[Author's note: I have to give a few very special thanks:
To an anonymous reader who caught that nine years wasn't enough for everything that's happened here.
To Tom, who caught that the Chevy Volt wasn't introduced until 2011, making this story impossible – the Volt went back to being an Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra (from a Honda Prius, which is impossible since Toyota makes the Prius ... but I digress).
To Bruce, who caught me calling Emily Melissa in one spot, and who rightfully couldn't understand why Elaine would bother coming up with David as Emily's Daddy in another – which required some careful editing, I might add. I'm still not certain it's well-explained, but I tried.
To all of you: thank you for reading and thank you for taking the time to keep me honest!]
I paused, my hand on the hospital door, the strength fleeing from me. I didn't have the strength to open that door. I no longer had it in me to turn a simple door handle. I no longer had the strength to even stand, my knees trembling and buckling. I just couldn't ... couldn't face her ... not right at that moment.
Instead, I leaned my forehead against the wall next to that door. I allowed the cool, almost cold wall to prop me up and I tried to draw that coldness into me, into the broken pieces of my heart. I wanted it to strengthen me, to freeze me, make me hard and numb against the world. I knew that without that coldness, without that numbness, I was going to fall apart. If I didn't let that coolness in, I was going to fall apart, a wreck of a man.
Not for the first time in the past 24 hours, I thought about how I'd gotten here. I thought about what had led me to this place. I considered the past, considered every decision I'd made for the past 12 years plus, and wondered if there had been any of them I could've changed that would have allowed me to come to this same place and been happy instead of as miserable as I was right at that moment.
Of course, it was all about a girl ... well, a woman now, but she'd been a girl back then. There is nothing in life that can swing a man's emotions, moods, his very being so much as a female. I wonder if anyone truly understand how much they control us. Maybe, just maybe, women and gays have it right. Although the thought repels me, personally, maybe the only way to true happiness is to fall in love with a man.
I met Elaine in the 11th grade, about 12 and a half years ago, in a creative writing course of all things. We were from completely different, non-intersecting worlds; I was a jock playing football, basketball, even running track while Elaine was your stereotypical nerd. She wore rather thick, horn-rimmed glasses and non-descript, baggy clothing hiding a body that, while fairly voluptuous, was at least 40 pounds over-weight while I was lean and hard-muscled, proud of my pecs and abs and preferred a certain fitness in my dates. She was a brain, always raising her hand or blurting out answers, always knowing the lessons and proud of the fact that she knew. I ... well, I was a straight-A student, but I wasn't as fanatical about it, hiding my brains behind my façade of quips and laughter; I couldn't fit in my world and be a brain, I would've been laughed out of my clique.
Elaine wasn't my type and I never would have dated her if it hadn't been for that poem. Our creative writing class was on poetry, each one of us had to write a poem and then present it to the class. I remember everything about that day as if it were frozen in time. I remember the faces of the class, laughing, the face of the teacher in consternation trying to get the class under control. I remember the sunlight streaming in, lighting up the room. I remember it all falling away as Elaine began to speak, her voice tremulous at first but gaining power and confidence as she bared her soul.
Sunlight streams through a pane of glass,
Falling and heating my bared breast,
Covering me with its warm caress;
My fingers trace the beams first pass,
Courage to my heart it does invest,
Thankful of its kind address.
I welcome the love of my only friend,
Its rays my only lover's kiss,
Its love my only passion;
When darkness intrudes at this world's end,
Its touch is the only thing I'll miss,
Its light my only fashion.
If there was a sound when she finished, I didn't hear it. I admit the poem wasn't much, though I still remember its words years and years later, but it was the way she said it, her voice filled with confidence and sadness and so devoid of hope. She touched my heart that day as no one has ever touched it before or since.
I pursued her after that. Anyone who could feel that level of emotion, passion, despair ... she was a drug to me. A fascination that I just couldn't shake. My heart beat with her words and, quite possibly for the first time in my young life, I looked beyond the physical, looked beyond her outer appearance, and gazed at a person's soul. I realized how vapid and empty my relationships had been until then; her voice, the way she spoke, it reeked of substance and I was hopelessly hooked.
I pursued her and I caught her. Oh, she didn't want anything to do with me at first. She thought I was leading her on for some nefarious purpose ... and I was, but not for the nefarious purpose she imagined. I felt a hole opening in me and I needed her to fill it.
It took me 5 months to break her resolve and we dated, exclusively, for the rest of that year and the next. I took punishment for it, catcalls within my clique, laughter behind my back. I was called names – chubby chaser, fat lover, others that I don't need to repeat – and I just looked at them, angry, upset. Sometimes, I fought. Strangely, I wasn't upset with what they called me but that they were being disrespectful of the woman I had grown to love.
She ... she fell in love with me. We didn't have sex at first – I think she was still worried that I just wanted to fuck her and leave her – but eventually I wore her down. We had been inseparable for nearly 3 months; I didn't want anyone else and, for whatever reason, she didn't have anyone else. I think it was that loyalty that finally got to her, that finally made her see that my intentions weren't just to do a fuck and dump. I bought her things ... flowers, a book on poetry, chocolates ... even little stuffed animals. Honestly, though, I think it was when we went to the annual school carnival together and I didn't try to hide her, introducing her to all the world gleefully as my girlfriend, which finally brought home the fact that I was right where I wanted to be.
We made love that night. I had fucked before, screwed a bunch of bimbos whose names I could barely even remember. I didn't fuck Elaine. We made love.
I will admit that it was a bit difficult for me at first; seeing her less than toned body, watching parts jiggle that shouldn't have. Her moans, though, reminded me instantly of what I saw in her in the first place: her soul. It didn't matter what she looked like, not to me. What mattered was what she held within. The body could change but I didn't think the soul could ever change.
Maybe I was foolish, all things considered, but that's how I felt.
I brought her to her first non-self-induced orgasm, my lips caressing her lower ones, my tongue lapping at the sweet nectar of her lust. Her pussy was surmounted by a trimmed but full set of pubic hair, but it was soft and it tickled my skin as her hips began to thrust and my tongue invaded her. Moans became screeches as my lips found her elongated clit and I finally brought her over the edge when I wrapped my lips around her protruding clit and lightly flicked my tongue at it.
I took her virginity that day, a bonus I hadn't really even considered. It hurt, of course. She wasn't my first virgin and they had all hurt but I tried to make sure she was right at the plateau of orgasm before the pain brought her down and then I worked as hard as I could to bring her right back up to that plateau, alternating between caressing her breasts with rubbing right above where my cock was impaled within her. After a while, she began moaning again and then her moans became grunts and our grunts mingled into one loud, almost never-ending cry of satisfied love.
We were never apart after that. I met her at the end of her classes or she met me at the end of mine. We walked, hand in hand, together down the halls of high school. At night, as often as we could, we snuck away to be together whether it was in the backseat of my car, a friend's house or even our houses if the family was away.
I wanted it to last forever but I think we both knew that it couldn't. I got a few scholarship offers but the one I wanted most of all was a full-ride athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan. I wanted to study medicine, like my father had, and the University of Michigan was one of the best in the countries. Elaine, of course, got a full-ride academic scholarship to Harvard, where she wanted to study law. I tried everything I could think of to change her mind and she tried everything she could think of to change mine. It was our first real argument.
The day after graduation I did the only thing I could think of to get her to agree to be with me.
She was with some of her friends but her eyes lit up when she saw me and the smile on her face made a cloudy day burst with light. Without a word, she ran to me and slipped into my arms, hugging me.
I looked into her eyes as I pushed her back, her face knotted with curiousity. Then I dropped to one knee.
"Elaine Stremming, will you marry me?"
The look on her face was a mixture of happiness, incredulity and an over-arching look of regret.
"David, oh my love David," she replied. Instead of answering she pulled at me to get up. I wanted to stay down, wanted to wait for her answer, but she was insistent.
She looped her arms through mine, leaning into me, as she pulled me away from her house.
"I love you, David," she whispered. I could almost feel the tears in her voice. "You can't keep me like this. One of us would regret it. Either you'd regret coming with me or I'd regret coming with you and then the blame would start and the fights and pretty soon we wouldn't even like each other."
"But I love you, Elaine," I said thickly, my own tears rolling down my cheek. "I can't even imagine life without you. The thought of us apart ... it's tearing me up inside."
"Me, too," she said softly. "But ... it's only for a little while... 4 years. We can call and write, remain friends and then, if it was meant to be, see each other afterwards, fall in love again and be together for the rest of our lives."
I argued, she argued ... but in the end, she won. I knew she was right, of course. Deep down, where I didn't want to hear it, I knew that what she said was the truth. I just didn't want to listen, didn't want this to be the end.
It was, though. She refused to see me after that, saying it would be too hard. At the end of summer, in August, I left for U of M and football camp, and a month or so later, she left for Harvard. We called at first, almost every day, texted even more often. We wrote e-mails and talked about our days, our lives, our classes. I told her about football and how much harder college ball was than high school. She told me about her four roommates and shared funny stories about them.
September turned to October, October to November and the calls became more infrequent, the e-mails shorter and less personal. I couldn't get away for Thanksgiving, of course, thanks to football but my parents came out with my sisters and that was fun. I remember sending her an e-mail about their visit ... but I never got a reply.
I saw her briefly at Christmas; we kissed, on the cheek, and hugged but I could feel the wall between us now. I could feel the sense of being apart and, somewhere inside me, I cried. She asked me out on New Year's Eve but I had to leave just after Christmas, we had a bowl game on January 1st and I had to be with the team.
After that, e-mails tapered down to once a month, phone calls too ... and then, in May, they stopped altogether. I knew she'd moved on ... and I knew I wasn't ready to.
I did though. I went back into party mode but with an eye towards someone who could complete my soul like Elaine did. I dated, slept with some girls, but never found one that completed me like Elaine did. At least, that's what I thought. There were many days where I started to wonder if what I had with Elaine wasn't just imagined.
I never saw Elaine after that. I never tried, the pain would hurt me just too much if I saw her with someone else. Instead, I re-focused myself on football and classes. It was tough, but I maintained an A average despite drifting just into excess. I righted myself, thanks to a short talk with my dad who saw where I was headed, and managed to keep things going.
One year drifted to the next and at the end of four, I found myself with a degree in Software Engineering (summa cum laude – I found that Biology just wasn't for me ... I still enjoyed the class but I no longer wanted to become a doctor) and as a late 1st round draft into the NFL, picked up by San Diego. I thought about continuing on to my masters and maybe even a doctorate – becoming a doctor that way – but figured I could take the money the NFL was throwing at me and finish my education at the end of my NFL career ... which would be hopefully 10 or 15 years down the line.
It wasn't to be. I received my first concussion in my 8th NFL game. I was a rookie starter tight end, not completely unheard of, but earned. I was a terror on the field, never taking a play off. If I wasn't getting the ball, I was blocking either for the runner, the quarterback or the receiver. I was fast, very fast, and I never hesitated to bury my shoulder, arm, any part of my body at the oncoming defensive player. Heck, a few times I turned routine 5 and 10 yard catches into much, much more because I didn't try to evade the tackler but took him dead on, running right through him.
In my 8th game, I woke up lying on my back on the field. I had a massive headache, a major concussion, and was sidelined for three games. I came back, played for maybe 15 sets ... and then woke up flat on my back again.
The next year they tried to train it out of me, tried to show me how to better evade, better protect my head, better protect everything. It worked ... but in my 11th game, I got another concussion that finished me for that season. The following year, I got one in the 2nd pre-season game that sidelined me for most of my third professional season. The one I got in my fourth year determined my fate. The neurologist told me that my career was over.
I had a few million in investments and a few hundred thousand in the bank by that time. I had listened carefully and paid attention to the NFL's rookie class on wealth management. I didn't run out with my first paycheck and buy a big house and flashy car like some of my teammates. Oh, I bought things; things like a small, relatively cheap duplex, and I splurged for a new Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra but I never found the taste for flashy jewelry, name brand clothing and the like. I was an Oklahoma boy through and through; except for when I had to thanks to a press conference or other NFL related event forced me to wear one of my three custom-tailored suits, I wore cheap jeans, cheap shirts and cheap running shoes. I cooked most of my own meals – I love to cook – and dated girls who didn't expect me to lavish them with expensive presents.
My first instinct was to sell the duplex and move back to my home town. After failing in the NFL, however, I couldn't bear to compound that failure by running home to mommy. Instead, I sold the duplex and moved up to LA, enrolling in UCLA master's program. I still got recognized a few times, but there was blissful anonymity in numbers.