The other morning I recalled, for the first time in probably a quarter of a century, the girl with whom I enjoyed my first real puberty-fueled kiss. “I wonder what happened to (name withheld because it is none of anyone’s business)?” I thought. So I googled her, as many of us do on such occasions.
What popped up was her obituary. She had died just eight days before her unexpected appearance in my thoughts.
This saddens me, of course, as it does when anyone who touched my life dies, even if that touching took place before Canada celebrated its centennial. This also makes me happy, because last time I heard news of Name Withheld she had contracted cancer in her 30s; I was glad she made it long enough so her funeral notice could describe her as “the best Grandma any child would be lucky to have.”
But I’m a bit spooked that she would find her way to the forefront of my mind just days after her death. I’m skeptical about the spirit world, but notions of banshees announcing bereavements or souls making a quick farewell tour before catching the train to Eternity seem be more plausible explanations for this coincidence than anything science offers me.
I don’t spend a lot of time rummaging through the past, as a rule. It’s too painful. Literally. Physically. Particularly when I’m working on a home renovation project and have a 2 x 4 in my hand. The malicious gatekeeper of my memory delights in dipping into the deep pool of embarrassing moments I have managed to accumulate. If I’m holding a board at the time I might reflexively smack it against my forehead. “I can’t believe I did that. Duh-oh.” Punishing myself like the monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Gordon Lightfoot has to take some of the blame for my Name Withheld flashback. While cutting window casing (I find MDF trim does less damage to my forehead than lumber does) I found myself mentally humming his song Did She Mention My Name. (Is the home team still on fire, do they still win all the games and by the way, did she mention my name.) And into my head, from the favourite hometown of my past, popped one of only a couple of town girls of my youth who might mention my name without adding a few obscene adjectives.
Merciless memory can’t mess this one up. The mutual courtship that Name Withheld and I enjoyed was surprisingly free of humiliating blunders, even though both of us were firing off hormones in all directions. In fact, I’d guess she got at least as many pheromones out of it as I did. A tiny, husky-voiced Italian girl with a startling ridge of freckles across her nose, slightly younger and slightly more experienced than I was, she signalled her intentions by locking me in her aunt’s boathouse. Then she had a friend lock us both in and her intentions became clear even through the fog of my naivety. We made a date for the movies, dove in to the water in our clothes and swam into whatever would be.
That first kiss had to wait until after the movie, because the balcony was full when we got to the theatre and the main floor seats were sprinkled with her relatives and teachers and possibly nuns and priests in plainclothes. But later, in the shivering September darkness of her back yard, on a precambrian loveseat, she signalled her intention by popping a stick of spearmint gum into her mouth.
I had enjoyed spearmint gum before, of course. But it seemed to taste so much better when swapped back and forth between our mouths. We weren’t French kissing, mom; we were sharing a piece of spearmint. And our mutual elation.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. However, as with Bogey, not between me and she. We did share more dates, more intense kissing, enough sticks of gum to make us prediabetic. But though hers was perhaps my favourite hometown, I was only a summer and occasional weekend resident. After one long absence I learned she was going out with a guy in her class. I knew him. He was a real nice guy. Besides, for me as well as her, reality had set in with the snow.
Name Withheld’s obituary tells me she was the dearly loved wife of that very same nice guy. So apparently their beautiful friendship lasted. She was a very smart young woman and she chose wisely. Whether she remembered my name in passing hardly matters. As for me, spearmint gum never tasted the same again.