Up until her death, my mother insisted that Kerry was the love of my life, the one who got away scot-free, the ship that left the port without me. No matter how many times I said to her, "Mom, what're you talking about? I didn't even like him!" she shot her damn Mona Lisa smile and shook her head wisely.
Mom was wrong. Perhaps in her way, he was the one I should've married, could've married. Perhaps SHE should've had that relationship with him. But I knew that, even at 22, I made the right decision because I wasn't in love, never in love with Kerry. He was the rebound.
Kerry was an executive at a company where I worked. Back then, degreed up the wazoo, I was not fit for any jobs except a teaching one. Luckily, I relied on my fluency in French and Italian and ability to type 130 wpm (thanks to all those piano lessons) to snag an Executive Secretary position at a Fortune 10 company in their international division.
I was a horrible secretary. The first day at the job, my boss said, "Please come inside. I want to dictate a memo."
"What's a memo?" I asked.
Hey, at least I knew dictation. I took a dictation course, Gregg shorthand which I loved. It helped me take notes faster in college. While I transcribed those swirls, it reinforced the lessons, eliminating additional time to study. Snot-nosed, sometimes I corrected the professors, "Wait - you said before..."
Yep. I was one of those kinds.
At any rate, at 20, when I returned from France, I fell in love with a guy who I grew up with. A little background to clarify this morass: I started university in France, transferred my credits to the university in the US, then returned to France to study. Because I wanted a US degree, I transferred my credits once again to the university under the belief that I completed all my US requirements for a BA.
Even young, I could never do anything simply.
Imagine my shock when the Dean at the university told me I was three credits shy because I forgot to take a mandatory French class in the US.
"Are you shitting me?" I said. "I studied in France! You accepted all those credits!"
"How about this?" he said to appease me, knowing I was a wild card. "Take the course and, at the same time, go into the Master's program. You'll walk out with two degrees in one year for only the cost of a Bachelor's."
"Go for it," said Herb, my boyfriend, four years' my senior. "You're still young, you got a scholarship so it won't cost you." Herb dropped out of college and ended up working at a dry cleaners.
I wanted to move into NYC and live with Herb. I didn't want to live on campus with other students in that environment. I wanted to embark on my life. So, we made an arrangement: every weekend Herb'll come out to the school. Starry-eyed, we planned our future together.
Herb was the love of my life. I loved him to the very marrow of my bones. Even as a kid, I watched him hang out with the older boys and knew he was the one. When I returned from France, he and I bumped into each other. And the world collided. For me. And for him.
I didn't care he had a shit job. We talked about that. The moment I got settled in NYC, he'd return to university there and finish up with his degree while working. We planned on having children when I got older. Yes, I wanted children with Herb. I wanted the entire kit and caboodle with that guy. He was the love of my life.
And so it came to pass. Herb got us a tiny apartment and we moved in together. While I worked at that company, he went to school during the day and worked as a doorman at night. He brought me to his classes, introduced me to his professors and we did everything we could to integrate our lives.
The reason why Herb dropped out of college was because he met an older woman from another country who his parents didn't like. They withheld college tuition so he dropped out. "She needed a green card not to be deported. I was young and we went to Michigan to get married because I was eighteen. I went for a long walk the night before and came to a decision." He always left it like that when he recounted the story.
My mother hated Herb. "I know you kids are in love, but your father and I will NOT pay for the wedding. We don't have any money for that."
"Don't worry, Mom," I said. Just to dig at her, "I'll never marry so you can save your money." How prescient of me!
During the day, at my job, Kerry always found an excuse to come over to my desk. Kerry was unbelievably handsome. Back then, all the executives had glass doors. But Kerry had to have a wooden one installed because the love-struck secretaries stared at him. He was a walking Ken doll - handsome, sophisticated, wealthy and at his prime at 36.
I was immune to Kerry's charms. For I was in love with Herb.
After a year, I asked Herb, "Do you want to get married?"
"Married?" he cried out. "I love you, why do you want to complicate things?"
"Why don't you want to get married?" I insisted. "We both have jobs, you're almost finished with your degree. Isn't this the next step?"
He shrugged. One Saturday night we got stoned together. Later on, I was in the kitchen washing dishes and pissed at him for side-stepping the "M" topic. He came over to me and kissed me on the neck. Suddenly, I had an epiphany.
"You know, I'm never going to be married. Or perhaps when I'm old, like in my 50's, and to a younger man. Much younger." Once again, how prescient of me!
He gave me a wild look and left me alone.
One night, alone, I got stoned while Herb was at work. Often, he phoned me from his job, bored out of his mind. Yes, I smoked pot intermittently back then. I had a bad case of the munchies and wanted to buy cookies. And couldn't find any money. I went into my closet and rummaged through my jackets. I came up with seventy-eight cents. Then, I spied Herb's leather bomber jacket, the one I had to peel him out of, the one which he wore incessantly when not at work.
Mind you, we lived together for a year and I NEVER went through his mail or his clothes. I trusted the guy implicitly. We had no secrets...
While rifling his pockets, I came across a folded envelope from my office. "What's he doing with that?" I thought. I opened it and inside was a legal document with the words, "Marriage License" on top.
Stoned, I tried to read through it, but it didn't make any sense. I remembered that story he told me about eloping with the woman from another country, but the license from Michigan stated that if the document wasn't filed within a certain period of time, it wasn't valid. Quickly, I phoned a girlfriend.
"Does this mean he's married or not?"
"What do I know?" she said, "I'm single."
I then phoned him. "Herb, I'm sorry, but I'm stoned and I wanted to buy munchies. I had no money so I went through your coat pockets and found this envelope. I'm sorry to go through your things," I then inhaled slowly. Upon exhaling, I asked him the question, "Are you married?"
"That's a yes or no question."
"You told me this story about walking around the night before you were supposed to get married until you came to a decision."
"Obviously I made the wrong decision," he said and quickly added, "Damn, I had that envelope in there for a month, hoping you'd snoop. Not you. You and your damn integrity."
Heartbroken, I threw him out. It was also the last time I smoked pot.
Months later, I ran into Kerry's arms. But that's a whole 'nother story.
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Coming up: Part Deux of "The One Who Got Away"! Stay tuned...