I’m not much of a “what if” guy. I never spend a lot of time thinking about what would have happened if I had made other choices. It’s probably the Calvinist in me. But sometimes I run across things that remind me of what those choices were.
I reconnected with an old college crush on Facebook, recently, or rather she reconnected with me. We chatted briefly, but I couldn’t place her. After 40 years, we don’t look like ourselves. Finally I just came out and typed, “Did I have a crush on you?”
“You still make me laugh,” she responded. I was a freshman in college and she was on the rebound and didn’t want to get involved. But I remember her eyes, gentle eyes, often softened with tears. A guy could swim in eyes like that. Or drown.
And then today I came across an old scrapbook, with a collection of notes and things from or about former flames, like a picture of my cousin Marsha who I had a crush on in junior high. And a note from Linda, my steady girlfriend in high school.
What were we thinking? So much angst. Perhaps it was just puppy love, but it’s real love if you are a real puppy. Our parents were at odds in a church split, but she played the piano and I played the organ. We would look at each other while we played and cry, certain that we were the only ones who understood what was going on. In the middle of a crisis of faith we found each other.
And then Sherrie, Kathy, Dawn, Nelle, Cat, Lyn. I clearly didn’t know what I was doing in college. But what guy can actually keep track of all the girls he ever liked or be honest about what it actually meant or know what they really thought of him? Of if they thought of him at all?
I don’t have pictures of any of these women, but don’t need them. They are not images but impressions, of lessons learned and weaknesses revealed. I’m grateful for each of them and glad I married someone else.
Of all these, Dawn was the most sensual, and the most Southern. I would drive from Chattanooga to Atlanta where she worked as a nursing student so we would make out in the parking lot.
But Lyn was the most intellectual, and the most Northern. We were going to college in East Tennessee and we would sit on some huge rock in the mountains and talk about poetry. I drove to her home in Ohio to see her one summer and she broke up with me.
I wrote the worst poem ever about this, and still read it to my students sometimes as an example of what not to do. Good poetry is not therapy, it’s craft. But even in our youthful passions we sometimes treasure a useful metaphor, and Lyn gave me a copy of a Rod McKuen poem that fall while I was still trying to understand what happened.
His was much better than mine, as was her handwriting that still evokes the memory of her:
Every living thing runs from the rain
animals and birds
children in the fields with paper kites
I’m no hero
my kites are made of paper too
unmendable if they get wet
I began by loving nobody
& then every body
then only u
& now I’ll go away and love
Her own poetry was better than mine, and I hope she is still writing. And I hope she found somebody again. I know I did.
This is when Katie came into my life, listening to my ideas, laughing at my jokes, her blue eyes drawing me into a pool of wisdom and stability. I’d known her since I first started college and she had become my friend. She went away to another school and I missed her.
We never made out in a parking lot or read poetry on a rock. Instead I told her I loved her and asked her to marry me.
I wrote a poem about our engagement, almost as bad as the one I wrote about breaking up with Lyn, filled with stretched rhymes and uneven meter.
Talk about bad choices. I wish I had thought of something as graceful as paper kites in the rain, but instead settled on a comet named Kohoutek, which was visible at Christmas in 1973 when I asked her to marry me and is not due to return for 75,000 years.
(I may have been on the right track here. “In Celebration of the Comet – The Coming of Kohoutek” is a album by Pink Floyd and the comet forms the basis of a metaphor for a romantic relationship in an R.E.M song by the same name on the record Fables of the Reconstruction. But of course it was also the foundation of a doomsday cult called Children of God.)
So, with apologies, an excerpt from my poem for Katie, where I managed to misspell the name of the comet:
All thing whatsoever bring glory to Him
Long after our lives and comets are dim,
And long after Kahouotek comes by again
Our hearts will praise Him for all that has been.
I still feel that way, although I hope I’m learning to say it better.