Sometimes in life – no – make that “often in life,” everything we desire falls into our lap without us noticing the grand beauty of the experience. We often become the bumbling running back on a football team who fumbles away his opportunity for celebration and joy. We become the antithesis of who we desire to be in the clutch.
This all transpires as “life lessons,” many of which we learn over and over and over again. The most dispiriting aspect of this cycle of internal humiliation becomes our seeming inability to overcome our own foibles. So many of these moments and potentials could easily have gone another direction.
In life, we either keep moving forward, keep learning new things, keep overcoming past struggles, or we fall into riding out our time here on earth medicating ourselves with mindless entertainments, depressions, apathy, and disconsolate unhappiness.
Eighth grade delivered the shock of Ray’s young life. In the wake of the seventh grade’s flirtations with Dawna and Rachel, in third period, the teacher assigned seats alphabetically.
Normally, this would not constitute a problem. Ray rarely cared who sat beside him on either side. In fact, assigned seating would keep his friends from distracting him and teasing him into cutting up in class. The first exception to this philosophy came in third period English.
Tamara Jones. The most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. The girl who stole his heart immediately. Not only were they beside each other, Tamara sat to his right with the aisle immediately to her right. She basically became his silent prisoner, or object of worship.
He would steal glances her direction but only when he was one hundred percent sure she would not notice. He recognized not daring to look her direction had to be something she noticed. He knew, though, he could not hide what was in his heart because his eyes would tell it. In a heartbeat.
Ray both thrilled and dreaded walking into English every day. He liked to get there early so he could watch her walk in. She always dressed to perfection. She always gave off the air of beauty personified. She absolutely always looked better than anyone else on their best days.
As the first couple months of the school year skated by, Ray and J.T. held many pow wows over how fortunate he was to be seated next to the girl he was gaga over. J.T. constantly suggested that Ray assert himself and speak to her. Make connection. Find a way into her life.
Great advice, and Ray knew it. Yet, that same “shy” bug overwhelmed him again. He could not muster the courage to do anything but shoot furtive glances her way and marvel at her excruciating beauty.
J.T., one day, took a page from the dance with Dawna escapade and purportedly spoke to Tamara at school. He let her know of Ray’s infatuation and that Ray was just dying to get to know her.
“She said you needed to call her,” J.T. stated, excitement all over his face as though it was he who had fallen for the girl.
“No she didn’t,” Ray replied.
“No kidding! Really! You just have to call her!”
“I don’t think I can do that. We’ve been in class two months now and I haven’t said a word to her yet. How can I call her?”
“Pick up the phone and dial. Here’s her number.” J.T. handed him a wrinkled sheet of paper with his near-illegible writing scrawled across the top.
“I’ll sit with you when you make the call,” J.T. interjected.
“That would just make it worse.”
“I told her you would call her tonight at 6:00 pm.”
“Hey. I knew if I didn’t do something like that, you’d chicken out. Now you have to call her.”
“Shit! Why’d you do that?”
“Because you’re miserable and you hafta get past this. If you don’t, you’ll have to go through the whole year like this.”
“But what if she say’s no?”
“Hey, she told me to have you call her. She won’t say no.”
“Crap. 6:00 pm… I can do this…”
“Of course you can! You’ll thank me when this is over.”
“Ok. I’ll do it.”
“That’s the spirit!”
“What if her parents answer? You know they probably will.”
“So you ask to speak with Tamara. That’s not complicated Ray. Just do it.”
“Ok.” Ray drew a deep breath. He could feel his hands shaking already.
The afternoon raced forward like an Olympic sprinter who smells gold. Ray dreaded making the call. He felt trapped. Excited. Scared. Ecstatic.
His palms began to sweat at five minutes until six. He knew he must call at six sharp. Any earlier he would appear over-anxious. Any later – scared. He was both.
He was thankful for the cord extension on the living room phone. Otherwise, he would have had to make the call in front of whatever family would cross into the room. At least this way, he could hunker behind the bathroom door. Hopefully no one would have to use the bathroom…
Panic set in at six o’clock. He felt his fingers dialing but the experience was surreal. He was actually going to call Tamara and speak with her. She would be the voice at the other end of the line, the dream, the fantasy, the most beautiful girl he knew. He started praying that no one would be home.
“Hello,” a disembodied man’s voice droned into Ray’s ear.
“M-m-may I speak with Tamara…please?” Ray stammered.
“Tam!” the voice called out dully in the background of Rays heartbeats and nerve rattles. Momentarily the voice he knew well but had never engaged struck his ears.
Ray’s mind blanked. For a moment he thought of hanging up. She wouldn’t know for sure it was him. He silently cursed himself for allowing so much silence before he spoke. “Hi, Tamara,” he managed.
“Who is this?”
Oh God! Had J.T. lied about talking to her? Had he been set up? In a bad way? “This is Ray. Ray Kline. J.T. said you said to call you.”
“He did? Why?”
Is she toying with me? Ray thought, panic now far too slow for what he was feeling. Nothing to do now but go for broke. “Because he said he talked to you because I want to “go with” you and you told him to have me call at six and its six and I was wondering if you would, if you would like to go with me.”
His face burned and his stomach churned and he felt light-headed. He’d actually done it. He’d actually asked the most beautiful girl in the world to go with him. For all the speed in which time had sped along leading up to this moment, its revenge now manifested in eternity. The silence on the other end of the phone crashed into his ears.
“I don’t know why he would have told you that.”
“Maybe he was playing a joke on me, but I really do want to go with you.”
“My answer is no.”
He placed the receiver on the cradle after his thumb had crushed the plastic nipple that disconnected the line and had effectively hung up. He felt sick. He felt embarrassed. More embarrassed than when his older sisters had dressed him up as a girl for Halloween. Wig, high-heels, make up and all. The embarrassment there was compounded by the fact even his closest friends did not recognize him. Then, winning the prize for best costume. That was all minor compared to this.
This time, he not only did not get to say goodbye, he’d really not even made it to hello…
Love is a murky pinwheel with many spokes
Named and unnamed, swirling, wind-blown smoke
Mirrors revealing all the pain
Shards and pieces and debris remain
Yet each facet owns a flavor, a scent, a sound
No two alike when the heart speeds and pounds
The double-edged weapon we chase until we can take no more
Or we find fortune in the relationship store
Eventually the question arises to face the dawn of day
Who would ever wish to endure their life this way?
Dying for love at every disastrous turn
Only increases the heart’s propensity to yearn
The dream of love stands only as illusion
An infidelity and a life intrusion
Scenarios of bitter, melancholy paths and trails
Muscling up the heart to become tougher than nails
Yet that very same muscle crumbles into warm gooey putty
When the currents of life and love get muddy
Only to deliver the hope and it may seem
There’s only the universe enraptured by love’s bright dream…