Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever passed something up, hardly without noticing, but later looked back with regret? Did you turn around and try to get it back? I did.
Why is it so hard to see when we are young? Our eyes are bright and strong, but they can’t see the importance; we are so busy living hard, we don’t take note of the sunlight. I loved her easy manner, I took advantage of our familiarity and I pushed on. She tried to stop me, but I was blind to her temptations. She brought truth and peace and . . . love, and I sought . . .?
When we were four, her mother and my father happened to take us to the same child’s birthday party at the park. She sprayed me with her squirt gun, I pulled her hair. We ran and tagged and climbed and swung. We fell asleep, my head on her shoulder, on a bench while eating Cracker Jacks. My dad took a photo and it sits on my desk 28 years later as I write this.
For the next fourteen years there was hardly a day we didn’t play, study, talk together. There were dolls at her house and Cowboys at mine. We got bikes and began to explore, linked by a silent but true bond. Soon our parents were making sure we had the same teacher. She was on my soccer team. My father taught both of us to drive.
I learned to hold her when she cried: when she broke her hand in goal; when her father left; when her mother found the tumor. So many years, filled with trips to the hospital, her house empty, her heart sore. Operations, treatments, from relapse to relapse. My mother sat a place for her at our table each day, and usually it was used. Sleeping together in my big bed since we were 4, like we did the night of our high school graduation.
And all the while, she tried to make me see. All the guys who hit on her at the parties we went to, but she had no use for them. Never a boyfriend, just homework and dinner at my house. She said we should go to our Senior Prom together, but I had already asked another.
We were accepted at UCLA. California was our dream, Disneyland, the beach, Hollywood. Of course, there was no way she could afford that, even with the partial scholarship she’d been awarded. She begged me to stay, go to the JC with her. We hugged tight when I left, and I knew I would miss her. But still, I didn't see.
I was lost and locked out in Westwood. I had friends, but not a soulmate in sight. Mulder without Scully. Leonard without Penny. Castle without Kate. I knew something was wrong, but was too clueless to know how to fix it. 2500 miles away and my biggest bill was the phone. There was email and there was texting. But we had to connect each day, and that meant the phone.
I was in bed, second semester, with a woman I had known for about 30 seconds. There was banging on my door, then yelling “hey dude, some girl from Jefferson City is on the phone, and man, she is crying”.
All I could think about on the flight home was “I wasn’t there. She needed me and I wasn’t there. She must have felt so alone.” Who was there when she cried? Did she look around? Did she go to my house, go through the slider into my room, expecting me to walk in the door? Expecting me to be at my desk? I was twenty years old and I had never cried. But in the back of that plane, sipping on beer after beer, I sobbed, deeply ashamed and unable to stop.
When my father picked me up at the airport he took one look at me and asked if I was on drugs. He told me she had spent the night in my bed, and I cried. He said she couldn’t come with him to pick me up because she had an appointment at the funeral home, and I cried. As he drove through town I stared out the window and saw our park, I saw the diner we went to every day after school for cheese fries, the Circle K where I first bought a six-pack for us to drink at the lake, and I sobbed into my hands.
She was in my room, sitting on the floor, looking out the window at the rain making patterns on the lake. How many times had I walked through this door and looked at that spot hoping she would be there. And she was. She didn't look up. She put her arm out to the side and I slid down in front of it. We held on close. And we cried.
How could I have left?
“Don’t leave”, she said.
“I won’t. Not without you”.