Freddie and Me

Freddie watches from the shadows. I’m not aware that he’s watching me, not at first.  Not until it is too late.

I had thought I could get my mind off of my personal problems by getting out of the house and having a laugh. It didn’t work. Show over, now my companion and I are walking through the city at night, invisible to the million-dollar penthouses high above, and I am once again rambling on about the hurt of a divorce that I don’t want and have tried to avoid. I am not coping well, and I know it.

Divorce is hard enough.  When the woman you love won’t even speak to you, it is unbearable. I try to explain this to my friend but choke, and the tears begin to flow again. I pause my walk and sit on a low retaining wall in front of a darkened building, as I try to compose myself.

My friend asks, “So what did she tell you?”

“Nothing. Not a damn thing,” I tell her.  “She had gotten her own place, but we were still working on things, you know? She refused my offer to come along with me and bring her kids on the trip for my daughter’s graduation, and so we reluctantly went ahead without her. That’s when it all changed.”

I can’t seem to stop talking. I ramble on, giving too much background information and never really answering her question.

“After I got back into town, my mother tried to reach her but couldn’t, so I called. I couldn’t get through either.  That was unusual. I got worried about her safety, so I went to her apartment.  She wasn’t there, but the callbox rings to her cell phone. When she answered, it immediately disconnected.  That was weird too, right? I had no idea then, but she was just hanging up on me!  I was worried about her.  I started to call the police; I even dialed 911, but before I placed the call, I realized it was Sunday afternoon, so she might be at the grocery store. That would explain the issues getting through to her phone, also.  I was relieved to see her car in the parking lot! The last time I’d seen her, we’d had dinner together. Now, just 9 days later, when she saw me she flipped out, telling me to stay away from her, causing a scene, saying she wasn’t talking to me anymore. That’s how she told me.”

My friend is silent.  There’s really nothing she can say even if she could find the words. Even then, nothing would make it easier. She knows this, and so for the moment she just listens, and shivers in the crisp November air.

That’s when Freddie spots me. My guard is down, and I’m vulnerable.

“She was just screaming at me,” I cry. “Screaming! Everyone in the store was staring. She told me not to speak to her.  She told me to get away. I had no idea why.  I still don’t even know what happened, and it’s four months later. I just stood there, stammering. She just changed, like overnight.”

I sniff and wipe the tears from my eyes yet again and look up.  That’s when I see Freddie approaching. 

Freddie is tall and broad-shouldered, but thin.  In the dark, with the streetlights behind him, his silhouette is imposing. He also lacks the awareness to see he’s intruding on a difficult moment. He’s either getting ready to rob me, or asking for a handout. I’m instantly on the defensive. He speaks, but I can’t tell what he’s saying, either because he’s speaking softly or because my mind is reeling.

“I’m sorry,” I respond before thinking.  “What did you say?”

From the looks of him, he doesn’t eat much.  From the smell of him, he doesn’t seem to bathe much, either.  I’m not sure what Freddie’s drug of choice is, but as I get a better look, it’s pretty apparent he has a favorite.  His uncombed hair and his shaky voice underscore the point. 

Realizing now that he’s probably only looking for a handout, for just a second I consider pretending he isn’t there, ignoring the interruption as I deal with my own issues. It’s too late for that though; I’ve already spoken to him.

Freddie manages a meager smile.  “First of all,” he speaks slowly, “thank you for acknowledging me.”  As he says this, he dips his head a little and raises his hands slightly, as if to say he’s not a danger.

His voice is soft and gentle, and now I realize he is also nervous.

“Thank you for acknowledging me,” he repeats with another nod.  “Most people won’t acknowledge me.” 

Perhaps he realizes that would’ve been my preference too, and I feel guilty for it.

“What do you need?,” I ask, a little annoyed. I’m still sniffling and embarrassed, trying to hide the fact I’ve been crying.

“I’m just trying to get a little money to get a train ticket home,” he says.  Do you have a few dollars that I could have?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have any cash at all,” I lie.  I’m confident that if I give Freddie any money, he’ll be drinking it or smoking it or shooting it into his veins soon.

He looks disappointed.  He’s gentle, but jaded.

I’m not sure why, but there’s something about him that affects me. I get a sense of injustice about him, like I’m not the only one to tell him an untruth. I’m taken aback by both his thanks for a simple acknowledgement — as if it is a gift I have given him — and the guilt I feel for not wanting to give it. Before I have a chance to think it through, I’m compelled to make him an offer.

“I’ll tell you what: If you need a train ticket, I’ll walk with you to the station and get you one.”

I’m surprised at my suggestion and surprised when he accepts the offer; I wonder if I misjudged him and he really is trying to get home, instead of a fix. As we walk along my friend, now a little wide-eyed, holds on to my arm and stays close.  The silence is awkward, and I try to engage Freddie in conversation.  He’s reluctant to talk; I keep trying anyway. I don’t think to ask him his name.

“So do a lot of people just refuse to talk to you?,” I ask. 

“Most of them pretend I’m not there,” he says.  Again, this troubles and convicts me. He doesn’t elaborate.

As we near the train station, I ask Freddie if there’s anything else he needs.  Is he hungry?  Yes he is, and I offer to walk with him to a nearby grocery, but he declines.  Instead, he’d just like some noodles from the gas station if it’s not too much trouble.  I find this to be odd, because I’m offering what I think is a far better option. Nevertheless, he’s bent on that gas station. Very well.

We get the train ticket and he leads me up another block.  We enter into the glow of fluorescent lights, shuffle past the pumps, and step into the little store.  As we enter, Freddie’s arms are now folded across his chest; I think he looks anxious. As we enter, the clerk, with a heavy accent, shouts something across the store, but I don’t pay attention. It’s Friday night and the place is full of customers getting gas, buying beer, and taking a chance on the lottery.

Freddie is even more uncomfortable, it’s now obvious. Again the clerk shouts, and I realize it’s Freddie that’s the target of his anger.

“You know you are not supposed to be in here,” he shouts through a thick Caribbean accent.  “Don’t you come in here trying to steal anything!

I’m shocked at this. It’s both unprofessional and rude, and I ask Freddie if we are okay in this place or if he wants to go someplace else.

“I’m okay,” he says as if he’s used to it all, and he quickly makes a beeline for what he wants.

Another employee steps up to Freddie and just stands there, watching his every move. Every time Freddie takes a step, this guy shadows him.

“Is everything okay, sir?,” I ask.

“Yep.” He doesn’t take his eyes off of Freddie.

“Is there a problem?”

“Not yet.” His gaze is still fixed on Freddie.

Now the clerk, finished with his latest customer, steps from behind the counter and shouts again, heading our way.  There are still customers in line. “You get out of here right now!,” he yells.  “You’re a piece of shit, and you don’t belong in here!”

All eyes in the store are now on us.

I’ve had enough. 

“Wait a second,” I say.  “This guy is my friend, and he is here with me.”

“I am not talking to you,” the clerk says, never meeting my gaze.  He looks past me.  To Freddie he says “I am talking to this piece of garbage here.”

Freddie tries to defend himself.

“Don’t talk to me,” the clerk says.  “Get away from here. Get out.”

I do not know why, but I am suddenly hurt, stung by the callous uncaring of this clerk. It feels like he hates me as much as he hates Freddie. It feels wrong. It feels personal.

“No,” I demand.  “You don’t talk to him.”  I lean into his field of view so he has to look at me.  “You talk to me.”  I am suddenly angrier than I think I should be, and I’ve now determined that I’m in charge. A fire has been lit within me, and I don’t know where it came from. Not yet.

“I’m buying some things, and all you need to do is ring them up.”

“He can wait outside,” the clerk insists.

“No.  That’s not what I said. We can both leave and buy nothing, or we can both stay and buy whatever my friend wants. Your choice. Either way, I’m responsible. You talk to me, not him.”

The clerk frowns at this, but to my surprise shrinks back behind the counter to address the customers waiting in line. “Hurry up,” he says.

Freddie seems to stand a little taller. Now I get it, I think. Did he really ask to come here so I would provide him some cover? The argument over for the moment, he now takes his time, going to the back of the store to open his noodles and add hot water from the coffee maker.  There’s a little defiance in him, some confidence he didn’t have before. Dignity. We’ve overstayed our welcome, but he seems to be enjoying the delay. I’m anxious to get out.

The clerk rings us up and I pay, being careful to use a credit card, keeping my cash hidden. The total bill is less than four dollars.

We get outside finally, and my friend and I wish Freddie well.  He’s holding two hot cups of noodles and doesn’t have a free hand to shake. “God bless you,” is the best I can offer.  His response is a sneer, an annoyed look that conveys he doesn’t have a whole lot of expectation for coming blessings. 

Having gotten what he wanted, he ducks between construction barrels, takes a turn behind an old building undergoing demolition, and scurries down an overgrown hill, disappearing into the night.  I realize then that I didn’t even get his name, and will have to make one up to share his story.

My friend and I walk along, mostly silent.  We shake our heads at the abject cruelty of the clerk, and discuss the pain Freddie must feel at being denied that most basic human need of acknowledgement. We part ways soon afterward.

Alone, I am still bothered, disturbed by the cruelty that life seems to have handed Freddie. I walk back outside alone, into the night, and look up at the lights in the lofty residences. The people who live up above me are as different from me as I am from Freddie, but we all have the same basic needs. He remains on my mind the rest of the evening, as I think about the pain he has experienced, both at his own hand and at the hands of others.

At 2:00am I awake with a start. It suddenly makes sense.

I saw the pain it caused Freddie to cease to exist, to be denied that most basic of human gifts, simple acknowledgement.

I watched as Freddie, in a store, was yelled at, silenced, and embarrassed. He was treated worse than anyone should deserve.

The tears roll down my cheeks as I realize why I am so deeply affected by him, why it feels so personal.

I think about my own story, the way my own bride has refused to acknowledge me. I think about how she, in a grocery store, shouted at me not to speak and to go away. I think about Freddie and I feel his lack of hope, and know this is something else we share. My whole body shakes as I sob into my pillow.

We are from two different worlds. We have two different stories. We could not be less alike.

And yet we share the same pain. Rejected.  Denied. Shut down. Cast off. We are unwanted.

I am Freddie too.

So much …

I’m looking around the kitchen. The floors and the cabinets are color coordinated with the countertop. A designer tried to help me pick out colors that you would like, but in the end, I chose exactly what was in the model home. I had no idea if I had done right. You came and saw it, and you loved it.

You put a sign up on the top of the cabinets, just over there. “LOVE” it said, in all capital letters. It’s gone now.

There was another sign over there, next to the stove. It said “This kitchen is for dancing.” We danced a lot in this kitchen you and me, long before there was a sign. I loved to dance in the kitchen with you.

I sat you up on the countertop, and you wrapped your arms around my neck and pulled me close, so many times. I kissed you. I loved kissing you, while the stove behind me sizzled.

There was so much love here.

Just over there, I had them build the stacked stone fireplace because you said you liked that look. I remember the times we’d drag the mattress downstairs and cuddle up in front of the fire. We would sleep there all night, after we’d made love.

There’s a verse on the wall, the width of the room. “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, by His power at work within us,” it promises. I would meet you at dawn under that covenant and kneel and pray for you and your son. When you cried, I cried. You loved for me to pray with you.

And there, in the corner, we would sit and talk out our grievances, the kitchen timer telling each of us when our time was up. We were learning to work things out. We’d make up and tell one another “I love you, babe.”

Up on the wall, five tin stars hang. We had been driving through the mountains and stopped in that little antique shop. You loved the big stars, and wanted one of your own. I couldn’t limit you to just one. They hang there still, just as you arranged them.

There was so much love here, not long ago.

Upstairs, we sat in the living room and worked a thousand puzzles, a thousand pieces each. We would talk about our days, our plans, and our fears. We laughed a lot here, the two of us. We watched the movies that you love, and I’d cuddle up next to you and watch, and kiss you on the shoulder. I loved kissing you on the shoulder.

And here, in our bedroom, on the wall are the giant initials, G and B, joined by a golden ampersand. They were the first things I hung up after the house was completed. Just off to the side is the picture that once hung in my lonely apartment; it reads “Today is the day.” For 8 months I read that sign every day, hoping that that day would be the day that you would come and marry me. That day finally came.

There was so much love here … so much love.

In this bed I took care of you when you felt sick. And here I lay as close to you as I could, trying to keep my breathing from waking you up, as I watched you sleep. And in this bed we laughed and we cried and we shared so much of our life, of our love, of our energies and of our emotions, of ourselves, intertwined.

There was so much love here.

And now, you are not here. The pictures are gone. The dresser is empty.

And yet you are here still, in every corner, and I rattle around this empty shell of a home and plead with God in Heaven to wake me up or to let me sleep forever. There is still so much love here, even now, at the end, when you’re not.

There is so much love here.

Questions Answered

They held a funeral for Mike Sledge yesterday.

It doesn’t matter how many funerals you go to; you never get used to it. You never know what to say and no matter what you say, someone has already said it. I’ve resigned myself to just being present, another body to count, so that when someone says “Look at what a great turnout there is,” that there will be at least one more to add to the tally.

Mike and I crossed paths often when we were in high school, even though we were not much alike. He was a hard worker with his own lawn business; I got extra cash from my mother. He was a glandular case with a throw-rug of chest hair who shaved every day; I weighed 110 pounds and had as much hair on my chin as I did in my jock.  I was bookish, with braces; Mike was an athlete with straight white teeth and a man’s voice. Even his name was macho.

And yet Mike actually picked me to play on his flag football team in gym class, once. It was between me and Scooter Troup, the kid that collected ants. He didn’t have to choose me, but he did. He even encouraged me: “Don’t screw up,” he said.   I was too wiry to block anyone, and so they made me a receiver.

“What do you want me to do, Mike?”

“You go long.”

It was his way of keeping me out of his hair; I think he was just glad to know I wouldn’t be looking in the dirt for ants.  No one covered me because it was obvious that there was no chance Mike would throw me that ball, and even if he did, I couldn’t possibly catch it.

Mike called a play that required all of the receivers to go left. I’m not sure how, but I ended up on the right side of the field, all alone. Wondering where everyone went, I turned around to look, and just as I did the ball hit me in the chest. I threw my hands up in a reflex action, and the ball stuck in my arms, a miracle reception. “Run you damn fool!,” Mike encouraged me, and I did.  I didn’t go far, but the other kids had a new-found respect for me. They made sure to put coverage on me from then on. “Nice job,” Mike said, and I think he meant it.

Years later, with a marriage on the rocks and enough personal problems to keep me busy, I wasn’t really sure why I decided to come; I hadn’t seen Mike since the 11th grade, and afterward, we didn’t even try to keep in touch. We had never been close.  At the church, people were milling around and looking at the floor, whispering, the way they do at a funeral.  His widow was haggard, and his pretty little girl was at her side. I gave his parents and his sister my condolences in that awkward way you do, and they said they appreciated it through their grief.

In high school, all of the girls liked Mike. I liked all of the girls. That never worked out in my favor. One particular girl, however, was something special.  They had dated for a while and it ended, but she never completely got over him.  She was vivacious and fun.  Her smile was intoxicating, and her laugh hooked me.  I was smitten.  I hung around her as much as I could, and listened to her as she talked about Mike occasionally. I hated to hear about how she thought about him, but I was too busy thinking about kissing her to let it bother me.  Despite her pining and my day dreaming, we gradually became friends, the way the way the pretty girls are always friends with the guys who have no hope of dating them.

I never had a shot, I knew.  She was beautiful and popular, and I was the skinny bookworm that no one considered a threat.  We’d go places and do things as friends, and while that wasn’t entirely satisfying for me, it was at least a way to stay near her.  She’d talk to me about Mike and the other boys that had her fancy, and I’d talk about girls that I liked, to keep up the conversation.  I never mentioned that the girls I liked were all her.  For me, it beame normal.  We’d go out to eat together, just the two of us, and tell stupid jokes and laugh loudly, but it never seemed odd to me.  Girls like her didn’t date guys like me I knew.  We’d talk late into the night some nights, not wanting our conversations to end, and I never considered why that was.  I didn’t have time to think about it; I was just trying to figure out how to get her to love me, the way I loved her.  I never did.  Eventually, she went off to college and we drifted off our separate ways.

But I thought about her from time to time.  I heard she’d married, and had a couple of kids.  I did the same.  Still, I’d wonder where she was sometimes, and if she was happy, and if the man who’d finally gotten her attention was good to her.  I’d see her warm, golden smile in my memory, and couldn’t resist smiling back like a grinning fool at the thought of her.

As time passed, I began to think back to those dinners and those movies and those jokes we shared, and for the first time, something didn’t add up right.  All those years she had longed for Mike — or so I thought — but she spent her time with me.  It started making little sense.  Could I have missed something?  The thought took hold and nagged me.  Was there something more to our friendship that I didn’t see?  Did she have feelings for me, too?

And so there I was at Mike’s funeral after a four hour drive, not quite sure why I’d come.  Who am I kidding?  I was secretly hoping for the long shot, that she’d show up there also.

I was not disappointed.

I caught sight of someone that looked like her from behind, seated in the pews, and my pulse quickened.  Could it really be her?  I made my way over through the crowd, as quickly yet with as much decorum as possible.

“Excuse me, ma’am.”  I stepped on an old woman’s open-toed shoe and got her pained grunt in response.

As I got closer, there was no doubt.  In the quiet of the church, my heart seemed a drumbeat.   I approached as calmly as possible and greeted her companions before turning my attention to her, further down the aisle.

The years had been kind to her.  No more an awkward teenager, she had filled out in all of the right ways, more mature, more beautiful.  It was hard to take my eyes off of her, this woman I’d never met.   There was an air of sophistication about her, and she held herself with a quiet confidence that the girl I once knew had lacked.  Yet there was no doubt that this was the same girl, now woman, familiar, now strange.  I was overjoyed to see her, and yet unsure of who she was, all at the same time.  It was uncomfortable.

And then she smiled.

She smiled a golden smile that instantly had the same power over me that it had so many years before.  It grabbed me and drew me in and wouldn’t let go, leaving me a grinning idiot and glad for it.  It was really her!  I wanted to shout and hug her hard, but this was not the time nor place.

I self-consciously invited myself to sit next to her, and we made small talk, sharing pictures of our children until the service started.   (I noted she did not show a picture of her husband.)  The necklace she wore — goodness —  the necklace she wore  lay so as to accent the contours of her feminine neckline, and somehow it made the room a bit warmer.  I found myself forced to concentrate on her eyes, lest my gaze wander.  The service was interminably long, but I found I really didn’t mind; I was just glad to once again be near her, to smell her perfume, to be close.  I spent the entire time scheming, dreaming up reasons that we should stay together for a while afterwards.

We had lunch.  From the moment we sat down, we were as wrapped up in our own raucous laughter, as oblivious to everyone else as we’d been all those years ago.  We talked about some old times, teased with one another a little bit, and shared a little bit more about our lives than small talk would ordinarily permit.  We had been together just the week before, 20 years ago.

It was over too quickly.

I tried to drink in every moment, remember every joke, every lilt of her voice, to take it with me, preserve it, and replay it into my old age.  I knew even then, that this moment couldn’t possibly come again in a lifetime, and I reveled in it, in her, in us, as long as possible.

On the long drive home, through the eyes of a man, I was able to see what boyish eyes could never fully discern:  there really was something there.  I had missed it.  I never knew.  Our conversation was too comfortable, our laughter too loud, our smiles too big.  She had loved me.  She had always loved me, just like I’d loved her.  It was a wonderful realization, and a sudden, shocking confrontation with the truth.

I smiled all the way home, the mystery solved.  An incredible sense of calm came over me.  I knew what I’d never thought I could know, what I never thought possible.  She had loved me.  Who could have imagined it?

I arrived home.  My children were asleep, and I kissed them gently.  My wife woke long enough to chide me for being so late and to remind me of a litany of things I had to do the following day, but soon she was back asleep and I was again alone.

I took off my suit, hung my things, placed them in the closet, pulled the door closed behind me, and sat on the floor, in the dark.

And sobbed.

 

(Written February, 2013)

Something in the Way She Moves

The moving van was loaded, her family’s things packed. She stood before me, big tears rolling softly down her cheeks.

I think I loved her from the moment I first met her. I’ve always loved her. We were just 15.

Our love began with a move. I was the new kid, and her parents dragged her and her sister along for a visit, to welcome us to town. Her curly red hair, her sparkling green eyes and her cute freckles screamed out “Notice me!” No one else in the room seemed to be able to hear it, but I did, and I complied. Shyness is a cruel master. I had nothing to say, but I did take notice. I watched her with her sister and the adults, and I could tell that there was something about her.

She didn’t say much to me, either; she mostly sat there on the floor and ignored me, but at least she didn’t say anything about the huge red zit on my nose. That was special. When you love someone, you take what you can get, and so that was our first special moment: she ignored the zit on my nose.

Later we ended up in the same places a lot, and around the same people. It turned out that she had a personality that was as big and as warm as the South Florida sun overhead. I knew she was beautiful on the outside – that was obvious – but I found she was even lovelier inside. She was sincere and sweet, and always happy. She smelled like heaven.

I would make excuses to talk with her. I found I could make a fool of myself to get her to laugh, and so I did, her personal jester. Her laughter became my drug, and I’d sell my dignity for silly antics to get another dose.

She’d had a boyfriend, naturally. It had ended. I got to know him a little. I asked him about her, and he told me that she was good in bed. I hated him for that, the lying bastard. She was too young, and too sweet, and not that kind of girl. I knew right then that I understood her better than he ever could.

I worked on my courage. It took months and several rehearsals, but I asked her on a date and she accepted. My mother drove us. Not only was this our first date, it was also mine. Somehow, things must’ve gone well, because a second one followed. There was no doubting it: I knew I was in love. Maybe I was a late bloomer, or maybe it was that first love thing. Whatever it was, this was no teenage crush; I had a deep, profound sense of awe about this girl.

What guy wouldn’t be proud that she’d go out him? I was bragging to another guy about taking her on a date. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, and wanted to share. There was a problem: he said he was planning to ask her out, too. Was he insane? He was threatening my bliss. This guy, once a friend, was instantly a rival bent on my destruction. I had to act quickly; my whole future was on the line.

I asked her to take a walk with me. It was night, it was raining, and my heart was pounding. I had to know: was she interested in seeing this other guy? Wasn’t it laughable that he’d think she could be interested in him? As if she could be impressed by being driven around by some other guy’s mother!

She responded as any rational 15-year-old girl would: she thought I was insane. Upon reflection, I realized that I was. Love can do that.

No, she had not dated this guy, she said. No, she had no desire to date this guy.

That answer made my heart nearly leap from my chest! She must love me, too!

Yes, she said, it was nice going to the movies, with me …

As a friend.

No more painful words have ever been spoken to any man, anywhere, at any time. Every male knows and dreads that little three-word dagger. I just let it hang there, my tense heart, momentarily elated, now lost in my stomach. The raindrops were soaking into my shorts, a suitable metaphor. We ended our walk.

I had been stupid. I had assumed too much. I had rushed in. I was a fool. I was 15, and didn’t know any better.

We were friends from that point on, because she said we were. We would continue to be friends, as long as she said we would be. Faced with the choice of being her friend or not being around her at all, I happily accepted friendship. She didn’t know that only one of us was friendly, that the other one was In Love. There was no way could I tell her.

We continued to be in the same places, traveling in the same circles, the way that you do when you’re kids. If she volunteered to help somewhere, I volunteered too, to be close to her. If she went somewhere, I happened to go there too, to be nearby. I’d watch her, follow her, sit at home alone and wonder what she was doing then, right at that moment, and who was lucky enough to be with her.

She had a few boyfriends. Or guy friends. I could never really tell for sure which they were, but I suspected that most of them had been as carried away by the odor of her perfume as I had been, only to be rebuffed. Good. It served them right, for trying to get close to my girl. As far as I was concerned, that’s what she was: My Girl.

Try though I might, I couldn’t sustain that illusion for myself. I moved on, out of necessity. I eventually found a steady girlfriend, but I never could quite shake my girl, either. The rumor mill told me that she had come to her senses, and that she might be interested in dating me. I broke it off with my steady immediately, or I tried to. She cried. She blubbered, and I felt guilty. I was a cad. It was all due to hearsay, I knew. My girlfriend had just lost out to an imagined opportunity of mine, rooted loosely in rumor and speculation. I had to admit it was a dumb, hurtful thing for me to do, and so I apologized and asked her to take me back.

We continued to be friends, my girl and I, as best I was able. She was always warm to me, always fun, and we laughed together when I could find an excuse to be near her. I sometimes wondered if she was hiding something more from me, but the very idea was silly. She had made herself clear already. She was popular with the guys the way the pretty girls always are, but I imagined that we had a special bond. When I was near her I would try to get her attention, without being noticeable. I became so skilled at maintaining the balance, I could’ve been a tightrope walker. I could not dare let on that I loved her, lest I be demoted from “friend” and banished forever. That would not do; I would take what I could get.

Everything she did was remarkable. There was the time she wore that red and white-striped swimsuit to the beach, forever may it be emblazoned upon my memory. There was the time that I took her picture, and she looked right through my camera into my goofy squinted eye, and deep into my soul. I still smile back at the photo. She used some funny words and expressions, and I find myself still repeating them, occasionally.

I was biding my time, is what I was doing. I was waiting for her to express an interest in me. Maybe I was waiting for myself to get some more courage, or waiting for the clouds to part and a voice from Heaven to give me a command punctuated by angel’s harps. Maybe I was waiting for my girlfriend to wizen up and dump me. I couldn’t bear to risk the friendship, and forever blow my chances with my girl, so I adopted the strategy of just being patient. There was still time, I thought; I had plenty of time.

There is never enough time.

She was leaving, moving to a new town. I was heartbroken. I arrived as they were loading the last of her family’s things. Those big, silent tears testified to her sadness at leaving. Whether I was there to comfort her or myself I’m still not certain, but something deep inside, tired of pretending, finally sprang to action. Shyness may be a cruel master, but there is something to be said for the power of desperation.

It was remarkably natural, the way I leaned over and kissed her lips. It was also thoroughly unexpected. It was wonderful, is what it was. Without thinking about it I had kissed her, the softest, sweetest kiss I’ve ever known.

Here was the kiss that must have inspired all other kisses to come afterwards, a kiss that shamed all kisses that came before, a kiss that humiliated that senseless big screen lip mashing between Bogart and Bergman, a kiss that would have made Antony tell Cleopatra to go kiss her asp. The angels sang.

My moment had come. Without even meaning to, I had seized it.

She was surprised, but she didn’t pull away. I was even more surprised, and it dawned on me — lip to lip — what I’d done. “I’m really going to miss you,” I mumbled, and stumbled away backwards, into the night.

I left. She was leaving, and we were not to be. A move had brought us together, and a move took away our chances. My time had ended.

I heard she fell in love with someone, and he made her happy. There were kids, and a house, and probably payments for braces, and maybe even a dog. I fell in love, too.

So we went our separate ways, my girl and I.

I never told her. She never heard me tell her how wonderful she was, how much I loved her, how much her laughter made me feel alive. She deserved to know it, but I never told. My time had ended.

But I still love her. Few men ever get the chance to be truly moved by a woman, to find the one that is made just for them, and my luck was better than most. Knowing that will have to be enough for me …

… and my girl.

 

 

(Originally written February, 1988)