Dearest Rachel –
The most amazing thing about my relationship with you was the fact that you had never really been interested in boys prior to me writing to you after graduating from college. Granted, this is getting slightly ahead of myself, but this is a situation that I know is unique and remarkable. Oh, sure, you had a couple of crushes here and there in elementary school you admitted to, but you never dated – or were interested in doing so – by the time you were old enough to do so in high school.
And as a result, I had the remarkable privilege of being your literal one and only. I was the best boyfriend you ever had (although, if one wants to be pessimistic, I was also the worst boyfriend you ever had), because you literally had no basis of comparison. Whether I was objectively good, bad or indifferent as far as showing affection, providing for you, giving you the attention and respect you deserved… I know I didn’t fall short of some mark set by some previous beau.
I say this was particularly unusual because… well, even someone like me could have been in a relationship beforehand…
Now, I do not recall ever having prayed about who I should or should not date. Although, in high school, that was hardly even a topic of consideration: I was just not date material, and I knew it. Which was fine; this way, I could just focus on my studies and grades. Who needs to eat lunch in the cafeteria, when I could just hole up and eat my brown bag lunch in one of the practice rooms adjacent to the band room? I didn’t need anyone, and I didn’t care. Or at least, that’s what I told myself. I was who I was, and if no one was interested in me, that was their problem, not mine.
But one day, as I was on a bus, jamming to Petra on my Walkman (yes, it was the eighties. What of it?), a girl came up to me and, with no preamble aside from a smile and a “latent guitarist, huh?” sat down beside me as we shared the headphones, talked and, well…
Chris and I became an item. And it was a bit of a scandal at the time: what’s a senior doing dating a freshman? We didn’t care. Not about what the age difference, not about what other people thought or said, and certainly not about how public we could be about our affection. She’s the one who taught me how to french kiss, did you know that? I know the first time I tried to kiss you like that, you told me it was like being kissed by your dog. Because of that, I backed off a bit – only to discover that you liked being kissed by your dog – and eventually, enjoyed being kissed every bit as much as I enjoyed kissing you, and then some.
Chris and I swapped letters, too, just like the two of us would years later (although we didn’t exchange mix tapes; that was an innovation on your part. I also didn’t think to keep copies of my end of our correspondence). Hers were fairly heavily perfumed, at least, at the time she sent them; the fragrance has faded to almost nothing at this point. It’s probably from all that time spent languishing in the filing cabinet, I would expect. We discussed religion (she was Catholic, while I was Protestant, but since we agreed on Jesus as a foundation, we both thought we could work with that. Still, like Joshua and the people of Gilead, I don’t recall consulting the Lord about this), studies (she had a surprisingly philosophical tone to her letters – and she would get worked up about missing a perfect score on an exam, while my approach was more, eh, 90% or 100%, an “A”‘s an “A”), classes and band – that last being the one point where our lives physically intersected. She even joined the jazz band that I was a part of – she wasn’t particularly adept, and it’s not as if there was much written for flute as part of the ensemble, but to this day, whenever I do hear an improvised flute solo in a musical number (such as in some of Bruce Cockburn’s works), I immediately think of her – while I joined the literary magazine that she was part of (and contributed the cover illustration and a number of works, mostly under pseudonyms).
As I said, we were public and obvious in our affections, leading many to think that what was going on behind the scenes was far more than what they saw, which was pretty much untrue. Oh, we did a lot of ‘parking’ outside her parents’ home after a late rehearsal or even the occasional date – and we got the fogged-up windows of the car rapped on by a police officer at least once, if not twice during the brief course of our relationship – but we didn’t go much further with each other in private than our average classmate already saw. You might recall how you and I repeated this effect with regard to your parents – but that’s a story for another time.
Ultimately, Chris began the relationship, and she was the one who chose to end it. It was on the band trip to California, when we were to march in the Rose Parade a day or two later. She and I went to a nearby restaurant, where she pointed out that the age difference meant three years of a long distance relationship, and concluded that such wasn’t likely to be sustainable from either of our ends. I suppose she was right, but the timing seemed spectacularly harsh. And like with much of the rest of the relationship, this crashing end was public knowledge in short order – and my missing one of the planned tours the next day (purely by accident – I hadn’t realized that the backlot tour wasn’t the same thing as the tour of the Hollywood stars, and so wound up staying at the Universal lot longer than I should have. I got a chance to play an extra in a filmed segment while I was inadvertently ignoring the paging, but I didn’t get to keep a copy of the screen test as proof) got the entire band absolutely buzzing. Poor Chris thought I had done something rash as a result of being dumped – and when I was found and the situation explained, she was still brought to tears when on the plane back, we bookended our relationship by listening to another one of my songs on my Walkman, one containing the lines “and everybody needs somebody / Someone to love, someone to share / A sacred dream, a secret thought / For most of us, it’s all we’ve got / Everybody needs someone.”
We stayed friends, though, and I have a photo from my 18th birthday party a few months later where she’s there, smiling, looking over my shoulder at whatever it was I was doing.
She went on to college at UCSD, got married, and after a bout with clinical depression, I believe she moved out to Colorado. I think you may actually have met her early on in our marriage, but I lost touch with her some twenty-plus years ago. I hope she’s doing well.
つづく (to be continued…)