Thursday, October 8, 2009

time ripped away

It took a moment to recognize the name on the answering machine, and when I did, a shadow passed over; this cannot be good.

Kevin Starke, the brother of Cheryl, an old girlfriend. Maybe it’s about a project—Kevin had studied architecture, and had been doing some construction in the area. A day went by, and I forgot to call. Today, I returned the dreaded call: Cheryl died this past weekend. Breast cancer. Kevin said she went unusually fast, so was spared a measure of suffering. So he says.

I met Cheryl when I was turning wrenches at Cycle City; this would have been back around ’71 or so. She had a beauty of an R-60/5, silver, with an Avon fairing and nice bags. A serious road bike.

We went on a few rides together, me on my funky Earle’s fork machine, Cheryl on the R-60, and at some point I found myself in her apartment one night. But I wound up sleeping on a spare cot. There was some gulf I could not cross, to really reach her, to connect with her.

Not that I didn’t try; not that I didn’t want to. She had an angelic face, and I’m fighting tears as I picture her smile. Her body was luscious, marred only by a jagged scar, horizontal above one knee—from when an unseen driver ran her off the road one night. She had the affectionate disposition of puppy, but the persona of a kitten.

But I couldn’t find a way to talk to her, much less to touch her. It’s not that she was holding me away—she couldn’t reach me anymore than I could reach her. And at best, in those days, I was a moving target.

For a while, she was hooked up with an older guy, whose nickname belied a high degree of intimacy. When I moved out west, we exchanged some letters, and she would tell me about the cross-country rides they took, Cheryl on the beemer, and her man on his glide.

Some years later, when I was living back here, we got in touch again. She was dancing in a topless joint, working her way through school. One afternoon she called to see if I was home, and I invited her over. It didn’t seem important at the time, to mention that my friend Tom was visiting. Without any warning, she burst in and ripped off her coat, and wearing little more than a g-string and some pasties, she jumped on the couch and broke into a dance. I can’t recall at what point she realized I wasn’t alone, but she went on with her dance, refusing to be embarrassed. Still, we were all a little unsettled by it, and she did not stay long. That may have been the last time I saw her, except for the few times we’d bump into one another.

My brother Art liked her; he’d visit her from time to time, maybe every other year. She was a serious gardener, like Art; they had that in common--but not too much else.

The last time I saw her, she was manning a booth at the folk festival, promoting a cohousing community. She told she was living by herself, in a house she designed and built out there, by the foot of Sugarloaf. The house was built on sustainable principles, and had solar panels on the roof. She’d finished school, and gotten a pretty good job in the school lab. Finally quit riding. She let me know she was still looking for a man, but not having a lot of luck.

I would have liked to have visited, to catch up on our lives apart, to see her house. But I never got around to it, and the time slipped away. In this case, it’s like the time was stolen, ripped away from a woman who will always seem young to me.

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