Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

Benjamin Eugene Longstreet

He was an educated man and, therefore and apparently, just my type. No one I knew had ever even met him, nor had I, but all seemed to think he was “perfect”for me. I hated him before I had even laid eyes on him.

Mama said I should be grateful that so many powerful people had taken an interest in me, a poor girl with poor farmers as parents without much to offer, but I knew my worth, and money or not, I refused to marry someone with a name like Benjamin Eugene Longstreet. What kind of name was that anyway? Seriously, everyone who ever talked about him said the whole thing.

“Does he have a nickname?” I’d inquired one afternoon of a childhood confidant.

“Naw,” she’d replied, shaking her head. “I ain’t never heard nobody talk of him havin’ no nickname.”

“Hmmph,” I  replied, drawing all sorts of significance from that fact.

“But he can’t be that bad,” my friend pleaded. “Everyone says how fabulous he is.”

“I’m sure they do,” I returned, not reciprocating the undo admiration.

“You know what yo’ problem is?” She looked emphatically in my eyes.

“What is my problem, oh wise one?” I teased.

“Yo’ problem is that you done let that scholarship and schoolin’ make you feel like you better. Like you deserve better.”

I leaned back against a tree and watched magnolia leaves dance above my head. The early summer heat felt good on my skin, and I wished that my breeding hadn’t gotten in the way of me baring my shoulders to let the sun coerce sweat to the surface.

“You are right, my friend,” I said in an almost whisper. “I do deserve better.” I’d turned now looking her emphatically in the eyes. “But my scholarship and schooling did not change my feelings. I’ve always felt like I deserved better. The scholarship and schooling just gave me the words to voice it.”

“It’s dangerous being a woman and voicin’ such things.” She was right, and like always much smarter than me about the appropriate ways of the world.

“Dangerous or not, I will not allow myself to be nobody’s trophy.”

“You ain’t that good of a prize,” she giggled, this time teasing me. “You too black and too ‘pinionated for me.”

“Well, it’s a good thing nobody is trying to get you to marry me then, right?”

“You sure right ’bout that!” We laughed loud at the thought, our voices echoing beyond the tree. She reached over and held my hand gently in hers and we leaned in unison against the heavy trunk. Our breathing was a symphony with the buzzing bees and light breezes of the afternoon, and we settled into a wordless understanding.

“Have you got you a fella back at school?”

“No,” I said smiling, thinking about James.

“You’s a lie, and the truth ain’t in ya! I can tell by the way you grinning, lookin’ like a fool at a circus.”

“I’m not lying. I used to have one, but not anymore.” My smile began to fade as I remembered the end.

“What happened to y’all?” She was concerned and curious.

“Oh, well, you know. Classic tale of being both too much alike and too different all at the same time. But he, unlike Mr. Benjamin Eugene Longstreet, did have a nickname and, consequently, a personality worth missing once gone.”

“What you gone do?” Her question seemed foreign amid the memories of days gone by with James.

“Not sure yet. I’ll figure something out. Maybe all his money and fancy dinners up at the mansion will keep him from traveling so low, and by the time he remembers he was supposed to meet me, I’ll be back at school in the fall.”

“Maybe.” She said, not a bit convinced.

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