Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Category: Short Story

I don’t remember what I was searching for online when I came across her obituary. I was googling something else entirely and somehow the info on her death came up. Maybe it was just the gods practicing black serendipity.  Whatever task or idea I’d been working on disappeared in the same way that a fender-bender might pop you completely out of a drive time daydream. I sat and stared at the search results.
Cynthia (Gordon) James. I’d known her when she was Cynthia Gordon. Cindy to me.
I navigated to the website. She was 51. It gave her high school, maiden name, parents, and relatives.
It was definitely Cindy, and she’d died only a few months earlier.
I had thought about Cindy now and then over the years, but only put her name in a search box a few times out of curiosity. Nothing had come up. At that moment I wished it had. I wished that I’d tried to connect just to say hello.
She was my first real love. The first woman to call me baby. Woman? Hell, we were both kids really, even though the seventies made you grow up fast. She was blonde, blue, and beautiful. We’d met at a party when I was 18, she was 17. There were a lot of parties in those days. Within an hour of meeting we were wrapped up like two fishing worms. On fire and burning up fast to use a tired analogy.
I was frightened by the intensity of emotion I experienced upon learning of Cindy’s death. It continued over the coming days. I knew I wouldn’t feel this way about most of the women in my past. Not my second girlfriend, or my third or any after that. Would I feel some sadness over the death of a lot of the people from my past? Sure, but there’s always something about that first love. Still, I was troubled about feeling this way regarding someone I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years. It felt crazy somehow. Was I just being morose? If it had simply been a case of feeling my own mortality, I could get my mind around it. Regardless of how much those particular feelings were playing a part, I knew it was something more.
The only explanation I could come up with was, other than my wife of twenty seven years, I’d never put myself out there so completely. Thirty years later and Cindy brought forth the same gut wrenching, bittersweet feelings she had when we separated, reconnected, and then went our separate ways again.
She was smart, beautiful, deep, and troubled. And we’d liked each other from the start. It was only at the end that things went shaky, awkward, and painful. But we were young, and I was stupid. Young men read so much into the smallest perceived slight, so self-absorbed that the word myopic doesn’t come close to describing our actions. Cindy and I got together, and broke up many times, but we couldn’t stop seeing each other.  Until, finally, we made a separation that was permanent. I think we both just got tired of the drama.
Love can be fucking exhausting.
I imagined she thought of me occasionally over the years, at least I wanted like to. More than thirty years later, and I could remember things she’d said about herself. The stories she told about her relationship with her father. How he was angry that she was taking birth control. That she needed to take it. How she felt bad about having her cat neutered because she suspected he still had sexual urges. How Eric Clapton changed his looks so often, she thought of him as a changeling. The nights we’d drive into the foothills outside Albuquerque together, kiss, fuck, and then just talk. I could remember what she drove. A truck, but what brand? I couldn’t even picture her house, but I could hear her voice, and see her face. A face that wasn’t the same when she’d died I’m sure, but she was still 19 in my mind.
A few days after finding out of her death, I called her mom. I had too. I was delicate, and it went well or as well as calling someone about the death of a loved one could go. She remembered me sort of. Cindy had died of a stroke. She was diabetic. She’d still smoked.
I couldn’t stop feeling stupid about how Cindy’s passing haunted me. I asked myself if it was because she was still young in my memory of her, that to some extent, I was grieving over the loss of her youth. That and some guilt and the ghosts of my past were haunting me as well I suppose. We all have our ghosts.
After Cindy, I dove into the parties, the dating and one night stands. The singles games that seem to permeate everyone’s youth. The “wait a day before you call,” and the “don’t be too attentive” game playing. The guarded behavior while dating that never let you open up completely.
And the drugs. It was the Seventies after all, and of course the seventies bled into the early eighties. I often felt as if I came from the most hypocritical generation America had ever produced. I think it was the most wild, narcissistic era to come of age in, and in my mind the closing and opening of those two decades more so than any in modern American history created a lot of people who in their later years seem to judge the next generation as if they themselves had never been wholly infatuated with having a good time.
All of the crazy, disaffected selfishness disappeared when I met my wife Ann. She surprised me with her candidness. After we’d been together for a few months she told me how she felt about me in very real and in no uncertain terms.
When she told me she loved me I said the same thing I did when Cynthia had murmured those words softly into my ear. I repeated them back, and felt it. Saying those words matter, because when you utter them, it becomes irrevocably true. Once it’s said there’s no going back, because if you can say “I love you” without feeling it, you’re lacking something as a human being. You accept all the possibilities, the pleasure, joy and possible evisceration. I had said “I love you” to Cindy without knowing what the consequences could be. I said them to my wife Ann with full knowledge of the chance I was taking. In the end, I regretted neither. I hoped Cindy hadn’t.
People talk a lot about changing things we’ve done, but the really painful memories are what we didn’t do, didn’t try to fix. The words we didn’t say or the actions we didn’t take. I’d always regret not facing Cindy over a cup of coffee and telling her how wonderful it was at one time between us. For the most part. No rehash or restart of our romance, just tie up some loose ends, reconnect, and apologize for being so falsely aloof the last time we’d been together. Over time the deep regret, and pain of not having made contact with her would recede, but there would always be a twinge of regret, when the inevitable memory of her rose up in my mind.
Cindy was exactly what I needed in those days, and for a short time, I think I was just what she needed as well. I’d debated with myself visiting her mother, and seeing more recent photographs of her, thinking that seeing her older would help ease my sadness, but that would have been selfish. Maybe someday, but I doubted it. She had a teenage son and a huge gathering at her funeral her mother had told me over the phone. I could gather from everything she told me that Cindy had been loved and cared for. That was a nice thought to file away with my memory of her.
One October evening a month or so later, when thoughts of Cindy began surfacing again, I took my dogs for a walk. Most people loved early fall, but I didn’t it. To me it signaled the last of summer, the coming of cold, and the ending of so many things. Cindy and I had made our final parting in the autumn; maybe that’s why I’d started thinking of her again. I tried to remember if I’d only started hating the fall that year or if I’d always been so melancholy about it? That was what I really felt, I realized. I didn’t hate autumn; it just made me feel down when it first arrived. Like everything else that took us to a lower emotional plane, I always managed to regroup, and get into the season. Human beings weather the initial cold wind, and plod on to the next happy moment, partly driven by warm memories from the past. It’s what we do, for ourselves and those who give a damn about us.
After a brisk ten minute stroll I returned home, walked up the driveway and entered my house. My wife was standing at the stove, and when I came in she looked up from what she was doing and smiled at me. “Twenty seven years, and two daughters.” I thought to myself.
I had just stood in the doorway watching her prepare food. She’d finally noticed me, and asked me what the hell was wrong, to which I’d replied, “Oh, nothing Darlin’.”
“Then get those leaves you brought in with you outta here and shut the door John, its chilly out there baby!”
I retrieved the dust pan and broom, and bent down and swept up some Ash tree leaves that had followed me into the house. I stepped out the door and tossed them into an autumn breeze that swirled outside, and watched them waft away to mingle with those already lying in my yard. I gently eased the door closed, shutting out the fall, and my memories.
                                              The End

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Old Comments

  • “Love can be fucking exhausting.”

    Amen and great line!

    Posted by deminizer  on  07/23  at  05:54 PM
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