"Nothing is wasted if it makes a good story."
It was October of 1995. After knowing each other for ten years they had been spending a lot of time together for the first time since they dated clumsily as teenagers. It seemed like they might finally break through each other's defenses. It felt like they were close to no longer holding each other at arm's length, afraid of what it might mean if they let each other get any closer than they already were. Then, all hell broke loose.
It began with a series of telephone calls. He called himself Eric. In the calls he warned and he threatened. "Stay away from her if you know what's good for you." He always knew when they saw each other. It was becoming disturbing. His timing was always too precise.
They argued about Eric. She told him it couldn't possibly be someone stalking her. She accused him of making up the story and he argued there would be no point to him making up such a thing. Soon after, she started seeing cars following her and parked outside her house and the stables where she kept her horse. Someone broke into her house and stole her underwear and nothing else. A friend approached the mysterious car and was told by the driver he was a private investigator hired to determine her whereabouts.
"He's a psychopath. He's stalking me. I am not talking to him."
"Why don't you confront him?"
"I don't want to. I don't have to. He pisses me off. If I call him now he'll never leave me alone."
"How do you know it is him doing this shit to you?"
"Who the hell else would it be? He's been chasing after me for ten years, trying to convince me we were meant to be together or some such crap. I'm done with it. Fuck him."
She would move more than a dozen times over the next few years, always struggling to pay the bills and stay alive. She borrowed from friends and family just before having to move again, having to rely on someone else to help her make it through another day. No matter where she went or how well she covered her tracks, he found her. She could have set her clock by it. Every six months a letter would arrive. At first he was trying to explain the events of the days leading up to their last, bitter conversation. Then he was telling her about his suicide and his experience with death. Then he was moving to Florida. He wanted to see her before he left. She wasn't interested. Maybe this would be the end of it.
As time went on she stopped seeing his attempts at contacted her as an annoyance. They were something she came to depend on. She wanted him to keep trying to find her, but this did not make her any more willing to respond to his efforts. Eight years would pass and she would put all his letters away along with the gifts he had given her over the years. She would keep them safe, her secret stash, the box that reminded her that no matter how difficult life became he was always there. For whatever mad reason, he would never give up. The more depressed she became, the closer she came to giving up, the more important his efforts became.
"Another letter from your stalker?"
"Why don't you tell him to leave you alone? Have you ever told him to just leave you the fuck alone?"
"Then why would he stop?"
"That's the point. I don't want him to stop. How crazy am I, really? Is there such a thing as a wanted stalker?"
"Someday he is going to cross the line. It will be more than just a letter. Someday he's just going to show up at your door."
"He's in Florida and I'm in New Hampshire and he doesn't even know what town I live in. I'm not worried.
It had been eight years since she last heard his voice or saw his face. It was his eyes that always haunted her the most. She could see them even when he wasn't there, as if he was always watching her, always knowing everything she did and said. It had been six months since his last letter. He had sent it to her parents' address and they forwarded it to her. It said less than the others had. He seemed to have lost his interest in long letters and now was just sending quick notes asking her to please contact him. She didn't bother. She couldn't bring herself to.
"You got a telephone call at the office today," the secretary told her. "Someone named Keith from Florida called. He left his phone number."
"Oh, wow, okay. Thanks. What is it?" She wrote the number down while thinking to herself, Oh shit, now he's calling me at work. He's crossing the line.
She had to break radio silence. If he called her once at work, he might try again, and it could get messy. In her heart she knew he would not do anything so drastic and ridiculous as harass her at work, but after eight years she supposed anything was possible. She held onto the number for five days and after having more than her share of drinks with a friend, she called him. He was asleep, as she suspected, at two o'clock in the morning on a weeknight.
"Hey, Keith, it's the bitch. I got your message, but you can't call me at work, you'll get me in trouble. What are you doing asleep already? Oh well, sorry I missed you. Bye."
She left no return number and blocked her number so he could not call her back. She left it that way for another three days, knowing he would wonder if she planned to call again or just leave it at that. She knew he would try another way to contact her if she didn't call him again. She waited until Saturday night and called him again.
They talked like old friends, two people who had known each other for almost two decades. He tried to explain the details of what had happened with Eric and the phantom phone calls. His own roommate was trying to systematically destroy his life so he would see her as the only viable option for romance and happiness. He tried to explain that he had never meant her any harm, that he simply could not give up on her, that he needed her in his life.
"I don't even remember what happened back then any longer. It doesn't matter any longer."
"Good, because I'm sick and tired of trying to explain it. The whole thing was just completely insane."
"What do you want from me?"
"I just need you in my life, in whatever way possible. I don't have any expectations or any demands other than the fact that I want you to stop running away. I can't explain it, but I need you in my life."
They talked for more than two hours, about their lives and their shared history. He was waiting for her to tell him to give up, and part of her knew that she could free him from his commitment to always seek her out just by telling him she did not want to have anything to do with him and that she felt nothing for him. Instead, she chose to give him what she knew would keep him searching for her.
"All I do is disappoint people and they all reject me in the end. No matter what, I know I will get a letter or whatever from you every six months. I've gotten used to it. I depend on it. If I disappointed you and you rejected me, I don't think I could deal with it."
"I will never reject you and you could never disappoint me. I have no expectations. All I want is to have you back as a part of my life, even if it is just a phone call every month or so. Give me your phone number."
"No. I can't deal with that right now."
"Then call me again in a few weeks."
"I think I can do that."
Months passed and she did not call him again. She thought about it, but she lost his phone number and it became a convenient excuse not to contact him again. Eventually he would try to contact her again. After six months, no letters came. There were no telephone calls. There was nothing. She wondered if he had given up. More than a year passed and she started to believe he had given up. And then her brother forwarded an email he sent to his business email address. He was concerned about her. He was worried something had happened to her. He asked her brother if he could either just confirm she was alive and well or ask her to contact him herself.
She wrote an email to tell him she was alive and well and to ask him what prompted his concern. She knew about his premonitions and dreams, and as cynical as she had become about such things, she still worried about what he saw when it came to her. No response came. Two weeks passed and he did not reply, so she sent another email.
He had not received the first email. She had sent it to the wrong address, but he got this one. When he replied it was brief and to the point. He was glad she was alive and well. It was all he said. Was this it? He just wanted to know if she was alive and well and that was it? She wrote him again and sarcastically asked why he was being so talkative.
His response knocked her back three steps. She did not know if it was because of the mood she was in or the point she had reached in her life, or if it was the wording of the letter itself. He was tired. He didn't want to chase her anymore. He was tired of writing her and finding her only to have her ignore him or drift away again. He told her he had tried very hard to forget her and erase her from his memory, but he couldn't. Again he asked her just to be part of his life again. He asked for nothing more than that. He was sick of her running and he was sick of chasing, but no matter what he did and how many women he got himself involved with to try to forget about her, it never worked.
"Okay, so what do you want from me? That I just not run away any longer? I run away from everyone, it isn't just you."
"Yes. Stop running. I run as much as you do, except you run into the darkness and I run away with other women. Can we for once sit still and try to figure out what this is between us instead of always running away from it?"
She decided to stop arguing with him and listen to what he had to say. He wanted to see her. After all, it had been nine years now since they had seen each other and almost twenty years since their first date. A lot of time had passed. Many people had come and gone in their lives, but they were the constants in each other's lives. She wondered how this could be possible. He was in Florida and she was in New Hampshire, but more than that, she knew he was married.
"My marriage is a sham and we're separated now anyway. I've been meaning to come up to New Hampshire to visit friends up there who are always asking me when I'm coming up that way again. Maybe we can have dinner or something while I'm up there. I just need to find someone who will put me up for a few days."
"I have a spare bedroom. You're welcome to stay here."
"Throw in a ride to and from the airport and I'll be there next week."
He arrived on a Thursday night, at one o'clock in the morning. She went to meet him at the airport but they couldn't find each other, even in the small, mostly empty Manchester, New Hampshire airport. He called her cell phone and she called his. When they finally saw each other, he was coming in through one revolving door and she was going out the other. She saw him laughing. If anything defined their relationship over the past twenty years, this was it. He tried going out through his revolving door just as she tried coming back in through hers. He called her again.
"Stand fucking still for crissakes."
The movies will tell you that reunion scenes in the middle of airports are a big, dramatic romantic event with music and lights and dancing. In reality, they tend to be tense and uncertain moments where no one is really sure what to say, do, think or feel. You stand there and stare at each other. There is supposed to be this huge romantic kiss. Instead it was a tentative hug, filled with uncertainty and wonder. Do I look the way he expected me to look? Is my hair okay? Do I look fat? Was I stupid to wear this shirt? Do I look annoyed?
It was like two old friends driving home from the airport, talking and joking about everything and anything. The morbidly obese man wearing a badly stained sweatsuit and a baseball cap that looked like a dog shit on it was of greater interest than the reunion itself. They were thankful to see him walking across the parking lot. He was a diversion. He was something else to talk about.
She apologized for her apartment, for her lifestyle and for her animals. She had a cat, two large dogs and a 200 lb pot-bellied pig. The living room was filled with animal skulls and there was a replica human skeleton on her second couch, reclining with a cigarette and a bottle of beer. She hoped none of this would bother him. He just smiled.
"You're why I'm here and that is all part of you."
Her old station wagon was making noise. He said it sounded like her transmission was slipping and wondered if they would punctuate their reunion with a breakdown on the highway.
"It would fit, somehow, I think."
"Don't worry about it. If we break down I know people who will come pick us up and we can get it towed."
"Yeah, I'm just paranoid about cars breaking down. Whenever they do, it is sort of like a sign that I'm on the wrong path."
For all its problems, the old station wagon never broke down.
The next day she needed to work a double shift, but she still stayed up until almost six o'clock in the morning talking with him. She had forgotten how they never ran out of things to talk about. They remembered the past, talked about their lives in the present tense and eventually it had to end. She worried about leaving him alone for so long the next day. He did not seem to mind. Despite the fact that he rarely got along with dogs, he almost immediately became friends with her two dogs. He did not mind the giant pig, nor did he freak out over it as so many men had in the past. He found everything amusing and none of it phased him. When she came home that night they stayed up again, talking and drinking until the sun threatened to come up. He finally kissed her, tentatively and with uncertainty, but not because he did not want to. It was because it had been almost twenty years since the last time they kissed and she had so often rebuffed him over the years.
She introduced him to her world, still feeling that somewhere along the way he would recoil in horror and reject her as so many had. She wondered when he would start telling her how he wanted to change her and "cure" of her of all her eccentricities. He just told her he had his own and wouldn't want anyone to try to change his, so why would he want to change hers? He told her it was her he wanted and not some image of a person he thought he could change her into. Even when she told him about her friend having three sheep heads and how she wanted to boil the meat off one of them and bleach the skull, he did not even blink. In the end he was the one who had to try to dig the brain out of the skull. He did not do it as a favor to her or to impress her, he did it because it amused him and because it amused him that she was the one who was starting to freak out.
She asked him about the novel he was working on and he told her about it and started to explain the characters. When he got to one character, Katherine, who is known in the book as the most beautiful woman in the world, she told him she wanted to be the most beautiful woman in the world.
"You are and always have been the most beautiful woman in my world," he told her. "Nothing could ever change that."
"Good answer," she told him.
"More than that, you are, as you always have been, the woman I compare all other women to, the only one I could ever really accept exactly as she is, not because I want to accept you as you really are, but because I could not imagine you as anything other than exactly who you are. That makes you more than just the most beautiful woman in my world. That makes you the most beautiful thing that could ever exist in anyone's world."
The days would pass, and they only had six days together, but they made the best of them. Neither of them had much money, so they were able to avoid the usual traps of such visits. There were no trips to tourist-oriented landmarks or "must see" places. They never needed to escape. He told her he felt like he was home, brushing aside her concerns about her less than stellar housekeeping and her sometimes "unladylike" behavior. They consummated twenty years of mental and emotion foreplay and finally saw each other as they were, exposed and open on every level. Conversation was easy. Everything was easy, natural and as if it had always been there. It was as if they had always been together and they had always been this happy.
It was easy until the end. On the drive to the airport, where he would board his flight back to Florida, they hardly spoke, and when they did it was difficult and confused.
"So, are you going to move here and are we going to give this a chance? I'm not doing a long distance relationship and I can't move to Florida."
"Yes, but I need to work out the details and my lease and all that. I could be here in six months."
"Six months? What the fuck is that? You expect me to sit here and wait for six months after all this? You're an asshole."
"I have to figure out how I am going to do it, how to afford the move, how to get my stuff here and all that other crap you need to do before you move."
"I'm not waiting six months."
"We waited twenty fucking years. I think we can hold on for another six months."
"No, because when you say this I feel like you aren't serious. Six months? What the fuck is that? Why do you need six months? I thought you were sure about this. I thought you always said you would do anything."
"I'll try to be here as soon as I can, but I can't promise it will be before six months."
She took him to the airport. She walked into the terminal and kissed him goodbye. He told her he wanted to be with her, that he would do everything he could to make it happen. She felt empty. She felt betrayed.
She drove home wanting to take a nap. She thought about drowning herself as an option. Then she remembered. This was Keith. She knew exactly what he was doing and she knew exactly how to find out what he really meant. Whenever he was on the spot he tended to panic and say the wrong thing, but he always did the same thing in these sort of situations.
She walked into her apartment and walked over to her computer. She turned it on and opened the word processing program. There it was. He had written down what he really meant under a file called "Just in case I fuck up on the ride to the airport."
His plane would be in the air now. She picked up her cell phone and dialed his number after rehearsing what she would say on his voicemail. When he answered, she almost didn't know what to say.
"The plane was delayed. We've been sitting parked in it for twenty minutes."
"And I had it all planned out so I could talk to your voicemail. I went home and turned on the computer. I know you so well, you sap. I just wanted to tell you that it is fine, I understand and it is okay. I'm going to come down and see you in Orlando and we can go from there."
"I am moving to New Hampshire. This is going to work, but I just need to know it means as much to you as it does to me."
"I'll see you in Orlando. Have a good flight."