I made a few ill-advised trips back to Tulsa to see her. High school football games, the mall where she worked, and one time to the high school. I was stubborn and hard-headed, seeking a reason for what I’d done wrong. I wanted to see her so much that I asked my best friend’s sister if she would like to go to the Christmas dance. I guess she felt pity on me or really wanted to go.
At the dance, Debbie and her boyfriend were there. She was wearing our prom dress. Guess she liked the dress, but it sure pissed me off. I thought prom dresses were like wedding dresses, one use and never worn again. Wrong! I think that upset me more than seeing them kiss. My date, Anne, sincerely asked me if I wanted to leave. She saw the pain in my eyes and knew the pain I was going through. Her suggestion woke me up. She’d purchased a dress, done her hair, and deserved my full attention. I looked at her and said, “No, I’ll be okay. You look great tonight. Let’s stay.” We really did have a good time once I came back to reality. We had such a good time with each other, we even got our picture taken.
I came home for the Christmas break and like usual a bunch of us guys got together and played a game of softball over at LaFortune Park (winter in Oklahoma can either be brutally cold or unseasonably balmy). Should have been named MisFortune Park. During the game I dove for a ball. It was right on the tip on my glove.
You know the sound mud makes when you fall in it, kind of a hard squish? Well, that was the sound I heard. When I came to, several of my teammates were standing over me with a puzzled look. All I cared about was if I’d caught the ball. They resoundingly said, “No!”
“Well hell, I know it was on the tip of my glove. What happened?”
They helped me up and for some odd reason escorted me to the bleachers. I felt woozy, but I figured it was from hitting the ground. Apparently that wasn’t the case. They had me move my right wrist - no problem, move my right elbow -no problem, raise your right shoulder. I think I passed out. It appeared my shoulder was not on an even plane. It was sticking up at an odd angle. I was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a third degree separation. You might ask where this is leading. Okay, I had surgery. A lot of people called and sent their "Get Wells" and heartfelt sympathies - all but one. The one I really wanted to hear from. Just a kind word of well wishing or even a phone call. It never came. I just wanted to hear her voice. It wasn’t to be. It would be thirty years before I heard the rest of the story. I loved her so much I couldn’t let her go.
We did cross paths one more time while she was in high school; Spring 1979. I believe to this day it was a set-up meeting. She was still seeing her boyfriend, but for some odd reason she contacted my best friend Mike’s girlfriend. Debbie wanted to see me again. This would take some doing. I would have to make a special trip to Tulsa. You see, I might not have had a girlfriend, but I discovered that fine affordable beverage that was so prevalent in Stillwater - beer.
When I went to OSU, I didn't smoke or drink. There was no time or desire for such activities. After we broke up, several of the guys on the floor decided it was time to get Jeff out and rejoin the real world. And so, with great trepidation and angst, I agreed to go this one time. And what do you know, I found out I really liked ice cold beer. It didn't erase all of the pain, but it sure was fun trying to wash it away. I believe even Sports Illustrated commented on the consumption of beer at OSU when interviewing Thurman Thomas.
I pondered the thought and finally agreed to stop by and see her in the presence of my friends. I was starting to heal from the break-up, but nonetheless was very curious what was on her mind. The meeting was set for around 8:00pm or so. It didn’t matter because I was in no rush to see her. Make her wait if she wants to see me so bad.
So, with good manners and grace, I picked up Mike around 7:30 and decided it was time to eat. He looked at me and said, “Aren’t you supposed to meet Debbie at 8:00?”
I said, “And? If it’s so important she can wait. I’m hungry.” I'm so glad we didn’t have cell phones or texting back then. It would have spoiled the moment terribly. We went to either Taco Bell or Wendy’s, really doesn’t matter. Mike kept looking at his watch. I told him to knock it off - we would leave soon enough. I wanted to see her and then I didn’t. I was in no rush to have those old feelings re-ignited whether it was love or hate. I just wasn’t sure how I would react.
We finished eating and were expected to pick his girlfriend up then go to Debbie's. We stopped at Pam's house, but she’d already gone to Debbie’s. Well that would make life easier. We drove down the street and sure enough they were both standing outside. Mike’s girlfriend was happy to see us. Debbie was very uneasy. I could tell she wasn’t sure how I would react. She couldn’t look me in the eye. That was fine; I had nothing to be ashamed of. She on the other hand knew the way the break-up went down was wrong, and it was her fault.
I really had nothing to say. This was her meeting. She still looked good - long brunette hair, good pair of jeans, and the blue and brown easy off top she was wearing back in October when I watched her clean the house.
She’d put a little thought into this meeting by inviting Mike and Pam. They were going to act as her shield if the meeting went down badly. I positioned myself on the driver's side of the truck leaning into the bed. She would have to come to me if she wanted to talk. She was pleasant and nice enough, but she still couldn’t look me in the eyes.
I started the conversation with, “Why aren’t you out on a date?” She sheepishly said they were going out later. She asked the usual questions: how are you, how’s school, the parents, you know the drill; talking with no substance. I drove seventy-six miles to hear this crap? She finally looked up and asked me how I was really doing and how did I feel about her. Mike and Pam kind of moved a little closer waiting for my reaction. If it went south, they could step in.
I looked her in the eyes, “You really hurt me and lied to me. That was the hardest part. That you lied to me and couldn’t tell me the truth that it was over, and you had another boyfriend. I’m doing a lot better now.” It was pretty dark, but I know I saw tears coming down her cheeks. She was trying to keep them in check, but it wasn’t working. Yeah, that made me feel good. All the pain and tears I’d endured for three months, it was good to see her cry.
She then asked me a question that surprised me, “Jeff, you said that you were going to beat the hell out of my new boyfriend. Do you still plan on doing that, because he really thinks you will.”
I paused and pondered the thought for a few moments (dramatic effect was required). I looked at her and said point blank, “He’s not worth my time.” This put Mike and Pam at ease. The worst had passed. Jeff was going to keep his cool, and let it go. You could feel them and her, let out a sigh of relief.
Okay, that was it. She wanted to know if I was going to pummel her boyfriend. What a wasted weekend. I drove seventy-six miles for this? Idiot. What was I thinking? While I was running her thoughts and lame issues through my brain, she walked up to me, “I still really care about you, and I’m so sorry for what happened between us. You did nothing wrong.” What did she say? I was taken completely off guard. I wasn’t prepared to hear the words, “You did nothing wrong.” She put her arms around my waist and gave me a huge loving hug. One that meant something, not some pleasant passing, good to see you hug, a real live I care hug. What else could I do but return the favor? I cannot say mine was with the same feeling, but it made her feel a little better about what happened. Something was different though. She’d lost a lot of weight. I really thought I might break a bone. What was going on? As we pulled apart from each other, she had tears streaming down her face and said, “I’m so sorry,” then turned away saying she was late for her date and ran into her house.
It would be years before I heard the rest of the story.
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