The Right Time
Our paths crossed many times. In middle school, I didn’t like you, the class clown. If I had known what your home life was like, perhaps I would have understood. Television was your escape from your drunken father beating your mother. Your bigger, older brother bullying you. Everyone appeared to like the comedians on the screen. Maybe if you could make people laugh, they would like you.
You fought on the playground. I avoided you and your fists. Your red hair and freckles, your stick out ears invited name-calling. Your poor grades made me think you weren’t very smart. Your battered mother never welcomed you with milk and cookies and inquiries about your day like mine did. My father read constantly and shared what he learned with me. Your dad never helped you with your schoolwork or encouraged you. He called you “stupid,” and you believed him.
I saw you in the lunchroom, devouring food, no manners. “Ick,” I said to my giggling girlfriends, “Look at that horrid boy.” That “horrid boy” got up hungry and went to bed hungry. Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard was like theirs. He often ate cereal with no milk, his brother had finished the whole quart. He gulped down supper before his father came home to avoid his father’s drunken rages.
High school lowered my opinion of you even more. Swearing, sneaking smokes, drinking, cutting classes, and making lewd remarks to girls. Your patched jeans and t-shirts with crude slogans were way below my standards. You didn’t have a car, heck, you didn’t even have a bicycle. You weren’t the type of guy I ever wanted to date.
I looked down at you from my ivory tower world where I had caring parents who taught me right from wrong by words and example. There was plenty of food, and lovely clothes. I knew what a loving relationship looked like, my sisters adored me, and I had plenty of friends. I’m sorry I judged you in my ignorance.
College made me even more of a snob. Home on spring break in the supermarket, we passed each other in the produce aisle. You wore your Navy uniform. My designer jeans and Ralph Lauren shirt spoke for themselves. You said “Hi.” I didn’t.
I had no idea you had watched me from afar. That standing on your ship and watching the waves, you had looked across the water and wondered what I was doing back home.
After graduating from college, I followed protocol, got a job as a law clerk at a posh office. An older attorney, Anton Dumont, had his eye on me and let me know. We were married soon after and set up housekeeping in his sprawling ranch style house.
You married too; a pretty party girl named Simone. The union was a marriage made in Hell, a repeat performance of all the mistakes your parents and her parents made. You escaped to sea. We lived in the same town but traveled in separate circles. You opened your hometown newspaper and saw me on the society page. I saw your name on the court docket for a misdemeanor.
Anton’s eyes wandered. You came home early from a voyage and found Simone partying in bed with one of your friends. In a hurry to get away, you gave her everything except your pick-up truck. The announcement of our respective divorces came out the same day. I read your name and remembered your former self. You remembered my slight at the grocery store.
You moved away. I moved away. To different cities. To different lives. You looked at yourself in a mirror and didn’t like what you saw.
I would not recognize you when I saw you again. Your fiery hair had mellowed to auburn brown. You wore the suit of a successful businessman. You knew it was me when I stepped onto an airplane headed for Los Angeles. You saw and heard how I had changed. Life on my own had not been easy. I’d been knocked down more than once. My “I’m better than you attitude,” had turned into “How can I help you?” Because now I knew what it was like to not have enough food at the end of the month, to live in a ratty apartment, and still worry if I could make the rent on the first.
A chatty seatmate who didn’t mind asking personal questions wanted to know my profession.
“I went back to school and became a lawyer who helps women who get shafted in a divorce like I did,” I said.
But you didn’t reveal who you were to me. Why be rebuffed again? Anyway, you had a fine girlfriend who might make a good wife.
Too scared to get hurt again, though I had offers, I did not date at first. Being lonely though, two years down the road, I did try, but with disappointing results.
Your new girlfriend turned out to be gold digger.
Years later, a wedding invitation brought us back together. We both knew the couple. They were remarrying people we knew from our high school class. At first, I did not notice you. I was busy getting reacquainted with old pals. You saw me and hesitated. But then, recognition hit me.
“Aren’t you Red Coleman?” I said.
Yes, but I don’t go by Red anymore, I’m Ryan. I know who you are, Stephanie Pinkerton. Or do you have a new last name?
I smiled, that was a subtle way to find out if I was single. “I did but now I’m back with my old name.”
You looked good in your blue suit and rep tie. My form fitting coral dress dazzled you. We made pleasant small talk. We exchanged phone numbers.
After five promising dates, we compared notes about where we were at various times and found that we had not only seen each other over the years, but also had missed each other numerous times. We had lived in the same city, then we had traveled to some of the same places the same year and in one case, the same day to separate seminars in different hotels.
Our separate paths have converged. After twenty-five years of marriage, we have decided if we connected at any of these times, we wouldn’t have been ready for what we have now.