Long Time Between

 

I’d felt nerves in her presence before, but I was just a kid then and she was the nonpareil, the Mt. Everest, the Hope Diamond of my nascent horn-doggedness, if not feelings of love.

I’m sure it was such fear, coupled with that raging hormonal confusion of mine that broke the lines of communication between us. Garbled communication—the staticky two-way expression of thought and opinion—and one or both parties can say to themselves “He’s/she’s not interested” or “What a douche/bitch,” and break off before the climax of their story.

Take “climax” as you will. I took it rather poorly, no matter which definition you prefer using. And on I fell to the denouement. No reviews. No sequel.

One day we went from best chums, the next to inseparable and huggy boy/girl combo to “I love you, but…” to incommunicado one-time acquaintance to “I don’t want to see you anymore” to silence of the grave. Not even crickets. A desert of emotion with no winds to temper the heat nor provide the merest of soundtracks. Only the sound of one broken heart strumming a shuffle beat of the blues.

So here I was, in this little restaurant not too far from the last place I saw her, waiting to meet Melanie. I say I saw her because she deftly avoid making eye contact with me. Maybe she forgot what I looked like. Or maybe she was embarrassed about something else. I saw nothing to be embarrassed about. I was the left waving at the air, my joyful expression at running into an old friend falling like a red-faced avalanche into the figurative pants around my ankles.

It hurt. It hurt worse than the day she told me goodbye. Worse than the years of not knowing what I’d done, if anything, to cause such a rift.

And then came the messages out of the blue from someone on Facebook calling themselves Lainie the Cat whose profile pic was a gray and black tabby. Cryptic things, gauzy innuendo and allusion to some forgotten connection that even I, the now-sensitive emotion-spilling writer, couldn’t fathom. I’d received messages and friend requests like this before from people——perhaps they were women, I’m pretty sure they weren’t cats——who were would turn out to be trolls trying to fracture my testicles. I’d learned my lesson and it only cost me these two scars.

But making, or just as importantly, re-establishing such connections was what God, Zuckerburg or God in the guise of Zuckerberg, made Facebook for.

I know I shouldn’t have, my shrink, my songwriting partner and my bartender all warning I shouldn’t, but I ended up responding to this hazy Nigerian diplomat of the heart.

No reply. I should have listened to that baritone Greek chorus.

Months go by and up pops another mysterious message that poked awake my curiosity, but jangled alarm bells from my balding head to my arthritic knees, as well.

I was back in full confusion mode, a place I hadn’t inhabited since my last days as friends with Melanie. I had an inkling by now, but didn’t want to know, just to go. I’d even stopped listening to old favorite bands because they reminded me too much of her. I stopped writing anything that could even have been informed by our erstwhile relationship.

The next time, she flat out identified herself as Melanie. I would have liked to have said “my Melanie,” but that ship had sailed, gotten scuttled and sank to the stygian bottom of some uncharted ocean.

So this ghost ship of a woman begins with small talk to which I was even shyer than clumsy younger me. But I was ever the alloy with the melting point of chocolate Easter bunny for her. I couldn’t help myself, even after all these years and all my experiences. There are just some people who vibrate at the same frequency you do, you dial in, connect and whoever has the stronger signal calls what station you’ll listen to.

I listened to hers.

“Let’s meet up somewhere to talk about old times,” she wrote, for I refused to hear her voice on the phone.

“I don’t know, Melanie,” I replied. “Don’t you think we’ve gone our separate ways, taken new paths, broken new bones, bled out a few times, for a good reason?”

“I just think we should clear the air about what happened between us,” she said.

“We can’t do that here? I’m a fair expresser of ideas and emotion—and much younger and taller—in black and white,” I said.

“Okay. I just thought you’d like it if we saw each other, even if it was one last time, just to talk. I’d like to see you and talk to you.”

“Okay, you win. Again. You’re right. The late in the game, I guess I should swap out my wimpy tighty whities for a sturdy pair of boxers.”

“Or, better yet, go commando. LOL”

She always knew how to push my buttons.

And so I sit here, waiting for she who set me on my path to easy access to emotions and a fragile heart. I owed her for that. Owe her for some hit songs I wrote, too. Like Harlan Howard said, “I’m always collecting emotions for future reference.” And I guess she owed me an explanation. Though I wasn’t holding my breath for one. Melanie was never one to shift blame, but wasn’t known for taking any either.

I was lost in thought, as is my usual state of being, when I felt the tap on my shoulder, to which I jerked and spun my head around to see who broke my self-absorbed concentration.

The woman looked familiar, like a faded old photo of your grandmother looks when you pull it out of your late Mom’s shoebox. But the puffy cheeks, sallow skin and hat covering her baldness rang more alarm bells than lit light bulbs above my head.

“Jay?” she said in a voice raspier than the one I heard telling me to beat it forty years before.

“Melanie?” I said, quickly rising from my seat, bumping the table and spilling what was left of my glass of bubbling courage. “Shit, some things never change do they?”

As I reached for some napkins to mop up what little beer left in the glass I’d spilled, she reached for me and gave me a gentle hug. It felt the same temperature of the spilled beer.

“Please, sit. I ca’t tell you how great it is to…”

“See me? Please. The look on your face when you turned… Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” she said.

“No, it wasn’t,” I said. “It was a very good idea.”

The waitress interrupted us to finish cleaning up my mess and asked if she could get me another and anything for the lady.

“Yeah, please, another IPA would be great. Melanie? I’m buying.”

“Oh, nothing for me, thank you. Haven’t had one in a while now. Doctor’s orders.”

The waitress slipped away and we each turned to look at the other, gauging the damages done by the years and whatever mileage we’d put on our bodies.

“Your hair, so silver. I wish I had it,” Melanie said with a laugh, touching her hat.

“Your laugh,” I said. “I wish I had it.”

“You always were a silver-tongued Yankee,” the Virgina-born woman across from me said. “So, tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine.”

“Oh, no. Your party and ladies first, always.”

“I’m not much of a lady anymore, Jay. Never really was. Please, indulge me, old friend,” she said.

“Okay. Still writing, though retired from the old gig after thirty years. Widowed. Three kids and four grandkids. I won’t bore you with the proud grandpa portfolio,” I said.

“Oh, please,” she said, genuinely interested.

“No, your tun. Indulge me this once.”

“Okay. Probably retired. Divorced. One daughter with one grand daughter. Long term relationship. I guess you can say widowed there. More than a few short-term relationships and affairs. Only one ever meant anything,” she said.

“Afraid I lost my head a couple of times sniffing trails other than the one to my door, too. Not too proud of it, but I’ll cop to it. Sorry, Melanie, go ahead.”

“Well, as you can…”

The waitress arrived with my ale and asked if we needed a few more minutes to order.

“Just a few. Thank you,” I said. “Now, as I can what, Mel?”

She sighed.

“As you can see, I’m not well. Liver. Alcoholic. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to see you.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said. But I did.

“I’m in AA now. I know, too late to the fair. But I wanted to make things right in my life before… Well, before. And one of the twelve steps is to…”

“Make direct amends to all persons we’ve harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Step 9. Yeah, I know,” I said.

“You’re a friend of Bill?” she asked, eying my IPA.

“No, just a close friend of a friend of Bill.”

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to see you. To explain why I chased you off all those years ago. I was a drunk and wanted to be with other drunks. And you scared me with your honest, naive, altarboy-next-door on a testosterone bender ways. So I cut you out of my life. But I never forgot how you tried to stay in touch, until I…”

“Yeah, but you’re here now and that’s what matters,” said and reached across the table to take her cool hand.

“Not for long, Jay. And that’s the other reason I wanted to see you. I wanted to see you and talk with you and feel you looking at me that way one more time before…”

“The salad arrives? They make a mean Caesar here, I understand. Look, I found out long ago all we really have is living right now. And right now we’re living three feet away from one another. At some point tonight and I hope for many nights ahead, we’ll be closer than that. No strings, just friend sitting with a friend. I’m too old to get all twitterpated over a woman again anyway.”

I waved the waitress down and said, “We’d like two Caesar salads to start off, please. And could you please take this back to the bar and get me a club soda with lime? I want a wet whistle and a sharp mind while I’m catching up with this lovely lady tonight.”

“At least,” Melanie said, and laughed that laugh that always reminded of the glass wind chimes on her front porch thirty-some years ago.

My much-too-long Day 7 story for Story-a-Day May. The prompt, from author Stuart Horwitz, was to think back to a time earlier in life, and a person from then with whom you’ve fallen out of touch. The writer was to turn himself and that person into characters and get them together and see what happens. How does it reflect on the protagonist’s journey? Well, this story kept on going. Good thing I tend to write poems of only around 100 words most days or you’d never visit anymore.

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