Do you think it is possible to love someone for 52 years and not really know that person?
I grew up in a very small Indiana town that was rural for 3/4ths of the year and a summer vacation place on a huge lake from June-August. I started First Grade with the same 40 some odd students I ended up graduating with.
Oh, I had had some school girl crushes – everyone had one on our local doctor’s son, as he was the cutest boy in our class.
And of course, I was deeply, madly, fiercely in love with Paul McCartney for the first few years after the Beatles hit the United States. Who wasn’t? Then they went psychedelic, and I didn’t.
Being such a small community school, by the time I reached junior high, we shared classrooms with the high schoolers, intermingling with them in the hall between classroom periods.
I am not sure when I first saw him – sometime between classes I would imagine. He was two years older than I, tall, with jet black hair and the most amazing blue eyes I have ever seen, before or since. They were electric blue and stood out against the paleness of his skin. I thought he was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.
A nerd before such a word existed, I was incredibly shy and self-conscious. I had the weirdest haircuts and styles, based on whether my mother did my perms and cuts or she took me up to see Phyllis at the beauty shop. I had “blossomed” early, but let the other kids in my class convince me I was fat and nothing to look at. The only time I had any self-assurance was when I knew the answer to a history question, or had written a great essay in English class or assumed an alternate identify in a school play.
Then of course, there was the whole issue of my birth. Since my last name was different than my grandparents who were raising me, I was an anomaly of my times in 1960’s north eastern Indiana. The fact that my grandfather – whom I always called Daddy, as he was the only one I had ever had – was the town bartender and a major drunk didn’t help the cause. The people who drank with him loved him – still, the mother in me now realizes why I was never invited to the other kids’ parties or why they were never allowed to spend the night at my house. I would never have let my son alone with alcoholics either. Still, it didn’t make the hurting go away.
But for two years, I lived in a fantasy between class bells, hoping to see the object of my affection as I passed from one class to the next. I would look for him every day, peering at him between the bodies of the other students as he passed by. If he looked my way, I would quickly avert my eyes.
We had a friend in common, an older girl who worked at a local grocery store and lived near him. She told me once she had kissed him. My heart broke to hear that. I don’t think she meant to be cruel; I hope not, anyway.
Every time I went to a high school basketball game, I went just to watch him play. Everyone knew I had this major crush – even him. Everyone knew who I was rooting for. I so wanted to be a cheerleader, pretty, slim and blonde so he would notice me. But I was none of those things. For his part, he bore my stolen glances between classes stoically. Dear Lord, I wonder how much teasing he got that I of all people was mad about him. Poor fellow.
When I was 13, my Dad realized his major dream in life – to run his own restaurant and be his own boss for once in his life. It would mean moving across the state line into Ohio about 30 minutes or so from where we lived. I vividly remember the last day of my 8th grade school year. I was wearing a white blouse and a blue plaid pencil skirt with suspenders and the new tortoise shell eyeglasses that only increased my shyness.
That day, as I passed him in the hall, the boy I loved looked at me and said “hi.”
I wouldn’t see him again for almost 20 years.
At 17, my family had moved back to Indiana when – the lease on the restaurant up – the bank took our home, furniture and car. Allegedly three years of slavery left my parents owing them money, for which all our worldly possessions were the collateral. I was too busy finishing my senior year and working to be on the lookout for the boy I had loved so much. And soon I would be away to California, not to ever come back for more than a week at a time after that.
It was on a visit back to my hometown that I saw him again at what, if memory serves, was called the Tastee Freeze or the Frosty Freeze – something like that. I had gone in on a hot summer day to get a Coke to drink and he was sitting there eating ice cream with his two little boys. I was much changed by then. My hair was long and stylishly done, I wore a size five romper and contacts instead of glasses.
He called hello to me by name and I returned it as easily as if we had been friendly a lifetime ago, passing one another in the school hallways between bells. I asked what he was up to and he told me he had married and was running his father-in-law’s store in a neighboring town. I told him I had been a journalist and gone on to work in public relations for a large utility in California and that I, too, had a little boy, but he was not with me on this trip. I had divorced and he was still visiting in California with his Dad that summer.
And then I said good-bye, climbed into my car, and drove away.
I would think of him from time to time, but not that often. There were other loves. Each time I hoped it would be “the one.” It never was.
For the past couple of nights, I have dreamed about that first boy I ever loved. And last night, sitting at Mass, dead tired after a long weekend of service projects revolving around Christmas, I was lonely for him. I physically craved his presence beside me so that I could put my head on his shoulder and he could hold me in my weariness. I wanted what so many women at my Church seem to have – a long, long marriage to someone who knew me as a girl and loved me from the moment he laid eyes on me, as I had loved him.
I don’t know what would have happened if – instead of going to California – I had stayed in my hometown, struggling to make ends meet on a waitress salary while studying Comparative Literature at the Indiana-Purdue University campus in Fort Wayne. Maybe our paths would have crossed. Maybe I would have ended up having those 50 golden years that everyone around me seems to have had. Maybe I could have rested my head on his shoulder last night when I was so tired and drawn comfort and strength.
But that is not the path God laid out for me. It was a fantasy then, and today it is only a few fleeting dreams in the darkest part of the night.
One of my favorite Beatles’ songs – sung by Paul, of course – was “And I Love Her.”
It only needs a change of pronoun to say what I still feel, 52 years later.