Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Eyes Like Brenda Starr

When my daughter, Meredith, my youngest, was a very little girl she liked me to tell her fairy tales.  I would tell her all of the traditional ones from Grimm and Disney.  Eventually she got bored of those so when she would climb into my lap as I was watching the rain she would say “Daddy, tell me a story. Make it a real one.”  This is a story that I have told her in one form or another that she liked.  I still tell it to her and her friends now that they are almost sixteen. It is about how when I was young man in college and I once met a girl who I always said had eyes like the comic character, Brenda Starr, that twinkled and sparkled like crazy.

I met this girl my freshmen year in college at a party some girls in one of the dorms across the way from us were having.  It was called a “Tie Party” in that everyone had to wear a tie, even the girls.  After it got broken up by the RA some of the girls came back to my room to finish the night.  We all sat around and talked and I thought this particular girl was very nice.  I think she thought I was a goof.  In those days I had long hair and a shaggy beard; trying to live out a lot of hippy fantasies, but not yet successfully.

During those days I was deeply in love with a girl who lived in DC so I never entertained the idea of dating anyone. She was a girl I knew from high school.  We would talk a lot on the phone, write each other letters, and spend as much time together as possible when we were home on breaks.

I took my sophomore year off to try to experience the world.  I worked at my old job in the bookstore, took a few classes, and when I had money, I traveled all around.  Sometimes I would go down to Illinois to visit my older sister, Melissa, and all of my friends from the dorm.  Because we moved in the same circle of people, I would now and again see the girl with eyes like Brenda Starr.

When I came back to school, and moved into a house with a bunch of guys, I used to see her much more.  We started to become closer friends.  We would see each other at parties, pubs, or me and some of the guys would go and visit her, and the seemingly 1,000 roommates that who were also our friends at their apartment.

Long distance-relationships are hard and sometimes don’t work out the way you want them to.  After I got my heart broken and recovered, I contemplated asking the girl with eyes like Brenda Starr out.

One night at a house party late in the school year I was talking to her and I thought to myself, "I’m going to do this."  Just as I finally got my nerve up, she said “I need a new drink.”  I said OK and started with her up the driveway to where the drinks were. She said, “I bet I can beat you in a race.”  We started running. Somehow I stumbled and I accidentally tripped her.  She rolled under a Volkswagen that was just pulling in and seriously injured her ankle.  That doesn’t ever bode well in a potential dating situation.

The next day when we went to visit her roommates, because it was their graduation day, she was sitting in the living room with her foot on a chair, all wrapped up with crutches next to her. I could tell she was upset that she had to miss her roommates’ ceremonies.  I was fairly sure she was furious with me. Other friends came over and the graduates started filtering in as they finished their time with their parents.  I was sitting next to my friend trying to redeem myself for what I had done to her but she wasn’t having any of it.  It was a very stormy night and at one point the power went out.  When it did she took my hand in the dark and whispered in my ear. “It’s alright, Thomas.”  No one ever called me Thomas, but she always called me Thomas.

After the school year was done and we were all back home for the summer she called me one day and invited me to go on a road trip with her and another one of our friends down to Illinois to see the guys that were staying there. I said, yes, and so one afternoon she picked me up at the bookstore.   We went to her house first and I met her parents.  Then we picked up a rental car and off we all went.  That was a real fun weekend trip.

When we went back to school that fall I tried to ask her out again, but she was going through something at that time. She said, “Thomas, I don’t need a boyfriend right now. What I just need is a friend.”  I thought about it and I decided I would be one the best friends she could have.  I did whatever I could for her.  If the furnace was having problems or the sink was clogged and she and her roommates couldn’t find the superintendent, I would go over and fix it.  If she was having trouble with one of her English papers I would go help her.  We got to the point where, when we both started dating again, if we had a bad night we would immediately call one another.  Sometimes I would go over to her apartment and make her eggs to cheer her up.

That year I was sharing an apartment with an old high school friend, a great girl who was named Donna. One day, as I was taking a coke out of the refrigerator, Donna said, “Who are you kidding? You are in love with her.”  I looked at her and said “What do you mean?”  She said, “You have fallen into a manhole on the quad because you are focused at looking for her in a crowd.  You strategically put yourself on the corner so that when she gets off work you can coincidentally run into her and walk her home.  I have a little board here where I make marks for every time you call her or she calls you, and you talk generally for about an hour when you do.  Can you see anything but chalk?!”  I said “She’s just a really good friend.”  Donna said, “Tom, you are fooling yourself that you don’t love her.” I thought about it for a couple of days, about all the twisting and turning I did at night, and then I realized that without acknowledging it I had fallen in love with the girl with eyes like Brenda Starr. 

One night a bunch of us had planned to go to party.  I hung back for a bit because I needed to think.  When I finally went to the party I went up to my friend and said, “Listen, I am in love with you. I want to have a relationship with you. If you don’t, we’ll still be friends, except that I think it will hard for us to be friends considering how I feel.  I can't. I want you to have some time to think about this.  You have 10 minutes and I’ll be in the corner.”  It didn't take her ten minutes. She just took my hand and looked at me the way girls do when they're being generous but are going break your heart. Only, she didn't.

The first time I told Meredith this story my wife came out right at that point in the tale and said “Meredith, it’s time for you to go to bed.”  Meredith complained.  “I want to hear the rest of the story.”  My wife rolled her eyes, shook her head no, and picked Meredith up into her arms.  She said “There is plenty of time for Daddy to tell you the rest of his stories about young love.”  My wife kissed me and said, “I’m tired. I’m going to bed too.”  I said “Alright.  I’m going sit and watch the rain a little bit more.”  As she headed for the door between the garage and the house I said, “Good night, Karen.”  She turned, smiled, and said, “Good night, Thomas.”

More than thirty years after I first met her, when I look at my wife, Karen, I still think that she has eyes like Brenda Starr.