Her Name Was Paige

He was a superhero then,
At nine years old (in his own mind)
And she sat in the front of class
And stood by him in lunchroom line,

He’d see her on her bike sometimes
In Spring, a pink and purple blur;
Her name was Paige, and when he thought
At all of girls, he thought of her.

She was the smartest kid in class,
And ran as fast as anyone;
And sometimes down at Ander’s Field
They’d play until the setting sun.

A dozen kids, or more, there’d be,
And games they’d play for sport, or whim;
Her name was Paige, and when she thought
At all of boys, it wasn’t him.

This tale has no great denouement:
He crushed on her, she didn’t know.
At nine years old, you feel some things,
Then ride your bike and let it go.

That pink and purple bike, some nights,
Will pop into his dreams -— it does —-
Her name was Paige, and he liked her.
And that is all that story
Was

Filling Station

Once
A woman and her husband
Stopped at this place

She, eight months with child
He, thinking about walking out
And the drive had been a tense one
Old wounds reopened
Fresh hurts on display

And an old couple was there
At the same time
Laughing while they pumped gas
They asked her when the baby was due

She said, “One month.”

The old man asked her husband
“Are you excited?”
“Nervous,” was the reply

“Don’t be. Just remember:
Loving someone
Who loves you back
Is the greatest thing in the world.
And your child
Will love you back.”

Forty-eight years later
The woman is no longer young
She stands at this abandoned place
Her young granddaughter in tow.
“What is this place?” the little girl asks

This place?
This is where your grandaddy and I

Decided to stay in love


 

(“Filling Station” – 8-15-2014)

Snow Hollow

Mid-December of that year, he decided to go to the cabin anyway.

For much of that year, after his wife Angie’s death in late January, he had done virtually nothing. He was surrounded by memories of her at every turn, and that was where he wanted and needed to be.

She had been sick for a long time, “so it wasn’t really unexpected,” people thought. But somehow, he had still never expected it.

He had stopped going the places they used to go. No more pizza on Thursday nights, nor barbecue on Saturday afternoons. People at church started to wonder if he might have died, too.

And many nights, he wished he had.

But, he decided, on a whim one day, to go ahead and use the cabin booking they had made the prior year. And now, here he was, making the long drive up to Snow Hollow.

He traveled silently in the car (she had always been the one to choose the music) looking around at the mountain scenery, and thinking how much she would have loved seeing it like this. He still caught himself, from time-to-time, thinking she was there, out of the corner of his eye, only to turn expectantly towards what turned out to be an empty passenger seat.

The parking area was down the hill a ways from the cabin, and he pulled up right around sunset. He could smell wood-smoke from neighboring chimneys as he stepped into the bracing air, his one piece of luggage in hand. He trudged up the hill, scraped the key into the lock, turned the handle, and stepped into the well-remembered ancient smell of the place.

Flipping on the lights, he saw the familiar large room (the only other room was a bathroom) that was a combination of a kitchen, dining, living, and bed room. The fireplace had dry wood placed in it for his use, and he wasted no time starting a fire and lighting a couple of the kerosene lamps.

As he looked around the cabin more closely, he noticed that there had been some repair work done on one of the built-in shelves, the upper two-thirds of which were now made of a newer looking wood. He’d never really looked at any of the books on those shelves (other than to note the titles), and he absentmindedly pulled one down from the top called Lost Worlds.

It was a old Time/Life book about ancient civilizations. It appeared to have taken water damage at some point, as several of the pages were stuck together. Still, the photographs were incredible. He sat down by one of the lamps to look at it more closely.

Turning to a chapter on the Babylonian civilization, he found an envelope that had apparently been used as a bookmark at some point. Turning it over, he saw that it was postmarked from 1968.

The original letter appeared to still be in it. He pulled it out and read it.

Saigon, December 23rd, 1968

My dearest Diana —

I always do imagine it snowing back home. It seems as hot here right now as it was in the summer. I am counting the days now (143!) until I should be headed back home to see you. I think about you all the time, here, and I miss you more than any words could ever express.

This place has been harder than I was expecting, and I thought it would be hard. But we all pull together, us guys, and we’ll pull each other through, I know it. Having you to think about makes everything better, so much better.

I think I know what I want to do with my regular life, now! I want to teach. You’re probably laughing reading that, given how impatient you know me to be. But I’ve changed, I think, here. Teaching about animals and about agriculture sounds like heaven to me now.

The last picture you sent is probably my favorite one yet. I can’t send you an updated one of me as I have a bandage on my head right now from a minor thing that happened the other day. It’s no big deal, but it’s made me self-conscious about pictures. I’m sure you understand. It’s nothing to worry about.

Well, I have to keep this short as we’re kind of busy. Give my love to everyone there. I love you, more than anything in the world, and I always will.

– Artie

The letter had every sign of having had large teardrops on it. Or maybe, he thought, it was part of the water damage the book had taken. He wasn’t sure.

Looking back at the envelope (which did not appear water damaged), he saw “Sgt. Arthur Jacobsen” written in the top left hand part of the envelope.

Two years prior was the last time he had been in Snow Hollow; at that time, there was neither wireless nor cellular available. However, he had noticed upon pulling up that he still seemed to have phone service, so he started searching the name “Arthur Jacobsen” There were a pretty good number of them, but none of them were definitively this one.

Next he tried (having guessed that they were married) “Diana Jacobsen”, but he got pretty much the same types of results: lots of people by that name, including many he could rule out, but no “one”. Trying both Arthur and Diana Jacobsen did no better.

He tried then lists of people whose names are on the Vietnam wall, but no one by that name had died in Vietnam, either, which he was relieved to know. So he placed the envelope back in the book, and placed the book back on the shelf.

The next few days passed without incident. He decided one night to go into the village and pick up a few things (like batteries). The old owner of the village’s one store saw him and offered condolences. He had never really gotten used to the ritual of explaining to people about his wife’s death, so he was always glad when he met someone who had already heard.

“How long have you lived here?” he asked the store owner.

“Since I was a kid, in the 1940’s.”

“Did you ever know anybody named Arthur Jacobsen?”

“Artie Jacobsen? Yeah, of course. His family used to own the cabin you’re staying in.”

“Was he ever married to someone named Diana?”

“Married? No. That was a sad story. She died while he was in Vietnam. Sudden illness. They were engaged at the time.”

“Does he still live here?”

“No, he moved years ago, I’m not sure where. Why are you curious about Artie?”

“I found a letter in the cabin he had written to her while he was in Vietnam. I just thought whoever wrote it might want to have it.”

“I’ll ask around, see if anyone else knows where he moved to.”

“Thanks.”

Back at the cabin, he perused the letter again. It might have been one of the last things she read from him before she died. Or, she might have already passed by the time it got there. If she had sent him a picture he liked, she was probably well at the time. But the storekeeper said it was sudden.

Artie had loved Diana the same way he had loved his Angie, and she had loved him. but they never had a wedding, or a honeymoon, or any of it. All the great memories he had, they never got a chance to make, and Diana had probably spent the last year of her life in mortal terror of a message being delivered that Artie had died in combat.

And then she got sick and died, and he didn’t even know it had happened until some time after.

When the week was up, and he still hadn’t heard from the shopkeeper (who he knew had his cellphone number) he decided that the letter had been left in the book for some reason, and that he was better off just leaving it there. He never looked again for Artie Jacobsen, but he left Snow Hollow feeling a lot less alone.


Way south and east of Snow Hollow, in a sunny town in South Carolina, a sixty-eight year old man sat, surrounded for the holidays by his children and grandchildren. He smiled at all the noise, smiled at all the mess, and spoke quietly to each little face that came up to him in his red plush chair.

In the same room, on the bottom of a bookshelf, was an undamaged copy of Lost Worlds, one that also contained a letter in it:

Snow Hollow, November 2nd, 1968

My dearest Artie —

The big news here was the blizzard. We got an early blizzard this year, and, even though it’s all over with, the roof took some damage and we got some leakage here at your parent’s cabin. Your father fixed all that, but before than, some water leaked in and damaged the beautiful book you gave me for my birthday. Some of the pages are now stuck together, including the photographs of Egypt that I loved so much. But most of it is intact, and I’m grateful the damage wasn’t more. If you ever wanted to get me a replacement copy, I wouldn’t object to getting the same gift twice!

People ask me about the wedding every day. I say it will be this coming summer, but that we won’t work out all the details until you’re back. However, I do have a dress picked out. I hope you’ll like it. It made your mom cry at the dress shop, and then I started crying. We two were a mess. I love your mom and dad by the way, they’ve been so sweet to me while I’m staying here.

I know you don’t know what you want to do with your life when you’re back, and I’m really sorry if I’ve ever put pressure on you about that. I’m so proud of you, the man you are, then I go an undo all that by making unreasonable demands. Please forgive me.

Your dad took the enclosed photograph the other week while we were down in the village. When it came back from the developers, your mom immediately thought you would really like it. It was a good hair day.

Don’t spend one moment worrying about anything here, just make it home safe. And always know I love, love, love you as much as any girl every loved a boy, and that I will be proud one day to take your name.

All my love,

Diana

 

 

Everything… and Nothing

It was only three weeks, but he was absolutely in love. Love, however, doesn’t always flow both ways.

It had been a late April day when he was stopped after class by one of his professors and told he was needed as an emergency replacement to accompany a flutist at her upcoming senior recital. Her regular accompanist had broken a wrist. So, he showed up at practice room 141 at 5:00 that evening.

He recognized her as a girl who had been in his Advanced Music Theory class the year before, but who never spoke in class. They shook hands, and she said, “Hi. I’m Sarah.”

He introduced himself as well.

“I don’t know if they told you, but, you’re the third replacement accompanist I’ve auditioned in the last three days. The others didn’t really work out.”

I see, he said.

“Well, let’s get to it. Let’s try this,” she said, handing him sheet music. “This is what I’ll be opening with.”

The music was unfamiliar to him, it was a Sonatine by Walter Gieseking, who he knew as a great pianist of yesteryear, but who he didn’t realize had also been a composer. He looked through it, page by page, then turned back to the first page.

How fast? Or do you like to count in? he asked.

“Just watch me and follow,” she said, which was singularly unhelpful.

She picked up her flute and caught his eye, then nodded her head, and they started.


It’s hard to explain conservatory life to people who’ve never experienced it. You have young artists, burning with the desire to express their individuality, but doing so within the heavily constrained world of classical music, where individuality can be a matter of extreme subtlety. Envy is endemic, competition is fierce, and snark is served up with ever meal.

One way of standing out is to write your own music; unless you are Prokofiev, this is extremely hard to pull off. Another way is to perform little known repertoire, which helps you stand out. This was her way.

To him, their practice sessions were magical; they built cities out of music together. He loved the music first, but gradually realized that he loved her. She was completely devoted to her craft. She expressed herself through it. And he saw her, truly saw and heard her.

But to her, he was just some guy, a guy who would either accompany her perfectly or screw up her senior recital. She didn’t really see him — at all. Not once.

When the performance came, it was just like practice had been. They were one person when it came to performing, and he felt it. And the audience felt it. It was electric.

And, to him, it was even more.

But something can be everything, and the next moment, be nothing. She checked off the box of a successful senior recital, acknowledged the applause, performed the ritual of acknowledging her accompanist, smiled in the moment, then left the stage.

And just like that, she was gone, and she never gave him three seconds thought again.

He gathered up his sheet music as the house lights came up and to the sounds of the audience milling about. It was an oddly empty feeling.

That love can be unrequited is well known; that it is almost always unrequited is less known. That the person loved never even knows it happens all around us, everyday. There’s a fair chance it has happened to you, and you never noticed.

For one person’s everything is another person’s nothing.

Middleboy

[Originally posted 8-31-2013]


A certain boy was charged by his best friend to take a note to a certain girl. He took the note and went on his way. Although the note was sealed, his curiosity got the better of him, and he pried the note open and read it:

I like you. Do you like me? Please check Yes or No.

The boy folded the note back up and resealed it, albeit somewhat clumsily. He set off to deliver the note.

By chance, the girl saw him approaching from her window. She went downstairs to meet the boy and opened the door, smiling, before the boy could even knock. “I am here to give you a message,” he said.

“Thank you. Will you come in?”

He entered, mechanically.

“Have a seat. Would you like something to drink?”

“Sure,” he said, a little out of breath.

She brought him a soft drink in a small green bottle with a straw in it; she then sat down to read the note. A playful smile spread over her face as she read, and from the time she spent looking at it, he reckoned she read it several times. “Hang on a second,” she said, and went running out of the room.

She came back in carrying a bright pink pen and wrote on the note. Then she gave it back to him, in the original envelope, which she sealed with a piece of clear tape. He finished the soft drink, thanking her for it.

“Well… I’ll see you.”

“Yes, I would think you will. Thank you for bringing the note.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. Then he set off.

Curiosity again got the better of him as he sped off towards his friend. He slipped his fingernail under the tape, pulled the note out, and read, underneath the original message, the following:

Every girl loves a secret admirer; but, since you didn’t sign this, I have no idea who it is from, and so cannot give an answer.

The message deliverer once again resealed the note and took it to his friend. The friend opened it, and became rather peevish reading its contents. He got out a new sheet of paper, wrote on it, carefully folded that up, and put it in a new envelope.

“Do you mind – one more time?…” he said, hesitating.

“Taking it back to her? I guess not.” So he took this new note and headed back to whence he had just returned.

By this point, he wanted to know what his friend had come up with in reply, so he again opened the note. It read as follows:

I like you. Do you like me? Please check Yes or No.

P.S. – I have been in school with you since you transferred in last Christmas, and I can’t talk to you without getting embarrassed. If you think about that, I am sure you will know who I am.

Re-sealing the envelope, he approached her house. This time, she was sitting on a bench beside her front steps, petting a calico cat that was dancing a sort of figure eight. He couldn’t help but notice that girl was uncommonly pretty, and that her eyes were the clearest and darkest that he had ever seen. She smiled again, saying, “Where are my manners? This is my friend, Lady Sophia,” pointing to the cat.

“Hello, your Ladyship,” he said, bending down to scratch the top of cat’s head, a gesture the cat accepted gratefully. “I’ve brought you another note,” he said to the girl.

She opened it and read it. She asked him if he could wait until she wrote an answer, he replied in the affirmative, and she walked back up the front steps while he assumed her place attending Lady Sophia.

About five minutes later she came back out, carrying a note and another soft drink, which he accepted thankfully as it was a rather sunny day. She looked straight into his eyes and smiled, saying, “thank you.” He turned around and headed off, taking occasional swigs of his drink. When he felt he was safely out of her sight, he opened the sealed envelope and found the following written at the bottom in bright, pink writing:

I think maybe I do know who you are, but I need you to answer one question before I answer yours: what is my middle name?

This seemed like a strange question, and he could not make out what she meant by it. He re-sealed her re-sealing of his friend’s note, and took it back to where his friend was impatiently waiting.

His friend tore open the envelope and read her note. At first he just looked puzzled, but then a broad smile spread over his face, and he jumped up, tore off another piece of paper and wrote on it, finishing with a flourish. He shoved into another envelope – not even bothering to seal it – handed back to his friend and said, confidently, “I know I really owe you for all this trouble, but if you could just take this back one more time…”

The boy nodded his head, turned around, and headed back towards where she lived. He again went some ways before perusing the contents of this latest message, which were as follows:

I don’t know what your middle name is – I’ve never heard the teacher, or anyone else, say anything but your first and last names. If I had to guess, I would say your middle name is “Perfection”.

So, do you like me? Please check Yes or No.

The boy thought his friend had done very well by this answer, and set off to deliver the note, interested by now to see if his friend would finally get the response he was looking for.

This time, the girl was not out front, but Lady Sophia was, and he stopped momentarily to scratch her ears. When he knocked on the door, it was just a few seconds before the girl opened the door.

“Here,” he said, holding out the note.

“Come in,” she said, walking back towards their living room.

She seemed in no hurry to read the note. It was cool in the room and it felt wonderful to him after all his walking out in the heat. He sat down on the right side of the couch, and she sat down on the left side, holding the unopened note in her hand. After about thirty seconds of silence, as he looked nervously about the room and she looked directly at him, fixedly, he broke the silence:

“Aren’t you going to read it?”

“Tell me what it says.”

“What it says? How would I know. I’m just the middle…boy here.”

“Look at me.”

He turned to look, noticing this time not only the dark eyes, but how clear her skin was. Feeling suddenly encouraged, he said, inquiringly, “Yes?”

“Please tell me what this says. I want to hear it from you.”

He sighed. ‘The person who gave me the note doesn’t know your middle name because that person has never heard it; but, if that individual had to guess, that person would say your middle name was ‘Perfection’. And this same person is still is waiting to discover the state of your affections.”

“Perfection… my middle name is Perfection.” She sighed and looked around the room. He thought he saw her eyes get watery as she looked out the window, but she wasn’t crying. If anything, she looked even lovelier, and he turned away in embarrassment when he realized he’d been staring. After a minute, she reached for the pink pen, opened the note, checked a box, folded the note up, and put it back in the envelope.

“Please do not read this. Only the original writer of the note should read this.”

“I won’t,” he said. “I’m sorry I read the other one.”

She brightened up, and reached her hand out to shake his.

“Thank you for all your delivery work, Mr. Middleboy.”

“It has been a pleasure to serve you and Her Ladyship. I thank you for the refreshment.” And with a mock bow (which she returned with a mock curtsey), he turned and left.

Even though he was curious, he did not open the note. He sped as quickly as he could to where his friend was waiting. He fairly ran in the door, out of breath, and tossed the envelope at his friend, who caught it. “What’s up with you?” his friend asked.

“Nothing. Just felt like running,” he said, panting.

His friend opened the note and his face fell. “She said ‘No’.”

“No?”

“I had asked her the old, ‘Do you like me check yes or no’ question, and after a little bit of messing around with me, she checked ‘No’.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Girls… you never know what a girl will do.” his friend sighed after a few seconds reflection. “Oh, well. Thanks for all your help.”

“It was no problem. Well — I guess I need to go now.”

“See you around,” his friend said, already sounding fully recovered from his disappointment.

The boy took off walking, thinking about the day’s strange business. He couldn’t make out what exactly this all meant: his friend’s reference to his embarrassment, the girl’s question about her middle name, and her sad reaction to being told it was ‘Perfection’. He also thought a lot about the girl, as she seemed so very nice, but had seemed somewhat sad during some of their last meeting.

Hardly knowing why, he headed off again towards where she lived. As he approached, she was once again sitting on the bench, and Lady Sophia was asleep by her side. The shades of evening had started to fall in blues and purples, and the heat of the day was fading into a comfortable pleasantness.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hi,” she answered. “Have a seat,” and she pointed to the empty spot next to her, the other side from Lady Sophia.

He sat down beside her. “I’m puzzled. I wish I understood what just happened.”

“Ask me questions then. I’ll answer them, at least, as far as I am able.”

“Did you know who the note was from the first time?”

“No, I did not.”

“How about the second time?”

“I had a sneaking suspicion that it was the boy in my class that all the girls like. But he has never been embarrassed talking to me. So, I couldn’t be sure, and I didn’t want to guess.”

“Why did you ask him to tell you what your middle name was?”

“I had only been in town about six weeks when this boy gave me a Valentine telling me that I should have been named ‘Perfection’. Since he is the boy who all the other girls in school seemed to like, I was really flattered, and I was practically floating around school. But before the day was over, I saw the card he had given the girl next to me when she accidentally dropped it, and he had told her the same thing. So, I started asking around, being careful not to let on to the other girls what he had been up to, and found out he had done this with six or seven other girls in our grade. He’s the most popular boy in school by a long way, but I have really disliked him from that day on, which has only seemed to spur his interest in me.”

The boy thought about what she had said about his friend, who had always been very popular with girls. “I would only give a Valentine to someone I really liked. In fact,” he said, laughing, “I’ve only given away one Valentine in my life.”

She smiled at him, placing her hand lightly and briefly on his shoulder.

After a few minutes, he spoke again. “So how did you know that he would answer your question the way he did?”

“Frankly, he doesn’t seem like quickest rabbit in the hutch, so I figured once he had a compliment that worked, he wasn’t about to trouble himself to think of another one. I was living testimony that the compliment worked.”

He was enjoying himself, sitting there with her as the evening grew darker, but wasn’t sure what pretext he could use for sticking around much longer. However, she now had questions.

“Do you mind if I ask you a few things?” she inquired, diffidently.

“I’ll answer anything you like,” he said, rather astonished.

“How long have you known me?”

“I think I met you back in January.”

“Do you remember exactly where?”

“I believe you were coming into the music class as we were leaving it, and I held the door open for you and another girl. The two of you were carrying in a big box.”

“That’s right. Now, a second question: why did you agree to be ‘middleboy’ for your friend?”

“Because he asked me. He is my best friend, after all.”

“I see,” she said archly. “Then I have two more questions.”

“And they are…?”

“Why did you really come back here tonight?”

“To see you.”

“Do you like me?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, surprised to hear the words coming out of his own mouth.

“I think I like you, too,” she said smiling.

A few minutes later, he was walking home, feeling happier than he had ever felt in his entire life. He was amazed at what had just happened, because this sort of thing had never happened to him before. And while he wasn’t sure what the opposite of ‘shooting the messenger’ was called, he knew that, whatever it was called, it had just happened to him.

an invasion, of sorts

If you look at a map of Normandy,
You will see roads and channels – no valise.
It was a strange discomfiture to know;
Scant help would be forthcoming, few police,
Just one lone woman, who was sweet and kind.
    But she could never carry
    All that I had on my mind.

Pretend you stood beside a roadside inn,
And watched the passers-by. How is there space
And time enough to count the atrophied,
Or see the covert stories in each face?
A map, a woman, searching through my dread —-
    Without a clue to comfort, save
    That one lone white

    Bedspread