2010 PAST LOVES STORY CONTEST
by Kelley Walker Perry
I remember the resonance of soft rain falling on a tin roof. The memory of its sound echoes in my heart as the greatest regret of my life.
The cool November rain that night failed to deter my lover and me; we lounged in the hot tub on our cabin deck, gazing at a spectacular mountain view.
We’d gone on the trip to Tennessee because work stress had gotten the better of me. I could hardly afford such extravagance, so Ralph had sold his truck—an old Ford he’d been tinkering on since he was a teenager. Lost in my own world at the time, I never even acknowledged his sacrifice.
Most of the leaves had turned from vibrant scarlet and gold to late-autumn hues of russet and sienna, and a chill was in the air. All that week, we browsed in Gatlinburg’s shops and dined in nice restaurants by day. By night, we drifted from the hot tub and the rain to the Jacuzzi and its bubbles, and then sat talking in front of a roaring fire made pungent by carburetor cleaner—his unique idea of lighter fluid. Later, he attempted to chase away my demons with his tender touch, in the best way he knew how.
I typically spurned his advances, explaining that I’d been hurt too many times in the past; that I wasn’t ready for a commitment; that I didn’t completely return his feelings. I broke his heart almost daily, but he kept trying.
That particular night, he left me in the hot tub and slid aside the heavy glass doors leading into the cabin. I thought he was refreshing his drink, but he was gone quite awhile. When he returned, he shyly led me inside—where he’d filled the Jacuzzi with fragrant bubble bath, lit scented candles and incense, and even popped in a soothing CD. Instead of staying, he simply kissed my cheek and closed the door on strains of Celtic music.
While I wallowed in the bath like a pampered walrus, Ralph sat alone on the deck and wrote a poem for me on a yellow legal pad. After I’d dried off and dressed, he offered me those heartfelt lines—I’m sure in hopes that his love for me would finally sink in.
At the time, I was less than grateful. I thought he was being pushy; I needed space. His spelling was incredibly flawed—thankfully, I held back from noting this last tidbit aloud.
That was the final solitude we’d have for the vacation. My mother and sister brought my kids down; they were on Fall Break, but I’d left them in Indiana for the first half of the trip. We spent the remainder of the time shopping, visiting Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, checking out old cabins at Cade’s Cove, and meandering through the local artists’ colony. During one excursion Ralph took my son, with whom he was very close, on a secret mission. Later, he presented me with a bottle of Tryst, an expensive perfume I’d especially liked.
My mother’s birthday fell during our stay. Ralph happily grilled for us all; he never minded spending time with my family, and in fact seemed glad to be included. I later learned that everyone but me believed we had gone to Tennessee to get married; I’d just scoffed when we passed by a chapel and he tentatively mentioned something to that effect.
Everything that man did, he did for me. He continued struggling, even after we returned home. But I can still see the look on his face the night he began to give up.
Too late, I discovered my true feelings for him. Too late, I learned that some things we do are irrevocable. He left his house key on my pillow early the following February and married another woman that summer.
I ran into him in town the other day; he looks good. Happy.
Yes, I remember the rain. It is the bittersweet sound of the only real love I’ve ever known, lost forever in the misty mountains of Tennessee.
by JoAnne Potter
I saw him today. Yes, I tell you, it was him, swirling up through an eddy of 6AM passengers at SEATAC like a fleck of gold. He's changed during the last twenty-five years, but I knew him. Oh, I knew him.
He wore a beat-up baseball cap that could have been the same one he wore to the race track in the 80's. It looked that old. And he still wore the silver-rimmed aviators he always liked, though they have bifocals now, but you'd expect that, wouldn't you? His denim shirt buttoned over a blooming belly he never had then, but when he leaned down to take his granddaughter's hand, he looked at her with the same blue twinkle he once turned on me. He drew her up on his lap, right hand circling her shoulders, his left under knees in a quick, practiced arc. Don't you remember how he used to do that? But it was his intensity that convinced me, the way he focused his attention until the child filled his entire horizon as she told him her tiny troubles. He absorbed her little cries, bearing them tenderly next to his own, offering himself as a willing haven for her sweet worries, protector of long practice. He'd done that for me, too.
To a stranger, he would probably look old, and hide whatever sinewy youth he once wore beneath age's crepey cover stretched too thin. To anyone else, he would probably look like an unremarkable old man, kind and harmless. There, sitting in an orange plastic chair in an airport coffee shop with a six-year-old, he revealed none of his ripe, tight-coiled strength, his taut, purple-veined attention, his broad, deep-muscled vitality. How could he? Only shared memory carries these, resurrecting them for my private use without apology. Time tries to commit slow thieving, but he still lives in the fullness of long-spent days, remaining ever young to my eyes, full-fruited and bursting.
It was him, all right, even through the aged camouflage long years have dealt. For me, he carries the best of himself hidden from casual view. He still wears the same shining boldness, but as skin rather than armor, now distilled over gentle years. Maybe you, like the rest of the world, see only what you must, but I know him inside out.
Beyond the Veil
by Xenia Schiller
You are both 27 and in love. It’s amazing, unbelievable …You’d suspect it all if it weren’t happening to you.
He is movie star handsome. And funny! No one makes you laugh like this. You just get each other. He’s talking about marriage now, and it scares you, because he means it. Happily-ever-after is rolling into the station right on time.
You don’t understand when he falls down the stairs, and into the bookshelves at work, or why the seizures are coming, why they won’t stop. Right up to the diagnosis. You’re married now, and it’s not at all how you imagined it but still bad times shared with him are better than the best you’ve ever had alone.
You’re both 30 when he decides he’s had enough of the less-than that medicine has to give. Not of you, never of you, but only of the cancer. This world has nothing to offer if he’s not in it. But he asks you to let him go, and for his sake only you say ok, knowing it will never be ok. And mostly because you’re in practice, you continue to hold on.
"Watch for the signs," someone says. And because you have nothing else, and also because you’re desperate for any part of him, you do. The cell phone that spontaneously dials the old number still listed as "home" (because even though you’ve moved, that’s what it is.) The disembodied knock at the door when you forget to lock it, his very real presence when you first wake up. It’s agonizing, but it’s good, it's what you have, and you can’t get enough.
The first anniversary, the first for your marriage, is the worst. A rogue calla lily blooms that day, and this happens every year, except one year when it doesn’t. A close and empathic friend sends roses that year, except you get two bouquets, one that exactly matches the rare roses you held at your wedding - a gift made possible by Love, working behind the scenes. So you thank him, and the tears that come are different this time. There’s joy mixed with sadness, where previously there was only despair.
More and more you are laughing. Not the forced kind, but the knees-to-the-belly kind, complete abandonment. It doesn’t hurt as much when you catch yourself thinking, "I can’t wait to tell him this." Somehow you know he is there, laughing, yes, but mostly happy that you are healing.
One day you’re watching a movie when the sound cuts out. The remote gives no satisfaction, so you consider his solution, mostly because it still amuses you. Percussion calibration, he used to say, and thinking those words you pimp slap the side of the TV. Sound comes flooding back, and what you know right then is complete and utter joy, at this inside joke that you will always share together.
Now the plans you make are your plans, not his, not ours. And even though you’re not yet in the practice, it’s ok. It’ll come. This new life is not perfect, but the happiness is exactly what he would have chosen for you, and that makes it ok for you to choose it for yourself.
One Unusually Warm Winter
by Daniel Mullen
When I think of Christie, my mind grabs a hot cup of coffee, settles into an overstuffed chair and stares out the window at slowly falling snow. Christie wasn’t my first love; she wasn’t my last love, either. She is, however, the one about whom I still write poetry, stories, and songs that no voice will ever sing. Her memory I keep locked away; she’s mine. Like holding a favorite blanket in my child-like hand, I long feared that if I shared her with the world, she would vanish from my mind and heart forever.
I knew her years before. Though she was young, she already stood a head above the other girls, had brown hair that tumbled like a waterfall down to her shoulders and a smile that could wake a man from a coma. She had yet to grow into the woman I would meet again a decade later. Our interactions then were innocent, confined to after-school Bible studies and late-night chats with friends at the 24-hour diner downtown. She always left a tip, though the waitresses would simply leave a pot of coffee at the table. I wondered what it would be like to be alone with her, without our friends guiding the conversation. If my heart hadn’t been devoted to following God, I might have pursued a deeper understanding of "Christie."
As we both stepped through the heavy, wooden door of adulthood at the end of the Hallowed Halls of Secondary Education, she traveled to the Far East in search of peace. I traveled to the Middle East with the Army to enforce peace. Both missions failed, but would provide a foundation for conversation ten years later.
This time my emotional ties were open. Divorce had jaded me; children had matured me. I quickly affirmed my attendance to her birthday party one November. Any chance to catch up with this old friend would kick all other plans to the curb. Christie had a guy waiting for her in China, I found out, but that didn’t deter me.
I remember us cooking in her mother’s kitchen. Every night was a different flavor: "fajitas, salmon, curried chicken, hamburgers. We were both so lost in the joy of cooking that we doubled the wrong recipe once and ended up with enough masala for a large Indian family to flavor their meals for a week! Her mom watched in amazement as we weaved around each other, grabbing pans, chopping vegetables, seemingly as one body.
Over Christmas, I went so far as to introduce you to my children and parents. They all thought she was wonderful, funny and gorgeous. I did too. We frosted dozens of cookies and accidentally frosted her backside. My daughter howled as she stood up and displayed her new yellow and blue accents on her black, skin-tight jeans. She took it in stride, though, laughing along with the rest of us. That was the moment I knew I loved her.
With the New Year came new experiences. I would pick her up from yoga and listen to her complain about the instructor’s incompetence while trying to not get caught stealing glances at her slightly sweating face and hair. My heart sank when a letter came from a school in China, informing her that her teaching position would be available that May. She was ecstatic until she saw the sadness in my eyes. We promised to make the most of the couple months we had left together. I cautiously agreed to the plan, but knew I was hurtling head-long into heartache.
On Valentine’s Day we threw dietary caution to the wind and ate pizza with wine while watching a movie.
The big day arrived and I almost stayed away. Our good-bye lasted all day, save for momentary interruptions for insignificant activities like eating and talking. At 11:30 that night, I held her in my arms for the last time. She cried into my chest and I cried into her hair. She smelled like a winter’s worth of memories–and flowers.