Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mind Flood, Part Two

I may be home from vacation or I may be missing. If there's no blog post tomorrow, you might want to start looking for me and my family. But I didn't want to leave you hanging from yesterday's blog post, so here's the conclusion to the post I wrote in June of 2011.

For Part One, go here.

A couple of years ago, after I left the office at the end of a long day at work, I walked down the block to the corner Esso station, where I bought another sheet of STO bus tickets. I was completely out, and without tickets I couldn't get home. And it had been a long day—I wanted to get home as quickly as possible.

The lineup at the counter in the station was unusually long. An elderly lady was buying lottery tickets and decided that she'd strike up a conversation with the clerk, despite the people lined up behind her. I grew nervous, fearful that I would miss the bus. Depending on when it came, and how quickly I could purchase my tickets, I could either catch the bus when it pulled up in front of the Esso or sprint to where I usually catch it, near my office, while it cut through the subdivision behind us.

While I stood in line, I noticed a man looking at me. He was a couple of years younger than me and was dressed in a white t-shirt and khaki shorts. I felt a little uncomfortable being stared at, but I could easily ignore him. There were magazine and newspaper covers that I could read from where I stood. But then he spoke.

"Excuse me," he said, "is your name Ross?"

"Yes," I said, looking him in the eyes. I had no idea who he was, but his eyes seemed friendly, they looked at me with widening recognition.

"Oh my God, I can't believe it's you. It's me, Rick: Rick..." he gave me his last name. "I dated Sue..." he gave me her last name.

Sue: Laura's sister.

Memories flooded back. Rick dated Sue when I was working at the camera shop. For a brief time, Sue and Laura both worked in the store. Rick's sister, Pia, also worked in the store. It was like a family-run business. I remembered Sue. She was pretty, and knew it. To me, she couldn't hold a candle to Laura, who was drop-dead gorgeous but didn't have a clue about that, wouldn't have believed it if you told her each and every day.

I remembered Rick. "How the Hell are you?" I laughed, the memories coming back. The last time I saw Rick, he was in his teens. He was an adult now, and now that I remembered him he hadn't changed much. A little grey in the hair. More filled out. He looked good.

My bus came and went, but I didn't care. I was being treated to a blast from the past. Rick, when he learned that I missed my bus, offered to drive me wherever I needed to be. Normally, I wouldn't have wanted to impose, but I wanted to know what had become of everyone, so I asked him to drive me to where I could catch my connecting bus to get home. It was only about ten minutes out of his way. Rick, still being a good guy, was happy to oblige.

Rick still kept in touch with Laura and Sue. Both were now living in St. Catherines. Laura had been married, but was now single, with four sons. Sue was doing well, but Rick spoke so quickly and I was remembering Laura that I missed some of the information. I think he said that Sue was now a lesbian, but he mentioned some other names that I didn't recognize that I could be mistaken.

Pia was ill. It didn't sound good. I told him to give her my love. I gave him my business card—the one with my mobile phone number, personal e-mail address, and blog address—and told him to pass my contact info on. That I'd love to hear from Pia and Laura. Especially Laura.

And so the memories of Laura came back in a flood. A mind flood.

DISCLAIMER: this post, in no way, shape, or form, should be interpreted as any expression of regret with the life I live. I love the way that my life has unfolded: I'm happy with my career path, I love my home, I adore my children and am thankful for them every day, and I worship my wife, without whom I would be hopelessly lost. I wouldn't change my life for the world.
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This post returns to a time before my life really started. It has nothing to do with the now. Think of it as fiction, even though it's
not.
When I returned to the camera shop as a full-time employee, I learned that Laura was gone, and my heart sunk. She had left the store to focus on her studies. She had moved on. It was time that I did the same.

I threw myself into my job. I gave it 100 percent. I focused on developing my photography skills so that I could not only sell cameras with more confidence, I could pass my knowledge on to customers, when they were examining their prints, so that they could take a better picture next time. Photography surpassed my main passion, writing. I still wrote fiction—Roland Axam started coming to life during this time—but I never left my house without my camera.

I found my confidence waxing. I was losing my shyness—yes, I was shy once. Not with friends and family, nor with customers. My shyness came when I showed interest in women. I would never ask anyone out because I was afraid of being laughed at, afraid of rejection. I was convinced that I wasn't good enough to win the affections of anyone. But with my job at the camera store, working five days a week with the public, talking about a subject I loved, I gained lots of confidence. I wished that Laura was around to see this newly confident young man.

And then, one day, my wish came true.

The store had expanded, had moved into a new location in the mall. The photo lab, which was previously crammed into a corner of the old, drab store, was now in a bright, black-and-white-tiled, climate-controlled room. A large glass barrier separated the lab from the rest of the store, so that customers could see photo technicians working diligently, turning film cannisters into stacks of memories, printed in vibrant colours. Many people would come into the store and would stand at the glass, watching the pictures come out of the printer, viewing a disconnected story, in stills.

I finished up with a customer and noticed someone standing at the photo lab window. Even from behind, I knew who it was. It was Laura. She was looking at the new lab, trying to make eye contact with her former colleagues. She didn't see me step behind her, didn't notice me inching closer to her ear.

"Hello, Gorgeous," I said in a near-whisper, so that only she could hear. Laura turned, looked at me with those laughing eyes. Her face lit up and she did something I never expected, not in a thousand years. She wrapped her arms around me, held me in a tight embrace. I held onto her just as tightly, as though I was never going to let her go. Though it was only for a brief moment, the hug seemed to last an eternity. Everything else came to a standstill.

"You're back," she exclaimed, pulling away, "what happened?"

"The newspaper didn't work out," I told her. "And Cesar took me back."

"I wonder if he'll do the same for me," Laura said, "I'm looking for work."

"I'm sure he will," I said, "he's always looking for experienced help, especially in the lab."

"I'd like to work out on the floor," said Laura. "I could work both, if he needs the help."

Me and Laura, working side by side. The non-existent entity was smiling upon me. This time, I wouldn't shy away. I would find the right moment and ask her out: maybe for a drink at the end of a shift. Baby steps.

Laura, of course, had a boyfriend. Laura's boyfriend, of course, was perfect for her: tall, dark, and handsome. My below-average height, light-skinned, and goofy-looking appearance were no match. No amount of confidence could rival a match like Laura and her boyfriend.

I gave up, resigning myself that Laura and I would be, in the best-case scenario, friends.

And as we worked more and more together, we did become friends. We shared what was going on in our lives outside of the camera store. As things turned out, we did go out for drinks after work. We both joined the company baseball team and would see each other on the weekends and evenings, at the games. Laura would even turn to me, asking me for advice when she and her boyfriend seemed to be on the rocks. And when they eventually broke up, Laura turned to my shoulder to cry on.

But while Laura was now single, I was dating someone who worked in the mall. It wasn't a great relationship, but the young woman from the clothing store and I enjoyed each other's company. Translation: we were having good sex.

When the sex wasn't enough to keep the relationship going, we broke up. I was single again. Laura, however, was not. She was in a new relationship.

And so, over the years, it went that way. Either Laura was dating and I was single, or Laura was single and I was seeing somebody. Laura and I were always in a relationship; just not with each other. We were cater-cousins: no matter who we were with, we always found time for each other, were always there for one another.

Once, while we were sitting in a bar, having drinks, Laura asked me: "We always seem to be dating people. How come you and I never got together?"

Was she frickin' kidding me?? "Timing," I answered, trying to keep my cool. "Bad timing."

"I think that if we ever find ourselves single at the same time, we should give it a try."

"Deal." We shook on it. I casually sipped at my beer, trying to supress my enthusiasm. I was single; she was not. But that could change.

Laura's interest in photography grew, and she and I would often take time together to go out and shoot photos. We'd always have a theme: churches around town; timed exposures (usually at night, with stars moving around stationary backgrounds); flowers; foggy days. We went out countless times. Sometimes, our respective partners accused us of having an affair on the side. We never seemed to care what our boyfriend or girlfriend thought.

Once, when we were thinking up a theme for our next photo "date," I joked that we should do nude photography. "Would you model for me?" I asked Laura. I expected either a punch in the arm or to see those laughing eyes roll back in her head. Instead, she paused, and said, "Maybe. It would have to be tasteful."

My heart skipped a beat. "Of course," I said. "We could drive up to the Gatineaus, hike up into the woods. Have you, au naturel, in nature." Let what happens happen, I thought, but didn't say. I was single at the time; she was not.

Sadly, it never happened. Maybe she was joking when we talked about it. We never locked down a time to do it. On the weekends, when it could have happened, either the weather was bad, we were too busy to go out, or we were playing baseball. We talked about it a couple of times, but when I started seeing someone new, Laura thought it wouldn't be a good idea. She had no problem, despite having a boyfriend, but she didn't think my new girlfriend would be as open to the idea.

And then there was a time when I was dating one woman who I thought could be the one. We talked marriage. We talked children. I told my girlfriend that if we had a little girl, I'd want to name her Laura. At first, my girlfriend seemed uncomfortable with that, but she knew that Laura and I were close friends—my girlfriend even liked Laura herself—and so she agreed to the name: our daughter, if we had one, would be Laura Elizabeth (see how long I've been carrying that name?).

This girlfriend lasted for a whole year. We eventually broke up over differences in fundamental beliefs, which arose when we started seriously talking about getting married. It was a bad breakup, though in time we did and still do remain friends. But when we broke up, I jumped straight to another woman, one with whom I worked.

And no, it wasn't Laura. She was in a serious relationship. No, I started seeing a woman from Hell... that's another story: it's somewhere in my archives, but I can't find it. Perhaps I even deleted it, not really wanting to remember that girl. Laura knew that this girl was bad for me. All my friends knew she was bad for me. She was the rebound chick. But we lasted almost five months. I broke up and had to fire her only a few days later. Again, another story.

A week after that breakup, Lori and I started seeing each other.

Lori and Laura hit it off the first time they met, and Lori wasn't worried, concerned, or jealous of the special relationship that Laura and I shared. But things between Laura and I started changing too. Laura and her boyfriend were getting serious. Lori and I were getting serious. Laura and I didn't see each other as often; when we did, our significant others were usually with us. Not always, but often. And Laura left the camera store again, to start a new career.

Laura was leaving town. I was sad to be losing one of my best friends, but we promised to keep in touch. On her last night, she and I got together, alone. We pretended it was just another outing, that it wasn't the last one. We got teary at times, but we remained cheerful. She told me that she was happy to embrace her future but was sad at what she was leaving behind. I said I was sad to lose her, but was happy for her. And I told her I was happy with Lori, that she might be the one.

At the end of the evening, Laura and I went for a drive. We didn't talk much. We passed my new apartment, where I had just moved in that day, and I invited her in, just to show her where she could find me if she ever returned to Ottawa for a visit. Boxes were stacked everywhere. The bed was not made—I was going to be staying at my folks' place that night. There wasn't much to show: just the view from the balcony, which looked down at Hog's Back. We stayed for a few minutes, still not saying much, and then I drove her home.

I got out of the car with her when we reached her place. This was it. I looked into her eyes; they were glistening, not laughing so much. We embraced, arms tightly around each other. We kissed. "I love you, Laura," I told her. "I love you too, Ross," she said. We held on a few moments more, and then she pulled away, turned, and walked towards her home. I got in my car and pulled away, never looking back.

What was the point of this story? Are you disappointed that the guy didn't get the girl? Don't be. I'm not. You see, Laura and I knew each other longer than any of the people we dated in the years that we worked in the camera store. And while girlfriends and boyfriends came and went, our friendship held fast, endured emotional ups and downs. If Laura and I had started a romantic relationship, I doubt it would have lasted. In those years, we weren't into long-term relationships. Not during that time in our lives. Sure, we didn't get into each other's pants, and believe me, I wanted to. Instead, I think that what we shared was special, beyond sexual gratification. We were getting that from other people. The important stuff, up in the head and the heart, was there.

On that level, I got the girl. Not forever, but for long enough.

Last week's meeting with Rick brought back these memories. My brain was inundated with good times, of the friend I loved, of the laughing eyes.

I hope they're still laughing.

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