How many lifetimes are there in sixty years? One? Three? Twenty? It seems like forever.
This morning I sent birthday greetings to someone who was my world sixty years ago. I sent an Email and a YouTube video to her page on Facebook. How different from the modes of communication available sixty years ago! In 1953 I rarely had enough coins in my pocket for a greeting card let alone a worthy gift. I was a senior in high school and she was a sophomore. I spent more time thinking about her than about graduating and facing the unknown future of college or beyond. We had a few minutes together after school waiting for our respective school buses. When I could, I’d hitch hike to her house so we could sit in her sun-parlor to be alone together. If my dad let me borrow his car we’d go for ice cream or just park. We went places with her gym teacher. It felt good to have someone who loved me. I didn’t know a thing about real love.
I had to go to summer school that year to make up a class in which I got a failing grade and in September I started college. I didn’t want to be there. I’d always hated school. I had no educational or career goals. While school classes were easy, effortless for me, college required hard work, long hours of study, dedication. Add having to work the job I’d picked up during the summer as an afternoon duty, I was faced with a choice between the future and the present. Immature as I was, I chose the joy and contentment with the latter. Between my classes I’d rush to the high school to spend a period with my love. Everyone knew we were a couple and felt good for us. I was popular for my singing and she was as pretty a girl as any young fellow could want. My college grades were terrible. I had special counseling with a mentor.
I began amateur singing locally and that led to attention from other girls. I liked that. My love was still in school and her mama had a curfew for my visits. Sometimes I couldn’t see her for appropriate reasons. There were phone limits as well. I also played recreational baseball and spent time in town with friends I’d made. To my everlasting sorrow, I took up with a girl who would have been called an almost-stalker nowadays. It began innocently enough. Just another school mate. But she was convenient and available when I couldn’t be with my love. I’ll never know what the hell I was thinking…other than I wasn’t thinking. Keep in mind, this was back when sex wasn’t part of establishing a relationship. It was something still saved for marriage or at least a family and public commitment. Word got around and my love broke up with me. My pleadings went unheeded. Justifiably so. My heart was broken and all I could do was write country songs about her and about my feelings.
I attempted to “make up” by joining the gymnastics school she attended with her new boyfriend. He was an excellent gymnast; I was a jerk. I wound up going with another girl but continued my mourning.
Several years later, I ran into her at a park where we’d both taken our children to play. We exchanged some pleasantries, inquiries about our progeny, but nothing about spousal relationships. I didn’t know she was divorced. I’d long wished I were single as well.
About six or seven years ago, I found her name on an Internet social page. She was still close to home in New Jersey and I was stuck in California. Emails became phone calls. We were both single. My missions work led me to El Salvador but our communicating continued. My 55th class reunion was coming up and I asked her to be my date. She accepted. I planned for staying only a few days and those with a life-long friend. But she arranged a hotel room for me not far from the site of the reunion. My friend loaned me a guitar for me to play at the reunion, something of a reminiscence of our senior year assemblies and exchange talent shows with other high schools.
The hotel desk informed me of her arrival in the lobby. I couldn’t wait to see her after all these decades. She’d sent me recent photos from local plays she’d performed in and she looked amazingly great in them. But nothing could have prepared me for the vision waiting at the desk. This wasn’t my blue-eyed angel in jeans from the 50s. This was a glamour queen, a super model right off the runway, the beautiful, youthful, graceful woman of whom I’d dreamed so many times for more than a half-century. Her short hair graced the little changed face of her teens. Her body was slender and firm. Her hug was as I’d remembered it. Her lips were as lovingly warm as they were fifty-five years ago.
When I introduced her to my classmates, I’m sure they sensed the excitement radiating from deep within my soul. Many remembered our end-of-year romance. She was the grace at our table. The excellent dinner was outshone by her presence. We were king and queen of the prom.
Singing for my class, singing to my lady was the high point for us. How many years ago had I written songs of love and pain for her and she’d never heard them. The one record I’d cut at our local radio station got ruined in transit when I mailed it from California. It was one-of-a-kind and now lost forever. I sang some of the blue-eyed songs I used to sing for her in high school. Then I sang the songs I wrote for her so long ago. An old but still strong love filled the room.
At her home we talked a lot. We’d led different lives but had our joys and sorrows. I wondered as I always wonder what if… She was the level-headed one. I hadn’t known how wise she was. She was a guiding light that helped me overcome the insecurities of a fledgling singer. I didn’t know how much I needed her help me balance my life until I passed up opportunities without thinking. Roger, the genius, couldn’t make the right decisions.
I didn’t spend the night. With each other, we are still virgins. Her words were, “Why start something we can’t finish.” At 72 I was not the stud I was at 27 nor the clumsy novice I was at 17. Once again, she was the practical one while my mind (if not my body) was in impulsive mode.
We spent a wonderful next day together. We visited my friend to return his guitar and say good-bye. We drove over the river to Pennsylvania and had lunch there. We took photos by the river and she took me back to my hotel for our last good-bye.
Five years have passed. I’m married again. I’m very much in love with Margarita. She’s the perfect wife for where I am physically, emotionally, spiritually and geographically in life. We’ve got two fun kids who keep me crazy. This is not the life that Willie Nelson is leading or that George Jones led until his recent passing. El Salvador is not where I ever expected to visit let alone live out my days.
My date has a friend she spends a lot of time with. She stays active at her senior center playing bridge and pool. She visits her kids. We don’t write personal letters now. I never finished a song I’d entitled “What Almost Was Is Never Gonna Be” but the title gives you a bit about what I was thinking. Still, I will always be in love with her and wonder, wonder, wonder.