Announcing 2013 Past Loves Story Contest Winners
Welcome. As always, we found that reading contest stories as they came in provided us with a great deal of pleasure. We hope you enjoy reading this year’s winning stories.
A Higher Law
by anonymous author
Love is a law unto itself. This wasn’t how I was raised, but it’s something I learned from one special woman during one special year of college. I was a junior, and she was a freshman. I normally wouldn’t have given her a second thought; we shared neither classes nor a dormitory.
But we did share a church. I was the former Baptist turned every denomination and the kitchen sink, the spiritual gypsy sampling the local religious landscape. She was the born and raised Episcopalian, the head of the altar servers at our small university town parish, and my eager guide to my latest denomination. She felt called to the priesthood, and I felt called to her…and I really wanted to carry the cross in the procession. I needed training, and that made me her responsibility.
We bonded over the proper way to tie the cincture and the ideal length for cassocks even as we attempted to master the art of walking with floor length robes without tripping on the altar steps. Our spirited conversations in the vestry before and after church quickly moved to other topics and other venues, and we soon found ourselves baring our souls to each other.
It was the first time in my life that I felt completely accepted by another person, and it was the first time that she was out from under the thumb of her hovering mother. We’d both been sheltered and had experienced a traumatic culture shock when we’d arrived on campus. We’d both been practically raised by our respective churches.
Neither of us had any idea that it was possible to fall in love with someone of your own sex.
But I thought she was beautiful when we walked side by side in the procession on Sunday morning, and I felt her eyes on me when I read the scripture at our Wednesday evening services. When we weren’t studying or leading worship services, we were poring over catalogues from seminaries and dreaming of being ordained to the priesthood together.
She started signing her emails to me with "love." I started calling her "sweetheart" and "beloved." Then she was doing it too. We were at church every time the doors were open, and our hands were gentle on each other as we fastened our robes. We were touch-starved and scared to death of our own reactions. Her surprisingly strong arms steadied the top-heavy processional cross when it shook in my hands, and I held her when the anguish of her dysfunctional family became too much.
We knew nothing about loving so everything we did was making love.
Our pastor knew. He knew all the students who attended his parish, and he would "adopt" any who allowed him the privilege. We were two of his favorites. He’d seen the spark between us that first meeting when he came with the keys to unlock the church for my first session of altar server training. He’d watched us as we knelt together and received Communion from his hands, and he knew that we were rarely apart from each other.
He had doubts about our vocations to the priesthood but not about our relationship. Finally, he cornered me.
"You love her." By that point, I knew the kind of love that he meant…the kind that was a horrible sin. I was furious at him…and crying.
"I shouldn’t! It’s not right." He tried to hug me, but I pulled away. There was only one pair of arms that I wanted around me. He sighed.
"Some people say so." He leaned back against the altar, smiling sadly. "But there’s more to what is right and wrong than many of us understand. There’s this little thing called the heart…God’s greatest gift to us. And the heart makes its own rules. So I guess the question is, are you ready to break the rules? Are you willing to cross that line?"
I wasn’t. I didn’t. And more than a decade after I turned away from my beloved, I still regret it. But I have never forgotten what she taught me. Some rules are worth breaking, and love is a law unto itself.
Away from the Window
by Eliana Osborn
We met in seventh grade. He told a mutual friend that I had nice legs.
For my sixteenth birthday, we ate Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt on the roof of a parking garage in downtown Anchorage with two other friends. He asked me on a date every day for nine months. I said no each and every time.
He ate half-frozen turkey with me at midnight instead of studying for finals our freshman year of college. He taught me to drive stick shift on the freeway, trying to play cool when I stalled on an off-ramp. We drove twenty hours over three days on a trip to Yellowstone. We looked at buffalo, smelled geothermal water.
He moved to Romania for two years, and I wrote him more than 100 letters. He didn’t always write back. I was unexpectedly home one snowy January morning when he called. His voice made me close my eyes and relax.
He let me shave his head.
He was a terrible kisser. I tried not to think about it. He wrote me limericks about my nose. He loved everything about me, even when I treated him terribly. I love that, and feared it.
The last time I saw Fred, he scaled the wall outside my apartment, appearing outside my second story window. He wanted to talk. I didn’t. Eventually he left. I knew he wanted to get married. I couldn’t think of any reason not to. I sent him away that day, and really thought about what I wanted.
When I finally reached out by email a few days later, I knew what it meant: I was committing to us, to him, to the future.
But Fred took those days and thought, too. Thought about the nine years he’d been pursuing me, about a life being the one who loves more. Something in him broke that day when I wouldn’t come to my window.
He stood up for himself for the first time. That meant turning away from me.
I assumed we’d get back together.
Fred was my best friend. I knew we’d come through this.
My lease expired, I moved to London for a few months. I didn’t bother finding a place for when I returned. I knew I’d be with him.
I called from the communal phone outside my flat. We’d been emailing on and off, and I missed him. His voice was subdued. My stomach knew something was coming before my brain got the message.
"You were right, Eliana. You said I’d get married this year. Her name is Kendra."
There must have been more, some kind of explanation. Something to make sense of these words that meant I didn’t know anything any more. And that was the end.
If I’d known Fred and I would never see each other again, I never would have ignored him at my window. The ups and downs and never quite saying the thing I meant? We’d be there still.
In that light, I have no regrets. I pushed him too far and he left and he was right. It took my ridiculous, juvenile behavior to make it happen.
I regret not being able to say, "I’m scared. I love you and don’t know what kind of love it is. Can we talk about that?" I regret taking nearly ten years to get to a place where I could accept our relationship. I regret the times I hurt Fred, someone who never would have done such a thing to me. When I think of him, it is physical. Visceral. The pain of guilt, of compassion, and love. After all these years, I can say it without hesitation. I loved that man and he loved me. It wasn’t enough, then, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.
Almost a Fantasy
by Sarina Penland
It was the end of our junior year in high school. He was incredibly smart: valedictorian, elected student body president, math genius, a bit nerdy. He planned to attend medical school. I, on the other hand, was the typical popular girl: played sports, cheer team, homecoming court. I had no plans. We came from different worlds.
I was slated to attend summer school if my math grades didn’t improve rapidly. The quickest way to accomplish this was to get tutored from a smarter student; so, he was assigned to me to keep my summer from being fated at the school. I felt a little sorry for him. I would never understand the difficult equations in the short time we had left, but he was patient and kind, and my grades improved.
I was mesmerized by his crystal blue eyes that reminded me of the Caribbean water, and his brilliant smile that lit up the room. I soon found myself counting the hours until our tutoring sessions, and it wasn’t long before we spent that time talking about our hopes and dreams instead of math equations. Afternoons turned into evenings, then weekends, and when summer came, we were inseparable. When we finally kissed, I was engulfed by the deliciousness of him, the way he smelled and tasted. He took my heart completely and I loved him as intensely as a blue flame burns.
He was an accomplished piano musician, and his goal for the summer was to master all three movements of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I had piano lessons as a child, a piano, and a summer with nothing to do but to learn all three movement of the Moonlight Sonata too.
I surprised him one day by being able to play it. One hot afternoon, we spent side by side at his piano bench playing his perfectly tuned baby grand, taking turns performing what we had learned. The third movement was the most challenging and we wagered a friendly competition to see who could play it first. For him, playing was an effortless task. His future surgeon fingers nimbly and beautifully glided across the keys. For me, it was sheer torture. He had no idea the hours and utter toil I put into learning the piece day after day. Every note had to be laboriously figured out like a kindergartner sounding out each word in a book when learning to read. He constantly encouraged me, making me feel capable and secure. He unlocked a part of my heart that no one before or since has been able to access. That summer with him was a respite from everything wrong in my life. He was pure oxygen to my soul, opening my eyes to a life I never thought possible for me.
The deadline for our personal recital came and we had a date together with the piano. I excitedly drove to his house eager to show him my accomplishments. His mother answered the door, which was odd. I walked into the living room and saw him sitting on the sofa with his father. His mother asked me to sit down. I looked at him, his blue eyes full of sadness and shame. His mother and father proceeded to tell me that he had Big Plans and Aspirations for his life and I wasn’t a part of that equation. It would be best if he didn’t see me anymore, and from this point forward I wasn’t welcome in their lives. I felt as if someone had slammed my chest with a sledgehammer. I looked at him, but he wouldn’t return my gaze. I tried to dissuade them, but their minds were made up.
I left without saying goodbye, completely heartbroken and wondering how I was going to continue breathing. At home, I tearfully sat down at my antique piano and tried to play, but I was shattered; my future seemingly dull and unpromising. I never played the piano again.
Over time, I became whole and strong once more. I put the memory of him in a carefully constructed box in the closet of my mind and locked it tightly. The boy who made me believe I could do anything.
HONORABLE MENTION (three stories, alphabetical by author)
by Liane Kupferberg Carter
Mr. Silverman wasn’t as handsome as the dreamy Mr. Steinfink who taught American History. No matter. I loved him. Fiercely. Fervently. Ardently. As only a moody and intense fourteen year old can worship a man of 25. It was 1968, when many draft-age men became teachers in order to avoid being sent to Vietnam. All our junior high school teachers were young, virile, and catnip to teenage girls.
Ira Silverman taught ninth grade English, and looked the professorial part: horn rimmed glasses, blazers with leather elbow patches. He was sarcastic and sensitive, a seductive combination. I would linger after class, waiting for him to notice that we were kindred souls. But Celia Schwartz, a flushed girl with googly green eyes, was always hanging around him too.
"Poetry is about compression," he told us. "Learning to see is a discipline. Open your senses and drink the world in."
Celia showed up the next morning with a pile of poems she’d written, quietly but effectively muscling me aside. Not to be outdone, I decided to pen poetry too.
Every afternoon that fall and winter, as Dusk Descended (as I would no doubt have written it then), I would wrench up my bedroom window and kneel in front of the hissing radiator, lowering its hinged lid to use its warm surface as my desk. I would press my nose to the rusted storm window, and suck in a cold sliver of metallic air. Feverishly I wrote, recording every passing sensation, as the sky turned cold magenta blue or fiery peach, and cars whooshed by below, their headlight beams sweeping the walls. I reveled in a voluptuous melancholy, closing out the sounds of my father’s tired tread passing my door, and my mother’s increasingly irritated calls to come set the table. When I wrote, the world fell away.
"I’m going to be a poet when I grow up," I told my mother.
"That’s lovely, dear," she said. "And how are you going to make a living?"
Comments like that made me furious. She didn’t understand. But I was sure Mr. Silverman did. Our world of poetry was private. Sacred. Mr. Silverman understood me. Sophisticated and sardonic, he was the grown up world that lay ahead.
Nearly every morning I would shyly hand him a new sheaf of poems I’d stayed up late to type on an old Olympia manual typewriter. He would pepper the onionskin pages with succinct comments: "Show don’t tell." "Too obvious." "Too emotional." "Not enough." "Too much." And, thrillingly: "Very good, almost excellent."
All that year, while I giggled with girlfriends, passed notes in study hall and tried to act worldly when we whispered about sex, I filled page after diary page with such overwrought outbursts as "How much longer can I endure this pain? It is shattering the frail wreck of my sensitive soul."
In class one morning, as Mr. Silverman explained poetic license, some students passed around a photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s newly released album cover. I glanced at it, then stared. Oh my God, John and Yoko were naked. I had never seen a naked man. John Lennon had pubic hair? I looked up at Mr. Silverman with revulsion. Did he look like that, under his suit? I felt my face blaze.
"Man, I just don’t get it," David Duffy was insisting to Mr. Silverman. "What does a poetic license look like?"
"I just told you, poetic license isn’t an object," Mr. Silverman said, exasperated. "It’s a concept. It’s the writer’s freedom to break the conventional rules of language."
"But where do you get it?" David insisted. God, he was so dense. Mr. Silverman looked at me, and rolled his eyes.
"At the Department of Motor Vehicles," he said.
Day by day I handed him piles of poems, signing my name in lower case letters. I poured out my passion. The florid feelings simply flowed. "Were I to cry my longing to the cool wind and leave myself behind!" I scrawled. "Ah how heavy it is to be – how lonely this night!"
Breathlessly I brought him my yearbook at the end of the school term. I longed for a sign. Something that finally acknowledged and settled the bond between us. He wrote, "Without any writing on it / a piece of paper can be held / any way you like / and it will be bright / and pure / Empty your mind of the scribblings of darkness / and live. / Love Lee Love."
I pored and puzzled over it for days, not sure if I was gratified or insulted. Scribblings? Darkness? Was he saying I was in some metaphoric dark place? That my poems were merely a teen’s overheated outpourings? Was he urging me to stop writing about an imagined life and start living it? But what of that last line? Was he secretly telling me to love him, or to leave him alone?
My mother gave me permission to invite Mr. Silverman to our family’s junior high graduation celebration. I pictured him standing on the front step of my parents’ house, and shivered with delicious anticipation. "Ira," I kept thinking. "At last I’ll call him Ira." He would finally see the woman in me. I would confess my love. He would confess his. We would kiss. There would be breathless words. And then…
That night I waited. Then I telephoned his house several times, letting the phone ring and ring. All through dinner, I watched the door of the restaurant, hoping he would appear. He never did.
He never called.
I never saw him again.
For All Time
by T’Mara Goodsell
If the soul truly has a mate, he was mine. It was clear from the beginning he was Yogi to my uncertain consciousness, guide to a restless spirit. He surfaced the first time when I was seventeen and most needed to know someone could love me for who I was on the inside. He was a prayer answered too late, or more likely too early, just as I was getting ready to go away to college.
One of the things that summed him up best was his response when a beautiful, renowned boyfriend-stealer threw herself at him right in front of me. That was the first time I took a step back and realized with a small shock that he was physically lovely as well. Virtually every other male I knew would have acted flattered at the very least, but he was cool to her and a little disgusted. When she finally backed off and left, I fished. Didn’t he think she was pretty?
He hesitated, felt for the right words. What he finally said was, "I don’t think she’s pretty on the inside."
How I loved him then, and forever, in a way that didn’t end when I married someone else. Although he had resurfaced several times in the years that followed, it was always when I was about to embark on a new phase, which in retrospect was really when I needed him most and didn’t realize it. Bad timing, I told myself. Bad, bad timing.
He wrote me a song, sung in his deep and honeyed voice, a going-away gift. I treasured that song and put it away for safekeeping, and though I brought it out from time to time, at some point over the years I forgot where I’d put it.
This young man with an ancient soul is one of the few people in life I truly admire. At the time I was too young yet to know how rare he really was. Now that I’m older, I respect him that much more.
He married someone else before I divorced. Bad, bad timing. And yet…at that point I had begun to realize togetherness isn’t the only gift there is. The best people in life continue to uplift and inspire us long after we’ve known them. Thirty-five years later, his integrity continues to guide me. When I look back, I realize it wasn’t that the timing was wrong; it was that I was wrong. Still, the small amount of time we were together was what I needed to take some of the rightness with me into the future, and for that, I will always be grateful. It comforts me to know there are people like him in the world. Knowing he exists—has ever existed—is enough. Knowing he once loved me is enough.
During one of the lowest phases in my life, when I had almost lost faith in humanity, I was looking for some paperwork and found the song again. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It sang to me again after all these years. But then again, love that comes from the soul really is timeless.
Tears Came Knocking..
by JC Sullivan
Having been a ballerina in my younger years and having lived in Los Angeles in my later years, I’ve always been plagued by demons commonly known as body issues. I thought hating one’s body was a normal part of being female. That was before I met Carlos.
"How could you not love your body?" he wanted to know, genuine concern etched over his wrinkle-free face. "Your body is a temple, you should wake up every day and thank God." Easy for him to say, he had youth -- his 25 year-old physique was perfection -- on his side. My doubting face was my response. Tears came knocking. Please don’t let me cry in front of him!
"Go with your friend Christina," he advised, stroking my face in that wonderfully intimate way Latinos do, "I’ll see you this afternoon." A butterfly kiss on my lips and he was gone.
Not understanding what was happening, I followed his advice and accompanied her. Walking along the path to the reception area, Christina explained that she had worked with disabled youth back in her country. Contemplating volunteering here in Zipolite (Mexico), she was curious to visit the Piña Palmera school for disabled children.
"Would you like a tour?" the head of the highly-regarded school asked. We nodded. She called on a bull horn and our guide arrived. In a wheelchair. Feeling awkward, his gorgeous smile put me at ease. He showed us around the facilities. His ability to maneuver easily made me forget that he didn’t have use of his legs. When we got to the severely handicapped children who need around-the-clock care, my heart leapt out of my body. Again, tears came knocking.
Christina and I hugged the kids as one of the volunteers read to them. The employees explained, as they rotated the young children’s horribly contorted bodies, that these two were not able to re-position themselves on the beds. Tears came knocking. Really loudly this time.
Later that day, I returned to my incredible Latino man; he searched my face.
"You’re wonderful!" I embraced him tightly, terrified that if I wasn’t careful, he might fly out of my life. Forever.
"I might actually like my body." I whispered.
His fabulous smile cracked my soul wide open, letting music escape.
This time, when tears came knocking, I let him brush them away.