If my life were a movie, how would I change it? The answer is I wouldn’t. Unless, I could have saved John.
Before John, I had little experience with men. It was John who taught me about myself. You aren’t as strong and confident as you want people to believe, he said.
It was John who gave me everything a woman could want in a man. A bouquet of yellow roses with a hand-printed card. “Happy Wednesday.”
John came to me when I least expected it. John left me when I least expected it. Not that it was his fault. But I blamed him anyway. Ghosts of regret haunt my memories. That day in the kitchen, me shouting, “I wish I’d never met you!”
Perhaps, I have been too hard on myself. John said I was. But being hard on myself is part of the woman I am. “I should have done more,” I told my friends. “I could have been kinder.”
To escape from my grief, I tried to fill the empty space left by John. Much of the time, I wasn’t escaping anything – just changing places, changing skirts, changing months, changing nothing.
The first time I saw John he was standing under white dogwood trees at
. He held himself very tall with a presence. Valley Forge Military Academy
Arrested by his ease and confidence, I felt a jolt as John’s dark eyes locked onto mine. I wanted to look away but he wouldn’t let me. Who was this man? From this, arises my story.
“How have you been?” John asked.
I was not surprised to hear his voice on the other end of the phone. It had been a week since we met at
. Valley Forge Military Academy
“Busy. My editor has been sending me out to community events and school board meetings.”
“Do you like working for a newspaper?” he asked.
“It’s my first job as a reporter. I feel almost like it’s a calling. Or at least that’s one way to rationalize my whopping $140 week salary,” I joked.
The year was 1977. Although I dreamed of becoming a famous novelist, I had fallen in love with Woodward and Bernstein after watching the Watergate hearings. Local journalism seemed a way to write and get published. Now I was a staff writer for the Suburban and Wayne Times, a family-run newspaper located in
, the town on Wayne, Pennsylvania ’s Philadelphia Main Line where I grew up.
The monotony of school board and township meetings had been offset by interviews with Chubby Checker, who lived in the area, and Bob Hope, who visited
. I also covered the filming of Taps, a movie shot at the academy, starring two unknowns, Sean Penn and Tom Cruise. Valley Forge Military Academy
John laughed. “You’re a good writer. I read your stuff all the time. Hey, I was calling to ask you to go dancing.”
Although I was flattered by John’s interest in me, I was seeing Alan, my editor, who was old enough to be my father.
“I’m not big on dancing,” I told him. “Too many formal dances Dad made me go to at
“How about dinner?”
I paused, considered. “That would be fine.”
He showed up wearing a black blazer with the
West Point insignia over the breast pocket and creased gray slacks. He resembled the actor Jeff Goldblum. He had a mustache and wore dark green aviator sunglasses.
Over dinner at an Italian restaurant with fresh red and white carnations on the table, John told me he was chairman of the English Department.
“My father had that same job at
Valley Forge before he became dean there.”
“I’ve heard about your dad,” John said. “Didn’t he teach English to J.D. Salinger?”
“Yes. And Edward Albee.”
John nodded. “Your father was an institution at the academy. A real academician is how everyone describes him.”
“He majored in Latin and English and was Phi Beta Kappa from the
. Can you believe it? My dad, the liberal intellectual, ends up at a military academy.” University of Pennsylvania
John was a good listener. He never took his eyes off me.
“You’re beautiful,” he said. “Did anyone ever tell you that your eyes are almost green?”
I was embarrassed. My mother always told me that beautiful women had upturned noses and long, flowing hair like the girls in the Breck commercials. I had neither. I knew my looks were attractive, but not classically beautiful.
College had been a series of infatuations. I was easy prey for men with bedroom eyes and a taste for good books and music. I liked the men more than they liked me.
“Thank you for dinner. The food was good, don’t you think?”
“Oh, I see. You don’t want to answer my question about your eyes.”
I fidgeted, folded the linen napkin in my lap and placed it on the table. Why were his eyes boring into mine? What did he want?
John smiled. “Yes, the pasta was good.”
By the time the check arrived, we had been talking for close to two hours.
“Why aren’t you in the Army?” I asked.
“Two weeks before I graduated from
West Point, they informed me I wouldn’t be commissioned,” he said.
He looked away. “I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis the spring of my senior year. I wanted to be an Airborne Ranger, career soldier. I could have done a desk job, but they wouldn’t even let me do that. They told me I should be grateful. I had gotten a free education at the taxpayers’ expense. I didn’t want or need their goddamn free education.”
He quickly picked up the check and pulled out his credit card to pay for dinner.
“That was six years ago,” he said.
He could see my concern. “I have one of the best doctors in
. The colitis is under control although I have an occasional flare-up.” Philadelphia
I had heard the word ‘colitis’ before but had no idea what ulcerative colitis was. We got up to leave. It was a warm summer night. I could smell his aftershave, a sweet, sexy smell like apricots. Billowy clouds were framed by pink light as the sun began to set. His fingers briefly touched my wrist. “I want to see you again,” he said.