More bad 70’s music:
I, - I,I,I,I - I’m hooked on a feeling, I’m high on believing …..*
You really should read Part 2A – Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings before reading this one:
Summary of Part 2A : My old flame is at my 40th high school reunion and despite my attempts to avoid her, she is sitting at the same table with my wife and I. This causes an issue, because of the joke Stuts and I are planning to tell on stage after dinner.
Stuts: “Connie lives on a ranch in some place called Middle-of-Nowhere, Wyoming and rides horses every day.
Me: You know, I really liked her in high school. In fact, I planned to marry her.
Stuts: Well that explains it!
Me: Explains what?
Stuts: She obviously moved to Wyoming so you couldn’t find her and those horses are for a fast getaway if you ever did!
In a crazed panic, I rush over to tell Stuts we have to pull The Joke from the routine and why. I’m so flustered I’m not sure I’m even making sense. Stuts has been a good friend since we were nine years old and he knows me very well. He is initially amused by my concern and assumes I am joking.
Stuts (grinning widely): Well, you weren’t serious about wanting to marry Connie, you made that part up, right?
Me: (With a wide-eyed, panicked, face, I shake my head, indicating I had not made that up)
Stuts (Still smiling): Yeah, but it’s still okay. I mean, she’s not hot, is she?
(Conveniently Connie was talking to some people the next table over)
Me: (Motioned with my head for him to judge for himself, panicked face still in place)
Stuts (No longer smiling, deadly serious expression): Oh $h!t, what are you going to do?
But Stuts was not really asking me for a decision. When a guy in the Kenmore Class of 1976 asks you that question, with that expression, in that tone, he is challenging you to be a man and not be a wuss. This is how we developed our manhood in high school, it was how we learned to become men.
Of course, the wise decision was to not tell The Joke, there was no question The Joke needed to be cut from the routine. And I have had 40 years to define and develop my manhood and I am very secure in my masculinity, so there was really no need to ask me that question. However, we were at the high school reunion and we were reliving our high school days and Stuts had just challenged my manhood.
My fearful expression was transformed into something resembling Dirty Harry. My chin jutted out, my chest puffed, as I gritted my teeth. I pointed a finger at Stuts and said with bravado, “We are doing that joke and I will deal any consequences” and then I spun and marched away confidently. I had only taken a few steps when suddenly logic returned. Deal with the consequences? How are you going to deal with those consequences? What the hell were you thinking?
I made the pre-dinner announcements and then retreated to my place at the table, seated right between Connie and my wife. Connie and I immediately began conversing. We didn’t have to catch up on a lot of things, being Facebook friends keeps you up to date on many important details. I’m not even sure what we talked about. It was one of those times that what you talk about is not nearly as interesting as who you’re talking with. Like when you are young and in … oh.
If high school reunions are supposed to take you back to the past, Connie and I were sure going back in time. At some point, it was if we were the only two people in the room. Which of course is odd since my wife was right there. And Connie and I were physically very close during this conversation, but that’s only because the room was very noisy. I’m sure that a body language expert observing us would have obviously come to the wrong conclusion, because I have no feelings, no feelings, none whatsoever. And I was sure Connie had no feelings either.
Dinner ended and it was “show time”. It did feel a big strange combing out that long wig and primping in the men’s room. Fortunately, only one guy entered while I was at the mirror and for some reason he left rather quickly.
We started the routine and it was going well, but we were nearing the end and The Joke was coming up. As Stuts started The Joke, I took a deep breath, there was an adrenaline rush and it seemed like we were speaking in slowmotion. Stuts delivers the punch line, I make an offended expression – and the audience breaks out in raucous laughter.
Personally, I don’t find a joke about a woman moving thousands of miles just to get away from me, that funny at all, but the crowd sure loved The Joke. And incredibly, the person who laughed the loudest at this joke was my wife, so loud in fact, I could discern her laugh from all the others. While I was very relieved that The Joke had not upset my wife, I was a bit offended that she found a joke about a woman moving thousands of miles away just to avoid me, so freakin’ funny. I started to worry that Connie might have a guest room on the ranch.
The routine ended and I returned to my seat. Connie complimented me on the performance, so I knew she was not embarrassed. Things were good! I had survived in a Gloria Gaynor type way, but the night was not over.
A few minutes later, David visited our table and wondered how I had the guts to tell that joke with my wife in the audience. Before I could speak a word, my wife jumped in to defend me. This seldom happens. But hey, it was a funny joke at my expense, that featured her new best friend Connie, what’s not to like?
I then told David that Stuts thought the part about me wanting to marry Connie was not true, when it really was. As I said this I caught a glimpse of someone on my left, nodding. I turned and saw Connie. In the excitement of the moment I had forgotten she was still sitting there. And she was beaming, almost glowing. It’s difficult for a man to spark that type of response in a woman, especially a middle-age woman. What had I done to elicit this response?
This was much too complex to discern at the moment, but my best “post-game” analysis is this:
Our relationship is high school was typical of “first loves”. It was bumpy, awkward, muddled, frustrating and painful. I was horrible at this game, and Connie while better at it, was not good enough to make up for my deficiencies. As a nervous, insecure, self-conscience,17-year-old, I was never able to express my true feelings to her. And as a blossoming young woman in an early relationship, she needed to hear those words, she needed this affirmation from me, and it never came.
Until I delivered it, just a few minutes ago, albeit 40 years too late. It didn’t matter that I was wearing a stupid wig, it didn’t matter that it was part of a joke. No, I had said the words and they were true. She knew they were true and that’s all that mattered. And better yet, they were proclaimed on stage, into a microphone, to a hundred of our peers, no less. Just as when a letter is lost in the mail for many years, it still brings you joy when it is finally delivered. Those words were special, special enough to cause a glow.
(If you are keeping score: I thought The Joke would upset my wife and embarrass Connie. The result was my wife found The Joke hilarious and Connie felt honored. My ability to understand women and anticipate their reactions is astounding.)
After David exited, it was just Connie and I left at the table, seated semi-across from each other, similar to a heads-up poker match. I looked at Connie and our eyes locked on for the second time that evening. She was no longer beaming but there was a light burning in those eyes. It was at that moment I realized that she had brought some old feelings with her to the reunion that night, which I found odd, because I have no feelings, why would I have any feelings whatsoever?
I stared at Connie with my best poker face. A face that said, “I have no feelings now, absolutely none. I am so totally devoid of any feelings that I’m numb. My whole body is numb. I’m so numb, even my skull is numb. Please believe me, don’t call my bluff. Do not call my bluff".
Well it’s no surprise that the women who know you best, can read you well. She was not fazed by my facade. She indeed called my bluff and then raised the stakes by giving me The Look. Back in high school, I was powerless to resist The Look. It was The Look that always made me melt. It was The Look that kept me coming back to her. And now I was face-to-face with The Look, albeit with a couple of added wrinkles, once again.
My plan for the evening was to conceal any feelings that I might still have. Connie had already revealed her feelings and now her plan was to entice me to express mine. She had put my great master plan to the ultimate test.
Now, in over 40 years of time, I have grown into a very manly man, a man with strong resolve and tremendous inner strength. A man who could easily pass this acid test without blinking.
Okay, so I failed a little, in the same sense that the Cleveland Browns failed to win the Super Bowl this year. If I were an iceberg, the hall would have been flooded, so maybe a feeling or two leaked out.
Now after all these years, all the cards were finally on the table. It was intriguing that so much had been expressed by two people without a word being spoken. I guess this is how animals in the wild communicate, right before they --- well, that is not going to happen here. If it had, do you really think I would be writing about it? This ain’t no made-for-TV-movie.
It took me until the next day to understand the significance of that moment. I had always viewed The Look as something Connie did to manipulate and control me and I had resented her for that. I now realized that The Look was her positive, primal reaction to me. It was a natural response that she had no control over.
It was now obvious that back in high school, if only I had been able to do the right things, say the right things and act more like a man than a boy, this courtship could have turned out much differently. For 40 years, I had felt like a loser regarding this relationship, but now I know this was not the case. I had not lost; I was a winner who failed to claim the prize. There is a huge difference.
But I have no regrets, unless I can regret ever being 17. And that of course is fruitless, because the only way from 16 to 18 is by Route 17, even if it is a bumpy road.
And in no sense, is Connie “the one that got away”. There is no “one that got away” if you are happy with “the one you caught”. Consequently, the best part of this story is that Connie found a husband much better for her and my wife is a superior match for me. Therefore, life has worked out so grand for both of us. No, Connie’s not “the one that got away”, but she is “the one who could have been”.
At the end of the evening there was a long goodbye, but it is important to note that there was nothing salacious or prurient about anything that happened that evening. Just a couple of old friends, expressing some old feelings, resolving some old issues. There was no heat in this old flame.
Still, it’s probably a good thing Connie lives in Middle-of-Nowhere, Wyoming, just saying.
*Lyrics by Mark James