Thursday, July 19, 2012

A History of Love, Part 7

The year and a half at Staunton Military School has been written about extensively in this blog and needless to say, it was major dude world and another sore reminder that women were from another planet. One that had its own language, code and ways that were a complete mystery to me.

My brother had his girlfriends, "Kim" and his "Maggie." But what I saw about how men and women fought (especially them) did very little to further any understanding. Again, mystery.

But sometimes the universe is tapping us on the shoulder and we aren't paying attention.

Then there was Karen.

This delightful creature came to my attention in my senior high school year. With Karen, was the ever-present, blond blossoming Afro-ed Frank. Karen and Frank, Frank and Karen. They were glued to each other.

Frank was a "head," meaning he used recreational drugs, but I think his natural state was closer to a redneck than a hippie. Seeing them together, as in many couples, I couldn't figure out what the hell she saw in Frank. He was abrasive at times. I tolerated him because that meant Karen could get into the conversation as well. Men will smile and act buddy-buddy to the boyfriend to get even the smallest of openings to the objects of their desires.

And so Karen and I began a conversation that ended in a classic:

St. Karen: patron saint of the rebound guy.
The Rebound Guy

One of the great graces of getting older is that I see the patterns universal. The Rebound Guy (or girl) is a universal. Everybody knows the pitfalls being this hapless character, right? Not until it bites your ass do you really know it.

Somewhere between the end of high school and freshman year, the Frank-Karen union dissolved. I cannot recall how Karen and I began to go out on a few dates, but fortune sometimes smiles.
She was graceful, beautiful and sweet as Tupelo honey. A few drinks at a bar, a hiking trip and endless conversations on the phone, but it was a weekend invitation to WVU that sealed the deal.

"Going to get you some, huh?" was the query from my Wesleyan friend, Tim. Men are not subtle. I mumbled something about "Just goin' up to see her." This was the truth. I had that little confidence in myself.

I arrived too early at the girl's dorm and her squirrelly roommate had to entertain me while Karen was still in class. Considering the condition I was in, she looked like a cartoon moving in and out of the room while constantly talking nonsense to me. I felt like the only still thing in the universe and she was constantly walking by me and saying, "Karen's going to be here soon, ok?" I didn't babysitting, but sometimes when you have an innocent sort of face, people interpret it as need assistance. Go figure.
Finally, the graceful Miss K arrived and all was bliss.

Instead of concentrating soley on her, I thought of contacting some friends. In my endless ignorance, I called up two buddies-one from SMA and one from my hometown, the latter of which agreed to meet us out on the plaza to drink some beers. Why did I delay? Again, I didn't think the lovely Miss Karen was going to endow me with her graces. I wasn't thinking in those terms.

Finally, after some bliss in her dorm room, she told me that her sister had an apartment and that it was vacant for the weekend and that we should go.

This could be it.

And so it was. At one moment, it dawned on me that I was going to break free of the virgin stigmata and pass into manhood. Elation. But none of that mattered because of Karen. She was a Godsend, pure and simple.

Must there be pain?
Yes, there must.

Beautiful Karen, sweet Karen. Our time continued that fall until around Christmas time when I made a deadly mistake: I wanted to give her a gift. I even went shopping by myself and got her a scarf and hat.

The phone call was the last: "But I told you I didn't want that!" I remember that feeling, sitting at the top of the stairs with the phone cord stretched as far as it would go (no wireless then), feeling like a two-ton weight had just been placed on my heart. She didn't want a "boyfriend," she wanted the all-purpose rebound guy. The guy that helps her through a breakup.

(Sidebar: Men are often vilified with the stigma of duplicity and philandering. Sure enough, we deserve it, but a woman isn't duplicitous as much as much as she is prone to changing her mind without warning. A woman doesn't cheat, she falls in love with another. Truth be told: we are all guilty, all liars, all hypocrites. That's human nature, like it or not.)

The rules are simple: Yes, you may enjoy all the pleasures and privileges of a boyfriend with none of the security or long-term commitment. No spring vacations together, walking hand-in-hand across a desolate beach. No intimate smiles, passionate kisses, or showing off one's girl to the guys. A steady girl meant mean some showing off or cockiness: "Hey fellas. How you doin'? I'm out of Club Dude, eh? Take care now." The rebound guy gets none of this.

That was a tough one to deal with, kids. With great love and elation comes great grief and deflation. This young man was learning all about love for sure.

I'm not sure whatever happened to her. I wish her well. Call me a romantic, but I see these experiences not in a bitter light as I did back then, but rather as beautiful, burning and necessary life lessons. In retrospect, she gave me much more than she ever took.

The Big Wrap-up

Almost everything is pale by comparison to your first love, but passions fade. I never thought that they would, but people come and go in our lives. Some say it all part of a grand purpose. I can't say that I find that to be true. I just know that it is and that's that.

"I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong."

More to come.

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