I just received an email from someone with whom I spent a Nicholas Sparks-esque week, twenty years ago, on an island off the North Carolina coast. I’d forgotten, till now. Letters put time machines to shame.
I’ve always believed in fairytales more in theory than in practice. I’ve defended them to the (feinted/fainted) death, but when it comes down to it, I’m quite fond of my 401K, health insurance, and a man who can either hang my shelves (not the way it sounds, I’m a bibliophile), or take me out for a four-course meal and know which forks to use. I blame my parents for this.
I’m the solid stock of ninth-generation Kentuckians and my paternal and maternal sides could not be more dissimilar. We’re talking Cessnas and country clubs vs. Trans-Ams and government cheese. So, I always had a sort of schizophrenic take on the romantic outcome of things. Meaning, oh yes, it would be lovely if love rode off into the sunset and saved the day, but in the meantime I’m going to save for the roof to be repaired and date the nice accountant down the street as I’ve no interest in staging my own personal version of Romeo and Juliet.
Life, per usual, had other plans.
Which is not to say I’m living a fairytale now (of either the Grimm or Disney variety). I’m divorced (my choice: twice, if you count the nearly child-bride six-month gambit), childless (not my choice: two miscarriages), and teaching myself how to Tetris the leavings of a 3 bedroom house into a 1 bedroom apartment (my choice: Nashville real estate is much cheaper than the California Riviera, but then again, Nashvegas isn’t Laguna Beach, so Cali, I’m back again).
But. I have no regrets. I like myself. I like my life. I like my friends and my interests. I’m never bored. And it just so happens that I’ve recently met someone so like myself—if I’d gone to Hemingway camp growing up, could grow a dashing mustache and were, it must be said, quite a bit older—that we can only fall madly in love or rend one another limb from limb. Happily, the former seems to be winning out.
I received a friend request and an email tonight.
Via Facebook. How post-modern. It inquired as to whether or not I was the A.T. Buckley (referencing my former name which I changed, not in either marriage, but as a 30th b’day present to myself) who used to summer on Topsail Island?
Somewhere in the distant recesses of my brain, I recognized his name, but played coy.
“Remind me how we know one another?” I asked. After all, I could be wrong.
“That hurts my ego,” he typed back. “Think about it, it will come to you. Give you a hint…USMC.”
And then there was no more pretending. It all came rushing back with the vivid harpsichord clarity of a scene from a Nicholas Sparks movie, except I’m brunette (aren’t his female protaganists always blonde?) with an entirely inappropriate laugh, and he was a marine, four years my senior.
It was two decades ago. I was in college, on summer break, vacationing with my family on an island off the coast of North Carolina. I met him—we’ll call him Jim—at the pool where we were staying. He and his buddies were stationed nearby. We hit it off and were soon bantering and flirting and staying out till all hours. My parents were appalled. My boyfriend back in Lexington was growing increasingly concerned. And he should have been—it was my first full taste of feminine power.
I could do anything. Right?
I didn’t sleep with him, though I was sorely tempted. I was a “good girl,” and that wasn’t done. But he was my first taste of raw masculine power and it was all terribly romantic. And when it was time to leave, I’m afraid promises may have been made. Which I promptly forgot.
I went back to Lexington and, since I’ve always been a terrible liar, confessed my “fling” to my college boyfriend who forgave me. He’s now married with three children and lives, of all things, in North Carolina. I forgot about Jim and our week at the Carolina coast.
He, judging from tonight’s exchange, did not. I checked out his page on Facebook. It was brand new, no photos or text—a blank canvas on which he can become anyone he wants. I was the first “friend” he had in the digital world.
“How in the world did you think of me?” I asked.
“I’m moving to Kentucky. And you, to me, are Kentucky. I have few regrets, but top of my list is not going to UK.”
“Because you were there.”
“Oh,” I said, nonplussed. “So what brings you there now?”
“New job. By the way, you’ve not changed a bit. And I read your writing too. I’d hoped you’d written about me…”
(At this point, I spat out at least 1/4 of a glass of perfectly good Chardonnay—sputtering, as one does, over the male ego.)
“…I remember you giving Jon L———— pointers on his poetry. He fancied himself a literary genius. We all agreed with you, to his dismay. He still pouts about that.”
I have absolutely no memory of Jon L. “Hmmm,” I say. “Hope you all are well.”
“Yes, thanks. And I’m glad you’re happy and doing what you like. You made an impact on us all out there at Topsail. Do you remember touring the base with us? We all still talk about that.”
“Oh. I do remember.”
“Good to catch up with you, ATB. Next time you’re in KY, look us up.”
What I remember of him is so little as to be inconsequential. But I remember: long-lashed hazel eyes, a generous nose, a wide, laughing mouth. Brown, muscled limbs. A fascination with most things. A tenderness.
So perhaps I haven’t changed all that much as now, twenty years later, among the things I love about the man newly sharing my life is his long-lashed eyes, Italian nose, generous, laughing mouth. Brown, muscled limbs. His fascination and proficiency with most everything (my friends refer to him as my own personal James Bond). His tenderness. His unabashed romanticism.
And I hope that if we’re separated—not by college or curfew, but by his job which may call him far away—that I’m burned as indelibly in his memory as I was in that of the Carolina marine of two decades ago so that our story doesn’t end. So that he doesn’t wait two decades. So if geography has its way with my guy, I hope he’s impatient—that he decides he’s more of a choose-your-own adventure kinda guy than by the book. And believes in taking fate into his own hands, making fairytales come true.