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Paved With Diamonds
It was 1963, and my parents
were moving to Jacksonville, Florida.
Why me? Cheerleader, in the 7th grade,
in love with the boy of my dreams.
I practiced writing my name-to-be
— Mrs. Lynn James Benoit —
But what did it matter to parents
bent on their own way?
A southern girl takes her vows
seriously—I promised undying love,
packed my pink curlers, record player,
bobby socks, tight skirts and sweaters.
I wished the S.J. Welsh Middle School
football team every possible win
and moved to another planet.
Jacksonville’s highways were paved
with diamonds glittering in the hot sun.
Daddy drove to Jax beach.
Mama saw them first—whitecaps
rolling high above the sky line,
then folding over, it seemed, on top
of the road. I thought Beach Blvd. ran
straight to the depths of the ocean.
Daddy drove beneath tall archways
onto the sand, where miles of white
met crashing surf, and long
wooden boardwalks were lined
with hot dog stands, loud music,
surf boards and boys—beach boys
with dark tans and sun-bleached hair—
and people unlike ourselves.
Heaven on the east coast was buried
under the glum of the west side.
Clumpy saddle shoes,
pageboy haircuts—old fashioned.
I chopped off my dishwater blond hair,
threw my socks and shoes to the back
of the closet and stayed in my room
while the rest of my family watched
Hoss and Little Joe ride the Ponderosa.
Who needs friends?
I reasoned. Roy Orbison sang
“Only the Lonely” and “Blue Bayou,”
and I wrote poems to Lynn.
Mama had a plan:
Cut more of my hair
and add a permanent.
My baby-fine hair
frizzed and burned!
Next, penny loafers,
matching leather belt,
bleeding madras shirt,
burgundy A-line skirt,
and my own bottle
of English Leather cologne—
“Now!” she said.
Friday found me at a drive-in
on a double date.
My friend introduced me to some boys
parked on the left side of our car.
Later, one of those boys
asked my friend for my number.
He called the next morning:
“We’re going swimming,” he said.
I saw rolling waves and sand
and falling in love with the miracle man
walking the shores of my soul.
“It’s in a canal,” he said.
I saw bottomless pits, dark waters,
swimming through murky depths.
“Come with me,” he said,
“I’ll show you Heaven on earth.”
We packed fried chicken, drinks
and seven other kids into the car.
The place was like home—
shade trees reaching
across deep water
and soft Saint Augustine grass.
I sat on the ground running my fingers
through thick velvet grass.
Everyone lined up
to jump from a rope in a tree.
He held my hand and led me
up to the top of the tree.
If I kept my eyes open,
pumping my legs as soon as I hit,
I did not go very deep.
“Let’s jump two at a time,” they said.
“It’s easier on the bottom
of the rope,” he promised.
I felt the wind in my face,
the thick rope clutched
between my hands—and I knew
if I did not let go, I’d swing
back and hit the tree.
When we jumped, his foot hit
the top of my head and I lost all faith—
hitting the water a second before him,
sinking deeper and deeper—
I knew I would never see
the Florida sunshine again!
Fighting my way to the surface
I climbed on shore, trembling.
He gave me a towel
and told me to come with him
to the other side of the tree.
When I could talk, I told him
how I hated Florida, hated my parents,
hated my hair. I told him
my aunt believed out of sight
was out of mind but grandmother
said absence made the heart
grow fonder. I didn’t know
which was true. And that I was afraid
my friends would all forget me.
When I quit crying, he said,
“In Louisiana you call this a bayou.
We call them canals. Some of ours
are man-made but they are all the same.
I don’t want you to leave here,
but if you do, I won’t forget you.”
He liked my Cajun accent, he liked
my scraggly hair.
“Boys should have long hair
and girls should have short,” he said.
His father was a cross-country
truck driver. “If you leave,
one day I’ll come knocking
on your door. I’ll jump
in his truck and I’ll find you—
even in Louisiana.
“I’m different. I want to be free—
like a bird flying over this water.
I want my own band.”
He told me of a band in England—
a group people did not like.
“Especially their leader,” he said.
“Mick’s a real rebel. The band
is called the Rolling Stones.
Have you ever heard the saying
‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’?
That's me," he said, leaning
back in the grass. “I want to fly
throughout the world without worry.”
His favorite song was Heart of Stone.
I did not know who Mick was,
I had never met a truck driver—
but I knew I had met someone
I would never forget. And that day,
on the banks of a Florida canal—
I learned to be still. I learned
to look out over the water.
And I fell in love for the very last time.
For Ronnie Van Zant, 1948-1977
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