Long Long Time
Our first date was on a Friday night the next week. It was a week before Good Friday and the weather was as perfect a spring night as I could remember. Of course I was just getting to the age where I was starting to compare current moments with those of the past, and this sense of having a personal history was new and strange to me. I didn’t know it so much then, but it was like my first little foray into the land of middle age, and it was unique there at first to be able to say I’d known somebody thirty years or this or that happened to me a quarter of a century ago. I drove to Caroline’s house that night listening to “Light My Fire” by the Doors on the radio, and it occurred to me as a sudden enlightenment that Jim Morrison had been dead for seventeen years. It seemed like yesterday. I was walking around at Waters and everybody who wasn’t dead from the ankles up was in a state of shock.
She lived in the upstairs of a house owned by a preacher and his wife. The house was one of those 1930s barns of endless square feet and multiple bathrooms and balconies and a wide array of bedrooms where the Brady Bunch and their pals would all have a place to sleep. I had to climb a stairway already bursting with ivy and wisteria to make it to her door, which was connected to another balcony at the back of the house, which she assured me was private and peaceful and if it was taken away from her somehow she would never find a way to get over it. I stood at her door and looked for a moment at the wicker chairs and the cloth divan, felt the soft spring night breeze on my forehead and imagined myself here with this girl and the May stars somewhere out there behind the railing and the trellis, and before my knuckles grazed the door I was hooked.
“You’re either the slightest bit early or I’m my usual self who’s somewhat late no matter what circus is coming to town.”
She stood in her doorway wearing some form of jeans that were the deepest blue I could recall, like an octopus had risen from the deep and left its cloak on her, and a white silk blouse that clung to her in precisely the manner I hoped I would. She smelled of something far away, something to the west somewhere I’d never been, and I found myself leaning toward her just so I could breathe her in. Her eyes were green and tiny pearl earrings clung to her ears, and I looked at her and knew she was twenty-two, twenty-three, and I felt the curse of being thirty-eight and the idea that soon it would be all over, this standing here in the spring night breathing in all that was enchanted on a balcony laced with magic, this loveliness within my reach and the beating of what remained of my heart, and I knew if I did not try and catch this dream song and hold it in my head and balance it on the tip of my senses the spring would pass and the summer would wind away into Autumn, and I would look at forty and it would never be the same again. And I said no to the thought, because I looked past the stars and saw what that awful morning would have me be.
So in that moment, on that balcony beneath a Southern spring circle of moonlight and stars, I willed myself to be in love with Caroline. I promised myself the salvation of love and youth and spring.
Amen and farewell, I told myself, to all that had gone before.