Unlucky In Love

My name is Lane. You know, like the Cherry one that Puff the Magic Dragon used to play along, and if you don’t know about it, you should because it’s sweet and charming. Go to YouTube and search for “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul, and Mary.

And the story, besides being sweet and charming, is also mysterious, because who or what is Puff, anyway? The imagination of a little boy? Or a thing of whimsy that, like the fairies in the old Peter Pan show, exists only as long as it’s believed in? Or is Puff a real dragon who just doesn’t want to lose his little boy friend?

And so here I am, Lane, existing in the late-night imaginings of some guy who likes to write stories. At least way in the back of your mind, that’s what you’re thinking as you read this. Because this is a literary story, after all, and characters don’t really exist except in how the author writes the character and how the reader interprets it.

Or not. Let’s have a quick chat about that.

Because what’s your favorite fiction book? Mine’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” And I will tell you now that Scout, and Jem, and Atticus, and Calpurnia, and Tom, and others in that book are as every bit as real to me as you are. You think back to your favorite book. Are the characters real to you? Did you root for and feel along with the ones you liked? If not, I feel sorry for you. But if they were real to you, you know what I’m saying. People might say something insulting or mean about your favorite book characters, and you’ll rise to defend them as staunchly as if a treasured family member had been attacked.

And for that matter, if you’re so sure that I’m just a piece of imagination floating around in your neurons and some writer’s imagination, what makes you think that you’re any different? Do you really control who you are and what you do? What is your objective proof that you aren’t simply a story, unfolding as stories will, on paths that they so often decide to take for themselves?

But you have a backstory, you might say. You know where you came from. Well, I do too. And we’re going to talk about that.

So I’ll propose this. We’re coming up to the end of our prologue here. I want to go further on this journey of identity with you, and we’ll walk a short path through a couple of my life and love stories. All you need to do is turn to the next chapter.

And maybe now you’re thinking, “Ha! I’ll show you, and I’ll just stop reading right now.” You can do that. But are you doing that on your own? Or are you doing that because the story that you are, the storyline that you so unwittingly live, has fated you to do that?

If you come with me, we’ll find a new world, of sorts, together. If you don’t want to do that, well then, you shouldn’t. But you just might always wonder what you left behind. Me, I won’t wonder. I’m forging ahead.

Coming with me?

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Some say you always remember your first love, and I do.  Morgan. In the third grade.

We had the real kid-love thing going. We were too young to display our affection in any real terms, but we were together all the time at recess, before school, after school, on field trips. We avoided other kids’ pickup sports, preferring one another’s company.

We talked about being married someday, with of course no clue about what that entailed. We just knew that people grew up and got married to other people, and that’s what we should do. Our constant companionship didn’t go unnoticed, and we simply endured the sing-song barbs of the other children about our seeming romance, because we couldn’t deny the taunts and therefore our friendship with one another.

There was a best day and worst day of our friendship. Both were the same day.

My mom and dad decided to go to the beach one weekend. The siblings and I were trundled along. We were told sternly not to go in the water without an adult with us, and we mostly amused ourselves running and splashing in the cold, thin water layers as they came up, and trying to build grand things in the sand without the patience to do so, and trying to bury each other on the beach.

Morgan’s family showed up. I was surprised and ecstatic. Morgan and I jumped and clapped, then got down to our normal business of simply being together. We played in the sand and talking about the world and everyone we knew in it. Both of our sets of parents came up to talk, leashed together by our friendship. When they had wandered off, still talking, Morgan and I discussed it. We were thrilled, because maybe if our parents became friends, we would see each other more.

The afternoon stretched out forever, broken up only by siblings beckoning us to come to the water, which we ignored, and parents coming over to make sure we were appropriately slathered in sunscreen. Between those times, we moved sand around, or just sat and talked. The beach was a different place for us to be in, and we had never sat together in swimsuits. All of it led to a heightened emotional intimacy and deepened our bond.

It was the best afternoon of my life. The time to come, though, took a dark turn.

We were in the car on our way home. Morgan and I had said our good-byes, not sad at all, because we had gotten bonus time with one another and would see each other again in school on Monday.

My father adjusted the rearview mirror to look to the back seat and caught my eye.

“Morgan sure seems like a nice kid. Nice parents too.”

I smiled back.

“You two really hit it off, don’t you? It’s a shame they’ve moving.”

My smile dropped, and the world turned cold.

My father continued. The two sets of parents had indeed hit it off to form an on-the-spot friendship. But to no avail. Morgan’s father had gotten transfer orders from his company, and they were going to be leaving town soon.

My father’s eyes were jumping now from the road ahead and back to me in the mirror, looking at my reactions. “You didn’t know, did you?”

I shook my head and rubbed the unstoppable trickle from my eyes. My siblings, rather than take the opportunity to torment me, grew silent. Some hurt spots, you just don’t probe.

The rest of the weekend was miserable. I worried over the news like a dog with an unshreddable chew-toy. I plotted, schemed, and planned for my talk with Morgan on Monday at school. Maybe we could figure a way out of this. Maybe Morgan could come live with us, or I could live with Morgan’s family. When you’re that age, all things seem possible, no matter how absurd they may seem to adults.

I met Morgan at school on Monday, and of course my plans evaporated in the harsh reality. It turned out that Morgan’s parents had taken the family to the beach that day to soften the blow later that night about the news of the move. Morgan and I moved around the corner of the school, away from the running and chattering child-mob, and sat together under a fire escape that offered a little privacy.

“I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t want to go.”

We were both rubbing our eyes and snuffling, inconsolable. We held each other’s hands for the first time and meant it.

When school was over, we parted ways, saying we would see each other again the next day, both of us pouring our hearts into what we might say to one another before the dreaded axe of time fell, and hoping desperately that the transfer would not happen.

But that was Morgan’s last day at our school. We never spoke again. Their father had spent that day loading up the family car and arranging for housesitting until the movers showed up. They left that night. Sometimes I imagine Morgan being led to the car, pleading with their dad to please allow for one more school day with me.

I still think of Morgan sometimes when I walk on a beach. Or if I find myself in a schoolyard playground, which doesn’t happen too often. The memories of our childish features are somewhat faded now, how our voices sounded – because kids always imagine themselves sounding older than they really do – and even what we were wearing has diminished in the wisps of time. But the evocation of the love we had, that silly, simple, unyieding, and unconditional childish love, still holds strong and true.

I wasn’t really in love again until after high school. It took a while. I was not one of the cool kids in high school.

As I’m telling you this, even if you yourself were a cool kid, you know what I mean. Having trouble with what should have been simple social interactions. Blurting out things not fitting for the moment, and flinching with shattered ego from the inevitable blast of laughter response. Making your way through a social maze of other kids who were focused and intent when what you really wanted was to be elsewhere and not dealing with changing body parts, acne, and the disaffection of those whom you wanted to impress.

I went on some dates, sure, to some school dances and movies and high school sports events. They were fun while they were in a group. When alone with a date, I was awkward and uncomfortable. There seemed to be expectations, but I was too shy and insecure to advance them.

High school was completed in its slow, painful way. And then came my freshman year of college.

If you’ve never been to college, that’s fine. Stay with me here.

If you have been, you might know. If you are with the right people, and I was, so much of the high school baggage gets washed away in a tide of high intelligence, great humor, and good will generated by your cheerful peers. I wallowed in my newfound acceptance. Finally, I was with others my own age and weirdly comfortable about it, the type of social environment that was formerly unknown to me, and now I reveled in it. We studied, we drank, we laughed, and we got uninhibited.

That evolved into my time with Sandy. We were drawn together with growing mutual attraction, and at one of the endless parties, we chanced a kiss in the corner of the room, when we assumed no one was looking, although certainly some were, but really, we just didn’t care that much. The kiss was good. It was followed up with a few more that night. That was followed up with some movie dates, just the two of us.

That was followed up by park time, and I don’t mean a city park. I mean the car was parked, and we were out of it, on a blanket on the ground, having our own nocturnal picnic of the flesh. It was crazy, it was wonderful, it was energetic, and deeply fulfilling.

It was a warm night, thank goodness, but still with a chill once we came to rest. I remember that moment even now, this time with real clarity, the adult memory completely formed and preserved. The moon was casting its light, reflecting off the thin sheen of sweat from our exertions. The colors of our bare expanse of skin, pebbled with goosebumps that gave off their own delicate bright-and-shadowed look, were washed out by silver moonglow. The rising and falling of our chests matched our panting, slowing as oxygen caught up with our spent energies.

Sandy finally reached equilibrium enough to say something, and then it wasn’t much.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

I gave out a short laugh. “I don’t want to scare you. I was thinking that I just gave you my virginity.”

I was afraid of some reservation or level of reproval in response, but Sandy just countered my laugh with one that was bigger, brighter. “I was thinking the exact same thing!”

That cemented our bond of the moment. Both of us late bloomers, both formerly hesitant, now fully indulging in mutual acceptance and affirmation.

It didn’t last, of course. College romances sometimes do, but generally not. And I’m not sure if we were in love, really. I think we were more in … in consonance, in concert, locked for a time in an emotional symbiosis.

Do you understand what I’m saying? The difference between that and what I think love might be? I suspect you do. It was wild, it was wonderful, it was engaging. But love? I’m not sure I can say that.

In fact, aside from Morgan, and that was borne out of a wondrous childhood simpatico, I’m not sure what love is.

Do you? Let’s think about it.

Maybe… and I’m just thinking here… maybe it’s real love when you allow yourself to be shaped by the other person, where your feeling, your bond, is strong enough that you sacrifice some of yourself, willingly and happily, to be the kind of person that helps fulfill the other. Maybe once all the others have gone, like Morgan, like Sandy, like a few other people I won’t mention, and you find the one who brings you definition to your life, maybe that’s the one you love.

If that’s the case, it brings me to an interesting conclusion. Interesting enough to almost be troubling.

You would be the one I love.

Hear me out.

Look, I don’t know your age. I don’t know if you’re male or female. I don’t know your race or your ethnicity. I don’t know where in the world you live. I don’t know if you’re attracted to females or males.

But you really don’t know any of that about me either.

But you do have an image of me, do you not, for yourself? And an image of Morgan? Of Sandy?

So what I am, my appearance, my actions, the way I speak, they resonate with you. You have brought that resonance to life. You have taken a lump of flesh-clay called “Lane” that has been presented to you and formed it into a whole, realized person. What I am, you have made me.

How can I not call that love? I have to.

You’re the one who didn’t leave. You’re the one who’s been here the whole time. You’re the one who made me.

You’re the one I love.

— Grandpa

Comments

  1. TowerbentBreakslinger says:

    Grampa, I’m going to be honest, it drifts a little, which is not to say I didn’t like it- it feels a bit too much like the result of a writing excercise, but that is only in transition and can easily be cleaned up, and should be, cause you’ve hit upon something here, and even though it would be harder for me to put into words that define than you already did with the light touch the “anecdotes “ feature , You’ve successfully realized Lane as a person who is, in a very literal way, emotionally more real and impactful on my life than most individuals who may have a better claim to the title of “objectionably real”. Good stuff, but if you intend to turn it into a larger tale, I do hope you’ll give the quick and easy connecting bit between the two stories as much of your love and Talent as you clearly gave to the rest, because it would be a real shame to let something so inconsequential and easy to fix distract your readers from your immediately strong emotional connection to these wonderful characters, or should we get right to the point and just call them what they have become- people. I found myself wondering if perhaps morgan would read this remember and then be able to get in touch, before it occurred to me that both morgan and lane might be entirely fictional and even that didn’t really end my concern for them, or my wish that somehow there might be a happy ending not for me, but for them. Bravo! You are well on your way my friend.

    • Appreciate the critique! It’s probably the least refined of my stories. It started on a “writing exercises proposal,” and I had to get it out. It felt like more of a short story to me than a longer story – but I’ve been (rightfully, sometimes) accused of trying to make my stories too efficient. In this case, I hit on how to achieve the end result – which I won’t mention here because spoiler – and I admit I was in a bit of a rush to get there while still making Lane as fully actually for the reader as the character was for me.

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