pattern, hang around the back and sides of your present abode, suspended from the lofted bed frames above. The fourth side you left open to let the sun in through the window. And finally, one plain white sheet covers your fortress; which she aptly named Fort 2k3.
The name, Fort 2k3 strikes you as a little odd at first. It is the only fort you can remember building that anyone had ever taken the time to name. Twenty years of fort building, and not once had you, or anyone else for that matter, ever named one of your forts. And it is not as if you kept your fort building ability all to yourself all of these years. Sure, your forts started out as simple one sheet forts. The easiest example of a one sheet fort was pulling the footstool about five feet away from the living room chair and laying a blanket over the top of the space between the two.
But no, oh no, you weren’t confined to such simple forts for long. In no time, your forts expand into one’s with various different crawl spaces and rooms that covered half of entire household floor plans. They were massive concoctions that threatened to disrobe every bed in the entire house, even after emptying the linen closet. And if anyone knows anything about fort building, you know best of all that one can never have too many bed sheets when building a fort. And when you’re that young, the idea is clear. You build the fort not only to keep what is outside out, but also to keep what is inside in. And you get to choose who and what is both inside and outside of your fortress’ walls.
When you were five, the decision of what to include and exclude was as big as, could Max, your hyper two year old beagle, join you in your sacred hiding place? Could your fortress walls, built of linen and sewn together by your rich imagination and a heart enslaved by a rib cage much too small for its actual size, bear Max’s rambunctious livelihood? And although that might seem like a simple decision now, at the time, it was as important to you then as was the decision of what candy bar to buy at the gas station. Invite your good friend and risk him destroying your fort, or spend the hours alone with no threat of loosing what you’ve worked so hard to build.
As the years passed the decisions became harder. By age seven you were asked if your big sister could come in. And you couldn’t help but to ask yourself, “Was she planning to steal your fort for herself?”
By age eleven your forts began to change shape. No longer constructed with bed sheets and pillows, the tangible finally began to make way for the metaphysical. In other words, your bedroom itself turned into a fort of sorts, protecting your most sacred secrets within its walls. From your baseball card collection and your championship trophies, from the angry arguments your parents had that you couldn’t help but hear, the walls kept out what didn’t belong and welcomed all that did.
Then somewhere between the ages of thirteen and fifteen your body itself became a full symbol of a fortress. Your experiences with personal growth, puberty, your first kiss, major growth spurts, first girlfriend and etcetera all became a part of what you let in and kept out of your personal fortress. No longer was your fortress a simple extension of your imagination. Over time, it became an extension of your soul. And the decisions you made about what to allow into your fort and what you protected yourself from became extensions of yourself as well.
Returning to your first attempt at a fort; the one made with a sheet, chair and ottoman, you ask, “What else could anyone expect from a five year old? What was the point, the purpose of a sixty square foot fortress with linen walls?” Well if they bothered asking, you knew they’d never understand; and by ‘They’ you mean anyone who was not accustomed to such things as fort building. What is a secret, and how vulnerable are you if under whatever guise you may, you hold nothing in silence? Even five year olds can understand that some things are better off kept as secrets than revealed.
And as the things around you crumble to the ground, as your family falls apart and you move out of your house, your fortress walls thicken, and your rib cage closes tighter as your once bulbous heart deflates. You close off all the entrances to yourself. And the less entrances there are to fort, the less exits. It’s hard to build or hold onto relationships when you cut off all connections. It is a pretty lonely place holding, yourself hostage inside you.
It takes a certain kind of something to reach inside you, and a certain kind of someone to wait patiently for you to do so. It is hard to pull you out of the secret depths of your own soul. The fort you share with her, that you claim you built for her, now holds what inside its walls? You and she are obvious, but it holds your secret most of all. She met you by chance on an elevator. She smiled. You laughed. She offered you a chance to pull you from the depths of sorrow that shown like deep sea trenches in your eyes.
And the glitter of her innocence sparkling in her eyes hid her own sorrow pretty well. From day to day, and week to week chance occurrences, became carefully planned out accidental meetings in back hallways, random purposefully aligned club call-outs, and cast as stowaways to corner cafeteria tables. Time stood circumspectly in the midst of your merging, meshing fortresses. Thinking back you realize James Blunt explains her affect on you best when he sang, “You touched my heart you touched my soul. You changed my life and all my goals. And love is blind and that I knew when, my heart was blinded by you.” And she blinded you and stole your soul, held you captive and would not let go. And as awkward as it might seem, never giving up on you was what you both needed.
Well minutes turn to hours and hours to days as you savor every moment. She cries that sweet sigh, shifts, wriggles her nose and smiles her bright honey eyes at your charcoal speckled baby blues. She climbs over you and lies down on your chest, arms under her chin. She crawls closer and presses her cheek against your roughly shaven, stubble covered face, and you both laugh lightly but playfully.
At only thirty years old she left you for good with a midget version of herself. And every smile from your daughter’s eyes reminds you of the flying hugs she used to give you. You think it is amazing how they shared a love for stuffed monkeys instead of teddy bears and somehow you know she will be addicted to spray-tans too. You can already tell Nicole will be a member of the last great story tellers like she always claimed to be as well.
You keep a picture of Fort 2k3 in your wallet for safe keep. You still have the Walmart receipt she scribbled her number on. She told you just before it was time for her to go that she and Nicole both needed you to be strong. And wiping gut wrenching tears from your eyes she says, “Daddy what’s wrong? Momma said it’s okay to cry. You know what else she said?”
Choking back your tears with the strength of a garbage disposal, “No honey, what else did Mamma say?”
“She said, ‘There must be an angel with a smile on her face, when she thought up that she should be with you.’
And afterwards you think… I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you… And it is true, maybe more true than you would believe at the time. You met by chance on an elevator. As she walked by your eyes kissed a moment and shown matching, mirroring speckles of different colors. She smiled. You laughed. And now sitting here as your eyelids take their final bows eclipsing your soul’s greatest windows with your daughter in your lap, Colin Hays strums to the beat of your calming pulse…
"I'm no longer moved to drink strong whisky
'Cause I shook the hand of time and I knew
That if I lived till I could no longer climb my stairs
I just don't think I'll ever get over you
Your face it dances and it haunts me
Your laughter's still ringing in my ears
I still find pieces of your presence here..." ~ Colin Hay