Back when I was young and foolish, my uncle told me, "What goes around, comes around." At the time I thought his words were just words. I thought it was just another platitude.
I was used to platitudes from my mother. She was always coming out with something like "A stitch in time...", "Waste not, want not...", or "A bird in the hand...". It was several years later when it finally hit me that there might be something to these sayings.
My girlfriend and I had both just gotten our Bachelor's Degrees from the University of Michigan. We had been together for three years and I thought we really had something good going for us. I had even gone out and bought her an engagement ring. I was just waiting for the right time to give it to her.
Since I was a computer programmer and my degree was in Software Engineering, I had three job offers before I even finished classes. Donna, my girlfriend, had taken her degree in nursing. I figured she could go to work anywhere.
We had been talking about the offers I had for a couple of weeks. One of them was in the San Francisco area. Another was in Phoenix, and the last one was in Detroit. We discussed the places as well as the companies.
I had just about ruled Detroit out. Winters in Detroit are not nice. I had liked Phoenix when I had gone out for my interview, but even at the end of April it was hot. I talked to several people in the area and the most they would say was "You'll get used to the heat." Well, I didn't know if I wanted to get used to it. To me, it looked like San Francisco was my best shot.
We went through our graduation ceremony and the next day, Donna said we should go out to dinner to celebrate. We went to our favorite restaurant. It wasn't the fanciest one in town, but it did have good (I thought at the time) Mexican food.
I had just taken my first bite of an enchilada, when Donna dropped the bomb on me. "Matt, I accepted a job today," she told me.
"You did? Where?" I asked. My stomach clenched as I asked this and I knew it wasn't from the enchilada.
"It's at Massachusetts General, in Boston," she said.
"But... Honey, I haven't been looking on the east coast at all. I don't have any offers in that area."
"I know that, Matt. I'm sorry, but you didn't think our relationship was going to last forever, did you?"
"Well... Yes, I did. I'd even bought you an engagement ring."
"Awh, that's sweet. We're still young yet. We have a lot of things to see and do. We can keep in touch and maybe in a year or two we can get together and see how we feel then."
Then it hit me. Those were almost exactly the same words I'd said to my high school sweetheart, Tina, when I had left for college. We hadn't kept in touch and I hadn't even thought about her for years.
Tina had cried and it had nearly broken my heart. I was determined I wasn't going to show Donna how badly she had hurt me. I somehow made it through the rest of the meal, listening to Donna tell about the job she was going to. I decided I'd call the San Francisco people in the morning and tell them they had a new employee.
When we got back to our apartment, we even made love. Although, I guess I was thinking of it more as fucking now instead of making love.
Donna was up before me the next morning and when I stumbled out of bed she was packing. She said she was only going to take one suitcase today and that she'd be back with her dad in a few days to get the rest of her stuff.
Donna tried to give me back her key to the apartment, but I told her to keep it. "I'll probably be gone by tomorrow," I said. "I think I'll go home for a week, then head for California."
Donna gave me a little peck on the lips when she left, just before noon. I never saw her or heard from her again. I called the San Francisco company and told them I'd be there two weeks from next Monday. They were agreeable and seemed pleased I was taking them up on their offer.
It only took me about an hour to pack up everything I wanted to take. I figured I'd let Donna worry about the things I was leaving. I left her a note to that effect. I took one last look around the apartment and almost lost it. I'd been happy there. Hell, Donna had even been happy there. She just didn't think I was the one who was going to make her happy for the rest of her life, I guess.
I had a real pity party on the four hour drive home to Muncie, Indiana. I had loved Donna. I had thought she had loved me. When we had first started seeing each other, we had agreed it was just for fun. Later though, we had moved in together. None of our friends thought of us as individuals. It was always Matt and Donna or Donna and Matt. I guess I just assumed more than Donna felt.
Anyway, I finally pulled into home. I guess I should have called, but I had been so down when I left, I never even thought of it. When I pulled into the driveway, no one was home. I found he key they always kept hidden and let myself in.
I put my stuff away and went in the living room to wait for my parents. I just kind of vegged out. I ended up sitting there thinking about the way Donna had treated me and the way I had treated Tina. Tina had been the only girl I had really dated in high school. We had started dating in my Junior year, Tina was a Sophomore, and within a few months, we had given each other our virginity.
We dated right up until graduation, then, when I told Tina I was going to U of M, we had our first fight. Tina had expected me to go to Ball State and I had even considered it. The problem was, Ball State didn't have nearly as good of a reputation in the computer science area as U of M did.
Although I loved Tina, I wanted something more out of life than a second rate degree and a second rate job. I tried to explain it to Tina and I used almost the same words Donna had used to me about seeing how we felt in a couple of years. The next thing I knew, she was dating Bobby Hollerand.
I must have fallen asleep while I was thinking about these things, because the next thing I knew, mom was shaking me awake. I looked at the clock and it was almost midnight. Mom and dad were thrilled to see me, but they were exhausted. We ended up exchanging hugs and kisses and before long we all went to bed.
"So, what's going on with you?" mom asked as she handed me my first cup of coffee.
"Well, I decided to take the job in San Francisco," I said and then took my first sip.
"Is Donna meeting you out there?"
"Mom, Donna dumped me."
"What do you mean, she dumped you? Did she decide she didn't want to go to California with you?"
"Before I even made a decision as to where I wanted to go, she told me she was going to Boston. She said we should keep in touch and see how we feel about each other in a couple of years."
"She asked me if I really thought that what we had was going to last forever."
"I'm sorry, Matt. You seem to be doing okay. Is there anything I can do?"
"You know, Mom, it hurts that she dumped me, but what hurts even worse is that I did the same thing to Tina a few years ago. I said almost the same words to her."
"I know. She came around and talked to me not long after you had left for college. She really loved you, Matt. It's a shame the two of you couldn't have gotten together."
"When I look back on it, I know I really loved her too. I really did intend to keep in touch. The only problem was, she started dating Bobby Hollerand before I even left for college."
"You know she ended up marrying Bobby, don't you?"
"I'd heard that. I hope she's happy."
"I don't know about her being happy. I talk to her mother frequently. Sue says that Bobby is becoming a real drunk. Tina has to work to support them, while Bobby lays around home and drinks up what she makes."
"Awh, shit. Tina deserves better than that. She's really a wonderful person, mom. There's not a mean bone in her body."
"Well, at least they haven't had kids. I don't think they could live on what she makes if they had kids. She's working as a waitress down at Klein's Restaurant. I doubt she makes over minimum wage and I'm sure the tips are lousy."
"Maybe I'll stop in and see her before I go west. I should apologize to her for how I treated her."
"I don't know if that's a good idea or not, Honey. You know it's always better to let sleeping dogs lie. When do you have to head out?"
"I need to be at work two weeks from Monday," I said. "I figure it'll take a three days to drive out and a few more days to find someplace to live. I thought I might leave a week from Monday."
"Good. At least that gives us a week and a couple of days before you have to go. When you get an apartment, get one with two bedrooms. Your dad and I are going to be frequent visitors."
My dad is an aircraft mechanic for one of the major airlines. He and his family have almost unlimited free travel. I think that's the one reason mom hadn't made a big fuss about me moving across the country.
"What do you have planned for today?" mom asked.
"I thought I'd go down to Abbott's Garage and see if they could give my car a tune-up," I said. "It's got about fifty thousand miles on it now and I'd feel better if I had it tuned up and serviced before I head for California."
"That's probably a good idea. Your dad and I are going to be tied up most of the day, anyway. We're supposed to meet George and Betty for a round of golf in just over an hour."
"You'd better wake dad up then. You know it takes him a while to get going."
Mom laughed. "I woke him just before you got up. I'll have to wake him at least twice more."
Sam Abbott greeted me like a long lost nephew or something. That makes sense because he is my mom's brother. I asked him if he'd have time to service and tune up my car.
"Matt, business is slow right now, so that won't be a problem. Can you give me a couple of hours?"
I told him a couple of hours would be fine, then I gave him my keys and left. I wandered around aimlessly for a while. Muncie hadn't changed a lot in the last four years. I really wasn't paying much attention to where I was going. I'd look around and occasionally look in a shop window. This time, when I glanced to my right, I saw I was standing in front of Klein's Restaurant.
Okay, so was it fate? Or, had I intended to come there all along? I really didn't know, but since my feet had brought me here, I figured I had to go in.
I hadn't much more than gotten in the door when I heard, "Why, Matthew Sites, as I live and breathe."
I looked to my left and there was Glenda Richards. Glenda was nearly my mom's age and she and mom had been friends for years. "Hi, Glenda," I said with a big smile. "Long time, no see."
"You got that right," she said as I took a seat in one of the empty booths. I made a quick sweep of the room and didn't see Tina. "So are you back in Muncie for good, or are you just passing through?"
"Just passing through. I just accepted a job in San Francisco. I leave in just over a week."
"That's too bad. I was hoping to get to see a little more of you. Your waitress will be with you in a minute. I've got an order up."
I was sitting there, looking around and trying to decide if I really shouldn't just get up and leave, when I saw her. Tina came out of the back room, tying an apron around her waist. She looked as good as the last time I'd seen her. Her auburn hair and her hazel had always turned me on. Her figure was just as trim as I remembered it. The only thing to take away from this picture of loveliness was the tired look she had on her pretty face.
She hadn't seen me yet, but when Glenda told her she had a new customer, she looked my way. Her eyes popped open when she saw me and at first I thought she was going to turn away. Finally, she picked up a menu and walked toward my table.
"Hi, Tina," I said as she laid the menu in front of me. "You're looking good."
"Uh... Thanks, Matt."
"Have you been working here long?" I know it was a dumb question, but I didn't know what else to say.
"Uh... Matt, I'm busy. I just came back from lunch and I have to get caught up."
I looked around and only saw two other customers in the place. "If it makes you uncomfortable to talk with me, I'm sorry. Tina, I knew you worked here and I came in hoping I'd get to see you. I didn't realize until recently just how badly I'd treated you. I wanted to apologize to you. I know it's too little, too late, but I am truly sorry."
"Matt, I'm a married woman. If Bobby knew I was talking to you, he'd pitch a fit. I'll accept your apology if it'll make you feel better. You really did hurt me. I've put all that behind me though. Now, do you know what you'd like to order?"
"Yeah, I think I'll just have a cup of coffee. From what I hear, you're not very happily married."
"That's none of your business, Matt. I'll bring your coffee."
She turned and left before I could say anything else. When she brought the coffee out, she sat it down and was gone quickly. I sat there sipping for a few minutes, thinking about Tina and about how we had felt about each other. I think we all tend to lie to ourselves and I realized I'd been deceiving myself for years.
It didn't look like Tina was going to come back to see if I needed a refill, so I pulled out enough money to cover the coffee and a good tip. I started to get up, then I thought, "What the hell."
I pulled a little notebook I always carry and wrote the following, "Tina, again, I want to say I'm sorry. The trouble is, I'm sorry for myself as well. I thought I was over you, but I guess I never will be. I hope you have a good life and I hope you're happy. If you ever need anything, even if it's just someone to talk to, mom will know how to get hold of me. Love, Matt."
Okay, I know it was probably stupid to leave a note like that. I knew it at the time. I just couldn't help myself.
Tina looked up as I left the restaurant. I tried to read her expression, but it was like her face had turned to stone. I gave her a smile anyway.
Mom and dad got back home before I did. Evidently they'd had fun, because they were grab assing when I came in. Mom blushed at being caught, but she had a smile that was a mile wide. "I think that's all I want out of life," I thought.
We spent the afternoon together and we had a good time. Dad had to tell me all about their golf game. Dad has a nine handicap and he takes his golf serious. Mom plays for fun and she could care less about how many strokes it takes her to get around the course.
Sunday was nice as well. Sam and his wife, June, came over and we had a cookout. Their daughter, Jill, had just gotten home from her sophomore year at Penn State and she came with them.
Jill and I had always been close, so we had a lot to talk about. The fact that she was a computer science major also helped. Jill is a pretty, petite blond. It always made my heart soar just to look at her. "So, what are you going to be doing on this new job of yours?" she asked.
"Programming, of course. I really don't know what I'm going to be working on at first. The manager I interviewed with said they're creating a whole new generation of Windows software that will work faster and smoother and share information more readily."
"That's interesting, but I think I'd rather be working on a new operating system or something like that. Applications are okay, but they're not cutting edge."
This led us into an argument about the relative merits of different types of programming. This was one thing I'd always liked about Jill. She could hold up her end of an argument. Our talks and arguments were something I had missed without even realizing it.
After an argument that was sometimes hilarious, we finally decided that no matter what kind of programming you did, California was the only place to do it. Jill managed to wheedle an invitation to come out and check out the area after I had gotten settled.
When they were getting ready to leave, I took Jill's hand and said, only half jokingly, "Jill, if you weren't my cousin, I'd ask you to marry me."
She looked me in the eye and said, "If I wasn't your cousin, I'd accept."
On Monday I decided to go back to Klein's Restaurant for lunch. I sat back down in the same booth. Tina saw me and brought over a menu. As she laid it down in front of me, she said, "I'm glad you came back, Matt. I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry too. I should have talked to you about how I felt, instead of running off and starting dating Bobby."
"I didn't understand why you did that then, but I do now. I guess I should have tried to force you to talk about it."
Tina let out a big sigh. "Well, there's not much we can do about it now. I'm married and I hear you're heading for California."
"I guess not," I said, feeling as low as I had ever felt. "Mom will have my address and phone number as soon as I get it. If you need to talk or if you need anything at all, just call me."
Tina nodded. I don't think she trusted herself to say anything. "I'll give you a few minutes to look at the menu," she finally got out.
She came back in a few minutes and I ordered a hamburger, fries, and coffee. "When will you be leaving for California?" she asked as she was leaving to put in my order.
"A week from today," I said. "I figure it'll take me at least a week to get out there and find a place to live."
She just nodded as she walked away. When she brought my order back a few minutes later, she sat down across from me and said, "I'm taking a break."
"Okay," I said.
"Look, Matt, you were right about what you said about me and Bobby not getting along. Our marriage started out bad and it's just gotten worse since then. I've been thinking about leaving him for a long time."
"The problem is that I've been out with two guys in my life. The first one, you, told me we should wait a couple of years and see how we felt about each other then. I took it that I was being dumped. Bobby was wonderful to me while we were dating. Then when we were married, everything went to hell. Now, I don't feel like I can trust any man."
"I can understand that, Tina. The same thing happened to me that I did to you. The problem is, I really meant it when I said we should continue dating when I was home from college and that if we still felt we loved each other in a couple of years, I fully intended to ask you to marry me. Then you started dating Bobby and I felt like you had just thrown me away. I didn't date for a long time after I went away."
"I didn't know that, Matt. You never once mentioned marriage to me."
"No... I was stupid. I just assumed you knew how I felt. I even managed to put you out of my mind for a long time. Then, the woman I was living with said nearly the same words to me that I said to you. I knew immediately how badly I had hurt you. I realized then I should have fought for you."
"Are you sure you aren't just feeling guilty?"
"I don't think that's all of it. I do feel some guilt. I also realize just what I lost, so I'm feeling a little sorry for myself. Neither of those things is what made me want to see you again, though."
"Well, I wish it could have been different. When I started dating Bobby, I was trying to make you jealous. Then it seemed like you didn't care." Tina let out a big sigh. "I've got to get back to work. Try to stop in again before you take off to California."
Then she was gone.
I thought about Tina a lot that afternoon and the next day. Did I still love her, or was I just trying to fill in the void Donna had left? In either case there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it. My only problem was that when I thought about her my heart ached.
I didn't go I to Klein's the next day, but I did go in on Wednesday. Tina actually seemed happy to see me, and when she brought out my food, I heard her tell Glenda she was taking her lunch break.
She sat down across from me with a plate of her own and said, "So, tell me about this job you're going to in California."
I told her everything I knew about it and about what I'd seen of the bay area while I had been out there to interview. The farthest Tina had ever been from home was Louisville, KY, so she was fascinated.
I didn't want her to get away without telling me a little about her situation, so I asked, "Tina, would you tell me what's going on with you and Bobby?"