It wasn’t a lifetime but 37 years was a good stretch of time.
After a particularly vivid dream where the two spoke again finally, and connected intimately in the lobby of the apartment building he grew up in, Craig Bugowski woke up happy, and fished for his iPhone.
Karrie M. was on his list of Facebook friends.
She had accepted his FB invite two years prior.
Her birthday was a month ago. She was a Gemini.
Back in the mid-‘80s when they first met, he was a senior in high-school and she was a junior. They were introduced at a sweet 16 party in the city. Craig wore a green jacket to the after-party at a nightclub. When he went to the men’s room at Club A, as it was called, he ran into the soccer legend Pele who graciously wrote his autograph for Craig on a fancy napkin. As an All-City goalie for his Ivy-League high-school team, the Lions, soccer was Craig's sport and that night went really well —especially when he met her.
Karrie was blonde and beautiful and funny and nice and it was perfectly fine when she started puking on the sidewalk after the party. Craig was completely charmed and charming and it was the beginning of something.
There was that strange feeling of excitement. The type of adrenaline rush generated by sports, competition, or exploring NYC late at night with one’s friends. Young lions on the prowl. Looking for action of one sort or another.
He knew what it was like to get the spins and puke after drinking too much so he knew how to look after Karrie and he made sure she got back home safely with her girlfriends. He called to check on her the next day and she was sweet and appreciative. She had written her phone number on the palm of his hand in magic marker.
Then, the very next week Karrie showed up unexpectedly at his school and sat on the big wall to watch Craig during his soccer practice on the big field on campus. It was fall. Leaves swirling. Excitement in the air.
Karrie went to the rival high-school about half a mile away. There was a comfortability and mutual attraction with her. He wasn’t that experienced with girls but this one was younger yet sophisticated. And she seemed to really like him. Before long he had given Karrie his letterman jacket and ring. They were an item. Excitement coursed through him. Every conversation or note from her filled him with elation.
Highschool has been arduous and there had not been any long-term relationships only short dalliances that lasted a couple of months. And then he would get dumped. 9th grade. 11th grade and now here he was a Senior, applying to colleges, feeling a feeling he had not felt except a couple of times before. An attraction supercharged by testosterone and the realization that this could be it. This might be the one. The girl who would take his virginity.
"Hey, why are you going out with that asshole?"
The combustible question was directed toward a pretty girl named Jillie who was accompanying Craig into the Xenon disco, a popular late-night spot for private school kids. Craig invited the preppy looking football player named Roger to step outside and discuss his rude comment to his date. If it was a fight he wanted, Craig was game despite being outsized.
As it turned out, one of Craig's teammates, Stan, joined them both outside on the street to make sure things didn't get out of hand.
"What's your problem, dude?"
"Karrie's a good friend of mine," said Roger as he pushed Craig against the wall.
"She broke up with me ... she broke my heart," Craig replied earnestly with his voice cracking. It was the truth and it would hurt more than any punch or kick.
"Get up, get up let's make love tonight,
"Get up, up get up 'cause you do it right..."
It's funny when you are in love, the things you remember like that Marvin Gaye song "Sexual Healing"--that song was on top of the singles chart when Karrie decided that Craig would make a good boyfriend. She pursued him. She made it happen. Love letters. And making love for the first time at her house in Riverdale when her parents were out. The sexual act was great, as such coming of age rituals go--but it was the feeling of being in love with Karrie that really made it memorable.
When the end of the relationship came, Craig was blindsided as usual. The letters from Karrie blamed her friends and Craig for smothering her. They didn't make much sense until she suggested that the two "cool it for a while."
That was it. It was over.
She dropped his team ring and jacket and other items with his doorman with another note. Saying she would always love him. And that was it. Every time Craig tried to clumsily reach out to her afterward he got rejected. He had to move on. But the memory of that short magical relationship was something Craig would carry inside for the rest of his life. A hurt he would revisit whenever he met another girl who looked like Karrie or whenever he heard one of their songs like "Nasty Girls" and "You Can't Hurry Love."
Years passed by and Craig buried the pain as we all must. But he also held onto it like a drowning man grabbing hold of a line of barbed wire. The pain kept him connected to her somehow. He was afraid if he let go of it completely that the magic memories of Karrie intertwined with the bad ones would disappear too. He never wanted to forget those. He always wanted to be able to feel them. When you love someone you never stop loving them. He knew that to be as true as anything. The golden moments are fleeting.
Then 37 years later, he would have a dream where he and Karrie spoke and kissed and made love again. And then he woke up. Quickly, filled with the feeling of finally being reconnected with Karrie, Craig searched her out on Facebook.
He sent her a belated birthday message. It was innocuous like all the prior messages he had sent to her over the past two years, "Thanks for accepting my friend request" "Hoping you are well." "Happy Birthday, Hoping you are well." "I cherish the short time we shared in high school, etc, etc. "
Why did she dump him? Was he smothering? Over-attentive? Was there another guy? She mentioned that she had lost her virginity to some other guy and that it was a painful memory for her.
Craig thought of Karrie's blonde hair and beautiful features, arched eyebrows, athletic body, her favorite perfume Anais Anais. Her white turtleneck shirts and her big smile. Her circular handwriting. Her playful sense of humor and her devotion to him at the time. He was in love. They were. That's what it seemed like at least.
When he read an excerpt from Shakespeare aloud in English class at that time, the teacher commended him and gave him an A. But all Craig could think about was rushing back to Karrie, kissing her, holding her, making love again and again.
37 years later, Craig finally did get a text back, later that day, from Karrie M.,-- the girl who took his virginity in high school.
"Hey Craig, You are so on top of things...thanks fir the B-day message (a month late!) Bored out of our skulls here."
Covid City Blues
It will end someday...but I probably won't be around to see that thought Eldred Chambarlee.
90+ days in self-quarantine can make a man think.
Think about his mortality. His mistakes. His loved ones. His courage or lack thereof. Cowardice more like it.
When push came to shove and the CDC said to stay inside, Eldred listened.
Guilt and anxiety kept him company.
Hope visited on rare occasions.
At 7 pm every day, New Yorkers would bang pots and yell and clap a serenade to front line workers. Eldred thought of his friends on the front line as he clapped alone.
How brave they were and how cowardly he was.
While his friends and family went on with their lives seemingly unafraid, Eldred burrowed into his small apartment and did his laundry in his bathtub and tipped the Super to go to the supermarket for him when supplies ran low.
Ramen and coffee were the main staples along with Cheerios and cans of tomato soup.
Zoom calls and business calls conducted on a cell phone with a cracked screen that had a fast-draining battery kept Eldred somewhat connected, helped him pay some bills, and created a sense of normalcy in a world and life turned upside down.
Not normalcy. Routine.
TV and the computer kept Eldred sane along with anti-anxiety pills and pills for his diabetes.
Every day he would Google "vaccine" or watch the local news report with the Mayor and Governor talking about the death tolls and the curve and the need for social distance. The need for immune-compromised individuals to remain cautious and vigilant.
To avoid going outside when possible.
Eldred did not step out of the apartment now. Ever.
When supplies, ordered on-line, were left outside his door Eldred wore a mask under a face covering and frantically took in the supplies and washed them in nearby plastic garbage cans filled with soapy water--the whole process took about three minutes. It always left him gasping and covered in sweat. Afraid.
Opening the door.
Spraying the area and items outside the door with Lysol spray.
Quickly dunking the wrapped and canned food in soapy water then throwing it to an area near the kitchen to dry.
Then Eldred would quickly take off his face covering and clothes and throw them in the hamper and jump in the shower.
His beard and appearance were unkempt. A broken pair of glasses was held together by scotch-tape.
He was sure that things would eventually go back to normal but he wasn't at all sure if he would still be around for that.