Okay, so here’s the thing…

Not too very long ago I was talking with a writer friend of mine who told me that he was taking a stab at writing a romance story. When I commented that this was a genre I was not particularly comfortable with, he basically called me a coward and challenged me to give it a try. So just to shut him up I told him I’d think about it and we turned toward a different subject.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday night, after I got home from the newspaper. I was sitting at the dining room table, hunkered over my laptop and toiling over a fiction project that I’ve been working on for a while now and really should be further along on than I am at the moment, when for whatever reason inspiration suddenly struck. And so I set the other project aside for a bit and wrote the story that appears below. 

I dashed it off in about an hour and, upon reading the finished product, came to not one but two awful realizations: One, that the execution had thoroughly failed to live up to the inspiration; and two, that my initial instincts were correct and I’ll never be much of a romance writer. 

But, what the heck, I hate the idea of having devoted even so short of time to a finished product and never doing anything with it. And there’s always the possibility - slim as it may be - that somebody out there somewhere might actually end up liking the silly thing. And so I have decided to post it here, if for no other reason than the smile it brings to my face daydreaming about some future bibliographer stumbling across it entirely by accident…


(An Experiment In Romantic Fiction)

by John Allen Small

The moment I met her I knew that she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my entire life.

Given that we were both all of about six or seven years old at the time, some might argue that perhaps that was not saying much. They would be wrong. Nearly half a century later, she is still the prettiest girl I ever saw. 

And there has hardly been a day that has gone by in all that time when I have not found myself thinking about her at least once, even if only for the briefest of moments.

The truth is, I love her. 

There, I’ve gone ahead and said it. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. Perhaps it would have been for the best if I had simply kept it to myself, locked away somewhere in that deep, dark cavern that we all have hidden away within our souls. That place that is home to those secrets that are better left being taken with us to the grave. I don’t have many, but I do have a few...

But I can’t help myself. Not this time. I dare not speak her name aloud, but I can no longer pretend to ignore what I have known for so long. I was afraid to admit it for the longest time, but to deny the truth would be to deny the very fabric of reality. So much of what has transpired in my life - the roads I have traveled, the person I have become and whatever good I may have somehow accomplished at various stops along the way - stem in some form or fashion from the verisimilitude of this single realization.

It is, to be sure, a different kind of love than that which I have always and will always feel for my dear wife. Different, but no less real. And no less intense. Not the product of sweetly unrequited adolescent yearnings, nor of the joyous pang of pure, raging hormonal lust. Those things are not entirely absent, I’ll grant you. I’d be a fool to try and convince myself otherwise. But they represent only the tiniest - and, ultimately, the least important - strand in the tapestry of this reality. 

Mine is a love born of the unsullied innocence of childhood, and what some might see as some hopelessly archaic sense of chivalrous simplicity. The kind of love that a person feels when he is still much too young to understand what love even is, but doesn’t care. Because he knows it is a feeling he would not trade for all the lemon drops at the local dime store. 

The kind of love that can make an old man grin with embarrassment as he realizes that his corny comments make him sound like some silly, moonstruck kid. And I suddenly feel that much older simply because I can still remember a time when there were local dime stores...

It is a love that has transcended time and space, undiminished by the realities of geographical distance and the limitations of social media. We have not stood in one another’s actual presence in several decades, and yet in a very real sense she is and always has been with me.

When we were little kids, she was my first best friend. The little girl from up the block who would come over to play in our back yard and laughed at all of my stupid jokes and hand delivered that invitation to her birthday party - the very first honest-to-God social affair that I ever attended. The one person I knew I could still count on even when it seemed that everyone else - including my parents and my brothers - were somehow against me.

When we were young adolescents, she was my first romantic crush. The pretty eyes and sweet smile I could never quite get out of my mind. The girl for whom I would have gladly traded my entire comic book collection for the opportunity to carry her books home from school. Or to hold her hand for just one minute… or maybe even sneak a quick kiss on the cheek when nobody was looking. If only I’d had the nerve. And if I hadn’t been so afraid of the possibility that she might ball up her fist and slug me if I’d tried...

When we were in high school, she became my ideal of the Perfect Woman. The “dream lover” that Bobby Darin sang about when my parents had been my age. The girl I somehow tricked myself into believing had been “the one that got away,” despite the very real fact that she had never been mine to lose. The one to whom I found myself comparing every other girl who ever smiled or winked or playfully twitched a hip in my direction... including the one I eventually married, who to this day is still the only one who ever came close to measuring up.

And now that we are no longer young - she’s a grandparent now; I’m not, not yet, but I suspect I’ll not be able to say that for too very much longer - she remains my oldest, dearest, most cherished friend and confidant. Someone I can always count on for a quick word of encouragement when I might need it, who will not take personally any differences of opinion, whose memory can always bring a smile to my face. A steady source of light in a world that all too often seems dark and dismal and without much in the way of hope. 

Yeah, I know. There I go sounding all corny again...

People talk all the time about the concept of “soul mates.” I don’t if there truly is such a thing. But there is a part of me that believes that, if there is, then she must be mine. 

Is that wrong? Things being what they are, yes, I’m sure that it is. As I said, I dare not speak her name aloud - not without causing undeserved heartache to others whom I have no desire to hurt. Or without, quite possibly, removing for all time any doubt whatsoever that I am in fact a complete and total fool. 

After all, it is hardly beyond the realm of possibility that this love I am professing is strictly one-sided. Even at my age I would not be the first silly, moonstruck kid in history to fall victim to such delusions of endearment.

But so be it. There comes a point in every person’s life when they realize that their yesterdays almost certainly outnumber their tomorrows. And if it is inevitable that we should have regrets when we finally run out of those tomorrows, then I would much rather that my regrets be for the things that I said and did than for the things which I did not.

So yes. I love her. I make no apologies for that.

I love her.

I think that I have from that very first day, so long ago now and yet still so recent within the vast expanse of the eternal now. 

And I know, to the very core of my being, that I always will.

(Copyright 2016 by John Allen Small)