Camille and the Cypress Tree

CAMILLE AND I WOULD WATCH THUNDERSTORMS come and go in the late afternoon heat, clouds boiling upward, sometimes covering most of the sky but suddenly opening like a heavenly drawer to reveal a patch of cumulonimbus clouds still higher in the air casting orange and pink light and the promise of blue sky.  A few times at sunset, we’d drive through the swamplands and bayous just outside town, watching egrets, spoonbills, red-winged blackbirds and ducks gracefully fly across glowing ribbons of water that reflected the sky’s fading feast of silver and blues, oranges and reds, and the horizon’s dark-shadowed browns and blacks.  I was amazed that only a trace of people could be found even so close to town.  Did they not see what we saw?  So it was hot, so what?  The earth was alive and I seemed to see it now with an even greater intensity!  With Camille, I found I could stare at a cypress tree for days.

Louisiana Cypress © SCOTT A. EDWARDS, 2015
Louisiana Cypress © SCOTT A. EDWARDS, 2015

Camille would occasionally cite an Old Testament passage about the beauty of the Lord’s creation, and I would listen in admiration to how much she appreciated God the Creator and how she dared to say such things aloud.

At first it made me feel uncomfortable.  Perhaps she was showing off her knowledge or her religiosity.  Then I started learning to listen.  She meant every word.

She would just open her mouth as if to say “what a lovely day” and instead a tour de force would spill forth as she’d cite psalms: “O give thanks unto the God of gods; for his mercy endureth forever.  To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth forever.”

What creature spoke like that!  What blond ever uttered these truths?  Maybe some Victorian lady, but in this day?  No one I had ever known. That was for sure.  I felt so drawn toward her, for she was ageless, timeless and fearless.

She had read several books on evolution and creationism, she said, and was convinced that the evidence of cross-species jumps was nil.  There are tons of scientists who have boxed Darwin in as a theorist. Really, I asked?  They get drowned out by culture and media and grants, she claimed.

“It’s an inconvenient fact that Darwin could prove little more than that bird beaks differ in size and shape,” she said sadly.  “Java Man!  Ha!  Darwin spurred a host of fossil discoveries that have long been repudiated.  And these jokers think that chance is responsible for creation.  Just push gravity by an inch across the entire universe and you’d have chaos!  They believe the universe had a beginning but they fail to see that something is needed to create that beginning!  This is the testimony of some of the planet’s most brilliant PhD’s but the media and pop culture make them out to be close-minded idiots.  Some people will go to any length not to consider that God is true.”

Linear © SCOTT A. EDWARDS, 2015
Click for a closer look.                                                Linear Saturation © SCOTT A. EDWARDS, 2015

These things went straight from her mouth and over my head but I knew enough to wonder if she understood how controversial she was to some people.  It seemed that the spin of the world enabled evolutionists to freely express their views but not their opponents.  Any opponent was a close-minded kook.  And what would my friends think of Camille?  Temple would accept her immediately, perhaps even bond with her as a dear friend, but what of the others?  I felt somewhat schizophrenic because I loved my friends and my crazy fraternity life but Camille was such a magnetic and potent force.  Knowing her helped to propel me to decide that I didn’t care what anyone thought of her or of me.  Camille of St. Pamela was splendid, kind-hearted and radiant.  Camille was her own person, breathing in a universe reserved for those who seek the truth.  Her world spun separately but parallel to the mind-numbing world of celebrity nut jobs who wax their chests and think status is more important than humility or fact or cause.  The world was steering toward a day when celebrity would exist without any fact or cause – just because someone was cute, clutsy or outrageous!

Within summer’s first weeks, Camille and I saw one another several days a week, safely distancing ourselves by the separation of a day or two.  We talked about anything and everything.  She spoke of growing up in foreign lands and feeling very much the outsider.  She confessed she was lucky to grow up in an impoverished environment with people who had very little material wealth but were able to find joyful moments.  She said she was lucky to feel such love in her family.

We seemed to have so much in common while retaining our opposite dispositions.  On one hand, we were college kids back in St. Pamela for the summer.  She was attending LSU and I was attending Franklin, both schools of the South.  We were both possibly out of place and trying to figure things out, both knowing what it was like to grow up as an only child. And we were both Christians.  She made me feel more a Christian than I knew I was; she made me want to be one.

On the other hand, there were differences that made me seem a fish both in and out of water.  I felt at home with Camille, in the light of Christ.  But I also felt at home with Peter, in the light of amber drink.  She was studying the sciences for Pre-Med; I was studying history.  She belonged to Campus Crusade for Christ; I belonged to the All Saints Alcohol Review.  This placed me in the cross hairs of the world and the spirit.  It made me wonder who I was and whether I shared her strength to endure and her courage to challenge.  It made me want to hold and kiss her and to run violently away from her.  My mind and stomach felt a torrent of conflict.

Some things are hard to hide from parents.  I soon told mine that I was sort of seeing someone.  Sort of.  Instead of saying that I was going to play tennis, which I had been saying, I decided to tell them I was going to play tennis with Camille.  They smiled and reserved their interest to a few questions.

“I think maybe we’re friends.  I don’t know,” I replied.  “She’s just about the most extraordinary girl I’ve ever met.  And she’s got a pretty good serve. But to tell you the truth, I haven’t even kissed her.”

My dad laughed aloud and poked fun at me, good-naturedly. “Haven’t even kissed her?  Honey, that’s your side of the family,” he said to Mom.

“It’s one of those guy-girl friendship things, Dad.  Crap, we’re kind of friends and stuff.”

Privately, I later told Mom the real truth.

“I’ll tell you something but I’d never tell Dad,” I said.  “I think Camille and Temple are the two most wonderful girls I’ve ever known.  I think both of them are worth waiting for even if it took me until I was 40 to win them over.  Temple is spoken for so that leaves Camille…but frankly, I’m scared to death of her. I think she’s beautiful, but she scares me.”

“Jonathan, why on earth would you say such a thing?” she exclaimed. She was honestly surprised and exasperated but since she was a woman I figured she understood the mysteries of her own species.

“She’s pure. She’s an angel.  She’s beautiful and kind.  Mom, she’s just totally wonderful.”  I paused and then released what had been nagging at me, “I’m not those things.”

Moved by my words, my mother put her arms around me, “Oh, Jonathan, you do have a pure heart.  Stop thinking ill of yourself.  No person is better than the next.  No person is too good for another. That’s what your father would tell you. And that’s what I’m telling you.  You know this! Everyone is equal in God’s eyes.”

“Right, Mom.  I know it.”

“Do you think Camille would be spending all this time with you if she thought you weren’t good enough for her?”

“I see your point.”

But I was still bothered that I couldn’t penetrate the place Camille went to in her spirit.  I desired it but not strongly enough.  She stood on the peak of life and I stood on a precipice admiring her.  She would be tainted, lowered and lessened by me.  I still wanted to get drunk and feel somehow unworthy.  Purity was frightening. What if I really found God and then that’s all there was… sanctity, wholesomeness, no swear words, no sex, just a perpetual state of do-good.

Our tennis and swim visits finally took us to the movies, one of those mushy English flicks loaded with moral ambiguities and a few moments of “what the hell did he just say?”  Afterward, we sat in my car in the parking lot and I could have heard a pin drop if not for the rush of my anxiety.  Her long, blond hair was tied up in spiral bun and her long neck was in reach. We looked at each other and as much as I wanted to kiss her I had to speak my heart.  Peter and Brutus would be sorely disappointed were they sitting there.  They’d tell me to shut up and kiss her!  They would probably be right.

“Camille,” I said aloud, “I can’t lie.  I’m struggling.  I’m a Christian…I know that much.  But I think that I’m not like you.  Your relationship… Uh, what I’m trying to say is that I like you so much but… I can’t put it quite into words.”

She looked pained and pleased, fitful and flattered.  Her eyes glowed with sympathy as I mumbled without any sense.  I looked into her blue eyes and couldn’t help notice her lips were slightly parted and moist.

I took a deep breath and finally said, “Well, you scare me.”

What?!! Had I just told a girl that she scared me?  That was freakin’ nuts.  In fact, I had no nuts! I was a loser.

She instantly shook her head, not comprehending.  “Jonathan, what do you mean? I’m really not sure what you’re saying.”

“Camille, I’m not sure what I’m saying either,” I confessed.  “I like you a lot. A lot! It’s just that you’re so deep in your relationship with Christ that I’m intimidated. You’re not like other girls that I know.”

Then she smiled with some mysterious understanding.  It was a shame that Camille had met such a nice boy that was compatible but apparently gutless.  We were surely attracted to each other, we were good at entertaining one another, but I felt somehow unworthy.  That was my problem and it was rapidly becoming hers.

“Jonathan,” she sighed, “You need to talk to the Lord about this.”

How did I know she’d say that?

“What you seem to be saying isn’t about you and me,” she explained.  “It’s about you and him.  There’s no pressure here.  Don’t worry about me.  I think you’re smart and witty…and very handsome. It’s ridiculous that you’re intimidated by anything having to do with me.  Just talk to him.”

She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, very close to my mouth, holding my face with her hand for the slightest, most peaceful moment.  She smiled.

On a maturity scale, girls were a few years ahead of boys.  It seemed Camille of St. Pamela, Louisiana, was light years ahead.  She made me feel ok about things.  She did not embarrass me.  She had comforted and guided me with a holy kiss.  And I had no idea what the hell was going on.

© Scott A. Edwards, 2014

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