I Heard You Were Back

I have no idea what happened to her. She was beautiful, and if there is any doubt, I lost a friend over her. The older guys at the Texaco station where I worked thought I was out of my depth. “That’s your girlfriend college boy? You sure you can handle that?”

They had a point. I wasn’t handling anything…I was more or less along for the ride. If this had been noir, I would say something like “She was looking for a chump, and I was already putty in her hands.” But this wasn’t noir, and actually she was a sweetheart. Just a bit of a hot mess.

We dated and hung out and more or less cohabitated for a summer and then I needed to go back to New York to live with my parents while I worked two jobs to raise some more college money. There was a bit of a letter writing tragedy. I was in Baldwin, Long Island, New York. There is another Baldwin, New York and all the letters she wrote me went there. I had written her a few times but when she didn’t write back I just gave up.

Now you are going to ask “why didn’t one of you just pick up the phone?” Hell if I know. It was forty years ago, maybe she didn’t have a phone, maybe I didn’t give her my number but we lost touch and that was that. It was okay, it was a fun fling, but I wasn’t that hung up on it. Still, I did miss her.

But eventually I returned to college in Indiana and as far as she was concerned, I just wasn’t interested. I always knew there was no future there. She had other ideas.

“I heard you were back.” I finally got the call. It wasn’t so much an informative statement as an accusation. What she meant was…”I heard it, but not from you.”

“Well, I was in the hospital.” A true statement; all the work back in New York resulted in a bad case of pneumonia. “Besides, you never wrote back. I thought you weren’t interested.” Also true, as far as I knew.

“Don’t be silly. Of course I’m still interested.” She paused.

The best I could come up with was “oh…”

She changed tacks “I’ll make you dinner. You doing anything tomorrow night?”

Lets pause here for a minute. There was a time to lie, if I was going to lie, and this was it. Instead, I said “no.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then?” She said this with an air of finality.

I didn’t exactly lie; it wasn’t a lie because I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Now, having missed the opportunity to tell a white lie earlier, I was trapped into a bigger lie. I knew what would happen if I showed up: she was pretty without any effort, and she was sure to put in a effort. I didn’t show up and she got the message. I am sure I hurt her. But showing up, then waking up in her bed the next morning and blowing her off would have been much worse. And that is precisely what would have happened.

She tried again a few months later. “Why don’t you come over?”

This time I did her straight. “It’s just not a good idea.”

“Oh.” A more sincere “Oh” then mine. “I guess I’ll go home and live with my parents for awhile.” This was not manipulation. It was a statement of fact, she didn’t feel there was any reason to hang around. She was just letting me know it was the last chance to change my mind.

“Good bye Ali.” She didn’t say anything. She just put the receiver back in its cradle, so gently I barely heard the click.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

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