I’ll never forget how he looked, waiting there for me at the bottom of the escalator at the airport.
I hadn’t remembered him as being tall though. In fact, in the story I’d written about him, I’d described him as “the shortest boy in the class.”
“Don’t expect that the facts in the story I wrote about you are correct or even true,” I’d told him, after finding him on Google Search. “The story tells an emotional truth. Not a factual one.”
He said he didn’t care what kind of truth it told. He wanted to see me again and not to worry, he’d recognize me when I got off the plane joking that he knew that neither one of us was 10-years old or still in the third grade.
Even my kids knew about him.
They knew his name. “Michael R,” I’d tell them, dreamily. He was the first boy I “loved.” He was the first boy, in fact, that I even “noticed.” And he definitely was the first boy who gave me that “delicious feelings in my legs.”
So, when I was 60-years-old and had written a story about Michael and about my love for him, and the man I was married to at the time (not being the jealous type) said I should find him and let him read the story, I figured, it was a cool idea and find him I did.
Sad to say. I wish I hadn’t.
What’s that old saying about how it’s best to let sleeping dogs—or sleeping whatevers–lie?
Don’t get me wrong. He was a really, really nice man and he was a really, really handsome man. But there was something else about him I couldn’t put my finger on.
After that first time I flew up there to meet him and we had lunch together on a blanket on the grass in the park and he told me that he thought picnics were really great because they were so “private,” and he gave me $400 in cash to pay for the airline ticket because it would keep that ticket “just between us,” I realized that he hadn’t told his wife I was coming.
Why hadn’t he told his wife? I asked him point blank when we met. Finally after I was home and we were talking on the phone, (something that began when I got home and continued), he told me that because he was Catholic he had made a promise to her—and to God—to be faithful.
I remember thinking how really far apart we were if he thought that whatever had (or had not) happened between us—let alone, what was never going to happen between us — if I had anything to say about it–had anything to do with being faithful or unfaithful.
I remember telling my husband that I wasn’t sure why I even kept taking Michael’s calls.
“Well why do you?” my husband asked, more out of curiosity than anything else.
“He just seems so sad,” I’d said. “He keeps talking about dying and about his buddy who had cancer and about how he wouldn’t want to go that way and so when he called I kinda’ sorta’ went along with him.”
As it turned out however, I actually didn’t have to go along with him for long.
Michael died a little over a year after we had connected.
In fact, from what I had been told by a friend who he’d asked to contact me once he was diagnosed. He had lung cancer and, by the time they found it, it was everywhere.
Bottom line, I think he knew. I think that was part of why he invited me to meet him.
I think he wanted to feel once again the so-called “emotional truth” in the story that I’d written about him.
I also think that he felt I had written my story and in some way he wanted to write his.
During the time that we were in contact, Michael sent me cards. One came after he died. In it he had enclosed a picture of his 10-year-old self in his football uniform. There he was, posed on one knee, holding his helmet the way football players always do, smiling right at me.
I hadn’t cried when I learned that Michael died, but I cried and cried when I saw that picture. I cried not because the man I had met at the airport was gone, but because the little boy in that picture was gone too and for the first time, I wished that I’d never written that story in the first place.
Maybe if I had left my memories alone, the boy in that picture — the one in my story–would still be how I remembered him.