She was not a ravishing beauty or a Miss America, but she was very attractive. She filled me with with an inexplicable feeling of joy whenever she was nearby, and left me with an empty feeling of loss when she wasn’t. Something in the way she moved, I suppose. Something I couldn’t define or put into words. Something about her smile that stirred me like I was a slowly simmering kettle of chili being cooked over a fire at a day-long outdoor picnic in the park.
In the creative writing classroom, things were very relaxed and we could sit where-ever we liked. Often we placed our chairs in a circle, and so I carefully positioned myself in a spot so that I could easily observe her. Nothing obvious, mind you, just careful and deliberate. In the course of class, sometimes our eyes would randomly meet and she would briefly smile. Sometimes, I thought she seemed to look at me questioningly as if expectantly waiting for me to say something. Of course, I never did. Generally, I avoided such overt contact, quickly averting my gaze away like a bird fleeing from a stalking cat.
It was an evening class, and we met each Wednesday night. After class ended, I would walk alone back to my car in the dark chastising myself for not having the guts to approach her and say hi or ask her to go for a walk with me. As always, the coward, I would rather not take the risk. The fear of rejection loomed over me like a guillotine held only by a thin string. I was left wondering and not knowing what she actually thought of me, if anything. I supposed it was more likely that she didn’t even notice me at all, as if I was ghost in class that could only be seen by someone touched by a painful loss of someone dear.
She was not at all like Lori. She had dark eyes and short dark brown hair while Lori had that long and wavy bouncing blondish color hair. She was quiet and reserved where Lori had been outgoing to the point of being bubbly like a shaken can of soda pop that just explodes all over when opened. And yet, something about her triggered something in me and made me think of Lori. Bringing back all the emotions and the joys and pains in my memories, rushing over me like I was a man trapped in a barrel falling over the thunderous Niagara Falls.
I had met Lori at a time in my life when I was shifting gears. I had dropped out of Purdue University after a year and a half of uncomfortable and uneventful engineering studies. It quickly became obvious to me that I was not cut out to be an Engineer like my dad. A man who wore white shirts to work with pocket protectors full of pens and pencils and little metal rulers. That was not me, so I returned home. Of course, my father was upset and disappointed beyond words. His pained facial expressions spoke for him. He feared that I would never return to college and would never amount to anything. A waste of potential like a carton of milk left exposed on the doorstep during the heat of day.
Perhaps my father was right because although my stated intention was to transfer to Indiana State and major in Computer Science, I was depressed and tired and uncertain of what I was going to do. I only knew what I didn’t want to do. Mechanics, Calculus and Thermodynamics had me burnt out like an old light bulb swinging by a frayed cord from the roof of the back porch where nobody ever went. I needed time to think. Time to decide what was next for me.
In the meantime, I got a part-time job as a salesman in a local shoe store where Lori also worked. That was where I first met her. She was younger than me and was still in High School. She was just seventeen, if you know what I mean. She was a fellow Pirate, attending my old High School, Madison Heights, and her older sister had been in my class, the class of 78. Inevitably, like a thirsty man drawn to the waters of a desert oasis to drink, I was attracted by her energetic youth and vitality.
About the same time, the sudden death of ex-Beatle, John Lennon, made me think about the impact their music had upon me as I was growing up. They represented love, optimism, creativity and youth to me. Their music was forever to be ingrained in that romantic and idealistic part of my soul. My mother carefully spoke the words that shook my faith in humanity, breaking the news to me. “But he’s not dead”, I’d said to her in shocked disbelief. Stunned, I walked into my room and closed the door. I sat down and looked at the latest record album that I had just purchased, his album. And I cried.
Just weeks previously, it seemed I had heard his comeback hit, “Starting Over”, for the first time on the radio. It had immediately struck a chord deep in me, reviving feeling I had listening to the Beatles as a young boy. How could that person who recognized that “All you need is Love” be dead? With his killing I felt the passing of my childhood dreams. Suddenly, I was embittered and old and distrustful. As if all the love in the world was suddenly gone, like all the inviting porch lights of the world were turned off at once.
Then, there was Lori. We had become friendly at work just talking and sometimes eating lunch together at a cafeteria in the mall where the shoe store was located. I had not taken her too seriously, despite being attracted to her, because of our age difference. Until, one day she surprised me by saying, “Well, when are you going to ask me out?” She sneaked by all my defenses and walked right over my shyness, driving deep into the lonely territory hidden in my heart, like a modern Stealth fighter, invisible to radar, flying right into the heart of a well defended city.
Lori sparked my interest and we began spending more time together. We went on our first and only date to see the new Flash Gordon movie with music by Queen. That date was my first real date in my entire life. I was always far too shy and afraid of rejection to even talk to girls. Looking back, I think the times I spent with Lori were the happiest for me since the carefree days of high school. Her lively playful ways restored me like a battery put through a deep cycle recharge. She gave me what I had been searching and longing for, a reason for life. I was ready to take the next step and start in a new direction at Indiana State. I was ready to begin my new studies seeking to major in Computer Science.
Lori and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I have not seen her or heard from her for the nearly two years since then, but I think of her often. We parted with promises. “Promise me that you’ll write”, she asked as I kissed her goodbye. “I’ll write” I replied and I did, but she didn’t. As I left, she’d given me an envelope to open later in which she said that “this card says good-bye, but that’s not what I want to say. Because it isn’t good-bye. We will meet again and I will remember.” I do not know where she is or how she is doing, or why she never wrote me back. But, I will always remember her, my dear Lori.
As I watched the dark-haired girl across the class room smile, I suddenly didn’t feel lonely anymore. I knew I’d find the right girl for me, someday, maybe even today. Perhaps, all I needed was to summon the strength to be brave and take a risk. Somewhere deep inside me, I heard a friendly voice ask, “Well, when are you going to ask her out?”