Thursday, May 12, 2005

Another auld lang syne

My first girlfriend called me the other day.

To put this event in perspective, you need to appreciate a few key facts about me:
  1. I was rather a late bloomer in matters of the heart. Although I was definitely interested in girls from an early age (I had my first crush at age ten — her first name was Lisa and no, I have no idea what became of her), I didn't have an actual date until my high school senior prom, and that was with a girl who was merely a friend and not a romantic partner.
  2. The entire number of actual girlfriends I had during my bachelor years can be counted (literally) on the fingers of one hand. That includes the girlfriend I married.
  3. My relationship with PK, my first girlfriend, began the day I graduated high school (it was a big day for me in more ways than one). It ended — at her initiation — during the second semester of my freshman year of college when the "Dear John" letter arrived. (Okay, my name isn't John, but you know what I mean.)
  4. Aside from a brief angry, epithet-laden interchange or two around the time of the breakup, I haven't seen or spoken with PK since. I'm 43 now. You do the math.
Now that you're up to speed, welcome to Days of Our Lives.

I didn't pay any attention when the phone rang that morning, because it was the house line. I typically don't answer that line during my work day because the phone is all the way at the other end of the house. Anyone who's likely to call me during the day — and to whom I'd actually wish to speak — knows to call on the business line during office hours, because that's the phone within arm's reach of my workstation. So I didn't know who had called until some time later when I wandered back to the bedroom.

I didn't recognize the woman's voice, and for a few moments, I didn't react to the name. More accurately, I knew the name immediately, but it took me a bit to register that this was in fact a certain particular person by that name. (It's not an unusual first/last name combination, so there are probably a few thousand of them scattered about the English-speaking world.) She left her telephone number and asked for a return call.

Next question: Now what do I do?

Answer: I'll take "Do Nothing" for a thousand dollars, please, Alex. (It's what I always do when I don't know what to do. Impulsive and spontaneous, I'm not.)

I was still doing nothing later in the day when my friend DL called — serendipitously, as it happens, given that she was the one who first introduced PK and me all those years ago — from Maine. I told her about the mysterious phone message, and we kicked around the obvious question: What could PK possibly want after all this time? Neither DL nor I had a good answer, though the most likely scenario was that PK had seen my Round Two match in the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament a few days before and was inspired to call — to gloat over my loss? to ask for a loan? to simply say, "Hey, I saw you on TV, and by the way, after a quarter-century, I still hate your intestines"?

DL thought I should return the call. I was less sanguine. So after she and I hung up, I went back to doing what I do best in these situations.


I had become quite accomplished at doing nothing by the time the phone rang again two days later. (It's now yesterday, to reconnect with the real universe for just a moment.) I let the answering machine pick up the call, and when I heard PK's now-unmistakable voice, I lifted the receiver.

I said the first thing that came into my mind: "Hello."

She’d had more time — two days, at least — to prepare a response, and it showed: “Hi.”

And we went from there.

Her reason for calling wasn’t at all what I had imagined. In fact, I don’t believe I would ever have imagined her saying what she said next: “I wanted to apologize for being such a jerk to you back then.” (I may be paraphrasing the word “jerk.”)

I’m a trifle fuzzy on the particulars of my reply. I think it came out something like, “Oh. Well. Um. Ah. Hmm.” When I had recovered my wits sufficiently to string these random syllables into actual words, and those words into actual sentences, I believe I said something suitably snappy and incisive, on the order of, “If anyone owes anyone an apology, it’s probably me that owes you one.” I’m not entirely certain what I meant by that, but it seemed the gracious thing to say. At any rate, it was far more appropriate than doing what my instincts told me to do: Slam the receiver back into the cradle and run. Far, far away. Like, to that galaxy in those lame George Lucas films.

Still, I maintained my composure. I am, after all, a nominally successful veteran of a syndicated TV quiz show. I’ve been embarrassed in front of an audience of millions. Being embarrassed alone in my own home should be a piece of cake. Specifically, the honey-almond kind the bakery near my old workplace bakes. Mmm…cake.

But I digress.

So we talked. No easy task for me — I have a difficult time talking on the phone anyway (social anxiety — remind me to tell you about it sometime), and this was especially awkward. But when PK told me what spurred her phone call, I was touched. (I know, I know — you already knew I was touched. Wisenheimers.)

Apparently, she and her family had been shopping at Costco one day last week, and she had seen me there with my daughter. (We’d gone to shop for Mother’s Day gifts — KM wanted to get her mom a car-wash kit they had seen on a previous visit.) When PK recognized me, I guess it started her thinking back to what happened in the spring of 1980, and the more she thought, the more she felt — I don’t know quite how to characterize it — a need for resolution. So she called. And, on the second go-around, I answered.


I learned about PK’s family. I knew she’d married a friend of ours from high school. I didn’t know they had two children, a daughter and a son, both quite a bit younger than my teenager. I’d known that her sister had had a child out of wedlock many years ago — she had dated my best friend for a while, but their breakup was too early in the timeline for him to have been involved in the conception — but I didn’t know she’d had a couple of other children and a bad marriage and had more or less drifted through adult life as a lost soul. I didn’t know that PK’s father, whom I rather liked, had passed away. I didn’t know her parents had divorced before his death. I didn’t know a lot of things that I learned as we talked.

Several of the things I learned weren’t even about her.

We chatted for a surprisingly long time. When we finally said goodbye, I was stunned at how many minutes had elapsed while we’d been on the phone. A significant chunk of time for a conversation I’d never expected to have, and wasn’t at all sure I wanted to have even as I was in the midst of it.

I’m still processing my thoughts and emotions about the — what shall I call it? — interaction. I’m sure I’ll be processing for a while. When it comes to my feelings, I tend, as the saying goes, to incubate my eggs for a long time. I’m still trying to figure out a number of events from my late adolescence and early adulthood — why certain things happened, and how I feel about them: a disappearance, a death, a kiss, a couple of relationships, decisions made, moments of brilliance, moments of tragedy, moments won, moments lost.

I couldn’t even write at all about this yesterday, after the phone call.

I can barely write about it now.

And I can’t get Dan Fogelberg to shut up in my head.

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

RE: Dan.
Which character are you? The singer or the former love? ;-)

6:09 PM  
Anonymous ford41 offered these pearls of wisdom...

Just stumbled across this while looking for a wav of "Same Auld..". You are a lucky man. Few years older than you, actually a lot, but have similar story, as do a couple of good friends. But not with the closure that you got. One of my friends says that his deepest wish is a 30 minute chat with the former girlfriend, just to ask, "Why". I would like about an hour or two.

Also, you are very fortunate to have gotten that far on Jeopardy. Have an old Navy Officer friend who won the 5 day thing and the tournament of champions in the early 1970's.

12:48 AM  

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