I was just checking out the news online not too long ago – no different from any other day, I suppose – when a particular link to a story caught my attention. And really, I couldn’t tell you exactly why it jumped out at me; stories like this pop up from time to time, and I rarely bother with them. This time, though, I clicked to check it out.
We will dispense with naming any names here. The reason for this will become clearer as the narrative progresses. For now, though, we will flash back once again to early 1975. She and I met at a convention of an organization geared to those of high-school and college age. As is typical for conventions, this particular event took place in a hotel. And among the many rooms filled with attendees that weekend were the guys from Wausau in room 269, and the girls from another town in another direction in room 279. Our two groups connected rather quickly, thanks in no small part to the not-too-subtle hints of a party that were placed in our window, which they quickly picked up on as they walked past; sure enough, our phone rang very shortly after, with the girls from 279 informing us that they would be right over.
And so they were. The first drinks were poured, we all introduced ourselves, and before long we were all getting acquainted; it quickly became clear that our two groups would be spending a fair amount of time together over the weekend.
It also soon became apparent that I was connecting with one particular young lady in the group. It was not exactly overt, but at the same time maybe just a notch north of subtle, and it was not long at all before we were paired up – nothing inappropriate at all, mind you…but there were some unmistakable signs of mutual interest. And, to be honest, she was quite the catch…bright, personable, and (dare I say) the cutest one of the bunch by far. This was pretty heady stuff for a guy who was just beginning to come out of his shell and find his wings, if you will (those of you who knew me back in school will probably understand better than most). After a little while, she and I decided to head out, take a quick walk around, and check things out. A few minutes into the walk, she excused herself, saying she would be right back.
Except, of course, that she did not come back. Not after a few minutes, nor after a few minutes more. Figuring that she may have been sidetracked somehow, I worked my way back to the room. And there she was – now paired with my roommate. Whether the roomie had swooped in or whether she had ditched me did not matter, really; all I knew was that the vibe I had been feeling a very few minutes before had been suddenly and completely sucked out of me. And then, perhaps unsurprisingly, my party mood just as suddenly shifted. I was still mingling and still kind of sort of having something of a good time…but the jolt of what had just happened would hang with me for the entire weekend – and, for that matter, beyond. I knew nothing as to how things had come about, nor did I particularly care to find out…but being dumped, of course, is hardly a pleasant experience regardless of who (if anybody) might be at fault. I had never picked up a vibe like that before, and when it crashed…yeah. Any residual bitterness or self-pity, though, was pushed aside over the course of the next few days, as it was less than a week later when the nosebleeds started in earnest (a topic that I touched on within this blog several months ago), and what had happened at the convention suddenly fell into proper perspective.
A year later, I attended my last convention with this organization . They had gone somewhat into decline, and the hotel parties associated with the conventions had lost their allure as well. I still did keep one eye out for her, though I had no illusions as to any possibilities, given the events from the year before. I was carrying some serious scars – both of the obvious physical variety from my surgeries, and the less-visible emotional scars from what had happened at the last convention – and, to be honest, I felt that even any attempt at conversation would likely be awkward at best. When I finally did see her, we greeted each other with an honest smile and a nod in passing, and that was pretty much it…but, really, that was about the best that I could have hoped for, and I was satisfied.
And that was the last I ever saw of her. Had something like this happened nowadays, at the very least I would have tried to keep in passing touch with her via Facebook. Whatever might have gone wrong on that Friday in 1975…whatever the impetus for the way things ultimately played out…for an hour, at least, she had made me feel like the king of the world, and all else was forgiven. Some scars heal tenderly and some heal hard, and the scars from that weekend ultimately came up very much on the tender side.
But, of course, there was no such thing as social media in those days. Keeping in touch back then required either writing a letter or making a phone call – neither of which, for various reasons, would have worked well at that point in time. And by the time Facebook came around, any reasonable window of opportunity to keep in touch had long since vanished. Still, though, there would be that once-in-a-while moment when my mind would wander and I would wonder what she was up to, as we all do with any number of people who cross our lives at random points only to set off that occasional little thought in the back corner of the mind in the days and years down the line.
Needless to say, though, that particular mystery was destined to remain just that. There are lines that a person simply does not cross, for any number of obvious reasons, and the only option available is to embrace the mystery, remember the good, and hope that whatever life sends her way is nothing but the best. And, of course, to wonder from time to time how she is doing.
As I noted at the top of the story, the link was to a news article of the type that I routinely skip over; the headline that comprised the link was depressing enough as it was. But something made me click it this time. And, as I began to read, every detail presented in turn made it more and more apparent that this was the sort of story that truly merited the term “horrible” (again, best that I do not reveal any details here.) Still, I read on…and then something suddenly jumped out at me.
That name. Her first name was not among those given in the story…but I saw that last name. And then I looked back to the town named on the dateline…and my body spontaneously shuddered from head to toe for a moment.
I typed a couple of words into a search. God help me, I did. Because not knowing would be even worse than discovering the worst. And my fears were realized: This, in all likelihood, was her family.
No…at no point did I so much as fleetingly entertain any serious thought of touching base with her. If it would have been highly disturbing under normal circumstances – and yes, it would have been – it would be unthinkable and utterly inappropriate here, regardless of any good intentions. For all of that, though, there is that part of me that just wishes I could go there and hold her for a couple of minutes, in a way that would have nothing whatsoever to do with anything that happened forty years ago. If I could, I would just hold her and tell her…absolutely nothing. Not so much as a word. What would be the point? The usual trite terms of condolence, however well intended, would be woefully inadequate here. “Be strong”? God knows she will need strength in the days and years to come…but that strength will not magically appear just because somebody tells her so. “It’s going to be all right”? No, damn it, it will NOT be all right. Not this.
I would just quietly hold her and give her a place to cry. And I would try to channel every bit, every atom of goodness that the seven billion people on this planet might carry with them, and send it all her way. And then I would gracefully take my leave.
That is what I wish I could do. The reality, though, is that all I will be able to do is to wonder how she is doing.
I will be doing that a lot more now.