Wednesday, August 30, 2006

burning love...(Part II)

Casting aside my grade-school training to 'Stop...Drop...and Roll', I made my way through the thick black smoke pouring out of the breakroom and started mashing the buttons on the microwave until it finally sputtered to a stop. All right, yes--in 20/20 hindsight perhaps 5 minutes on full power was a bit much to warm up one pound of gourmet popcorn. But in my defense, a microwave oven was relatively new technology to me as a 20-year old male college student in 1987. I had only just recently got the hang (more or less) of cooking frozen pizza in the toaster oven.

After the sizzling, crackling, and hissing finally died down, I tried to break through the hardened, pitch-black shell of what had moments (well, 4:48 minutes) ago been the centerpiece of my gourmet anniversary treat. I was able to pry a few pieces of semi-scorched popcorn from the innermost molten core, but they turned out to bear a striking resemblence in both texture and flavor to a Kingsford charcoal briquet. The entire mess was unsalvageable. The irony was that had the whole carbonized mass continued to break down through its molecular structure for just another minute or two, I probably would have ended up with a nice diamond to give her for an anniversary gift.

I'm pretty sure I went out and bought chocolates or some other non-combustible substitute for the gourmet popcorn, and hoped that the other gifts would still make the occasion special for her. I know that a 3-month anniversary might not seem like a such a big deal to most people, but Karen and I had been in unique situation. We had both arrived from different parts of the country to take part in the same semester-long internship program that ran from February through May. We knew that any potential relationship was predestined to end on a specific date, but the attraction was so strong between us that we decided to go ahead in spite of that and make the most of each day we had together.

So this single anniversary would be the only one we would share before we both headed off across two time zones back to our homes in less than a month. It was actually my first anniversary with anyone, ever. Karen had been the first girl I had ever dated. Not for a lack of effort on my part, but up to that point all through high school and college the girls had considered me the funny, smart-aleck boy in the nice sweaters and courdoroys (...thanks, Mom.) They had all been vying to become the next girlfriend of the star quarterback or all-star point guard. Apparently, dating the sixth man on the golf team didn't hold quite the same social cache...

But Karen told me that it was my sense of humor that had attracted me to her in the first place. For me, it was the way her eyes would light up whenever she smiled. She was the first girl that I fell in love with. And one night as we stood beneath a brilliant moon on the end of a pier overlooking the dark ocean, she was the first girl to tell me, "I love you." The cold February wind that swept up from the waves at that moment didn't stand a chance.

Our anniversary turned out just fine in spite of my little mishap earlier in the day. In fact, it wound up making the day even better. As soon as I met up with Karen at lunch to celebrate, the tell-tale wisps of smoke still lingering about my body were a dead-giveaway that something had been up. By the time I finished describing the calamity in the employee break room, there were tears of laughter streaming down her face in delight. She let me know that as far as she was concerned, that little fossilized lump of charred popcorn meant more to her than a dozen boxes of chocolate from anyone else.
* * * * * * * *
We both knew that a long-distance relationship wouldn't be practical. I saved up and flew out to Chicago once towards the end of the summer. For two more days I was able to experience that feeling of sheer happiness just from being with her. We kept in touch less and less over time, calling each other up once every couple of years around a major event. She is now a very successful attorney with her own firm in Chicago, and is married with two boys.
Once, sometime after her wedding, she shared something very special. She said that until she had met her husband, none of the other guys she had dated had come close when she compared them to her memories of me, because she had known that my love for her had been heartfelt and sincere. That meant more than anything else she could have said, because I had felt the same way. My first time in love may have lasted for only a few, brief months, but somewhere deep in the quiet of my heart, the memories still remain like a warm ember--forever glowing and never to be extinguished.