The windows were down and the sun was warm in his memory. I could see the smile trying to grow out of the corners of his mouth when I asked him about her. The one that got away he called her, though time had blunted the loss into a fuzzy nostalgia that he kept in a safety deposit box deep in his soul.
They’d met in elementary school, they’d sat next to each other on the first day of 7th grade when she transferred to the school. She’d come from a farm town a few hours outside of his hometown. They became fast friends, never moving seats all year as the other kids moved around with their ever changing alliances and battles.
High school came and they went to a party together. It was out in a field, he joked about her agrarian childhood and she opened up to him. They told stories to each other they’d hidden from all others. The fire’s glow and the gentle light of a waxing moon bore witness to their first kiss.
They were in love. School dances and first experiences. They laughed through their first real hook up, but made a quick study of each other’s bodies. Soul mates was the term they threw around in their private conversations. They were bonded by fate, kissed by sweet karma that their souls found each other. He read Sidhartha and the Mahabharata and was convinced they were souls that kept getting reincarnated, turning down nirvana and moksha just to spend another lifetime together. Their love would span yet a few more lifetimes, their attachment to each other just too strong.
The summer after high school came, and with it the memory he always savored. They borrowed her dad’s car and went on a road trip. They lied that others were going with them. They camped out west in stands of fir and pine, and washed off post sex in the foaming waters of frigid waterfalls. They drove far enough up north to lay together in one glorious moment under the northern lights when the universe seemed to hold its breath and soak in the moment.
Reality called, and she went off to college back east and he followed his scholarship to a university campus among the Rose of Sharon in the Far East. Their letters crossed continents and oceans, but with increasing rarity. When he was able to get home the next summer they sheepishly told each other they’d found another.
They’d bump into each other when holidays brought them back to their hometown, but her parents returned to her hometown and they lost track of each other. Nowadays after the years have cut creases on faces and turned hair white he only knows details. Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest was where she ended up, a million miles from the condo in the sky his corporate presidency bought him on a verdant bay named for an old British warship.
I knocked back a few pints with him on the beach below that fancy condo building. He’s eyes scanned the water, watching the ships leave this fragrant harbor, to cross the seas to meet millions of girls who got away. I asked if he’d ever book a ticket, the fights were direct from here to there. No, he would demur, the beauty of memories is they are in the past, ever sweetened by the passage of years, but frozen when they were young and beautiful.
His eyes, though, scanned the pinks and purples of the sky, lost in a distant thought of a girl who simply got away.