The drive from the city to the country always felt like rolling back time. The summer faded the colour of the tall grass along the narrow road and inspired a symphony of cicadas and grasshoppers, but the plains of wheat, the cattle and horses, the sunsets and moons on the horizon were always the same, month after month, year after year, just as they had been when he was a boy. Now the leaves were dense and green, hanging heavy over the road and mottling the light on his dashboard. Soon they’d fade and fall, and the cycle would continue.
He passed by the rusted tower and remembered climbing its iron legs with his friends so they could dangle their feet over the ledge, perched high above the town. Rounding the pond, he remembered roughhousing with his classmates and tossing each other in to the still, cold water. He thought back—as he often did—to his first love and their first kiss, sitting side-by-side on the dock, hands trembling, hearts racing.
By the time he pulled onto the gravel road leading to the church, he experienced the strange sensation of both slipping into a younger version of himself and shouldering the weight and wisdom of old age. He still had so much life ahead of him, yet these journeys back to his hometown imbued him with the equanimity of a man beyond his years. He remembered inching along that road in a funeral procession after his mother died, and later, watching his newlywed sister speeding off, her husband in tow, cans rattling off the back bumper, clouds of gravel trailing after them.
His sister had already taken her place at the altar when he arrived, bouncing his pretty niece on her hip in the christening gown they had both worn years ago. As he slipped into the pew, he noted how soft the wood felt beneath his fingers, polished and worn from so many years of human touch. But the music was the same. The cool, oaky air of the church was the same. The smell—ageing paper, freshly mown grass—just the same. As much as time was hurtling by, it felt in the moment that nothing had changed.
And yet. As he rose for the first hymn, he touched the ring in his pocket. Past and present came together in that smooth gold loop. There in the place that made him, he traced it round and round, over and over again.