Which One-Part 10 (Image: Jessica against the sky)

“I don’t want to cause her any harm—or cause trouble to people she loves,” I offered, “I don’t want to screw up her life. On the other hand maybe I’m giving myself more credit than I’m due. Chris—we were Kids—and it was a very long time ago. So much has happened in our lives—so much time has passed. I mean—how much influence can I really have after all this time?

By this time I had moved back and was leaning against the brick wall of the store front.

“A lot more than you might think, Orion,” she said. “Joanie’s very vulnerable…”

“To me—my influence?” I asked.

“Yes,” Chris returned, “to you.”

“After 42 years?” I continued.

She nodded silently, still watching the rain, now pouring down heavily.

I struggled to find the right words—I felt like I was walking on the very edge of something.

“Are you saying—she still—after all this time—has a special place in her heart for me?”

“Yes,” she said. “Orion—she has a good life—she’s surrounded by people who love her. But—she’s very vulnerable to you.”

“Do you think she loves me?” I said—holding my breath.

I could tell Chris didn’t want to answer that question.

“She’s very vulnerable, Orion.”

We were both silent for several minutes. It seemed to me Chris was hinting—saying I had a real shot here—that I could take back this beautiful girl I’d thrown away so long ago. It was as though Chris was again acting as a go between as she did 40 plus years before. Reading between the lines she seemed to be saying, “Go for it Orion.” But I was still puzzled and divided. On the one hand Chris was saying I could really mess up Joanie’s life but on the other hand she was saying “go get her—you have the power.”

Years later I would realize that wasn’t what Chris was saying at all. What she was saying was “You have this power—but if you care about Joanie—you’ll butt out—not pursue this.” Even so—I think Chris really did have somewhat mixed feelings which (I think) is why she was not more explicit.

But mostly—that night standing there under the strip mall canopy in the rain—I heard what I wanted to hear.

“My god,” I muttered to both of us. “What an honor and privilege it would be to lie next to a woman like her.”

Another moment of silence. Chris continued to smoke her cigarette—the rain continued to fall.

“You’re her friend—her best friend,” I said looking directly at her. “Why would you tell me this?”

Chris’s composure slipped a bit. She seemed confused.

“Why wouldn’t I?” she asked in a puzzled voice.

It drifted through my mind like vanishing smoke—there was some sort of miscommunication or misunderstanding here—we were talking past each other. But I brushed it away. All I could think of was—this beautiful girl—from so long ago—is in my power. That’s every adolescent boy’s dream isn’t it?—to have a pretty girl entirely at his mercy. Suddenly I didn’t give a damn how my taking back this woman effected others. No one concerned themselves with how I felt when my wife, the mother of my children, walked away to another man’s bed—there was noone there for me during my years of aloneness and futile searching. But—in the business I was in back in those days, I was always exhorting clients to pay attention to their own thoughts and ask themselves—“do I like being a person who thinks this way?—do I respect this person?”

I calmed myself and decided to approach this from a position of enlightened self-interest—going after what I wanted from a compassionate frame of mind—not out of self-righteous anger or entitlement.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Chris watching the rain, smoking her cigarette and glancing over at me as I leaned against the building lost in concentration. As I tried to pull back from my rushing thoughts, I inexplicably found myself thinking of all the girls and women I’d been involved with in the last 40 years and wondering why none of them loved me the way Joanie did.

Thunder rumbled in the distance and it drifted into my mind like a leaf on a pond.

None of them was Joanie.

I almost laughed out loud at my stupidity.

A gust of wind blew rain across the concrete walkway we were standing on. Suddenly it hit me. Without knowing it—I was comparing every female I had met for the last 40 years—with Joanie. She was the standard against which I measured every woman I encountered. I could sense the whole universe changing a bit as the realization took shape in my mind—I had loved her all these years without knowing it until that night under the strip mall canopy.

On a simple emotional level, ordinary immaturity (back in those high school days) had a lot to do with it but what struck me as a more plausible explanation was where it happened. I hated the Mohawk Valley and at that time—my life was about one thing—getting the hell out of upstate New York. I could not allow myself to love or be attached to someone who was a part and product of that culture and milieu—and I could not involve myself with someone who would associate me with or attach me to, that region.

But in all the years of hating and rejecting and trying to put the central New York dust “from off my sandals” I could never escape one very simple fact. Upstate New York was where I came from and no matter how much I despised it—I was just as much a product of that upbringing and that perspective as Joanie.

Joanie wasn’t just a girl who loved me—we were part of each other. That’s why no other woman could love me like she did. That’s why she was the perfect first girl for me and now I wanted her to be the last.

After dropping Chris off at her daughter’s house the drive back to my own home through the rainy Virginia night was a blur. All the way home I focused on my strategy. My first step would be to write a letter—a letter no woman who was even slightly interested, could resist. I’ve always been good with words. This was going to be a love letter on the order few women ever get and the most important letter I’d ever written.

I wasn’t just interested in bringing up the big guns. I was going to exercise the nuclear option.

End part 10

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