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Old Flames and Time Machines
By Melanie McCabe


It began as a crazy, stick-of-dynamite kind of idea that I felt certain my assistant principal would shoot down immediately. My creative writing students and I would write a series of short essays about high school – they, about their current lives, and I, about what happened to me in their same town, back in the 1970s. We’d choose themes to focus on, such as friendships, crushes, body image, academics, even “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.” The pitfalls that yawned before me were immense. If we wrote honestly about our lives, what secrets might well up from this Pandora’s Box that I would not be able to shove back inside once they were out?

Astonishingly, my principal said yes. The lid to the box had been removed. It was time to summon the ghosts of my past, to dredge up memories about a part of my life that had occurred decades ago. As it happened, this project coincided with my entry into Facebook. Suddenly the past was no longer entirely the past. Those I had walked the halls of junior high and high school with were there, waiting for me—with gray in their hair—or no hair—perhaps a few more pounds—but still very much the same people I had spent my early days with. What hidden memories might I uncover were I to summon them? The prospect was tantalizing to me. And so—I summoned.

I sent a group message to about 15 friends from those long-gone days, explaining the project. Would they like to help me resurrect our shared past? The response I received exceeded my wildest dreams. It resulted in renewed alliances, an emotional reunion at a local restaurant, and, especially startling to me, a private message sent to me from the “boy” I had loved—quietly, desperately, hopelessly—in 1972. Someone who lived in California and could not manage to make it for our reunion. From the moment I read his opening line, what I understood about that piece of our history would never be the same again.

Dear Melanie,” he began. “I'm writing separately, rather than in the bulk response column, because I have absolutely NO IDEA what might fall out of this particular, staggeringly long-avoided conversation.” 

The conversation we began that day has continued now for almost ten years. It shone a bright light on what had been murky, misconstrued, half-forgotten, and revealed to me the very real man that this long-ago, fantasy-embroidered boy had become. It also helped me to begin the first of the essays I would write with my students, to travel back nearly 40 years to a different time, a different Melanie.

*

Never had I needed to go to the bathroom so desperately—not in any of my previous 15 years and not in all the years since. The chartered bus rolled along I-95 and at every bump, I winced and crossed my legs more tightly. I looked over my shoulder at the restroom at the back of the bus. A group of boys clustered around it and tugged on the door handle whenever any girl was brave enough to enter. Anyone watching would be treated to a brief glimpse of the occupant as she sat on the toilet, and hoots of male laughter rose over the already noisy din of conversation.

As the latest humiliated bathroom user emerged, I debated making my way back there and taking my chances. Maybe if I hung onto the handle with all of my might? But then how would I manage my button fly, the toilet paper? I turned back to the boy sitting beside me. And what if in the few minutes that I was gone, some other girl plopped down in the seat I was vacating? What if Skipp, relieved to be free of being my seatmate, fled elsewhere, perhaps up front where the cool girls were sitting? Where Linda was sitting.

And so I stayed.

I had loved him for a long time. That was the year I crossed the line from being one of the bookish, nerdy girls to being a bookish, nerdy girl who skulked the perimeter of the cool crowd. I gained admittance to that perimeter only by being friends with girls who had crossed over more successfully. I was a poser. A sad little wannabe. I wore the right feathers—the jeans, the moccasins, the long straight hair—but I was flying nowhere.

Each morning at the corner, the little plot of ground safely off of school property where it was safe to fire up a Lark or a Marlboro, where all the cool kids hung out before school, I kept my hands jammed in my pockets, my eyes on the ground. At weekend parties, I breathed the hemp-heavy air, but smoked nothing. I took a hesitant sip of beer one autumn night and spit it over a porch railing while a boy named Joe watched and laughed at me. I was a fringe dweller. I belonged nowhere. But I kept both feet planted in this clique because that was where he was.

“Who is that guy over there?” I had asked my friend Linda. I was nervous, frantic—both to attract no notice and to gain it. Ahead of us walked a thin boy with long blond hair. He wore a top hat and a faded jeans jacket, and he walked at a slightly forward tilt, as though oppressed by the heavy black backpack he carried. A breeze lifted the golden hair behind him in the sunlight. He was enigmatic and odd, singular and beautiful.

“That’s John Skipp, but everybody just calls him Skipp,” Linda told me. “He’s kind of strange. A writer.”

She couldn’t have pinned two more enticing labels on him. A boy who wrote was a curious animal that I had not yet encountered. And strange. That implied a mystery. Perhaps even a tortured, misunderstood soul. 

“He looks so cool,” I said.

Linda eyed me dubiously.

I watched him talking with two boys I knew, Garry and Josh. He held a cigarette in his right hand and nodded often, occasionally lifting his slender fingers to make a gesture or to stroke his chin in a worldly and pensive manner.

“I wish I had him in a class,” I said. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“He’s on the Signpost staff with me. Seventh period. Journalism.. What do you have that period?”

I had Typing. A class both my mother and father had urged me to sign up for. My father had said, Every writer needs to be a fast, accurate typist. My mother had a different motivation. In her slow Alabama drawl, she’d told me, You’ll nevah want for a job if you know how to type, Melanie. Every office needs typists. I responded that I had no intention of being anybody’s secretary. She looked at me sadly. None of us evah know what sacrifices we might have to make in life.

School had been in session only a week and already I had dutifully mastered dozens of drills. The clatterclatterclatterclatter ding of 25 manual typewriters in unison filled my head every afternoon in those still-sticky September days. There was no air-conditioning in the school in 1971. The windows were cranked wide. The smell of new-mown grass mingled with the scent of fresh typewriter ribbon. I had been bored before seeing Skipp. But now I was also heavy with desire—to escape, to be near him, to read what he wrote, to hear the words that came out of his mouth when those articulate hands moved before him through the air.

I went to see Mr. Henebry, my guidance counselor.

“I made a mistake signing up for typing,” I told him. “I want to be a writer, not a typist. Can I switch into Journalism?”

His bristly black eyebrows met in the middle of his face. “Well, let me see,” he mumbled, shuffling through a bulging card catalogue on his desk. He pulled out a bent card near the back of the box. “Yes, well, it seems there’s an opening in the class. You sure about this?”

He looked at me hard. “Typing is a useful skill you know.”

“I want to be a writer.”

And so I joined the Signpost staff, ensuring myself of at least 45 minutes each day spent close enough to Skipp to learn him by heart. He was the Fiction Editor, and the most prolific writer of any of us. I combed over each story he wrote for clues into who he was and so I could shyly compliment him on his latest creation. I memorized every pore and angle of his face and lived for the half-smiles he occasionally shared. I was sure no one anywhere in all the wide world had bluer or sadder eyes. I wanted to save him. And I wanted him to save me.

*

Having the chance to bear my soul to Skipp decades later—and to have him bear his soul back to me—offered up a very different lens through which to view our story. In one of his earliest Facebook messages to me, which unleashed a torrent of confessions back and forth for a period of months, he wrote:|

It kills me to admit that I had no idea how cool you thought I was. I was wrapped up in my own uncool, unlovable reality-tunnel, thinking nobody would ever really care about me, flinging my unwanted feelings from afar. You were this quiet, shy, smart, lovely girl that I liked a lot but felt I barely knew. You weren't dropping ridiculous amounts of acid and carousing with the rest of us... You weren't letting it out. You were holding it in. Honestly? I don't know what I'd have done if you or anyone else told me they loved me. I probably wouldn't have believed it, cuz that's how broken I was already. But I gotta admit that—in retrospect—I wish you'd been a little more assertive, and I had been a LOT more perceptive. Or vice versa. It was many more years before I figured out that I wasn't as much of an ugly, stunted, hopeless freak as I utterly KNEW I WAS at the time. Desperately trying to figure it all out. Waaaay too young and self-absorbed to read half of the clues right in front of me. Looking back, I cut us all tons of slack. It's hard growing up.

It is indeed hard growing up. But somehow, most of us manage it, and whatever knocks or wounds we suffered as adolescents fade with time. Had Skipp and I played out our lives a generation before we actually did, our story would most likely have ended forever when we parted ways. He would have remained for me always a boy I once loved who didn’t love me back, and I might have occasionally wondered what became of him.

But we were born into interesting times. Computers, the internet, and social media made possible what would have been unthinkable for our parents. The past could be resurrected, examined; former crushes could be sent friend requests on Facebook, and their acceptance of these overtures might effectively open to us a portal through the years—a chance to reexamine the past and to peek into the futures we could not have imagined at the time.

Memory is a shaky skill at best. What I hang on to over the decades, cling to as indisputable, might be utterly forgotten by the other persons involved. Someone else might offer a recollection to me about an event that, like a key, unlocks a trunk forgotten and shoved beneath the stairs. Would two people each offering the other their own version of the past find they could put the two together and achieve something close to truth? I wanted to discover that as Skipp and I wrote our messages back and forth.

*

One night in late spring, on one of many phone calls with Linda in which we discussed Skipp and my obsession with him, she let it slip. The terrible truth.

“The trouble is, Melanie, that Skipp likes me—not you. He’s convinced himself he’s crazy in love with me.”

My world, shaky to begin with, crashed down around me. “Do you like him?”

“No!” she answered. “But he won’t stop calling me. I’m doing everything I can to nudge him in your direction.”

“Did you actually tell him that I liked him?” I was mortified.

“No, I didn’t say anything straight out. I just suggested, you know, that maybe it looked a little like, maybe, that you liked him—a little.”

I shuddered.

Linda continued. “I told him he should spend the day with you on the class trip to Hershey Park. So he could get to know you better.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he’d think about it. I don’t know if he will, but hey, I tried.”

Now here we were on this bus, coming home from Hershey. Skipp had indeed spent the day with me. I was no fan of amusement parks. I was a coward about most rides, especially those involving heights. But if he wanted to go on it, whatever it was, I went. At one point, he’d suggested riding on the ski-lift-type ride that spanned the park. Its metal seat was suspended by what seemed to me to be a small hook, our feet dangling into the perilous plunge that yawned below.

My hands clutched tightly to the metal bar separating us from certain death as Skipp talked.

“So, what music do you like?” he asked.

I felt certain that this was the litmus test—the make-or-break moment when I would reveal either how utterly cool I was—or the truth. I knew Skipp loved Pink Floyd, so I toyed for a second with that answer. But the only Pink Floyd song I knew was the one that had found its way onto AM radio, “Money,” and so, if he asked me a follow-up question, I would have been clueless.

I thought about telling the truth. That I loved Top 40. And sappy love ballads by groups like Bread or sensitive male beauties such as James Taylor and Cat Stevens. Or that I was enraptured by Motown and spent every Saturday afternoon watching “Soul Train,” vainly attempting to emulate the moves of the impossibly fluid dancers as they took their turns strutting down the “line.” That I’d cut a picture of Marvin Gaye out of a magazine and put it into a little frame that I kept beside my bed.

But I was certain those answers would knock me down yet another peg in his estimation, and I wasn’t sure there were many pegs left below where I was.

So I went with a safe answer. An answer that was technically true, but a lie at its heart in all that it omitted.

“Well, of course I like the Beatles,” I said. “And the Stones…”

I watched his face as though it were a barometer. He was nodding. That was good, so I continued. 

“And I like The Doors and um, the Who.” Should I mention Jimi Hendrix? Everyone loved Hendrix, it seemed. Except me. I’d go with the safer choice. “And Janis Joplin.” At that point, I think I knew three Janis Joplin songs—and only one of them well. I was moving into shaky territory.

But he was still nodding. He didn’t ask a follow-up, so I was safe. Home free. And then he was off and running, educating me on the nuances of Pink Floyd and their “Umma Gumma” album. It was my turn to nod, and I was good at that. 

As we got ready to board the bus to go home, many students—mostly female—peeled off to use the restrooms. Even then, my need to join them was a pressing one, but if I left, for even a moment, I had no faith that Skipp would wait for me, would save me a seat. To take that chance, after coming this close to attaining what I had wanted so desperately all year, would have been impossible.

Two hours later, close to home, but not close enough, I tried vainly to make lively conversation. He must have talked about something, asked questions, but what I have retained is only how fiercely I was focused on my salvation at trip’s end: the restroom inside the school. By that point I wasn’t even human anymore. I was only this intense animal urge to go somewhere and relieve myself. 

It wasn’t until I emerged from that school restroom and went off to find my parents’ Chevy Impala in the long line of waiting cars that I realized what I had lost: the golden opportunity to make myself appealing in his eyes.

By the next day, I’d already had a two-hour phone conversation with Linda, briefing her on all that had transpired, and then another, equally as long, after she had spoken to Skipp.

“He thinks you’re very nice,” she said.

“Nice,” I repeated. I aspired to be many adjectives in his eyes, but “nice” had never been one of them. “That’s sort of the kiss of death, isn’t it?”

“Not at all,” she assured me. “He wants to go out with you. Soon, I think.”

I was suspicious. This didn’t seem to me even remotely likely. “Was this your idea or his?”

A long silence.

“So, yours, I guess.”

“I may have brought it up,” she said, “but he thinks it’s a good idea. He really wants to.”

And so it was arranged. Plans set in motion with neither Skipp nor I exchanging a word. On a scorching day in June, my mother drove me to Lums, home of the Lumburger and hot dogs steamed in beer, where Skipp would meet me. I saw him standing in the doorway, in the tye-dyed shirt I loved, smoking a Tareyton.

“Ah didn’t know this boah was a smoker, Melanie.” My mother hesitated, already reluctant to drop me off, to toss me into the abyss of dating, males, and emotional mayhem that she surely knew waited beyond the smudged door to Lums. 

“All the boys I know are smokers, Mom. It doesn’t mean I’m going to smoke.” I jumped out of the car before she could say anything else, before I could chicken out and beg her to burn rubber and get us out of there before he saw me.

As we sat down together at a table, I could both see and smell that he’d been smoking more than Tareytons. I wondered if being high made going out with me easier to tolerate. If he did it for courage or as a hedge against certain boredom. 

We ordered French fries and he manfully smacked at the bottom of a bottle of Heinz to cover them in ketchup. 

I thought of the slip of paper I had jammed into my back pocket. On it was a list of possible conversation topics to bring up if I couldn’t think of anything to say. I needed it already, but what was I going to do? Say excuse me while I pulled it out and perused it? I struggled to remember something, anything, on that list.

“I really liked that last story you had in the Signpost,” I said.

He nodded. I guess he heard those kinds of compliments a lot. What a dumb thing to say, I thought. 

“I liked your poem,” he said.

What could I say to that? The poem’s title was “Futility” and it focused on the abject hopelessness I felt of winning even a scrap of Skipp’s attention or good favor.

“Thanks,” I said. “It really isn’t very good…” I trailed off. What a scintillating remark, I thought. Pathetic. Way to show your total lack of self-esteem.

He nodded again. What the hell did that mean? That he agreed with me? My mind went back to my list. Linda had told me about one of Skipp’s best friends, Danny, who lived in Maryland.

“So,” I said. “Tell me about your friend, Danny Blum.”

I pronounced the name so that it rhymed with “plum.”

Skipp corrected me. “Bloom,” was all he said, but what I heard was Bloom, you idiot. What kind of moron doesn’t know how to pronounce my best friend’s name?

He began talking about Danny, how they had met when they both lived in Argentina, while Skipp’s dad was in the State Department. Skipp and his family had fled the country the day the military overthrew President Ongania—just a few among the thousands fleeing the armored tanks rolling through Buenos Aires.

This was dangerous territory. I didn’t know anything about politics, foreign governments, revolutions. I knew little more than where Argentina was. And that its bloody strife had yielded me this beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, drug-dazed, creative boy. That was pretty much all I cared to learn about current events in South America.

Now I was the one nodding. Look wise, I told myself. Pretend you know what he’s talking about. 

I dipped my fries in ketchup, chewed, nodded.

Conversation flagged again. Furtively, I pulled the hot, crumpled paper from my pocket and unfolded it.

“Did you see Pink Floyd at the Kennedy Center in May?” I asked.

I already knew he had, because I’d heard him talking about it in class.

His dilated eyes lit up with genuine interest. “Did you go?” he asked. Apparently he had forgotten entirely our conversation at Hershey Park.

“No,” I said, shaking my head sadly, conveying what I hoped seemed my deep regret at missing this fine moment in musical history. What would he say, I wondered, if he knew that the only concert I’d ever been to was when David Cassidy, of “Partridge Family” fame, had played Merriweather Post Pavilion last summer, and my father bought tickets for my nine-year-old sister and me?

He began talking about the amazing way the quadraphonic sound had swirled around the concert hall, how no other band used sonic texture in any way remotely close.

“Do you know their song, “Echoes?” he asked.

I thought the truth was my safest bet. “No, I’ve never heard it.”

“My apartment’s just down the road,” he said. “I’ll play it for you.”

We sat in Skipp’s messy bedroom while he played the record on his turntable. I listened, but I was a lot more interested in looking around at all of his things, soaking up the titles of the books and records on his shelves, the clothes strewn across the floor, the detritus of his daily world. He played me another song, then another. An hour passed.

“I should be getting home,” I said. “I can call my mom or dad to pick me up.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I’ll walk you home.”

I calculated in my head the distance between Skipp’s apartment on Courthouse Road and my house on Vernon Street. Easily two-and-a-half miles. The temperature outside was in the mid-90s, climbing toward a record 100. If he walked me home and then walked back, that was five long, hot, sticky miles.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I considered that I could offer him a ride home from my house via one of my parents, but the idea of Skipp and my father confined together in the Impala was too horrible a prospect to entertain. My father would pepper him with stupid questions, more than likely say something horrifically embarrassing.

“Well, okay,” I said. “But be warned. You’re probably going to meet my father.”

Skipp looked down at his shirt, which clearly had been wadded somewhere before it had been put on and worn a few times before that without a washing.

“Maybe I should put on another shirt,” he said.

“Maybe.”

He pulled a t-shirt out of a laundry basket and set up an ironing board. Watching my beautiful, wild hippie-boy do something as plebian as ironing had a surreal quality. Over that year, I had imagined him in any number of ways—playing guitar, typing a short story into the wee hours of the morning—and I had dreamed of him holding my hand or kissing me on a dark street outside a party—but I had never imagined him wielding a steaming iron, expertly twirling the fabric around the board as though he did it every day of his life.

Why was he changing? Ironing the shirt? Could it possibly be that he cared what my father thought of him?

By the time we rounded the corner of Vernon Street, I had worked myself into a state of exquisite agitation. I had watched countless romantic movies, read dozens of books about teenage love. At the end of a date came the moment of truth. The kiss. Was he going to kiss me? It seemed inconceivable to me. He hadn’t done or said a single thing that betrayed even a hint of interest beyond mere politeness. 

I looked down the street to my house and my heart sank. There was my father in the front yard, wearing his ridiculous-looking baggy pants, belted high on his waist, and his tacky golf cap. He wielded a long-handled spade as he moved from one dandelion to the next, unearthing it at the roots and dropping it into a bag at his feet. 

As Skipp and I approached, my father looked up and moved toward us. Oh, God. I wanted to drop into a pit in the earth and never emerge again.

Daddy was loud and hearty and mortifying. The picture of this unearthly, gorgeous boy shaking hands with my unpredictable prankster of a father, who was given to making corny jokes and teasing me in front of people in a way that only he found funny, had the unreal quality of a dream. Or a nightmare.

“So, now, remind me…what’s your name?” Dad asked. “Skippy? Skipper?”

He looked merrily at me as though he was the sharpest wit that ever lived.

I looked down at the grass and felt my face flush with shame.

“Just Skipp,” came the reply.

My Dad continued with his one-man shtick for a minute or two more and then, finally, retreated—not inside of the house, but merely to the other end of the yard, where more pesky dandelions marred the beauty of our lawn.

“Well, thanks for walking me home,” I said. Any notion of offering him a ride back was now unthinkable. No sweltering heat could come close to being as painful as a 10-minute ride in a car with my father.

“No problem,” he said. “Well, guess I’ll head back now.”

He looked over at my Dad. I looked over at my Dad. I’m confident that even had my father been nowhere in sight, Skipp would not have kissed me. He didn’t love me. He never would. He gave a slight wave of his hand and turned.

“See you in school Monday,” he called over his shoulder.

I stood in the yard and watched him grow smaller as he walked to the top of the street, his thin shoulders outlined against the fabric of the freshly-ironed t-shirt. I didn’t know then that I was saying goodbye for what would be a very long time.

After he turned the corner, I walked inside and passed a mirror. I glanced at myself, then looked harder and felt a wave of humiliation wash over me. Curving from the corner of my mouth in a backwards C-shape was a dried smear of Heinz ketchup.

Well, that was it. The icing on the cake of the most pathetic date in history. Even if he had had the slightest inclination to kiss me, no boy was going to kiss a girl who couldn’t even keep her face clean in public. It was all over now, for sure.

I did see him those last couple of weeks of school. And later, at a party that summer after his mother had told him they were moving to Pennsylvania and he would not be moving on to 10th grade with the rest of us. But I was never again alone with him. Close enough to touch the warm skin of his forearm, to smell his sweet boy-scent mingled with Taryeton smoke and marijuana and the sweat of a 100-degree day in June. 

*

That was true, until 1984, when Linda’s twin, Leslie, married a boy from our school days named Joe. I was excited to attend the wedding, knowing I would see many old friends. I had heard a rumor that Skipp would be there and scanned the crowd without spotting him. By luck or contrivance, however, my husband and I were seated beside him at the reception. All three of us drank merrily through the evening, talking intensely. It seemed a kind of miracle to me to have this opportunity to see him again, to discover what had happened to him, and to reveal a bolder, livelier side of myself than he had ever seen in ninth grade. My memories of that night are decidedly hazy and wine-bleared, but I do recall that during a moment alone, I confessed to him how deeply I had loved him when we were 15, how crushed I had been that he had not returned that love.

Upon learning that he had nowhere to stay that night, my husband and I offered to let him crash in our spare room. I would not learn until 2009 how Skipp had interpreted that evening.

I took the bus in from Manhattan: a barely-employed street messenger so broke I had to borrow money for the bus fare, and shave in the men's room, then walk across town to the event. You were beautiful and strong—way more beautiful and far stronger than I remembered—and you took me aside and told me how much you'd loved me. And how profound it was to see me. And how you wanted to take me home with you. And I felt like such an idiot, for having been so blind to you before. And I was looking at your husband, who looked cowed and shy: overwhelmed by our connection, which seemed almost uncannily strong. I was wondering where he was going to sleep. Because—from my hammered recollection—it seemed to me that we were on a life-changing rocket ship to bed, mad passion, and a total reclamation of all that we'd missed out on. I was so incredulous at this turn of events—both terrified and drawn by your intensity and clarity and honesty and power—that as closing time neared, I made the seemingly-honorable, utterly cowardly choice to run, and never look back. Except through recollection. If that's not how you remember it, then maybe it was just a wish-fulfilling acid flashback on my part. But we were all drinking hard. And my emotional memory is clear as day, while many other of my brain cells have long since gone to sleep. Seriously, Kiddo, I'm not trying to freak you out. I'm just trying to tell you what I've been wrasslin' with all these years. Every life is fraught and graced with turning points. And that was one of mine.

Receiving this message was shocking to me. Had I been so inebriated that I had propositioned Skipp, right in front of my husband? I think it very likely that I did flirt with him, but I know myself well enough to realize I would never have proposed the sort of tryst Skipp seems to have imagined. It was wholly outside of the “good girl” framework in which I lived my life. Such a scenario would have terrified me. Moreover, I loved my husband deeply, and we had only been married for a few months at the time. And yet, Skipp had detected something in me that he took to be seduction. Was that his delusion—or had I blotted out of my memory certain aspects of that night?

At the time of my communal email to my old school friends, I had forgotten that part of the story. But evidently, it had stuck with Skipp. The discovery of my intense feelings for him, at a time in his life when he felt unlovable, had affected him far more than I knew. I was astounded to receive this revelation from him, late one night in 2009:

Here's my punchline to our story. When my first daughter was about to be born—Marianne asked me what we wanted to name her. I asked if it would be okay to name her after the first girl who ever loved me. And told her the story. She loved the name. Loved the story. And said yes. Which is why my eldest daughter is named Melanie. So if you think you weren't important to me—guess again. The things that matter early in life resonate through everything that happens, forever after. 

Here was a man whom I assumed thought little of me, if at all, and this was a supposition I might well have held on to for the rest of my life, if not for Facebook and the writing project I started. When I sent that group message to 15 people from my past, it was as though I reached into the deep well of time and stirred it—hard. Ripples were pushed out in all directions. Nothing would remain unchanged, and not a one of us was untouched by what happened.

Sadly, it also opened our eyes to losses we otherwise would never have known. Our friend Garry died of cancer after the reunion. Even harder for me, Linda died. Linda, my dear friend who attempted to help me win Skipp. Linda, Skipp’s real love, the girl he wanted instead of me. If none of us had ever stepped willingly into our time machine, these old friends might still be alive in our memories. They might remain for us unchanged, forever teenagers, untouched by sorrow.

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t undo what I did. It revealed to me something I might otherwise never have known. When I showed a friend of mine a portion of what I wrote about Skipp, about the experience when we were teenagers, she suggested that I weave into the story how my image of him was exaggerated—how I had romanticized him into something godlike, and how now I had the perspective to view my image of him for what it really was—an illusion, a myth.

But the truth is something entirely different. What I have learned from becoming Skipp’s friend over the last nine years is how wise I had once been to fasten on him as worthy of my affection. I know him far better now than I ever did when we were teenagers. And I am often struck, when witness to his intelligence and kindness, how right I was when I was a girl to choose him out of all the other boys in school.

In a message from 2009, Skipp wrote: If you'd been less shy, if I'd been less stoned, and if we hadn't been tiny teenagers in the first throes of reaching for deeper understanding, we would totally have been excellent friends, and quite possibly even more. That is, as they say, a lot of ifs. Which helps account for why it didn't happen that way.

True enough, I think. It happened a different way. It brought us to where we are now. And I have not regretted any of it.
Melanie McCabe is the author of His Other Life: Searching For My Father, His First Wife, and Tennessee Williams, which won the University of New Orleans Publishing Lab Prize. She is also the author of two collections of poetry: What The Neighbors Know and History of the Body. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Georgia Review, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, and many other journals.