You Can't Go Back Again
By Web Ruble
Web writes: "This story is fiction. However, sometimes I get nostalgic, don't try to determine God's plan and go off on my own in an attempt to recapture the past. This is typical of what happens to me. Such ventures don't work unless God wills them.
Wind rippled the semi-muddy puddle I was staring into.
There was no reason for my deadpan stare. There was certainly no hope in that miniscule pond of pooled water that had accumulated in the just about the only flat spot in the sloping parking lot.
My world was ending.
My heart ached. That sinking feeling one gets when he feels a colossal disappointment that had sunk in just moments before. My morale was as low as cigarette paper on a wet sidewalk. I was one step from disappearing to some remote spot and ending it all.
I had pushed aside a couple of commitments and driven my small Chevy 58 miles for this? Why did I ever think it was going to be pleasant?
‘Twas several months ago when my misery started.
I had received an engraved summons from the secretary of my college dinner club alumni organization. There’d be a New Year’s Eve party in the ivy-covered stone building at the college entrance. We had called it the Gardener’s Shed when we were peach-fuzzed intellectuals.
I was thrilled. At 72, I hadn’t heard from any of the “the din gang” in 40 years. I lived in the same metropolitan area, but I was not in the phone book.
Oh my. How did they ever come up with my address? To say I was enthralled, didn’t quite cover it. I was blown away. I RSVP-ed: I certainly would go, and I would bring a bottle of my favorite vodka to liberate some perhaps reluctant tongues as we tried to catch up with one another.
Moreover, I learned from the secretary that my old friend Yuri would be there. I would ask him whatever happened to my college sweetheart, Joan Savich. He had told me by letter when I lived in another town that he had been in occasional contact with her. That was 20 years ago. She then was living in Providence, R.I.
Was she still alive? Where was she now? Had times been kind to her? Did she remember me? Oh my.
Moreover, how about those gritty gridders I played college football with? And whatever happened to Coach Boris Kryscevetz?
Well, Dec. 31 came. I had given myself 1 ½ hours to get there. Plenty of time to battle almost-certain-to-be-inclement weather (rain and possibly black ice and snow) and heavy traffic. Only one problem -- how could I contain my excitement that long?
Well, I arrived right at the prescribed time instead of early. One of the reasons was a telephone call that had come just as I was leaving. It was from a fellow parishioner telling me that a mutual friend of ours had died. Not a cheerful departure note. I left the house a half hour late and depressed.
When I arrived on campus, I could find no parking place as most of the lots were closed except in the old stadium parking lot. I had to walk a fair distance uphill. I had it right -- place, date and time – as there was considerable activity at the hut. The rest of the campus was nearly vacant because of Christmas vacation.
I strolled in with my bottle of vodka, and received some howdys. Then as I worked my way toward the bar and “Ceremony Central” I ran into more old friends. We had quite a time. My depression had lifted. For some of us it had been so long since we had seen each other that we didn’t know where to begin. After a few sips of barleycorn (grain vodka), however, it became easier. Then more arrived, including Yuri. It wasn’t long before Yuri and I got into an avid chat-and-slurp-the-hors d’ouvres chew.
Then, I had to ask . . .whatever happened to Joan?
“Oh, she’s left Providence and now lives in Seattle. Wanted to be near her grandchildren.”
“Oh, you might be interested to know that her youngest daughter, Tiffanie, is here. She attended Hamford here, and married a dinner club brother, Mack McInstry. You probably don’t know him. He was Class of ’81. They’re both here -- probably outside by the rose garden.”
“Yeah -- over there somewhere,” Yuri said, pointing south toward the garden rock wall.
In the next few minutes, I learned that Coach Kryscevetz had died a few years earlier. Also, fellow footballers Tom, Chuck, Willie and Top had all died, along with several of my favorite professors. However, my wrestling team buddy, “Okie” Klabbert, had vanished. Nobody knew whether he was alive. Peculiar, because he was such a chatty, social lion when he roamed these very ivy-and-brick-brocaded halls and lush lawns.
Then it happened.
I was chatting with a din-din brother, when this lovely vision stepped into view from somewhere south -- perhaps the garden wall.
My oh my! She is gorgeous. She looks like -- or what I think I remembered about -- Joan. The same round face; enchanting high cheek bones; flashing hazel eyes, voluminous curls, and nearly perfect white teeth. She looks bright, walks like Joan, and has curves in the right places. Moreover, she has Joan’s endless smile.
She is walking straight toward me. She is within a few yards and when she stops, she stares, smiles deeper, and approaches.
I am enthralled. My heart is about to do a back-over flip. What a beauty! Could it be Joan? No. Absolutely not. Joan, of course, would be much older, but oh, what an enchanting woman this is. A Joan clone.
Wait a minute . . .could it be Tiffanie, her daughter?
A man – Mac McInstry? -- is trailing several yards back. He had been with her when I first saw her, but now he seems content to watch her venture forth. Curiosity, no doubt.
I am stunned. Speechless.
As she approaches, she juts out a hand and says, “Stieg Steinmetz?”
A feather merchant could bowl me down with a duster.
I momentarily stutter, stammer, and gurgle.
“I saw Yuri a few minutes ago,” she says. “He told me you were here. When I first saw you, I knew it was you. You look just like your picture.”
“My picture?” I am flabbergasted.
“Yeah. Momma has one on a shelf in her house. She mentions you once in a while, especially when I ask her if she had any men friends before Daddy.”
‘No. I thought I might see you at Mac’s dinner club New Year’s Eve party. I just had to see what caught my momma’s eye so many years ago. She still talks about you once in a while.”
By this time Mac has joined us. So has Yuri and a couple of others. I gush and bubble along.
We just babble. I am so warm with infatuation. And, yes, even beguiled.
By now it is close to midnight. We gather at “Ceremony Central,” to see the tennis-ball drop. Tiffanie and Mac have drifted on. I am reveling with some others. Now the horn blows, I say, “whoopee,” and plant a big kiss on Greta (Bell) Sams, who had been the campus queen in my day, but now looks quite matronly and a little buffeted.
After a few minutes the reverie is beginning to die. Tiffanie returns. “I understand your mom now lives in Seattle,” I say. “Tell her hi, and that I’d like to see her some day just to say hello.”
A quick, complicated conversation follows and I give Tiffanie my phone number to call, in case Joan and husband want to have coffee or something.
It is brazen, I know. But I feel compelled.
Surprisingly Tiffanie says, “Okay. I’ll call you soon if something can be worked out. Oh by the way, Daddy died two years ago.”
I don’t have time to react to that surprise, as the party masters are wishing everyone goodbye while admonishing, “Drive carefully. Consider coffee on the way home” or words to that effect.
We depart. Though sober as a parishioner on Sunday, I am dangling on that emotional plateau of high hope.
A week later, I am sipping morning coffee, reading the newspaper and enjoying winter sunshine baking through my parlor window as the phone rings.
I am shocked. ‘Tis Tiffanie.
Greetings are said, and after some more yattita yattita amenities, Tiffanie broaches,. “Oh, mom was thrilled that I met you. She’d just love to have coffee or lunch with you next week, if possible.
“How about next Thursday at Buffalo Bill’s in Kelso , so neither one of you would have to go so far? I won’t be there, as I have to be somewhere else. But Mom is game. If it’s okay with you, how about 1 p.m?”
‘Tis more than fine with me. Though thrilled, I have slight trepidation: A thousand years ago, I had abandoned Joan to marry somebody else. There seemed to be perhaps a thousand reasons for that stupid act at the time. None of it now makes much sense. What could I say? That marriage of mine turned out to be a colossal bummer. Served me right. I have been in sorrowful regret over Joan ever since.
Well, Thursday comes. I depart Portland early, heading up I-5. As I hurtle by Kalama, I get a case of the willies. What if we are both disappointed and go-away depressed, and embarrassed? That’d be more than I could deal with. ‘Tis a possibility, all right. So is the scenario where we have a good time reliving old times.
But it’s mainly anxiety with a little depression thrown in. As I pass the Longview industrial area -- and the shortcut to Long Beach -- I motor into Kelso, itself. As I slow down and exit the freeway, I see Buffalo Bill’s on my right. The proprietors have taken down the old sign with a big buffalo head on it, and have replaced it with a pair of what appears to be buffalo horns. Hmmm.
Now anxiety is killing me.
I motor into the parking lot, find a parking place and kill the engine. I get out and go in. The place is busy. I take a quick tour around and see nobody who even looks like what I would expect her to look like.
I sit at the counter from whence I can see the door and the most of the dining area. Fifteen minutes goes by. Then a half hour. Nothing. A few get up to leave. I am depressed, thinking she might not show. Now ‘tis an hour. I am convinced she will not show.
I go outside. Nothing. I walk the parking lot with my morale sinking. I decide to give it up, get into my car and head back to Portland. I’m so depressed that I’m almost crying. How could it come to this? What a colossal disappointment.
A week later, my phone rings. What? It’s Tiffanie.
“Why didn’t you show at Buffalo Bill’s in Kelso?” she asks.
“What are you talking about? I did. I waited quite a while. I walked the parking lot. I waited a little over an hour.”
“Uh huh. I’m smarter than that. You weren’t there at all. Momma was really disappointed. Thanks a lot.” Click.
“But really I was . . .”
Too late. Tiffanie had hung up.
A few days later, I am talking to my friend, the Rev. George Thomas on the telephone.
I explain the story to him. He says, “Oh, I think she showed all right. You just didn’t recognize one another . . . it’s God’s way of protecting you both. It just isn’t meant to be. Let the past remain the past.”
(© 2012 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)