I’ve never been a big believer in Karma. I guess I have just known too many successful jerks in my life to think that our behavior will be rewarded or punished during our time here on Earth. I like to think that God has a notebook and is keeping score at home, waiting for the afterlife to mete out his justice. Sure, there have been times when I have looked skyward and asked “Why me God?”. This is a rhetorical question of course, but one that continues to provide theologians and comedians with good material. Looking back across the gulf of my 42 years, I can honestly say that I was the root cause of most of my own misery. I still am to some extent. After all, that’s where wisdom comes from, or was it character building? I forget. If the workshop way taught me nothing else, it taught me that “mistakes are intelligent acts”. It’s funny, but I never found a lot of consolation in that while I was lying on my bed listening to Simon and Garfunkel in the dark.
This story is no different from most of my stories. It involves a girl, various forms of alcohol, and poor judgment. (Funny how this seems to be a re-occurring theme.) It begins during Christmas break of my freshman year of college. Someone from the group of BHS kids whose orbit I had fallen into was hosting a New Years Eve party over in Naramore Drive. I was fresh off of my first semester away from home, and the whole of Christmas break had been devoted to family in one way or another. By New Year’s I was getting stir crazy, and starting to long for the freedoms of dorm life. I was not alone.
The party was packed as just about half of the BHS graduating class of 1986 seemed to be in attendance. My girlfriend was not there though, as she was babysitting for her neighbors. As I’ve mentioned before, my High School steady worked just about every weekend, which meant that most of the time that I was in the presence of copious amounts of alcohol, and nubile coeds, she was not there to chaperon. The results have been well documented, as I was suffering from an undiagnosed case of Tiger Woods’ disease at the time. Back then the medical terminology for this affliction was called “being a teenage male”. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it, but despite 12 years of Catholic schooling I had the moral judgment and decision making capabilities of your average stray dog. (Sorry Sister Josepha.)
The Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers were flowing freely this night as they did at most of the Naramore parties, but thankfully someone had the foresight to provide real beer too. Lord knows I sure as hell didn’t pay for it. However, I was pretty certain that whoever did could afford it better than I could, so I didn’t have any reservations about helping myself to ample quantities of it. I had even had the foresight to leave my car at home, and walk the mile and a half to the party through the gloomy gray clouds of winter in Batavia.
Among the party goers that night was a girl who had the unfortunate habit of getting drunk at parties and trying to physically and s%xually assault the nearest unsuspecting male. She shall remain nameless in this story, as frankly I’m afraid she would still be able to kick my @ss. Unfortunately, someone had let her into the wine coolers that evening, and being one of the “unattached” men at the party, I had drawn her attention. So between trips to the fridge for more beer I was crawling under pool tables and hiding behind furniture to escape her “amours”. I would like to say that I am exaggerating, but at one point she actually did grab me by the ankle as I was crawling under the pool table to escape, and she dragged me out from under it. Let the record show that even though I may have been cheap, I was never easy.
As midnight neared I stepped outside to get some fresh air and hide from the giant, amorous blond. There on the steps was my girlfriends’ best friend. So I sat down next to her and we started talking. We hadn’t seen each other since summer, and were both interested to catch up on events in each other’s lives. Neither one of us was wearing a coat and this being December 31st in Western New York it was a little brisk outside. We had both come alone to the party, and we were very drunk by that point of the evening. So as we talked we huddled close to keep warm. It wasn’t long before we were kissing instead of talking, so we got up from the front steps and retired to the bushes where we wouldn’t be seen. I’d be lying to say there was no attraction between us, for it obviously takes more than cheap beer, and wine coolers to decide to risk frost bite for a few sloppy wet kisses.
Laughing and kissing there beneath the bushes in the manicured backyard, snow drifted down on us like feathers. As everyone inside the house was cheering Happy New Year, we were welcoming in 1987 by rolling around in the snow. Eventually the cold started sobering us up, so we went back inside to warm up. At that moment it was no big deal, just a brief little make out session, probably one of a dozen that were occurring simultaneously somewhere in the house that night. We went our separate ways and I didn’t think anymore about it until the walk home. That was when I realized that I had just been making out with my girlfriend’s best friend, and would end up having to answer for it. The minute I was back at Clarkson the word got around to my girlfriend, and there was much wailing and lamentations. I groveled from the cowardly distance of the phone line, and made promises that we both knew I wouldn’t keep, but life continued.
In the spring our relationship finally collapsed in an event of karmic comeuppance that I have described elsewhere. Then I began 3 long years of wandering in the wilderness searching for a relationship that would last longer than a week. As far as romance was concerned, my college years were not kind to me. After the freewheeling years of my misspent youth in Batavia this came as quite a shock to my system, and provided a better cure for my condition than any twelve step program ever could.
It was the Christmas break of my senior year when I ran into her again at the Engine House. It was a pleasant surprise. We stood at the bar drinking cheap beer, and talking as bad 80’s dance music played, and the ND and BHS expatriates milled about catching up on old times during their annual return to Batavia. Shots of Jagermeister were exchanged, and when the bar closed we weren’t ready to call it a night, so we met my friend Dan and his girlfriend at Perkins for breakfast. I loathe admitting it, but we were both drunk by that point and I should not have been driving. We sat in the booth at Perkins for over an hour, drinking several pots of coffee, and talking about the good old days. Neither of us were in a relationship at the time, and it seemed like we had both made up our minds about how the night would end.
I paid the bill and drove her home. She lived only a few blocks from Prospect Avenue on a street of humble front porches, where the homes crowded shoulder to shoulder. I parked a few doors down from her house, and she invited me in. It was past 3 am. Her parents were asleep upstairs, and the house was dark and quiet. We sat down on the couch in the living room amongst the knick-knacks, doilies, and effluvia of a working class German-American home. It could have been the living room at 20 Prospect, so familiar were the Hummel figurines, cuckoo clocks, and snow globes from family vacations. We pulled the afghan over us to ward off the midwinter chill. By that point I was dying to kiss her. (Please remember that is had been nothing but romantic misery for 3 long years!)
At last it seemed that the drought was going to end, and warm, wet kisses, like falling rain, were going to sooth my thirsty soul. I leaned over to kiss her, but before our lips touched she stood up, ran to the kitchen, and threw up in the sink. Sitting there in the dark on that worn sofa I can distinctly remember thinking “God. You are really toying with me here.”
Despite what you might read on this blog, deep down I am a nice guy. So I got up off the couch, walked out to the kitchen to get her a washcloth, and held the hair out of her face while she threw up. After about twenty minutes of heaving, she started to feel a little better so we returned to the couch. Sure the passion had waned a little bit, but I was still really desperate and hoping that somewhere deep down there was a chance that the embers of the fire could be rekindled. We sat quietly in the light of the streetlamp shining through the front window, and she put her head on my shoulder. We started talking again. That’s when she told me a story about how she was out at a bar the previous month and ran into an old acquaintance from High School. He was someone I knew, but not anyone that I really associated with. A big meat headed BHS jock to be quite honest. After a few drinks and some talk he offered to drive her home, where he proceeded to force himself on her while his car was parked in her driveway.
I was just heartsick. I felt so sorry for her. She talked and cried a little. I listened and consoled her. In the darkness of the living room a cuckoo clock squawked to life. It was now 4 am. We sat there without speaking. The house was silent except for the occasional clanking of the furnace, and the ticking of the clocks. She rested her head on my shoulder, and closed her eyes. We sat there for what seemed like eternity.Then I took her upstairs, tucked her into her bed, and slipped out before the sun rose.
We never did get together. A week later I contracted the chicken pox, and after a week and a half in bed I returned to Clarkson. It was the last semester of my Senior year, and I had no idea that the chicken pox would end up being the highlight of it. But that is a story I have already told. It has been over 20 years since that night, and I doubt she would even remember it. We have both gone on to happy, and well adjusted lives. We came across each other on Facebook a few months back, and added to our lists of ever expanding virtual friends. We are, and will remain, just names and faces in an address book. Like signatures in an old high school yearbook, or knick knacks gathering dust upon a shelf, these memories are just souvenirs of a trip we started once, but never got around to finishing.