A Coin Flip Away
by David Younts
Love, what exactly is it? What is it like? All I knew in high school was that it was something I thought I wouldn’t experience until I was at least into my twenties. Once in my life have I experienced “love.” To say “I love you” to a parent and hear them say it back is one thing. To tell someone that you truly love them and hear it in return and know deep down inside that it is all meant; nothing compares to that. The knowledge that there is someone there for you at all times and that that someone truly cares for you is one that inspires extreme peace. Life is perfect when you’re in love, or at least as perfect as I ever thought life would be. But sometimes love has its tricks. Sometimes love throws curveballs that swerve five times faster than any a pitcher might throw. Sometimes relationships survives these curveballs. Sometimes they don’t… Five months and three days exactly had I been together with Marina, the girl I loved and adored more than anything in the world. For her I would have done anything, given anything or even tried to be anything just to see her cheeks blush pink and her sweet smile stretch from ear to ear. Once I had even driven five hours round trip on a Sunday to surprise her at a horse show in Aiken. To me, she meant the world and I knew that she felt the same way. It was she that I talked to on the phone for hours every single night, who was the first girl I every wanted to and did introduce to my parents and just about the only thing I’ve ever spent more money on buying gifts for than my Toyota 4Runner. I had been through a few relationships before and she had had one, but neither of us had ever experienced anything quite like this. We were in love, but not in the clear. From day one of our relationship on January 1st, 2004, there was one major looming doubt. It was Friday, June 4th, the final day of my senior year of high school and Marina was moving from Charlotte to Atlanta, Georgia in two days. It was a perfect night for lying out and watching the stars. The crescent moon provided just enough light to see our surroundings, and yet little enough that every star and constellation visible in the western hemisphere was as clear as ever. It was fast approaching 11 o’clock, and having spent the majority of the day together, I could tell by the grin on Marina’s face that she was in as high spirits as I. Meeting up after school, we had spent the day going to our favorite locations and stores before returning to her grandparents’ house, where she and her family were staying until their move.
Located in the Carmel area of Charlotte, an area built up during the 70s and early 80s, the house was a small, brick one-story country looking home situated on about an acre and a quarter of land. The home was a typical “grandparents” home, containing only three bedrooms, all filled with family pictures and pieces picked up on various trips through European countries and areas of the US. Upon arriving, we checked in with her parents before returning outside for a late night walk. For two weeks I had visited Marina at her grandparents’ house and the backyard had become well known territory. Recently mowed grass and a few tall oak trees filled the majority of the yard, which ended in a hill about 100 yards from the rear of the home. About 40 feet leftward in front of us was her grandparents’ garage, a stand-alone structure which appeared to have been added after the house was first built. 100 feet behind it were two greenhouses, home to hundreds of beautiful and exotic breeds of orchids. We walked through the backyard silently, not for a lack of things to say, but for another reason. Un-triggered by any specific occurrence, both my mouth dried and my throat constricted without any forewarning. I knew that I would soon be forced to face the reality that for five months I had been ignoring.
I had been quiet earlier in the evening and she had asked me what was wrong. In response to the question I had only said “nothing.” Now with every silent footstep, my mind stung with perplexity. “What do I say? Why isn’t she saying anything?” I thought over and over. “What is she thinking about? What do I do?” We continued to walk farther and farther away from the house. Every second seemed like an eternity. Thoughts poured through my head, biting at my conscience with each passing moment. For weeks I had been thinking about this moment but now, surrounded by acres of foot-tall grass and a few giant oak trees, I had lost any basis of opinion. My head swelled with fear. “Would tonight be the night that it all ended?” I asked myself, but I could not even answer my own question. I glanced around me, at the barely visible black figure that was her neighbor’s house off in the distance to the right. Our backs facing her house, we were approaching the ten foot high and almost 45 degree hill at the extent of their property. At the left edge of the rectangular plot was a wall of shrubs about 7 feet tall. The moon’s light shone dim, but not nearly enough to penetrate the overgrown mass of plants. Glancing left I saw Marina, a girl whose beauty could have easily dwarfed even that of Helen of Troy. The gentle late night breeze quietly blew her soft highlighted hair across her face every few minutes. Being only three inches shorter than me, I gazed only the slightest degree downward to make eye contact with her. In her deep blue eyes I could see the moon’s reflection shine, contrasting with the year-round tan that was present on the skin of almost all 100-percent Hungarian girls. Her pearly white teeth that shone so often when she smiled were not visible. She wasn’t smiling now. I couldn’t find any reason to smile either.
Slowly and delicately, a way that seemed to require all the courage she could muster, she repeated the question. “What’s wrong?” I knew the answer, but I couldn’t say it. An enormous lump had grown in my throat and my heart was pounding. For the first time in what seemed like forever, our eyes made contact, even if only for a split second before I pulled mine away and said “nothing”. Deeply, she sighed, knowing from the numerous past discussions we’d had that my response was merely a cover up. Turning around, I led her back towards the house and took a seat on her grandparents’ bench, beckoning her to sit down when she stood still. “The bench is cold” I thought, trying to think about something else, but it wasn’t working. “This entire situation… that’s what’s wrong” I finally said.
For an hour we talked. We talked about everything: what we had been through, what we wanted to do, what might happen, and finally what we thought we should do. My mood rose with every statement of promise only to fall with each statement of worry. Ideas were spoken and discussed and eventually repeated over and over. My emotions continuously bred thoughts of hopelessness, and then promise before sequencing back into despair again. With each passing glance, Marina’s smiles would have transformed into frowns, and then once again into smiles in the never-ending cycle. For the first time in five months together, I thought I was going to have to say “goodbye.” “How did I get into this situation” I thought. My palms grew moist with nervousness. I felt cold and hot all at once. I wondered whether I would take the easy way out… and whether I would lose the one and only girl for me.
“I’ll agree to whatever you want,” she would say, which was the last thing I wanted to hear. “A relationship is not based on one person. We both have to decide on our own,” I finally said. I knew she was worried as her face grew pale as she hesitated to respond.
“We have to each decide what we want to do. We can’t base our decisions on the other’s,” I said. Reaching into my pocket I pulled out two copper pennies each dated 1995. I stared at them for a moment. In daylight, pennies shine bright like treasure, but now, they reflected no light. The coins were merely tiny and dull currency, worth little more than nothing to the common person. I don’t know why, but I continued to stare at them, twiddling them in my hands. “What are those for?” she asked. Fighting for enough breath to speak, I did the only thing I thought I could do. “This may seem stupid, but I think we should do it. Heads means you want to stay together. Tails means you want to separate as friends.” As I spoke these words, I felt an enormous lump develop in my esophagus. I could barely finish speaking my thoughts until her expression of disarray urged me to continue. I took her hands, hands that many times I had held in delight, hands that many times had comforted me with merely a few soft strokes on my back. Placing one of the pennies in her hands, I said “You choose heads or tails and I will do the same. Afterwards, we will show each other our choices.”
I could feel my temples pounding as I thought. I thought that I knew what I was going to do, but the nervous twitch of my hands convinced me otherwise. “How could we survive a long distance relationship? We were too young to do it and if we thought we could, then we were naïve. I’m going to college in the fall and she is going to high school for two more years in Georgia. When will I see her? Will she change her mind? Will I break her heart? Will she break mine…” All these thoughts poured through my head over and over. I massaged the coin gently, first feeling the faint impression of Abraham Lincoln’s face over the top side. Flipping the coin over, I slowly and delicately felt the impression of the Lincoln monument in Washington. Glancing downward, I read the writing. “E Pluribus Unim: Many equal one. If only it were that easy” I thought.
I took one last look at her. Even in a time such as this, the mere sight of her beauty made my heart stop with amazement. Her face looked like that of a puppy dog before its owner abandons it. My head rushed with memories of times we’d spent together. Images of our first kiss flashed through my head, followed by ones of prom and then once again, recollections of Aiken. With a ring of finality, I firmly placed the copper coin flatly on the ground.
Her face told me her story. Attempting to see what I had chosen, she leaned over and so I stopped her midway. “You have to decide on your own,” I said.
She clasped the penny in her hands. Her face grew contorted with worry, confusion, and thought. For what seemed like a half an hour she sat there, weighing our future in her mind. I could hardly hold back my emotions as I looked upon her in such a state of distress. She was going to choose tails, I thought. I was going to have to stand up, hug her and say one final goodbye. We were going to be over. It was a thought I’d never fully grasped before. Our relationship once again flashed before my eyes until I could not hold the tears. I leaned over, staring at the ground, trying to restrain my emotions so that she could not see my current state. She lifted her head, looked at me, and I knew she had decided. “I’m sorry…” she said. “I’m sorry… but I just can’t let you go,” were the words I heard as I looked down at her palm. Centered on her palm was Abraham Lincoln’s face. She had chosen heads.
The feeling was like none other. I almost forgot to pick up my penny and show her that I too had chosen heads. Never in our relationship had she cried in front of me until that moment. I almost began to cry as well, but the pure excitement kept me from it and so I took her into my arms. As I sat there for ten minutes holding her, I realized that the entire time, it was just an issue of fear of the unknown. I realized that a relationship like ours was not just “any” relationship. There was something special about it, and there was something special about us. I realized that we could make it work, and that I could do it. That decision had been the hardest, most complicated and longest decision of my life, and I got through it. For the first time, I felt that I would be able to get through a relationship like this, no matter how difficult it became. Two days later, as I saw her off at Charlotte Douglas Airport, I placed into her hand my high school class ring. She has yet to let it out of her sight.