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Girl From the North Country

Now I'd become his personal version of "Tangled Up in Blue." ("I seen a lot of women but she never escaped my mind.") It was too weird. He didn't know me anymore. My life had come a long way from his drama club image of me.

"That girl you used to know? She's gone. Stop thinking about me," I told my bewildered date and left. This time, I drove myself home, crying. I never saw him again.

In my mid-thirties I married a kind, honorable man much like Steve. The same summer, my older brother ran into Steve at their high school reunion. My brother never knew about our secret romance, so he thought it odd when Steve introduced him by saying, "This man's sister broke my heart." My brother, who thought he'd been mistaken for someone else, nearly forgot to tell me.

Today, gas is $2.27 a gallon. There are no more drive-ins, only drive-thrus, and I have Googled Steve Duncan, who is now 59. It's been 40 years since that spring I drove by his house every day but I still owe him an apology. He was a good guy and I was a freak. For years I've wanted to tell him I'm sorry for the way it ended.

His unmistakable voice, a little more gravelly, says to leave a message. "Uhm, Steve. Hi. This is awkward. . . . I have meant to call for about 30 years to apologize. I was a jerk to you and you were totally decent and didn't deserve it. I hope you're having a good life.

"I'm not in a 12-step program or anything. I know this call must sound like I am, but I treated you badly and . . . just want to say I'm sorry. That's all. If you want to call me back, here's my number . . ." When I put the receiver down, my heart was racing.

Steve called that evening and quickly let bygones go by. He told me a vivid memory of us parked up the street from my parents' house when another car pulled up behind us and flashed its lights. Thinking it was my dad, Steve sped off but the driver pursued us through my mazelike neighborhood. Finally pulling over to face my father's wrath, Steve instead met an officer in an unmarked police cruiser who was responding to a neighbor's call about us in front of her house. The cop wished Steve luck with my dad.

Bringing me up to the present, he also told me about his warm, extended family of two sons, one of them a hockey star; his ex-wife; her second husband and their two additional sons. We talked about his work and about him recently finally quitting smoking. It may have been the first time I ever actually listened to him.

About how I'd ended the relationship, he graciously responded, "You were just a kid." He also said, "To me, you'll always be 17," and for an instant I was, hiccupping out a breathless "Okay."

We talked about an hour. Hanging up was bittersweet. There was no plan to continue our reunion. I've been happily married more than 20 years. But we assured each other we're both having rich, good, happy lives and are genuinely glad that the other is, too. Don't think twice, it's all right.


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