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May 13, 2024

Time Traveler 12

By Sand Pilarski

He liked to hear me talk about my classes.

He laughed at my sarcastic humor.

He played his violin -- the good one -- for my audience of one.

He danced with me at Bobby Lee's, sent me flowers for my office every week, and put up with my psychological vagaries that made me shy away from him even while I desired him the more.

He asked me to rub his neck and temples after a long day.

He told me about the students who gave him worries for their future and well-being.

He confessed that he loved to draw silly cartoons, and blushing, showed them to me.

He sometimes shut his eyes and held my fingers against his eyelids like a compress for healing.

An avalanche of ardor had overtaken me, and I felt so crushed by the weight of the emotion that I could barely breathe. This is why they thought Cupid shot people in the heart, I mused dreamily. This is why lovers go around sighing.

I was so in love with him that it hurt; had I known in my childhood that it was possible to feel this way, I would never have looked at any other man, content to wait through the years until I met him.

Wouldn't I? What if I could go back in time and tell Me that when I was forty-four, I would meet someone who made the world make sense, and that I would feel for him emotions of love that were so powerful they could take the place of the very desire to live?

I appear to myself like magic, like a science fiction novel. Blonde and with an attitude bigger than life Augusta Renoir materializes in front of the shy, skinny little girl of eleven, whose nondescript brownish-reddish-dull-blonde hair is cut short because even braids can't keep it tidy. "Listen kid, I'm from the future. Some day, about thirty years from now, you're going to meet a man named Valentine with whom you are going to fall nutso in love. Forget anyone else, and especially avoid anyone named 'James.' "

How would I have taken this revelation? Even as a shy kid, I would have been peeved at someone telling me what I was going to do even a few weeks from the day, let alone thirty years. Thirty years? I'd be a grandma by then, wouldn't I? With a staid gray bee-hive salon haircut and glasses and saggy boobs. What other choice was there?

Thirty-some years from eleven was some stretch of the imagination: Robert Heinlein would have had automated household appliances that cleaned windows, and maybe Isaac Asimov would have sentient robot companions. Maybe there would be a big Mars colony; maybe, I would have thought sadly, for the Cold War frightened me, in thirty years most of the world will be a radioactive waste.

The eleven-year-old Me asks, "How do you know?"

"Because I'm you, and I want you to know about the best thing that's ever going to happen so you don't have to go through the mistakes."

The shy child with light blue eyes says, "Tell me what the mistakes are and I won't make them."

Could I go back in time and tell that little girl that marrying the boy she'd have sex with in college would result in a deep scarring of her soul? Would I say, now, kiddo, listen up, don't take your pants off even when you really, really want to, not until you're forty-four? Should I tell her that I slept with the Dean because he was horny and in a position to get me the employment opportunity of my choice, but that regrets would tumble out of my heart once I found the true love?

From her niche in time, small-town 1960's, she would have labeled me a tramp and a gold digger, and only been ashamed of what she would become. And if she never married James, she'd never have gone off to Ohio to devote herself to education, or crossed the country to get as far away from him as possible, or found herself untroubled by a non-violent, uncommitted sexual relationship with an older man, the result of which chain of events would be that she never would be hobnobbing about in Port Laughton last summer to catch the eye of Valentine Teshenko.

Time travel never, ever works out well. The traveler either has to spend the rest of her days in hiding, living a lie, and dodging mistakes, or at the end of her adventure, has to return to her own time, and a life she can understand and that can understand her.

What I know from my life would be incomprehensible to 1965. And really, would I be willing to cut all that knowledge out of my head, even the judgments that came as a result of pain and waywardness? Could I go back to being someone other than Augusta Renoir?

Determined not to pressure me and frighten me off, Valentine made his way into my heart with tender tendrils; the fear of my overwhelming feelings for him was giving way to a depth of admiration and joy. I would look into his eyes and wander, lost, in their darkness, falling into deepest water to drown in the wonder of the love I saw returned there.

There was never enough time to say all that I wanted to say or hear what all I wanted to hear. After the first fall symphony, we went to Serenity's Bar and Grill to chat, and as I had forgotten my watch that evening, and Valentine never wore one, we were surprised to hear 'last call' at nearly two in the morning. We were -- at least I was -- then surprised to find that I was too tipsy to drive, and so we decided to walk for a while; we ended up sitting on a bench at the public pier, annoyed by a police car from whose windows a large flashlight played across the boardwalk, and us. And then we were surprised again by the dim light of dawn, gray under the ever-present morning fog. We walked back to Serenity's, feeling damp and drowsy, and parted ways reluctantly. I drank two big glasses of water when I got home, hoping to head off the worst of a hangover, and plowed into bed, only to wake at noon, wondering why on earth Valentine was in that scruffy little hole he called an apartment.

Dates, phone calls, conversations were increasingly marked with wistfulness at the ends. I was missing him not simply when we were busy, but also when I was making my breakfast, or finishing the home-work at my desk. I wanted to be able to turn around and comment to him, or ask him for his opinion. I didn't want any day to pass without him. My world was changing, dramatically, because of Valentine Teshenko. He was becoming my sunrise and sunset, my sounding board and my conscience, my point of reference for living and my objective to which I was aimed.

Besotted? Oh, yes, and I knew that I was, and marveled at the power and depth of the emotions, and reveled in the awareness of the reciprocated fascination. He was interested in Me.

I wanted to become his lover, to explore with him the mystery of physical union, pleasure and passion heightened by this dizzying infatuation. When would the right time come, I pondered, fantasizing a weekend consummation at the lodge in Yosemite with an early snow swirling past the windows as we would awaken in the mornings, cuddled together. Or would we travel to Monterey, and take a spa-and-fireplace suite, and laugh because we would rather make love than sightsee?

The more I hated sending him back to his apartment on date-nights, the more often I woke with a start wondering why he wasn't next to me, the closer I got to making him a fixture in my life rather than a mere milestone.

The first of the fall rains arrived in Port Laughton, washing the fog out of the sky temporarily, but making the air colder; a wonderful Sunday afternoon for snuggling. After beer and pizza downtown, we walked along the overhangs of the shops to get to Dollonger's, as I had lost my gloves on the bus the week before. I found a leather pair that were elegant, tanned as soft as melting butter. Valentine snatched them out of my hands. "Let me get these for you," he said, holding them out of my reach. "Then you'll think of me every time you put them on."

As if I ever stopped thinking about him at all. Perhaps, I thought, I'll never take the gloves off except for dining. I chuckled and leaned against his arm, thinking that this was one pair of gloves I would never thoughtlessly leave behind. The sales clerk took Valentine's credit card, and asked to see his driver's license. I glanced at it, traditionally nosy about how his picture looked. In it, he was of course simply charming, the curls a little mussed, his smile easy and friendly.

As he picked it up to put it back in his wallet, the crime photographer in my head recounted something that made my stomach clench. "Wait," I said, trying not to sound odd. "Let me see the picture on your license." He handed it to me, and I felt numb about my nose, and my knees were suddenly shaky. "Nice," I said. "You're very photogenic."

The sales girl clipped the tags from the gloves, and Valentine gave them to me, and watched me put them on. Please don't shake, hands. Forget what you saw, brain. Nothing is different now than it was three minutes ago. We walked outside. "Thank you for the gloves, Mr. Teshenko," I told him, trying to sound light and happy.

He was too observant not to notice. "Augusta, are you all right? You look pale all of a sudden." He put his fingers gently against my face to check my temperature.

I reached up and pressed his fingers against my cheek, shaking my head. "I truly don't feel quite right. I think I want to go home. I'm sorry."

Solicitously he kept his arm around me while we waited for the bus, me having declined the offer of a taxi. On the crowded bus he held me against his chest as we stood, and I let my head rest on him, wishing I could hear his heart, wishing I had never met him.

I shook my head in answer to his offer to walk me to my door, and to take care of me if I needed him. In the drizzling rain I walked quickly up the stairs to my porch and let myself in the door, locking it automatically behind me. I hung my coat over a kitchen chair, and threw myself down on the sofa, pulling a pillow to my chest to hug and ease the awful ache there. I was still holding the gloves, and I pressed them to my mouth and sat there, watching the rain, heartsick.

It's one thing to be an older woman in her forties, beguiled by a man in his thirties, but it felt like a whole different ball game to find out the man you were about to seduce carried a drivers license that proclaimed his date of birth to be the year you graduated from high school and went off to college.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-10-03
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