It was about 9:30 and I had just finished pulling in the last of my tools, when the phone rang. Too late for a telemarketer, I reasoned, so I decided to answer.
It was a woman's voice, a bit quavering.
"Excuse me for calling so late, but I'm looking for a David. W."
"That would be me."
"Were you at Wright State University?"
"You didn't happen to know an S--------?"
'"Rather well, actually.'" Biblically to be precise.
The pieces came together. It was S. My first love. My first steady lover. We'd met at the beginning of spring term our senior year. I'd just won a graduate fellowship for next year at Ohio State. She was a graduate student in history. I met her at an important time for me. I'd had an unrequited crush on Model United Nations teammate, who in turn had spent the conference in the arms of another teammate. I had stayed quiet and out of their way during the victory celebration, but now I was home and didn't want to see my friends.
Until I met S. She knew history and enjoyed Dr. Who. She laughed with me, and enjoyed giving me looks down her shirt. And I looked. Who wouldn't?
But I was nervous about a formal date so asked her out for a drink after class. Drinks led to a supper of apples, bread and cheese. She wanted to hear King Crimson, an act that displayed musical taste so cool as to defy description. Three hours after the I slipped the record from its jacket we lay together our mingled sweat drying from our intertwined bodies. For the first time in years, perhaps ever, I felt handsome. Desirable.
" I cant believe I found you on the first try. And its really you."
"Who else would it be?"
We met every Friday after that, back to my apartment for wine, dinner and TV. Star Trek: TNG
was in its premiere
season. She loved Beauty and the Beast
. And I loved it too once I realized the show made her ravenous. She'd drag me to the bedroom. And when we rested we'd talk of books and shows, before starting all over again.
"David, what are you doing these days?"
"I'm an electrician. Not what I trained for, but I found that I enjoy working with my hands. And at the end of the day, you're done."
"You don't know what I'd give for a job like that. Academia is driving me nuts. These people are so dishonest, manipulative."
"Surely they all aren't like that."
"Not all, but enough. I come home and find myself smoking and drinking. I wish I could chuck it all and go train horses."
"I have a friend who does that. She really enjoys horse training."
"Oh, I hate her!"
Whenever I drove between towns, I always found myself imagining of how much fun it would be if she were here beside me. So I resolved to find out. I invited her to Cincinnati for a weekend, planned it out, made reservations at the motel room, dinner on a river boat. We laughed and joked the whole way there. And we danced close at night. She had studied dance for years, and was perhaps a bit frustrated, but not so much not to sneak me a kiss, or grab my behind.
"David, you don't know how much it means that I can call you and you're just happy to hear me."
"Why wouldn't I? You were pretty important to me."
"Yes, and I treated you horribly."
"Look, I don't . . ."
"No hear me out. After all the years, I think back and realize I was really shitty to you. Really shitty. And you remained loyal, and tried to be the best of friends to me. While I treated you like dirt." Her voice broke up and in almost a whisper she continued. "Like dirt, and you were so sweet."
The truth is she was right. She had treated me horribly. I remember the night she told me she loved me, then refused to see me for months. She'd promise to visit, but almost never came. Then out of the blue there would be a phone call. I rode a romantic roller coaster of promised love to crash down and broken promises.
I didn't understand back then. I hadn't the experience. But I was her first steady after two marriages. The first had lasted eight years until she discovered that he "cheated on me with everyone." The second was to an obsessive/compulsive who spent all their money and brought home a pornographic movie every single night. Love had brought her ulcers, debt and betrayal.
As a man who had never known love I couldn't imagine why anyone would flee it. It wasn't until years later when I myself tasted betrayal that I understood. When she met me I was intended to be a fuck buddy, a good time to pass the time. I think if I hadn't been headed off to graduate school she might not have made that first date. Trying to turn me away, she told me how she slept with lots of people, that it was all in fun. But I was the only one she kept coming back to.
The relationship went on, and mostly off, for a couple years before I grew too fed up with my hot and cold running girlfriend, and dropped the relationship back to Christmas cards and the odd phone chat. All of whom I sent. Eventually I even quit that off as well. She would regret this, one day. One day I would be the One that Got Away.
"Look, why don"t you come visit me. I have plenty of room. And it's really beautiful down here. Lots of great museums and Civil War sites to explore. I live only an hour from the beach. I could cook for you. You know I love to cook."
After thirteen years. I won my victory. She confirmed my hopes, that I had remained on her mind for fourteen years, that deep down I had touched her. I am the One That Got Away.
Yet the victory seemed pyrrhic. Her voice quavered with loneliness and need. Such a risk calling me. I could rightfully have responded coldly from the first sentence. She really deserved no better and knew it. After all those years, only pain could have led her to reach out like that.
Years ago, she didn't dare risk her feelings. Loneliness was her reward.
I know what that's like. I almost married once. That woman betrayed and manipulated me. By the end of the relationship I felt only a bitter anger. For a year I refused to date. Then it was keep your distance, keep myself safe, waiting for the axe to fall. I date to fail.
I don't want to be the One That Got Away any more.