Saturday, March 28, 2020

Time For Me To Fly

Do you ever
listen to a song
and remember exactly what
life was
like when you
first heard it?

A moment ago, I scrolled past this post on social media, and heard the resounding woot woot! of the Karma Train pulling into the station. I'd just experienced a walloping case of this "Do you ever listen to a song..." phenomenon and was still reeling from the effect. 

An hour ago, as I sat watching the much anticipated third season of Ozark on Netflix, the soundtrack hit me with a major blast from my past. 

REO Speedwagon's Time For Me To Fly

At the opening notes of that tune, my heart, mind, and soul skipped back through the decades to my freshman year at college. It was early spring, and my dorm mates and I had turned out en masse at a local campus bar. This was the seventies, my friends, so we spent the evening swilling cheap beer and dancing to what are now known as classic rock power ballads. 

Plenty of healthy mixing and mingling was going on, and somewhere during the early part of the evening, I caught sight of a fellow student I'd never seen before. 

Trust me, I would have remembered that face anywhere.

Well, from that point on, I kept my eyes glued on him as each of us with our own posse of friends moved here and there around the crowded space. Pretty sure he caught me looking at him once or twice, but maybe that was because he was looking at me too. Hard to tell. 

After an hour or so of this cat-and-mouse game, a guy named Jeff caught my arm. He was a sixth-year senior - oldest guy in the dorm, for sure.. My suite mates, who were fifth-year seniors themselves, hung out with Jeff often so I knew who he was. 

I had no idea that Jeff knew my n00b self by name, but apparently he did. 

Because with great energy and a hearty helping of drama, Jeff breathlessly informed me that he had a friend from the dorm who was dying to meet me, and I just had to agree to dance with him. 

And no offense to Jeff, but I was thinking that any friend of Jeff's was not going to hold my interest. Especially with my new person-of-interest in the room. So while I did my best to put Jeff off, he  energetically persisted, and soon I gave in. 

"Ok, Jeff. Just one song. Where is this guy?" 

"Turn around," said Jeff. "He's right behind you."

And so I turned.

Standing right smack dab in front of me guy! 

He grinned at me. I felt the room sway, and heart-eye emojis filled the air. 

Just kidding. Those had not been invented yet, but honestly, it was a heart-eye emoji moment if ever there was.

He introduced himself to me. Greg. Let's call him Greg.
We danced to not one song but every song for the rest of the evening. 
We walked home together, with our respective groups of friends loitering behind us, as college friends do, catcalling and making a general scene.

We didn't care. 

As wonderful as that first encounter was, there were more lovely moments that spring. Greg and I saw each other fairly often. We hung out, watched a few movies together, went to a formal dance that was actually a lot of fun. When it was just the two of us, we enjoyed each other's company immensely. But there was also something very strange in the air. Whenever Greg's friends were around - especially his roommate, Smitty - there was some indescribable weirdness that made first Greg and then me in response feel tense and awkward. 

In the seventies, we didn't use the word "awkward" like we do now. But it's exactly the right way to describe the chilly breeze that swept through the room whenever his friends walked in..

Spring turned to summer, Greg and I said a sweet goodbye and went our separate, several-hundred-miles-apart ways. 

I thought about him all summer long, mostly with good thoughts, but still that lingering confusion. I felt like there was something I was missing but in spite of my solid Dr Phil instincts, I couldn't figure out what was wrong. 

Fast forward to the first day of sophomore year. On the fall Friday before classes started, my floor threw a kegger - yeah, in those days it was perfectly legal for students to serve open alcohol in the dorms - and though I seriously considered staying in my room to brood, I decided to make an appearance. 

Guess who I found there.

Yep. My mysterious quasi-boyfriend, Greg.

Lightning struck twice and the night was a perfect dream. He told me about his summer - he mostly mowed lawns, he said - and he complimented my tan. We talked to no one but each other for hours and it was amazing.

And that was the last time I ever spoke to him. 

He never came over to my room again. 
Never called me on the dorm landlines. 
Never even smiled at me across the cafeteria. 

A few weeks later, I discovered that Greg, Smitty and several other friends had moved out of the dorm to an off-campus apartment. Beyond one or two chance sightings across campus, I never saw him again. 

How did I feel about this bizarre turn of events? Sad, for sure, but only to a point. The whole scenario had just become too confusing, and while I was sure Greg liked me, there was something wrong and I was tired of not knowing what it was. So I moved on.

But that is not the end of this story. Not by a long shot.

* * * * *

Three years later, I had graduated, taken a job at the then-prestigious public accounting firm, Arthur Andersen & Co., and moved to Chicago with two accounting-major friends from college. 

And one night, one of my roommates mentioned the name of my mystery man. Seems she had lived on the same floor of the dorm as Greg.

"Oh, I didn't realize you were friends with him. I knew him too," I said, carefully sidestepping the more complicated explanation of our acquaintance. 

"I know you did," my roommate said, sly smile creeping across her face. "Everyone knew about you and Greg."

"Okay, I give up," I exploded. "I don't get it. Why are you acting so weird about this?"

"Because of his hometown honey."

Oh, my goodness. Suddenly the missing puzzle piece flew out of thin air and snapped into place. 

I had no idea that Greg had a girlfriend at home. 

My roommate spilled the whole story. Greg and this girl had dated in high school; she'd studied at a local school while he went to university out of town. The gf had always assumed that she and Greg were together forever and in fact, at this point, they were engaged. 

And get this. Greg's girlfriend knew all about me, her boyfriend's college fling. Apparently, all of Greg's friends and half of our dorm knew that he had a serious girlfriend at home and me on the side.  But Greg never breathed a word of it to me. 

My emotions then embarked an interesting journey.

I felt relief. I finally understood why he acted so weird.

It seemed important that my innocence be proclaimed. I wanted everyone to know that I had no idea that I'd been cast as the other woman, and had I known, I'd never have agreed to play that part. 

Then - and I settled here for a long time - I wished Greg could know that I was fine without him, that even though he hid the truth from me, and then unceremoniously dropped out of my life, I had landed on my feet and found happiness beyond him.

Because that was true. I was fine without Greg. More than fine. 

But this is still not the end of the story.

* *  * * *

Around seven years after our magical meet-cute, four years after finally learning about Greg's girlfriend, I was still in Chicago, engaged to my now-husband, who also worked at Arthur Andersen with me. 

One night, he and I went out for dinner with another couple. The guy, named Mike, worked closely with my then-fiance. Despite the fact that my husband almost never socialized with his underlings, he enthusiastically reported to me that Mike was a really great guy, and I would surely enjoy getting to know him and his wife, Julie.

My husband did not know what I knew. 

His co-worker, Mike, also known as Smitty, was Greg's college roommate. 

And Julie, who all through college had been Mike's hometown honey, also knew my story. Mike/Smitty and Julie had both watched the whole kooky relationship unfold between Greg and me.

But of the three of us, no one mentioned a word of these facts.

Instead, we cozied up around a four-top in a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night, munching cheeseburgers and nibbling at a heaping helping of fried onions, laughing and enjoying each other's company very much indeed.

As we talked, I secretly hoped that Mike/Smitty and Julie would take a full report of the evening back to Greg. And his fiance. I wished them no ill will but I wanted the lovebirds to know I was alive and well. And I'd bet my bottom dollar that that's exactly what Smitty and Julie did.

This is almost the end of the story.

* * * * *

Tonight, during Ozark, when I heard the opening chords of Time For Me To Fly, I remembered this whole story as if it were yesterday. 

Because this is one of the first songs that Greg and I danced to, on that night so long ago, and with lyrics that so clearly prophesied the end of our relationship, it always reminds me of him. 

It really was time for me to fly.

P.S. About a year ago, late at night, I felt a sudden urge to search Greg out on social media. Yep, a good old-fashioned stalking session. I found him in an instant, and he's apparently fine, with three grown kids and a few cute grandchildren. And still married to his hometown honey. 

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