Monday, May 21, 2007

A Face from the Past

Yesterday afternoon I was stopped dead in my tracks by a guy's sunburn. No, really! It was at Meijer's, between a pyramid of Cherry Coca-Cola and a display of Sun Gold chips. Granted, you don't see too many sunburns up in this neck of the woods but it wasn't just the sunburn that grabbed my attention.

This guy was dressed for the outdoors -- jeans, t-shirt with an unbuttoned plaid shirt over it, sleeves rolled up to the elbow. His bare forearms, face, and the back of his neck were deeply tanned with that pink edge that whispered that he'd perhaps spent a bit too long in the sun today. He had dark curly hair topped by a Red Wings cap, and the distinct air of someone who had just popped out of the woods to grab a few staples, then would be returning to his camp. My kids, if they were to see him, would say he was "my type".

It wasn't that that got my attention either, though.

What caused me to screech to a halt, mouth agape, eyes peering over my almost empty buggy (one zebra-tomato plant, Dr. Pepper-flavored lip gloss, and a bag of frozen snow peas) was his striking resemblance to an old friend of mine. They could've been cousins... brothers... almost twins, even!

The first time I saw Ben he was wearing a creamy white Aran v-neck sweater and had a sunburnt tan (just like this Meijer's shopper)! My first thought (upon seeing Ben) was "omg if I wasn't married this would be my dream guy!" (He looked a lot like a young version of my dad, for those of you who like to analyze such things.) Much later (after a totally non-Ben-related divorce) he and I met up and began to go out. We fell in love, blah blah blah, but it didn't have a happy ending because he had another love, Alcohol, and when he was with her he was not always a very nice person.

Sometimes when he was drinking he would talk about going to "High Bridge" (it's near his home, you can buy bottles of spring water from there when you travel through Kentucky) and jumping off. Usually I'd plead with him not to, listing reasons he should live, etc. Toward the end of the relationship, I was less upset when he'd say it, because I'd heard it so many times that it just felt manipulative. He wouldn't stop drinking, and having him get maudlin and go on and on got tiring, as did his tirades. We drifted apart, and I began dating a very sober guy, good as gold but not heart-thumpingly gorgeous and exciting like Ben.

Anyway, when I saw this sunburnt shopper who looked like Ben, it made me stop & think (in one of those lightening-fast flashes of thought where you get all philosophical but it only takes about 2 seconds to imagine what would take hours to write) about how Ben will never get sunburnt again. He won't ever have have the deep creases testifying to his days outdoors working on the farm and in construction. ( I noticed these creases on the Meijer's guy as he was studying the nutrition info on the back of a pack of sunflower seeds. (Hmm, I wondered, does he have to watch his cholesterol? That's another thing Ben will never have to do.)

Ben chose to "opt out" of the whole growing old thing. One hot summer afternoon, the day after the 4th of July fireworks illuminated rivers all across the U.S., Ben chose to join the cool water of the Kentucky River. He parked his car and jumped off High Bridge, built in 1911 and for years the highest bridge in North America and the highest railroad bridge in the world. It took them days to find him, and they had to leave his casket closed because of the damage that is done to a body when it hits the water from so high above. Funny, how you never think about that.. slipping away quietly into the water sounds so peaceful... but it's not. I wish he'd known that.


VexedAngel said...


You are a great writer! Your story really drew me in. ((hugs))

fuzzywhitedogs said...

Thanks Ann -- and thanks for the hugs! :-)

{b r a n d i} said...

I am totally ditto-ing what Ann wrote....I was completely drawn in my that...what a way to tell the story.

Anonymous said...

--like i told you before-- that is some amazing writing. You are a great storyteller. I am sad he took that way out. You evoked all kings of emotions with your wring. thanks for ahareing. Brenda