an oldie…hopefully it’s also a goodie.
Water churns up from behind, and the ferry hesitates for a moment, before the gap between the boat and the dock begins to widen. I climb the steps to the top deck and walk to the railing. I look out into the parking lot, and she is still standing, watching the ferry pull away with one hand shielding her eyes…
It had been 2 years since we had last seen each other. As I was walking towards the stage to graduate, I looked down, and there she was, sitting in a chair with his family. She was dressed in a short polka-dot dress, and white stockings, as she smiled, and held up the camera.
My heart burned within me, and my face went flush with anger and embarrassment. The camera flashed, and then I was on the stage, shaking hands, and being handed an empty portfolio. It was over before I knew it, and it wasn’t until hours later, after my folks had left for home, that I walked out into the field behind the house, stood beneath the gnarled old oak tree in the fading light, and cried.
Two years later I was sitting alone in a hotel room in some small Midwestern town still thinking of her. As winter rain fell outside, I wrote her a Christmas card, and wished her a Merry Christmas wherever she was, then mailed it to her parents without adding a return address.
I expected nothing, and yet I hoped that if I did not include a return address on the envelope, she would try to write back. She always enjoyed a challenge. Months passed before a letter arrived in my mail.
I had just come home to an empty apartment, in a wet and cold Minnesota spring, when I opened the mailbox, and her letter fell out. Before I had read a word, I knew the hand writing. She was living in Long Island, and working for an electronics firm, still struggling with the transition from college to the “real world.”
We corresponded for a few months, back in those days when people still sat in quiet rooms, beneath desk lamps, and composed thoughts on paper. All through the spring I traveled for work, always wondering if I would find another letter when I returned home.
The letters led to phone calls, and before summer had even arrived in full, I found myself in Hartford for work. I called her and arranged to visit her over the weekend. So when Friday arrived I drove to Bridgeport, and crossed the Sound. She met me on the dock, her eyes darker, and wider than I had even remembered them.
It felt so strange to see her again. I had spent so many nights thinking of how different our lives could have been, if she had stayed with me instead of him. Driving back to her apartment I looked across the car and realized she was a different person than the doe eyed girl that had me so twisted in knots at twenty-one; a little older, a lot more sure of herself. They had broken up not long after graduation she told me, and she had yet to start dating anyone on the Island.
Her roommates were gone, and we spent the weekend together talking non-stop, and laughing at things that we knew only each other would understand. At times she seemed so close I could have reached out and kissed her, and at others she seemed less substantial than a ghost haunting a dream. If I closed my eyes, and listened to her voice, I was right back in Potsdam feeling the stabbing pain in my gut like the night she told me she was seeing him.
I slept on the couch in her living room. Laying there in the darkness staring at the ceiling, I wondered if she was ever going to make a move, or let me know what she wanted. As close as she was, she remained a riddle whose meaning I would never understand. All I knew was that I could not bear to be rejected twice.
When Sunday came she drove me back to the dock. We sat on the curb waiting for the Bridgeport Ferry to arrive. Every moment now was precious, and seemed to be slipping from my grasp. We talked in generalities, and pretended not to wonder what we would do next.
The ferry approached like a storm cloud across the water. After the cars had loaded, I turned to her to say goodbye. We hugged, then stepped back and paused. She hesitated, and so did I. This couldn’t be goodbye. She leaned forward again, and I stepped toward her, but for reasons I will never understand I could not bring myself to kiss her. We hugged for longer this time, and I knew it was goodbye.
…now the space between us widens with each second, until the dock begins to grow small in the distance. The ferry rolls with the waves on the Sound, as I lift my arm and wave for one last time.
She stands upon the dock with one hand over her eyes. The sun glimmers on the water, and in a moment, she is gone.