Which One?-Part 11 (Image: Jessica Portrait 1)

Every night after work I would work on my letter to Joanie—my manifesto of love. I was surprised at how much material I had in the attic from those days—journals, letters, photographs.

There were pictures of Joanie and me walking in the woods, hanging out with other kids and her family and going to the prom—I had these copied. I was able to construct an accurate timeline with details from the period we first met up until I entered the service with more general remembrances after that. I talked in some detail about the dramatic conversation Chris and I had under the strip mall canopy and my revelation. The main point of the letter was to explain why things had happened the way they had between us all those years ago—my inability to accept or grasp my love for her and my personal issues regarding growing up there in the Mohawk Valley.

I commented on the general course of my life, my inability to find someone new to share my life and how I felt things happened the way they were meant to—our coming together at the onset of adulthood and now again in the final years of our lives. I closed with a poignant image of myself waiting—like a ship-wrecked sailor who has thrown a bottle with a message in it into the ocean—hoping desperately for salvation. It would not be an exaggeration to say I crafted that message like a Stradivarius.

By the time it was ready to go there had been some other events and thoughts about current circumstances so I wrote a letter of update which complimented the first. I put together a package of the two letters—which totaled 10 or 11 pages in length—along with 2 sets of photos—one for her and one for Chris.

I waited a week until Joanie had received the package, then called Chris. I was quite certain they would meet to discuss the letters and share photos. I was right and my timing was fortunate. They had had lunch together only the day before.

There had been two or three calls to Chris during the two weeks after our meal and conversation. I told her I’d be sending letters and photos to Joanie so she was anticipating the package’s arrival. I cannot remember the details but Chris fairly quickly came to accept my pursuit of Joanie. I think she loved us both and really did want us to come back together. And—being an active and devout Christian—was willing to leave it in God’s hands. Interestingly enough—for whatever reason—Joanie delayed opening the package until she met with Chris in the restaurant. As I thought she might—Joanie shared the letters with Chris—handing each page to her after reading it.

Christine thanked me for the pictures and effusively praised my writing. I thanked Chris for her compliments.

“But you’re not the one I was hoping to impress,” I said with a tone of pleading optimism. “You were there—you’ve known her most of your life—what was her reaction?”

I couldn’t see her face obviously but I’m pretty sure she was smiling.

“Astonishment,” Chris responded, “That’s probably the best word. Joanie’s never gotten a letter anything like what you wrote. I think she was overwhelmed. Really—you didn’t have to do anything to bring her back other than let her know how you felt—but those letters… It sounds corny but you swept her off her feet.”

“She loves me,” I said, “she wants me back?”

“Orion,” Chris responded, “Joanie never stopped loving you. She had to get on with her life but her feelings never changed. As far as wanting you back in her life—yes—she wants you but things are complicated. She hasn’t told Phil—she’s told her sister Barbie—she & I are the only two that know. Do you remember Barbie?”

“I do,” I said, “a year or two younger—very sweet girl—who would do anything for her sister. I remember she didn’t completely trust me back then—at least at one time. She told me she thought I would break her sister’s heart—I guess I did. But I’m trying to make amends.”

“You did break her heart Orion,” she went on. “Her judgment was poor—that’s why after you left and it became apparent you weren’t going to get back with her—she jumped into that first, foolish marriage.”

“Yeah,” I muttered. There just wasn’t much else I could say. It saddened me to think I’d had a part in that episode in Joanie’s life.

“So how is Barbie with all this?” I continued.

“Well, she still doesn’t trust you,” Chris replied—half joking and half serious. “She’s in between a rock and a hard place—she wants Joanie to be happy but she has no idea who you are now—what kind of person you are. Even if she liked you back then—people change. I suspect she thinks you’re just taking advantage of Joanie—not really caring what problems you cause or who you hurt.”

It was sobering to hear that. I’d thought quite a bit about the ripple effect of my jumping back into Joanie’s life. Any big change—positive or negative can of course have enormous, unintended consequences and impact people you’re not even aware of. But change in life is inevitable. People adapt—they deal with it and get on with their lives—like Joanie did when I left all those years ago—like I did when my wife left me. If we never did anything because it might be disruptive or cause problems—we wouldn’t do much of anything that involved other people.

I decided—that night under the canopy—that it made the most sense to just be clear about what’s in my heart and as much as possible, make decisions and take action in a calm frame of mind—being certain I was acting with compassion and respect for others while still trying to meet my legitimate needs.

In a fairly brief period of time Barbie would come around to supporting Joanie and accepting me. Barbie was in much the same position as Chris—the same kind of mixed feelings. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I wanted love and companionship—I think everyone has a right to that and I know Chris and Barbie understood that too.

End Part 11

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