The phone rang early one Sunday evening.
“Hello, Marcia? You better sit down. You’re never gonna guess who this is.”
The voice was instantly familiar but like most things these days, just out of memory’s grasp.
“It’s been way too long,” she continued, “I finally don’t hate you any more.”
As far as I know, my hate fan club has only one member. I’ll call her Carole. Half listening to her go on about moving, teaching, children, and her divorce, my thoughts drifted back to 1965, to the Carole I once considered a close friend.
Two years older than I, Carole had thick, shiny black hair, beautiful black eyes and a golden tan 12 months a year, courtesy of Murray’s Sun Deck, an alleyway with folding chairs on the boardwalk in Brighten Beach. We met at Brooklyn College when her warm smile and ditzy sense of humor convinced me to join her sorority. I remember the night she wore her high school prom dress at a spring break weekend at The Concord, just to make us laugh. She was a cashier in the campus coffee shop and I loved paying for an English muffin and coffee, no matter what I ate. Our relationship had few conversations dealing with anything heavier than boys and bad haircuts, but it was ultimately satisfying to both of us.
In May, a year and a half into our friendship, Carole introduced me to her latest love. Bob was exotic, having graduated from an out-of-town college (the University of Buffalo!), and she swore he was The One. They were to be pinned, she sighed, right after the summer, when she came home from working as a counselor at a camp in Maine.
“Marcia, I need you to do me a favor,” she said as school was ending. “I really hate leaving Bob alone all summer. What if he’s lonely and meets someone else? I’d feel so much better if you’d keep an eye on him-and let me know if you think I’m in trouble.”
“You want me to babysit? Sure.” I was working in my father’s drycleaning store that summer, and by comparison, this undercover assignment sounded positively glamorous.
I spoke to Bob twice a week and saw him often. I wrote long letters to Maine, reassuring Carole how much he missed her, how bored he was without her, how I wound up going to the World’s Fair with him because he had two tickets and no desire to even look for a date. Every word was true. I even went up to Maine with him to see her and wondered as I watched them dance and kiss when I, too, would be so blessed.
But when Carole came home, things weren’t the same. Bob changed his mind about getting pinned. He complained she bit her nails and laughed too hard. She was devastated when they broke up.
A month later he called and asked me out. Totally surprised, I explained I was flattered, and that although I thought he was a great guy, I could never go out with him. What kind of friend would I be if I did? He said the fact it was over between him and Carole had nothing to do with me, and that we owed our friendship a shot at exploring if it could go any further. I said no. And no four more times in the next three months. The fifth time I said yes. And yes again the next year when he asked me to marry him.
Meanwhile, Carole bought my letters to the cafeteria. She refused to take my phone calls, or even look at me when we passed in the halls. She made sure I spent that next year as the Scarlet Woman of Bedford Avenue. So scarred was I, that a week before her call, although it was 24 years after the fact, I hid behind a pillar rather than say hello to Carole’s brother at Bob’s 30th high school reunion.
Now she was on the phone. She chatted on a few minutes more. Then an awkward silence. I heard her take a deep breath.
“You must be wondering why I called. Well, my brother Mike mentioned Bob came alone to the Midwood reunion last Saturday. This is going to sound weird but I figured if it’s over with you guys, you wouldn’t mind giving me his number.”
I glanced over at Carole’s fantasy. Wearing his shrunken 12- year- old Three Stooges tee shirt that says Just Say Mo, and black sweat pants whose elastic disappeared 100 washes ago, he lie across the bed watching his third football game of the day, washing down a soup spoon full of peanut butter with a bottle of Dr. Brown’s Diet Crème Soda.
I was mortified for her.
“Bob, it’s for you,” I said evenly, handing him the phone before leaving the room.
Bounding down the steps, I thought it takes a woman to truly appreciate this scenario, that the wonder of being the object of an old flame’s fantasy was wasted on a guy who probably wouldn’t even tell his friends or revel in his coolness.
But that’s OK, I love telling the story. Almost as much as I loved how I felt when Bob came out of the bedroom 15 minutes later, the glazed look in his eyes convincing me we both made the right choice.