Road Less Traveled

Someone has left a note on a car windshield.

This came as a writing prompt in The Pocket Muse. I read it and my stomach lurched.

There’s only one thing I can write about here, and it will color your opinion of me forever, for I once did something inexcusable, something that speaks not so positively about my character, something I’ve long regretted. I’ve never told anybody.

It happened my sophomore year in college, and it had to do with a boy I’ll call James. James was as cute as they come, and short–not any taller than I. When he called out of the blue and asked me for a date at the beginning of fall semester, he had just quit his fraternity because they were a bunch of rowdy drunks, and his girlfriend, a cute, perky, blond cheerleader had broken up with him. I had just ended a relationship, too, but I’d also begun rekindling a summer camp friendship from when I was fourteen and met a boy from Texas.

That first date, James and I hit it off, but then he didn’t call back for two months. Meanwhile, this other thing with the guy from Texas developed. We wrote a lot of letters, but only saw each other once a month at best.

So when James finally got around to calling, I told him I understood we were both fresh out of relationships, we both had “others” on our minds still, and I had a “friend” who would most likely be coming to visit occasionally, but yeah, I’d love to go out with him. I figured we were both of the understanding that this was just for fun–nothing serious. I found out later I should have clarified “friend.”

A long string of dates followed. James and I went to the movies, to the county fair, to the drive-in, horseback riding, on long rides in the country in his Mustang listening to Bobby Goldsboro on eight-track. We even played and rolled around in a trailer full of freshly picked cotton! He was fun, I was at ease with him, I could talk to him about anything. Heck, I was crazy about the guy, and now as I look back, those were the best days of my youth. There were some long kissing sessions on country backroads, but still, I believed us to be in a casual relationship. (Well, everybody needs to kiss, and I could kiss and keep it casual!) Then there was that one night, when we were alone and he tried to tell me something. Something serious. I sensed what it would be, and I got desperately silly and steered the conversation away from it and kept on steering until the date was over. I couldn’t hear that he loved me. I couldn’t let him say it. My “friend” from Texas was arriving for a visit the next day, and I’d already come to a peace about him. I knew in my heart I’d marry him one day when he got around to asking. I’d chosen the other way, the road less traveled.

No matter what I say here and now, it appears that I was stringing one along, while waiting for another. I was selfish, a user, a tease. In reality, I’d had so much fun with James that the relationship naturally went deeper and grew stronger, and I’d worked myself in so far, I suddenly realized there was no good way out.

A day later I got engaged, and James’ best friend learned about it at Sunday School the following day and went straight to James. Monday after World Lit I returned to my car and found a note on my windshield. “Meet me at 2:00 in front of the Union. You owe me at least that.”

Oh God, that went deep. In the bliss of an engagement I felt was aligned with the stars, there was this. This wound. This hurt. This gaping hole in something that was once so sweet and innocent. This young man I loved, but not in that way. And I had been less than honest, less than the woman I wanted to be.

I met him at two. We stood face to face, aching, in tears, feelings erupting as silent air escaping from a balloon. “Why?” he breathed. And all I could do was say, “I’m sorry.” It wasn’t enough. It has never been enough. There’ve even been times over the course of years when I’ve wondered if I took the right road.

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2 Comments on “Road Less Traveled”

  1. Eric says:

    ….. my goodness….. we never know if we have taken the right path, I suspect….. or even if there IS a ‘right’ path to take…. perhaps there are just paths…..

  2. Julie Gillen says:

    Kathy,

    I love your story and surely all of us can relate.

    I am going to copy and paste one of my favorite poems titled “Summer Storm.” Pay close attention to the last two lines.

    ~ Julie

    ********************

    “Summer Storm” by Dana Gioia

    We stood on the rented patio
    While the party went on inside.
    You knew the groom from college.
    I was a friend of the bride.

    We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
    To keep our dress clothes dry
    And watched the sudden summer storm
    Floodlit against the sky.

    The rain was like a waterfall
    Of brilliant beaded light,
    Cool and silent as the stars
    The storm hid from the night.

    To my surprise, you took my arm-
    A gesture you didn’t explain-
    And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
    Might imitate the rain.

    Then suddenly the storm receded
    As swiftly as it came.
    The doors behind us opened up.
    The hostess called your name.

    I watched you merge into the group,
    Aloof and yet polite.
    We didn’t speak another word
    Except to say goodnight.

    Why does that evening’s memory
    Return with this night’s storm-
    A party twenty years ago,
    Its disappointments warm?

    There are so many might have beens,
    What ifs that won’t stay buried,
    Other cities, other jobs,
    Strangers we might have married.

    And memory insists on pining
    For places it never went,
    As if life would be happier
    Just by being different.


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