Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Ring

I’ve stumbled through many relationships. There was Allie who told me that she was no good. I didn’t listen, so she stopped talking. There was Michelle. She and I never did get in sync. When I wanted to get something going, she was pining. When she got over her past, I’d moved on. There was Carolyn. We slept together on our first date. Most awkward mistake I ever made, probably for her too.

And there was Candy. There was something about her. It’s been almost 30 years since I last saw her and I’ve never freed her from my mind.

Our first date was a drive and a picnic at Snoqualmie Falls. It was one of those first dates with few awkward silences, my only such date first or otherwise, ever. We drove up and back deep in conversation.

“I love golden retrievers. They’re so beautiful,” she said.
“Me too… And huskies,” I said.
“Oh, I love those. Isn’t this drive gorgeous?” she said.
“Very,” I said. …

We spent the entire afternoon enjoying the view – her, the mist as the water tumbled toward the rocks below, and me, her curves beneath her long chaste wool dress as I caressed the small of her back.

When I dropped her off at her apartment that night, she turned to me to say “Thank you” and I said “You’re welcome” by giving her a sudden, awkward kiss. She looked confused. She didn’t pull away, but she didn’t say anything either, the one awkward silence.

I’ve never had a hard time getting lost. It’s a joke, sort of. I have a sign outside my bedroom door that reads “Bathroom” with an arrow pointing the way.

I had it all worked out. We would start the evening with dinner at 4:30 at Bartleby’s, a quaint Irish place, and then a movie at 6:15 – Raising Arizona. It all hinged on finding Bartleby’s, a family favorite from her childhood. She said, “I’ll show you how to get there.”

Traffic was a snarl. Look up “frustration” and you’ll find “trying to get anywhere at 4:30 on a Friday in Seattle.” Just a few blocks from our destination with its green sign glowing like a beacon through the drizzling rain, I was faced with a decision.

“Turn left up here,” she said.
I started to change lanes.
“No, I mean right.”
I switched my blinkers.
“No, go left!”

I swerved into the other lane, got honked at, and turned left. And it only took a moment to realize we were in trouble. We were heading out of town across a floating bridge with no way out until Clyde Hill.

It was bumper to bumper all the way across, the memory of Bartleby’s fading.
“I’m so sorry,” she said pulling her collar up and tucking it under her chin and pulling her sleeves down into her fists as if trying to disappear into her wool dress.

“It’s okay,” I said.
“You really must hate me … Don’t you?”
“Don’t be silly. I love you.”

We drove in silence until we reached Bartleby’s at 5:45. We ate and drank and drank some more until time to leave for the 8:30 Raising Arizona. As babies tumbled from a crib atop Nicholas Cage, I couldn’t stop laughing. I looked over at her and there was a single tear on her cheek. I watched it in the flickering light as it finished its journey and dripped from her chin. I squeezed her hand.

It was the only time I’ve ever cried as an adult.

I’d just spent a week away from Candy while her ex-boyfriend Phil was in town. She’d told me, “We spent so much time together. I can’t just tell him I can’t see him.” I was finally with her again after he’d gone back home to Chicago.

I suddenly felt my whole body shaking and I didn’t know what was happening until she started pleading, “Don’t cry. Please don’t cry.”

I rested my head in her lap. I could barely feel the warmth and softness of her flesh through the layers of wool. I looked up at her, for comfort. She was distractedly pulling her turtleneck as far up her neck as it would reach.

“Why do you keep doing that?” I demanded.
She kept tugging.
“Stop it!”

She got up and left the room. Not mad, not hurt, just confused. We ended up making out that evening. We always ended up making out. But I drove home feeling her confusion.

I type her name into Google. “Candy Morrison.” There are about 11,000,000 results including images of a nude model with very large breasts. After spending a moment eyeing those, I scroll down hoping for some sign of my Candy.

Google is amazing. I can usually find anything about everything. Why am I having such a hard time finding what’s become of her?

I was smitten. Only days after tears had overwhelmed me, I’d almost forgotten about Phil – and Candy was trying hard to please me as if still feeling my harsh words. She kept pulling her collar down and pushing her sleeves up past her elbows. There was something lighter about the fabric of her dress and her lips were the shiniest I’d ever seen them.

The excitement of seeing so much exposed skin on her was intoxicating. Was she finally opening herself up to me? Maybe she’d needed that time alone with Phil so she could forget him?

Such were my thoughts as we cuddled on her couch, the passion of our kisses growing with each pause for breath. My fumbling hands found the zipper at the base of her neck and began to glide the tab downward, slowly separating the teeth. The zipper offered no resistance and she didn’t either. I kept kissing her and she kept kissing me back.

The tab slid past her lower back and I paused to press my hand against her skin. It felt softer, smoother than I’d imagined. I slid the tab until it stopped at the top of her panties and then, unannounced, her dress tumbled from her shoulders revealing tiny bare breasts, perfect morsels. Instinctively I took one into my mouth.

I looked up into her eyes expecting an invitation to continue and saw instead the fear of a wounded, terrified, cornered doe. Guilt hit me. I suddenly felt a rapist.

I placed her dress back over her shoulders and slid the tab back up along her backbone, re-clenching the teeth along the way. I sat back against the throw pillows at the end of the couch catching my breath. She curled up against the pillows at the other end, the couch seeming twenty feet long.

I didn’t know what to say so I started, “Candy, I love…”
She interrupted, “If I ever get pregnant, I’ll die.”

As always with Candy, she was dramatic one day, calm the next. I saw her two days later and she was wearing jeans and a t-shirt for the first time since I met her. She always looked sexy to me, but that day she was making me dizzy.

We were having lunch at her apartment and I noticed an unopened letter on the counter. It was from him. She had it in plain sight just begging for me to notice it. When she saw I had, she said, “It’s over. I wanted you to see that so you could see this.” She picked it up and tore it in half, dramatically dropping the halves into the garbage.

Her gesture was a relief to me. But in bed that night I imagined her fishing it back out, reading it tearfully, and leaving the next day for Chicago, never to be seen again. It felt like a “do something now or it’s over” moment. The fear of losing her kept me awake.

The next day I called her best friend Marlene and asked her to meet me at the mall. We spent four hours going from one jewelry store to the next. I trusted she knew Candy’s taste better than anyone.

“What do you think?” I asked, pointing at a ½ carat Marquise.
“Have you dropped any hints?” she asked.
“Sure I have… Or do you think she’d prefer that one?” I pointed at a round cut.
“What has she said?” she asked.
“I think I like the round one best,” I said.
Quietly, she said, “No, I think she’s more of a Marquise girl.”

The whole time I knew her I only saw Candy drive once. She was terrified, but she wouldn’t tell me why. She just insisted that I always drive. This complicated my big evening.

I wanted to pop the question in my living room before a roaring fire after a nice meal over glasses of wine. It was just some romantic image I had floating through my head. This meant that I would have to drive across town to pick her up and drive her all the way back to my place, something sure to arouse suspicion. She’d never seen my house before.

“Where are we going?” she asked.
“It’s a surprise.” I said.
“Oh,” she said.

I pulled into my driveway and parked. “I thought it was about time you saw my place,” I said.

I hopped out and started toward the door and saw that she was still sitting in the car. Like a gentleman, I went back and opened her door for her. I allowed her to go ahead of me. “After you,” I said.

I unlocked the front door and pushed it inward. She hovered over the threshold for a moment before going inside. Dinner had been slow cooking all day. “It smells really good in here,” she finally said.

And it did. I had everything planned. I was setting the perfect mood. The table was set and candles were already flickering in the dimly lit dining room. I’d been waiting for years to finally share my house with someone. Hopefully my queen-sized bed too that I’d bought two years earlier at the urging of a lady friend. She’d told me, “Come on. Go for it. You won’t be a bachelor forever.”

I took her coat, folded it carefully, and draped it on my bed. I returned to find her fiddling with my stereo, my copy of Kind of Blue in her hands. I remember thinking, “Girl has taste.” I took the record from her and told her to make herself at home while I put it on. Soon, we were relaxing on the couch, her with her eyes closed and head back, and me enjoying the sight of her while the strains of Miles Davis drifted through the room.

Dinner went as planned. Everything tasted perfect and by the third glasses of wine we were both laughing and listening to records like two college roommates.

As we moved to the fireplace with a fire already blazing, I was just drunk enough, just relaxed enough, and just happy enough to ignore how fast my heart was racing. The moment was here. Now I just had to do it.

“Candy. I said I have a surprise for you,” I said.
“Yes. Thank you. The evening has been wonderful,” she said.
“Yes it has. And I’m hoping we can have many more wonderful evenings,” I said, pulling the ring out of my pants pocket and holding it before her. I’ll never forget how it sparkled by the light of the fire. “Candy, will you marry me?” I said.

I looked into her eyes. They were deep and green and beautiful. I couldn’t tell what they were seeing, though. They were looking somewhere, but they weren’t looking back into my eyes.

“Take me home,” she said.
“What’s wrong? Please try it on,” I said.

She took the ring from my outstretched hand and rolled it around in her fingers. She handed it back and started walking toward the door. I followed. I didn’t know what else to do. When she went out the door, it was my turn to pause, hovering over the threshold. Then I stepped out into the night, closing the door behind us.

We drove back to her apartment in silence. She let herself out and as she closed the door I spoke my last word to her, “Candy…”

I started to feel the wine as I slowly drove home. I was lucky the cops were somewhere else that evening. Getting pulled over would’ve really made my night. When I got home, I poked at the embers until they were no longer glowing, went to the bathroom and stood before the mirror wondering why that guy staring back was such a loser, and then went to bed.

I finally started sobbing when I turned on my bedroom light and saw Candy’s coat still draped carefully across my queen-sized bed.

I type “Candy Morrison Phil” into Google and sit staring at the screen. Damn, Phil. Phil what? Candy never said his last name. Adding just “Phil” to my search isn’t going to get me any closer to the truth. It’ll just take me to a nude model with very large breasts again.

I click the search button anyway.

About a week after the big evening, I got a call from Marlene.

“I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but Candy packed up and left for Chicago yesterday. I’ve never seen her like this,” she said.

I was speechless. I wasn’t over Candy. How can you get over someone you wanted to spend the rest of your life with in only six days? I was still hoping she’d change her mind and ask me for the ring. It took me another two weeks after she left before I finally returned it to the jeweler.

“Scott? Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yes. Sorry. I have to go,” I said and hung up.

For the next two months, I didn’t do much. I sat around the house. I’d lost my taste for Kind of Blue and started listening to The Rolling Stones while drinking Jack Daniels. I remember “Dead Flowers” being a favorite.

I would go out and take long drives, nowhere in particular. One day, I was at a stop light and a familiar car drove through the intersection, a VW bug, vintage ’64. It jumped right out at me. It was light blue and had these funny, homemade bumpers made of oak. It belonged to Candy’s dad. But what made my heart race was Candy was driving.

When the light changed, I followed. She was driving slowly, cautiously as if the car was as fearful as her. I kept a safe distance feeling like a private investigator in some film noir. I followed her to the edge of town and away toward the mountains. We headed up the pass. I remembered her saying “Isn’t this drive gorgeous?” And I looked about and thought “Yes. It is.”

I knew where she was going long before she got there. It was no surprise that she took the turnoff for Snoqualmie Falls. I wondered why she was going there. The only time she’d ever been there was with me on our first date. Was she re-living that day? She parked near the lookout point and I parked at the far end of the parking lot and watched her from my car.

She got out and walked over to the railing and started fiddling with the coin operated telescope. There was a mom with her little girl standing nearby. The girl was licking a huge, rainbow colored lollypop. Candy kept looking over at them and then pretending to peer through the telescope.

The mom and girl wandered away out of sight eventually and I decided it was my chance to go try to talk to her. But before I could open the car door, in the blink of an eye, Candy climbed up onto the railing and jumped. I ran to the edge as fast as I could and looked down. Through the mist, I could see her body on the rocks far below.

I think “George,” “George Morrison.” That was her dad’s name. I type “Candy George Morrison Seattle” into Google and click “I’m feeling lucky.” And suddenly I find myself reading an obituary. George died just a few weeks ago from a freak fall from a ladder. He was survived by Candy (Morrison) Oaks and two grandchildren Jason and Olivia Oaks ages nine and eleven.

Oaks! Phil Oaks! I type “Candy Phil Oaks Chicago” into Google and there she is, or rather there they are. The first suggested image is of little Olivia holding up a trophy and wearing a swimsuit. Little Jason is frowning and Phil has his hand on Olivia’s shoulder. He’s smiling proudly.

Off to one side, a distance away, is Candy – looking older, but still my Candy. My eyes go straight to her hands tightly clutching the sleeves of her long, chaste wool dress.

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