A walk to remember

When I was seventeen, my life changed forever.
I know that there are people who wonder about me when I say this. They
look at me strangely as if trying to fathom what could have happened back
then, though I seldom bother to explain. Because I've lived here for most of
my life, I don't feel that I have to unless it's on my terms, and that would
take more time than most people are willing to give me. My story can't be
summed up in two or three sentences; it can't be packaged into something
neat and simple that people would immediately understand. Despite the
passage of forty years, the people still living here who knew me that year
accept my lack of explanation without question. My story in some ways is
their story because it was something that all of us lived through.
It was I, however, who was closest to it. I'm fifty-seven years old, but even
now I can remember everything from that year, down to the smallest
details. I relive that year often in my mind, bringing it back to life, and I
realize that when I do, I always feel a strange combination of sadness and
joy. There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all
the sadness away, but I have the feeling that if I did, the joy would be gone
as well. So I take the memories as they come, accepting them all, letting
them guide me whenever I can. This happens more often than I let on.
It is April 12, in the last year before the millennium, and as I leave my
house, I glance around. The sky is overcast and gray, but as I move down
the street, I notice that the dogwoods and azaleas are blooming. I zip my
jacket just a little. The temperature is cool, though I know it's only a matter
of weeks before it will settle in to something comfortable and the gray
skies give way to the kind of days that make North Carolina one of the most
beautiful places in the world. With a sigh, I feel it all coming back to me.
I close my eyes and the years begin to move in reverse, slowly ticking
backward, like the hands of a clock rotating in the wrong direction. As if
through someone else's eyes, I watch myself grow younger; I see my hair
changing from gray to brown, I feel the wrinkles around my eyes begin to
smooth, my arms and legs grow sinewy. Lessons I've learned with age
grow dimmer, and my innocence returns as that eventful year approaches.
Then, like me, the world begins to change: roads narrow and some become
gravel, suburban sprawl has been replaced with farmland, downtown
streets teem with people, looking in windows as they pass Sweeney's
bakery and Palka's meat shop. Men wear hats, women wear dresses. At the
courthouse up the street, the bell tower rings. . . .
I open my eyes and pause. I am standing outside the Baptist church, and
when I stare at the gable, I know exactly who I am.
My name is Landon Carter, and I'm seventeen years old. This is my story;
I promise to leave nothing out. First you will smile, and then you will
cry-don't say you haven't been warned.
Chapter 1
In 1958, Beaufort, North Carolina, which is located on the coast
near Morehead City, was a place like many other small southern
towns. It was the kind of place where the humidity rose so high in
the summer that walking out to get the mail made a person feel
as if he needed a shower, and kids walked around barefoot from
April through October beneath oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
People waved from their cars whenever they saw someone on the
street whether they knew him or not, and the air smelled of pine,