I was one of the last people to drive over the old bridge at Factory Creek in Early County before it collapsed. Hell, I was one of the few people who knew the road existed at all. It was a single lane dirt road with deep washes in it, and almost no one knew about the waterfall down there. I have no idea what happened, or why it happened, but once the bridge went out, the place became more popular, and suddenly it was crowded.
We called it Reefer Falls, because it was a great place to kick back and drink beer, and smoke pot, that is until it became an attraction. It was a great place to park and have sex until the traffic started getting heavy. I took a girl down there one Summer day in 1978 and that day is branded into my mind for all eternity. She was my first redhead, the girl I thought I would marry one day, but very little I planned in High School went that way. Waterfalls are great white noise, and the water and the heat eliminated all external stimuli. I remember her taking her wet hair from in front of her eyes, and tell me she wanted to have the baby, and wanted to marry the father of the baby, and of course, that wasn’t me. I still loved her, fiercely, without reservation, and I still believed if you loved someone enough that would make up for the fact they were not in love with you. Everyone knew she had broken up with me for someone else, and everyone knew she was pregnant, even if she wasn’t showing. But there on the banks of that creek the thought that she and I would not be together forever was battered to death by the falls, and by the heat. Being with her that day, those hours, meant we would be together forever. She agreed with all my sentiments, as long as they changed nothing, and she agreed to all my advances, and why would she allow me inside her body if she was not going to allow me inside her heart?
It didn’t work out that way. I never knew the truth, and never will, but either she had a miscarriage or an abortion, and for a few months we didn’t see each other. When her parents allow her to date again it was the best time for us, a regeneration, and we went back to Factory Creek but on the blackest night. We belonged in that place, we owned it with our passion, and that night I was sure was the beginning of always. But by the next Summer when I graduated she was pregnant again, and married. The Summer of 1979 saw a new influx of people down to Factory Creek, a migration of sorts, younger people had discovered it, and in the space of less than a year it seemed as if the whole world was now showing up at a spot I had once spent an entire day alone with my thought, and an entire day with my dreams.
It was a subspecies of blasphemy for all those people to be there. It was desecration. On the banks of the creek where I had made love to the girl I was supposed to be with forever now sat a row of ditzy High School freshmen babbling about how hard class was, and under the falls where we had played that day a group of loud mouthed idiots screamed and hollered. They threw their trash on the ground and broke bottles in the creek. Cars were lining up on the old road and it was hard to get in or out of the place. Two idiot fool girls who were half drunk and totally stupid spray painted “Refer Falls” on the side of the limestone face bordering the falls, and forever marked the site with sheer idiocy.
The girl and I drifted further and further apart with each break up. Her marriage came apart and she came to me for a short while, but now the expectations were much lower. I didn’t believe her when she told me she still loved me, because I didn’t believe she ever had. The sex was still great, but the spaces in between seemed filled with more of nothing and less of anything else. The uniqueness of the girl had been paved over with who the woman had become.
The county finally paved the road and built and large culvert just above the falls. The road cut a black and wide path from Coheelee Creek to Odom’s landing, destroying some of the most isolated spots close to the river. I came back one after I had gotten out of the Army, and the road ripped a channel through my memories, and my mind. Gone forever were the places I loved as a teenager, and in their place was a road too busy to be fun.
Though I know where she lives, and I also know where to find her, I haven’t spoken to the girl in over a decade. It’s like going back to the very first place I made love to the girl, and discovering some pot bellied redneck with a piece of meat on a stick yelling at his wife to clean the grill off. I cannot look at that place and still see magic, not with all that has happened and changed, and the last time I saw her I walked away, unable to come to grips with the very same concept, change, and still remember what was. It seems wrong in both cases that so much has been diminished and yes, I do realize that change diminishes only as I see it, not as all see it.
I don’t even so much as have a photograph of her as a young woman. I still remember the tiny mole on her neck that eventually was removed some way or another. I still remember the scar on her right hand from the grease fire. I still remember the freckles on her face, and how there was a cluster of them, like a constellation of stars massed together. Oddly, I still remember the first words I ever spoke to her, in 1977, the first day of school,
“Hi do you know you’re barefoot?”