As the last February 14 rolled around, and a friend of mine had finished reading my smart-ass reply to eHarmony.com's solicitation to make me a "client", she asked me in that straight-away manner of hers, "just who was this 'one that got away' for you? Does she actually exist, or someone you just make up to avoid taking a chance?".
This particular friend of mine is one of several who tend to pull few punches when they try to pin me down on something.
"Nawp. She was very real. I don't think I could make up a woman like her, then, now, or ever again". "So, you've never really gotten over her, have you?" she continued.
"Nawp...I suppose I never did", I said in that dead-pan manner of mine, hoping for a change of subject.
"Then why not write about it?", she insisted.
"Nawp", followed by, "can we just drop this?" with an edge of annoyance creeping into my voice.
"What", she snorted, "afraid to let others see you as human?".
Dang, I hate when she gets that way. Everything should always be talked about, in her view. Everything. Not in mine. Some things are best left off the radar screen.
Especially later that night, sitting at my computer and reading emails, when my annoyance at her prodding began to take me down Memory Lane once more. It's been almost 26 years since I last saw the "one that got away" -- pictured above -- and yet I must admit that she still remains in my memories, as vividly as if it were yesterday.
So, against whatever better judgement I have, and to make my friend happy, or at least get her off my ass on this particular subject, I'll let you see a piece of ol' Skunk as he hates to reveal parts of himself to be, and tell you of the 'one that got away'. Or not, as perhaps you'll see for yourself in the end.
I met her in college in the later part of the 70s, in a First Aid class. I was studying Criminal Justice; she was studying to become a physical therapist. The class was a mandatory for both of us, and some interesting quirk of fate just happened to put us in the same schedule. In one demonstration, she was playing the 'victim', and I was to show on her how to stop bleeding of the femoral artery via the application of pressure. I was a bit bashful in those days, and embarrassed to lay hands on her there, and she -- a bit embarrassed herself -- laughed at my red-faced, superficial demonstration, which had the instructor and me laughing, too.
In no time we became friends, and began to see each other outside of class.
At this time I knew that there was someone else in the picture: a lad she'd known for years prior. Her twin sister (they were identical twins) was dating his younger brother, and it was expected in her family that she and the older brother would marry one day. For now, I didn't let that bother me.
Many days or evenings -- at dinner, over coffee, or on the phone -- we would talk of many things, priority among them were her life, her loves and her fears. She would speak about how he -- the other guy -- wouldn't talk about such things, and how she was growing close to me, because I would listen to her, and appeared to care.
It wasn't hard for me then, and it didn't just appear so: she was beautiful in my eyes. Kind, pure, with solid core values. I adored her. I came to love her. But no matter how close we drew, 'he' was always in the shadows, and on the horizon of eventuality. There'd be some kind of reckoning at some point.
One evening, months later, she expressed to me her growing discomfort with the situation. Seeing me, yet feeling like she 'belonged' to him. At this stage, I had some chivalrous notions about love and trust (aka, "if you love someone or something, set them free; if the love's real, they'll return"). So I told her to be up front with him about me. With the way we'd grown close, I was confident that he would be what he was, and I would emerge as her choice.
One to take my advice in those days, she did tell him. And later, in her words, "he cleaned up his act", and she couldn't bring herself to part with him.
Inwardly, I was crushed. But having made a commitment, I couldn't back down. I bowed to her wishes as graciously as possible, and stopped seeing her, hating every minute of the withdrawal.
And so it remained, for about 9 months. Then, in a moment of curiosity (aka, weakness), I called her, just to say hi and see how she was. Was I ever surprised -- pleasantly -- to learn that after I'd stepped out of the picture, he'd returned to his detached, disinterested ways.
She and I picked up where we'd left off.
Not that, in all our times together, we ever had sex; one of her core values that I admired beyond my own testosteronal rooster's crowing, was her vow of no sex before marriage. I respected her for it, then and ever since. My own values didn't prove as steadfast in later relationships, but I never claimed to be a saint then or later, and I digress.
Time went by for me most enjoyably, as it seemed to me that we were growing closer together with each meeting, date, and conversation. Not a Catholic myself, I nonetheless attended Mass with her when I could. I felt no urgency or hurry; I felt I had time and love on my side.
Her twin sister and his younger brother were scheduled to marry in January of 1981, and six months prior, she asked me if I could 'write something special for them'. I'd dabbled a bit in writing at the time, and she 'loved' my way of expression on paper. So for her --who I'd do about anything for -- I gave it a shot. What I came up with -- professionally printed and framed as a wedding gift -- I would later learn had gone over superbly with all who read it.
And no, I won't share it here. Even if my friend insists.
I couldn't be there, you see: because 'he' still lurked in the shadows, and with the exception of her twin sister, I don't believe that her family knew anything about me. Still, my darling friend thought the world of me for coming through for her sister....and for her.
But, much as my coming up with that gift meant to her, it turned out to be the high-water mark for us.
As '81 approached 1982, she again became restless and uncomfortable, about being "torn between two lovers". I gently prompted her to talk about it, as we'd always found it easy to be up front with one another. Once again, I told her to be up front with him, and let the chips fall where they might. I was more torn this time about suggesting this, but I believed in doing the right thing for her, and hoped for the best this time. I put on a brave face and added with as much sincerity as I could muster to hide my memory of the last time, "whatever you decide, I will honor". The look of genuine appreciation in her eyes made it almost a bearable decision at the time.
After two of the longest weeks of my life (at the time), she made her decision. She couldn't leave him. Much as she cared for me, she would stay with him.
I haven't known many lower points in my life than right then.
But, as before, I had made a commitment. If every thought I'd ever expressed to her meant a thing, I had to stand by my word. I didn't manage to hide all the hurt this time around, but I lived up to my word. The last time I saw her, I kissed her, held her, and wished her all the happiness that I genuinely wanted her to have. All the while, dying a little inside.
I don't think that I've ever loved someone as much as I loved her. Or ever will, again. More on that later.
Over the next couple years, I thought of her often, but resisted the urge to call and check on her, just in case he'd returned to type. Then came the fall of 1985: I had spent a grueling summer working labor dispute security in Ohio for my employer. On an irresistable whim, I called her to see how she was, and perhaps maybe...but the recorded message I got indicated all of her calls were being forwarded. To his number. I didn't need to be hit over the head, but guess I wanted to be, so I called his number. She answered. They had gotten married in '84. Ouch.
I covered my disappointment by wishing them all the best, wishing that I could feel like I meant it.
Fast forward to early summer of '94: my then relationship -- an engagement that never should have been, but for my stubborn refusal to see the obvious, and accept when a commitment made was a bad bargain, especially when it was as one-sided as it had become -- was on the ropes, and headed for the crapper, a mere couple months hence. Thoughts of my long-lost love were once again encroaching, as they often did at low moments of my life. But there was no going back: she was 10 years married now. Still, the impossible-to-scratch itch needed to be addressed.
So I decided to try something to get me to quit dwelling on her: I sat down and wrote her a last, tell-all letter. Not that it was going to be sent; I wrote it for me, or so I told myself. In it, I confessed to her all of my feelings and thoughts that she'd ever known and probably long forgotten by now. I told her that, through good and bad, she was never far from my thoughts.
But, in the light of day that was overdue to shine on me, had come the realization that two men had competed for her affections. And it was time that I faced reality: the better man for her had won. I was, therefore, closing this chapter of my life, years later than I should have. And in so doing, I could finally -- really -- wish her and hers the genuine best wishes and life-long happiness that I had wanted to do so many years prior, but couldn't in my own heart.
Fool that I was...I went ahead and mailed it. Without a return address. In those days, my address and phone number were both unlisted. Little chance that she'd find me, not that I expected her to try. I assume she received it. Perhaps she even read it. It didn't matter now. It was finally done.
It worked for a while. About five years, and the eve of the New Millennium. The memories came back. And I quit fighting them.
So to this day, in 'those' moments, I remember her. I have made a degree of peace with the memories: I am resigned to her periodic visits on Memory Lane, understanding that my time with her is long over, and forever just a memory. Though, at times, I now welcome her radiant smile and sparkling eyes, visiting the moments I slip into remembrance. Those were some special times, truly. She was -- and I imagine likely remains today -- a very special, caring, beautiful woman. One who gave to me a very wonderful time in my younger life. So I'll keep my memories of her. She won a piece of my heart that is forever hers, and no one will ever be able to claim. To this day, I love her. To put it bluntly, that's just the way it is.
In the words of an old nostalgic song, many years have gone by, since I looked in her eyes, but the memory lingers...I go back in my mind, to the very first time, I felt the touch of her fingers.
In my 51 years, I am thankful for those lives who've touched my own in their different, and occasionally ongoing ways. But I'll never forget how you, Terry, touched and, for a time, enriched my life, more than a quarter of a century ago. Whether you ever stumble across these words at some point in the future or not, know that I've done my best to honor my commitment to you, made long ago. I still love you. I miss you often. But if you're happy, then it's all been worth it.
If there is a perpetuity of the mind and heart beyond the physical realm, you'll be a special, cherished memory, of and in mine, always.
Okay, ****, ya happy now?
*2014 UPDATE: Fool that I am, I found her on Facebook and sent her a friend request...she rejected it without comment. 'Nuff said...the past is be left exactly that*