|The Grace of Grass|
Photo Credit: Carol Blyberg
The cool summer wind whips wisps of hair along my neck as I scan the rocky shore before me. I hear faint giggling up the hill—and at first I think it must be my inner child beckoning me to join it as it barrel rolls down the gravel path towards me. But on further listen, as the wind cuts my ears a break, I can make out the voice of my little cousin. She is seven years old, and we are in a fight. She likes spending hours raking the lawn with her fingers for four leaf clovers. I, on the other hand, am unable to focus on a single task for more than a few minutes before I want to peel back the skin from my bones and crawl out of it, begging for a change in activity before I am bored to death and buried amongst the elusive clovers themselves.
It is the summer after my college graduation, and I am visiting my aunt, uncle, and little cousin on a quiet isle along the Maine coastline. I've brought a friend with me—Timmy. We are not dating.
"Just come here for a second!" my little cousin calls in a joyful tone that indicates she's forgiven me. Her stringy black hair swings side to side as she catches up and, out of breath, tugs at my elbow.
I turn around and march up the hill, my thighs burning from lack of exercise. I'm pulled in the direction of the little beach shanty across from the home we are renting. If this shanty could talk, it would beg for new siding to protect itself from the Atlantic's harsh blows. Its shutters dangle like those of a storybook haunted house. But just as a bruised brown banana peel yields the sweetest fruit, behind the shanty's rough exterior resides a lovely family.
A mother and her two darling daughters make the shanty their sanctuary every summer. They live in New York City, like me, and the mother is a self-declared hippie who doesn't comb her children's hair and only buys toiletries made from lavender and liquorices and the like. Packed along with these organic necessities are their two cats—chubby city cats that never get to go outside except for when they come up here.
As my cousin yanks me around to the side yard, the cats scatter, and the bells dangling from their collars tinkle like a wind chime. I see Timmy. He is sitting on a beach chair wearing my cousin's neon visor and a smile on his face. Hugging a hardback dictionary, a beautifully disheveled girl skips through the shanty's creaking door. She is the oldest of the children gathered and the only one who can read. My eye then catches my aunt and uncle's old black lab, aptly named Sweetie. A worn out quilt rests across her back, and a warm, welcomed blanket is draped across my shoulders by my little cousin.
"We are gathered here," the young girl declares in a dramatically deepened voice, pretending to read from the dictionary, "to celebrate Shaina and Timmy."
Timmy looks at me and waves as I am slowly led in his direction.
The miniature minister motions for Timmy to stand, then continues the ceremony. "Do you, Timmy, take Shaina to be your awfully wedded wife?"
Timmy and I stifle laughs at her error in words then straighten our faces.
"Sure do." Timmy pets Sweetie, who is now standing between us, then glances at me with his kind brown eyes. I take my vows when prompted while the minister's little sister pushes her curly coif away from her forehead and hands Timmy a ring fashioned from grass. Timmy slips it on my finger and is granted permission to kiss the bride. Our lips meet for the first time, and we process out, ducking under low pine branches as the children tear fistfuls of grass from the ground to toss at us like rice.
Following this trip, Timmy would take me in because I couldn't find a real job after graduation. He would do the grocery shopping and cook for me while I'd serve coffee at the café down the street. And while I would sleep in his comfortable king-sized bed beneath the windows, he'd take the twin in the stuffy meant-to-be office.
Timmy's and my first kiss had been set up by a crew of curious kids, and our last one was shared one year later, not long before Timmy—having lost his battle with a cancer caught too late—was laid to rest beneath a bed of clovers. And as the wind whipped over his gravesite that autumn afternoon, I plucked a piece of grass and, twisting it around my finger, said goodbye to my awfully wedded husband.
Shaina Rafal holds a BA in Communication and Media Studies with a concentration in Journalism and Writing from Fordham University. After graduation, she volunteered in Kingston, Jamaica where she taught kids how to read using hangman. That's when it clicked: she should be an English teacher! She worked with English language-learners in NYC before returning to her childhood school in Wilmington, DE to teach English and Theology. And the best part? Her favorite teacher who encouraged her to be a writer is just two classrooms away.