(Photo: Me at Byrd Park in Kankakee, around 1977 or so.)

I have been a fan of the late Harry Chapin since the first time I heard his brother Tom singing songs that Harry wrote on the ABC-TV program "Make A Wish" when I was a kid back in the early 1970s. A few years later I heard songs like "Cat's In The Cradle" and "WOLD" on the radio, and I was hooked; I was one of those who unashamedly shed a tear when I heard the news of Harry's death about a month and a half after I graduated from high school in 1981.

I don't believe I've ever heard a Chapin song that I didn't like. But there is one in particular that, as I have grown older, has held a special place in my heart: "Story Of A Life," in which the narrator is looking back on the road he has traveled to get where he is. 

As a writer, as a husband and father, as someone who has been a romantic at heart since I was old enough to know about such things, the final verse of Chapin's song carries a special resonance for me and always seems to send a shiver up my spine when I hear them:

Now sometimes words can serve me well,

Sometimes words can go to hell

For all that they do.

And for every dream that took me high

There's been a dream that's passed me by,

I know it's so true.

And I can see it clear out to the end

And I'll whisper to her now again

Because she shared my life.

For more than all the ghosts of glory

She makes up the story,

She's the only story

Of my life.

Even sitting here typing those lines gives me goosebumps right now, so strong is my identification with the feeling they convey. Having recently observed my 51st birthday ("celebrated" doesn't quite seem the right word anymore at my age, although there was a certain satisfaction to be had in the fact that I'd made it this far), and having a while back accepted the fact that my yesterdays almost certainly outnumber my tomorrows at this point, it's hard not to hear or read those particular lines and not feel a certain pang of nostalgia.

"For every dream that took me high..."   I've been pretty fortunate in this case. I have a family that I love and who loves me in return. I have friends who mean the world to me and, as near as I can tell anyway, seem to accept me for who and what I am - bad habits and character flaws included (and Lord knows I have them.) As a boy I dreamed of growing up to become a writer, and that dream has come true; I may never be particularly rich or famous, but I'm doing what I love and that's a pretty good place to be. There are an awful lot of people in the world who cannot say the same.


"There's been a dream that's passed me by..."  Well, that's certainly true too. Most of those have been fleeting dreams that probably would not have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things: Places I should have gone when I had the chance. Things I might have tried to do when the opportunity arose. And, as Harry sings earlier in the same song, "...All the lips you never kissed..."

Twice in the past year or so I have worked up the nerve to admit to old friends of the feminine persuasion that I had tremendous crushes on them back when we were kids in school; I never acted on those crushes at the time because I was relatively certain at the time that I would not have had a snowball's chance in a microwave with either of them, and at the time I just was not well enough equipped to have handled that kind of rejection. 

Let's face it: I wasn't the greatest catch. I'm man enough to admit it. I wasn't a jock; I wasn't a brain. If I had been a girl, I wouldn't have wanted me either. (Does that sound as weird as I think it does...?) What I was, was that nerdy guy in the back of the classroom with the glasses, the one who liked reading science fiction novels and watching old Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello movies and collected comic books and View-Master reels, and who wrote silly stories and the occasional bad poem because it was the only way I could think of to express myself.

I had a lot of friends who were girls - looking back, I think I had more female than male friends - but even today I seriously doubt any of those lovely young ladies ever looked at me as potential boyfriend material. A few of them actually told me at the time that they considered me as being like a brother, which in retrospect was kind of cool in its own way -  but it was also kind of odd, because I didn't have any sisters and had absolutely no idea what it was about me that made these girls see me that way.  

The two or three times I did actually work up the nerve to share my feelings with one of these girls, I was shot down faster than a British pilot going up against the Red Baron. And boy, those crash landings can really hurt. So it took awhile for me to get back in the Sopwith Camel. If I had acted on every teenage crush I had from the sixth grade forward, I'm pretty sure I would have been the most rejected guy in the entire history of Bradley Central Junior High School. Why would a person willingly subject himself to that kind of self-abuse? (Such was the mindset I had at the time...)

Besides, I'm a big believer in the notions that everything happens for a reason and that we all ultimately end up with the person we are supposed to be with. Near the end of my freshman year in high school, after a couple of brief and somewhat less than successful attempts to overcome both my lousy batting average with the opposite sex and the inferiority complex that arose from it, I met the girl who became the love of my life and worked up the nerve to ask her out. She said yes, and eight years later we were married and twenty-eight years after that we still are. I love my wife Melissa, and wouldn't trade her for anyone or anything. I simply cannot imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone else. And she, dear girl, still seems to feel the same way about me.

Even so, remembering how good those childhood crushes - girls like Pam M. and Becky H. and Betsy B. and Missy M. and a select few others - made me feel at the time can still bring a smile to my face. And make me wish that I had been brave enough at the time to have at least taken a shot at letting them know how I felt. 

Who knows? Maybe one of them might have said yes, after all. 

And if not, I would at least have the satisfaction of knowing I had tried. 

Ah, well...

(Essay copyright 2014 by John Allen Small; song lyrics copyright Warner/Chappell Music Inc.)