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Last weekend, my wife and I drove to Raleigh to have lunch with friends. We drove up early, wanting to go to the big flea market at the N.C. State Fairgrounds. We figured we would do a little browsing and maybe a little shopping. We walked around for a few hours in the heat, looking at all the tables and the inside booths.
We did just that and I found a neat vintage wristwatch, which after a bit of back and forth, my wife was kind enough to let me buy. It wasn’t terribly expensive, but it was another in a series of watches that I have purchased and rarely wear. I think my wife got the last word, because upon our return home, I promptly broke the watch and it is not unusable.
This story, however, is not about the watch. It’s not about the flea market, either.
We were meeting another couple for lunch. I had never met the husband before, but from what I gathered from social media, he seemed like a nice enough guy. The wife, I had known many years ago when we were teenagers. We attended high school together, had some mutual friends and were in a class or two together. We were the oddballs in a high school art class, a class that seemed to be attended mainly by the hippies, burnouts and potheads, none of which we were.
She was an actual artist. I was there to goof off. It’s not that I did not enjoy art, but this was Serious Art. This was not the “fun” art class of middle school. Soon, I found that I did not look forward to the class because of the art, but because of her. We were the outcasts in that particular crowd and seemed to find each other, regardless of how different we seemed.
I guess somewhere along the way, the friendship, at least on my side of the table, became a bit of a crush. At my age, almost 35 years later, I’m not so worried about the embarrassment that might come from me admitting it. Embarrassment fades.
She was a bit guarded, or so it seemed to me, so any idea I had of her beyond the art class environment was probably less fact and more of a creation of my overactive imagination. The pedestal I would put her on grew a level each day. I guess this is true of most boys around that age when they meet a girl who seemingly and honestly enjoys his company. I remember for a short while, we exchanged letters, this being the way to communicate privately before the advent of the private messaging of the internet.
Nearing graduation a few years later, we spoke of when we would see each other again. Of course, we said we would always keep in touch, but life gets in the way and it never happens. She said we would meet again in the future, and she would be successful in her art career and I would be a big-time writer.
I should have said something profound right then and there, but I accepted my fate and we went our separate ways.
If we were going to meet in the future, I thought subconsciously, I should make my life the most interesting life I could, so I could have something to talk about at that inevitable meeting. And I did.
I went places. I did things. I met a few famous people and met a few dangerous ones. I have traveled from coast to coast, and everywhere in between. I have eaten fine cuisine in New York and have eaten french fries on the boardwalk. I have had fine wine and cheap beer. I never wrote the Great American Novel, but I have been known to put a few words together and have had a fine time doing it.
This brings us back to the flea market and the watch. I was a nervous wreck all morning. I was seeing her face to face for the first time in 30 years. I walked the flea market in a bit of a funk, fumbling with the watch to take my mind off of things until lunch. Lunch came around quicker than I imagined and we found ourselves waiting outside of a pizza place for our lunch companions.
I had worried for nothing. The conversation flowed as if the four of us had been friends forever. We shared life stories, both good and bad, and we laughed and we smiled and shared anecdotes from the past 30 years. I mentioned only a few of the things I had done over the years because we sat there as friends, as real people, and not as imagined creations of the adolescent mind.
The conversation came around to what we thought of each other back in high school. Admittedly, I took the easy way out. It was my chance to say what I thought back then. I skirted the issue. How do you tell someone in front of her husband that, 30 years ago, she was your muse?
Well, you don’t. As a newspaper columnist, you put it in the newspaper so everyone can read it. As they say, go big or go home.
Driving home, I explained this to my wife. I explained to her that this one single person set me on a course of events of which I hold not a single regret. She looked at me, trying to understand.
“She sent me on an adventure,” I told my wife, “and you brought me home.”
Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.