Once upon a time, there was a young, bright-eyed, excited girl entering Borders Books for her first day of employment. Her excitement knew no bounds. After years of slaving away at another store that will remain nameless (rhymes with Shtaples), she was happy to finally work in a place she wanted to be.
It was his first day at Borders, as well. (Scroll down to “Um…”)
Admittedly, the stars fell into her eyes quite immediately. Why? Well…he was super cute, to begin with. They were placed in the same group for training and orientation, which increased the general giddiness of the situation. She tried very hard not to use her peripheral talents and stare the young man down while they were being trained, which was a feat all of its own. Later, as they shelved a few books, he struck up a conversation with her. Our heroine nearly collapsed. He mentioned that someone told him that she was an English major and a writer. She shakily affirmed what he had heard. He replied that he, too, was a writer and dazzled her with a smile. “That’s good,” was her reply, as her heart burned in her 19 year-old chest. He mentioned comparing notes sometime. The girl knew she was in trouble.
Therefore, despite the giddiness of it all, the girl made a few decisions as the day wore on. Significantly, because she knew herself and the pattern these things usually took (cute, charming, AND a fellow writer? Please; she was toast), she told herself to push away the feelings that were threatening to come . She, a crush veteran, was quite sick of the process and was in no mood to get lost in yet another hopeless infatuation…
Note from the Author: sadly, it’s called crush for a reason. Doesn’t feel like roses in the end. The word itself promises what will happen at the finale. Anyway…
…But the promise lasted about a week.
They had great conversations. He was funny, attentive, genuine. He laughed at her silly jokes. They laughed together. They discussed poetry and authors and he recommended books for her to read (which she purchased so quickly there was probably steam coming from her shoes). He said things like “there’s romance in the sunset.” To her everlasting delight, of course.
Note from the Author: ah, 19. When statements like the above didn’t elicit rolling eyes and laughter. Pre-cynicism. Anyway…
He shared his poetry with her and she shared hers with him. He once watched her struggling with tying her apron while they were both scheduled in the cafe (maybe because they would be together in the cafe for two hours? And her fingers were shaking so badly she couldn’t stand it?) and offered to help. Her cries of “no, don’t!” still tickle the Author to this day. The girl knew what the proximity would do to her. He ignored her and tied the apron. See above comment about nearly collapsing. It happened a lot in his presence.
They worked together for two years. After two years, he revealed that he was leaving Borders to move back to his hometown and go back to college. She stopped herself from weeping and pushing books onto the ground out of protest. Each day leading to his final day in the store was a bit torturous for our heroine. The day after he left, she found a note that he had written to her, placed in her inbox. His words—thanking her for her inspiration and her friendship and hoping their paths crossed again—resulted in lots and lots of tears. Lots. And lots.
They communicated briefly by mail. Eventually, she never heard from him again. Not hearing from him, however, hardly erased him from her mind.
After the girl had her own last day at Borders, former colleagues would occasionally mention seeing him at the store, visiting. She would feel a tiny twinge in her chest…but ultimately, she forced herself to move on.
About a year or two ago, I Googled him. I was curious about what became of him.
I found out.
After some searching, I saw a link with his full name and the words “memorial service.” Slowly, with terror, I clicked on the link. There, in front of my stunned, shocked eyes, was his online obituary. I couldn’t stop shaking. Rapidly blurring words mentioning that he died in 2002; that he was survived by his parents and brothers and sister; that he was a poet. Unfortunately, there was no room for doubt that it was my old friend. A photograph of him accompanied the obituary. There was that familiar face—the smile, those eyes. It was him.
After more searching, I learned that a scholarship had been created in his name by the college he attended. Despite the several years that had passed since his passing and me learning about it, I sent an email to the contact name for that scholarship and asked the person to send my condolences to his parents, that I knew him, that he was a wonderful person. He replied and thanked me for my kind words and said he would relay the message.
I still can’t quite get over it.
From the moment I met him to the moment he and I lost touch to moments afterwards—he was fodder for every poem I wrote. He was the “he”; the “you”; the memory; the anger (I blamed him for us losing touch and I blamed him infinitely); the smile; the everything. The above is only a summation of our time together. I had plenty of reality to work from, as far as the words I composed with him as the source.
Every now and then, he comes to mind. No more anger. Only questions: what happened to him? How did he die? What happened to him?
In the end, however, when he does come to mind, I focus on what I do know, the simple truth of it all: he was a great guy.