To this day, he doesn’t know her name. She saved his life. She might not even know that, but he loves her now as he did then.
He was so down on his luck on the last day of 1972, he figured he’d take a walk after finishing the bottle of rye before he’d put a bullet in his head to quell the shame and agony forged by memories of war and the seemingly inescapable chains of loneliness.
His tour of duty in Vietnam had shown him the hardest avenue to earning an honorable discharge after dumping 48 bombs on Hanoi out of a B-25 bomber, claiming lives and destroying a city.
Those unseen lives he took weighed heavy on his head and his heart and it was time to ponder the most essential question in philosophy: Why continue? Why not stop the pain? Why suffer in a barren studio apartment on Beacon and Hereford streets? The Smith & Wesson Model 15 was waiting for him once his last walk brought him back home.
The bottle was as empty as his apartment and his sense of life’s worth. He describes the nightmarish haze as a man suffering from “the pangs of shame permeating the recesses” of his soul.
“I looped around the Fenway before snaking back past Symphony Hall and up to Trinity Church. Then I roamed through the Common, scaled the hill with its golden dome, and meandered into that charming labyrinth divided by Hanover Street. By the time I reached the waterfront, a charcoal sky had opened and a drizzle became a shower. That shower soon gave way to a deluge. While the other pedestrians darted for awnings and lobbies, I trudged into the rain. I suppose I thought, or rather hoped, that it might wash away the patina of guilt that had coagulated around my heart. It didn’t, of course, so I started back to the apartment.
And then I saw you.”
Whoever she was, she was standing under the balcony of the Old State House.
She was visibly upset and had just finished shedding tears of her own. But two burdened souls went for a cup of coffee once he mustered up the goods to ask her, and she took his hand before he could even smile the first genuine smile his facial muscles could form in who knows how long.
“You’d taken shelter under the balcony of the Old State House. You were wearing a teal ball gown, which appeared to me both regal and ridiculous. Your brown hair was matted to the right side of your face, and a galaxy of freckles dusted your shoulders. I’d never seen anything so beautiful.”
They sat at the counter at Neisner’s and talked over coffee and pecan pie. She was set to marry some Brahmin banker she had no interest in whatsoever. She was dressed up to go to his parent’s party, where she was condemned to play the role of a loving bride to be amongst the elites.
He opened himself up to this woman in ways he didn’t think possible. When he went to hit the men’s room, she bailed. He came back to the counter to find an empty chair where she was sitting.
“But when I reached the stools, you were gone. No phone number. No note. Nothing.”
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And so began their love affair.
“I went back to Neisner’s every day for a year, but I never saw you again. Ironically, the torture of your abandonment seemed to swallow my self-loathing, and the prospect of suicide was suddenly less appealing than the prospect of discovering what had happened in that restaurant. The truth is I never really stopped wondering.
I’m an old man now, and only recently did I recount this story to someone for the first time, a friend from the VFW. He suggested I look for you on Facebook. I told him I didn’t know anything about Facebook, and all I knew about you was your first name and that you had lived in Boston once. And even if by some miracle I happened upon your profile, I’m not sure I would recognize you. Time is cruel that way.”
His Missed Connection on Craigslist is that of true American poetry. An ode to a love that may have been in this all-too-vast world.
“You see, in these intervening forty-two years I’ve lived a good life. I’ve loved a good woman. I’ve raised a good man. I’ve seen the world. And I’ve forgiven myself. And you were the source of all of it. You breathed your spirit into my lungs one rainy afternoon, and you can’t possibly imagine my gratitude.
I have hard days, too. My wife passed four years ago. My son, the year after. I cry a lot. Sometimes from the loneliness, sometimes I don’t know why. Sometimes I can still smell the smoke over Hanoi. And then, a few dozen times a year, I’ll receive a gift. The sky will glower, and the clouds will hide the sun, and the rain will begin to fall. And I’ll remember.
So wherever you’ve been, wherever you are, and wherever you’re going, know this: you’re with me still.”