Unrequited Love: The One That Got Away
Author's Note: I want to thank my friend and confidante, Fierycj for inspiring me to write this hub. After reading First Crush: Reba Ashkar: A Short Story, he insisted that I contact her and find out her whereabouts. I told him that it was complicated and that he and I would talk. So thanks, fiery, for being a friend and for looking out for me.
I often hear of stories from people who have loved someone secretly and that it was tearing them up inside because they did. Instead of facing the issue head on by telling this person that they’ve been pining after for so long, they opt instead to keep it inside, like some kind of dark and dirty secret. Okay, so maybe there is good reason for them doing so—perhaps this person in question is married, or maybe they themselves are married, or maybe this person is the spouse of a brother or a sister, or worse: a best friend. I’ll admit that coming out and doing so can make for some major drama in your life and would consequently create some ripples that will no doubt become tidal waves before long…
But I had no such problem.
Instead, I had my entire life ahead me, with good intentions of perhaps settling down, and the opportunity to set things in motion before it was all but too late, like her getting married. I’ve thought of her quite often before all of this happened. When she left our town’s public school system to attend Catholic school, I often thought of her. When I experienced my first heartbreak, my second and third, I thought of her, because to me, she would always remain beautiful and serene. You could say that I thought her immortal in this sense. And perhaps in the end, she will always be better than anyone else I could and would ever find.
Our Story Begins
Due to the fact that I’d rather not reveal her true name, this girl in question will be named Reba Ashkar. In case you are wondering, Reba Ashkar is her real name, only in the form of an anagram. Our first romantic encounter, you might say was recounted by me in the form of a story in my hub, First Crush: Reba Ashkar: A Short Story, which is non-fictional. My fondest memory of her takes place there, at our sixth-grade dance. My memory of the event lives there. In addition, I also make mention of her in another one of my hubs titled, If I Had Wings: A Short Story.
The two of us shared the same nanny. After kindergarten, the two of us would walk back with our nanny to Reba’s house where we’d have lunch and take our afternoon nap. It was at her house that the two of us would play together and watch Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and Sesame Street. I remember when first learning of the concept of marriage was and imagined myself being married to Reba. It just made sense to me, as she was the only likely prospect.
As the years passed, I learned some hard truths about how different the two of us really were: She came from a prominent, upper-middle class family and I came from a poor Lao immigrant family whose parents were blue-collar workers. Upon immigrating to the United States, Reba’s family was one of the seven families that helped sponsor us by introducing us into American culture. I’ve just finished my first novel in March of 2008 in which recounts the period leading up to our families meeting one another, titled Yellow House. My hub, Why I Write: A Reflection gets into a bit of detail about this as well.
There were other differences between us. As we grew up, we grew apart. She became very popular in elementary school while I really kept to myself and had only a handful of friends. I felt that everyone in school came from rich, well-to-do families with the exception of my family of five children with me being the youngest. I had to learn Lao and English concurrently and struggled to find my place in the classroom. When I began playing football, things began to change and so I began to grow somewhat in popularity.
It is at this point that our sixth-grade dance takes place. I find it funny that I’ll often forget my cell phone or wallet nowadays, yet I can recall all the fine details of dancing with Reba that one night practically to a T. She was beautiful that night and for the first time leading up until then, I felt beautiful too. At the dance, it was girls on one side and guys on the other and in between was the Red Sea called No Man’s Land. I remember how difficult it was to summon up all of my courage to ask her to dance with me and she to my surprise, said did not let me down. Cliché or not, the two of us danced the entire night. While holding her in my arms, I remember feeling complete and perfect and believed that if the world were to end that night, it would have been fine by me.
After that night, I could barely sleep because I was so excited about the newfound feelings I had for Reba. It was the first time I felt what I was feeling and did not what that feeling to end. I had this grand plan to ride my bike to her house to pop to her the big question that had been consuming me since the time her and I parted company at the end of our dance. Not once did I have any doubt leading up to that moment when I decided to do so. She took some time to give me an answer. I don’t remember her exact words now, but it when in the way of, “Let’s just be friends.” I’m pretty sure that was the moniker. She was leaving to go to summer camp then and I wasn’t. I was devastated with her answer and was very confused with what I was feeling then, especially after the night the two of us had together: How could we’ve been so close only a few hours prior and not exhibit the same feelings for each other? I spent the following summer, between six and seventh grade telling myself that I wasn’t good enough for her and sitting down and eating Pity Pie by myself. By the end of the summer I did begin dating another girl, but truth be told, Reba wasn’t ever far away from my heart. She would go on to Catholic school the following fall while I went on to public middle school.
My Second Heartbreak
I had a very difficult time in high school years later. I won’t get into all the fine details, but let’s just say that I wasn’t all that studious in my earlier years, after showing so much promise in middle school. Just before I broke through and regain my will to succeed however, I broke up with who I thought was the love of my life. Her and I had a short stint together but then broke it off pretty badly. Reba’s mom contacted me at around this point in time and offered me a job to work as a camp counselor at a summer camp in New Hampshire. She didn’t have to remind me that Reba would be there. My decision to go was a no-brainer.
For the following two summers, I went to work at this camp as my grades steadily went up and kept my feelings for Reba in-check. Just as she was popular when the two of us were in school together, she was popular at the camp as well, not surprisingly. She was dating a counselor during each the summers we were there together and I just pretty much kept to myself with how I felt about her. I was still getting over high school sweetheart but found it easy to do while seeing Reba again, this time even more beautiful, popular and interesting. I couldn’t help but to feel ugly in her presence.
When both of us graduated from high school, she went off to college in Vermont and I went off to a college in Upstate New York. I actually received a scholarship from a my town’s community scholarship fund, a scholarship from my course of study in high school, and a partial scholarship from Northeastern University in which I turned down due to the fact that I would have been over $60,000 had I attended and a college in Upstate New York pretty much a full-scholarship, which I of course accepted. So out of five children, I was the first to attend college and the first to graduate with a degree in Creative Writing. Coincidentally, Reba and I were only about forty-five minutes from each other during our tenure at our respective colleges during our first two years, but not once did I contact her. But I thought of doing so, believe me, for were it not for my falling completely head over heals with my college sweetheart of two years; I would have done just that if it wasn’t so.
Just as I had some issues in high school, I experienced practically the same thing in college, but would repent for my sins of academic inadequacies yet again, after revisiting my beloved camp in New Hampshire. My sweetheart from college had just dumped me (for good this time) and I was in pieces. At camp, Reba and I were reunited once again and this time, after a five year hiatus. She was even more beautiful than any of our previous meetings. She and I were by then adults, having experienced just about everything adulthood could throw at us. When I saw her this time around, the cute little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes was gone. Instead, standing before me after so many years was a drop-dead gorgeous Cover Girl model.
Follow Your Heart
Believe or not, I knew that Reba would be arriving at the camp about five minutes before she actually showed up. I don’t have any psychic powers that I know of but rest assured, I knew that she was near a few moments before she drove in. My heart was pounding the entire time. A flush of excitement came over me equivalent to a hot-flash but this was pleasant (I hope you don’t think I’m nuts for saying so). At the time, only the staff members were at the camp and I was on KP and cutting up some chicken. The other counselors around me were getting all excited because Reba had finally arrived. Reba was pretty much a celebrity there. Stay calm, I thought to myself. Don’t act so goddam excited for her sake…So I tried my best to do so by keeping my composure so had a plan to pretend that her arrival wasn’t a big deal. But she walked in through the kitchen door I damn-near chopped my finger off. “How are you?” She asked me. My knees got all weak and I’m pretty sure my hands were shaking too. She ran over to me and gave me a hug. I don’t remember what I said in response (it might have been, Duh? I’m not sure now). Everything was just happening so damn fast and while in her embrace (I could not well hug her back, what with the chicken gore on my hands) everything came back in a rush:
The two of us were back at our sixth-grade dance again. It was the beginning of the summer and the end of elementary school for us. The two of us were swaying back and forth to sound of the music with the Long Island Sound in the backdrop. She was holding me just like she was that night, with her arms wrapped around my neck. I could smell the nostalgic, celestial scent of her hair, could feel her warmth rush over me, and my heart wanting to leap out of my throat, wishing that the Reba both from the past and present, would never let go…And if I could have spoken at that pivotal moment, I would have told her then what I am telling you now—that I remember.
For the first time in a very long time, I felt at home, seeing Reba again on a daily basis, and back to doing what I absolutely loved, which was working as a mountain biking instructor and camp counselor to eight of the rowdiest yet most lovable kids a guy could want—one of them my own nephew. So Reba and I had a great deal of catching up to do. She found out from me that I had just gotten out of a serious relationship and I found out from her that she had just gotten into a serious relationship. I told her that I was happy that she was seeing someone new, while fighting the urge to tell her how I felt about her. In addition to being out of a relationship, I was also in the middle of transferring from one college to another.
In a few instances during that summer back at camp, I
sometimes thought that she was watching me.
Sometimes I’d catch her, but then she would look away. But Reba wasn’t giving me enough signs to
really do anything about it. My idea was
that she just wasn’t sure about how she felt about me and to that extent; I
believe that I made the right call. On
one instance while on a night out with a few of the counselors, she asked me if
she could ride back with me which I of course didn’t object to doing. The two of us had the best conversation in
recent memory during the twenty minute drive back to camp. After not being able to keep it to myself any
longer, I confided in a fellow counselor my feelings towards Reba. “You have to tell her how you feel,” my
friend Dave told me. “Otherwise, it’s gonna
tear you up inside.” I certainly didn’t
disagree with him, but I also didn't listen to him either.
I Hate Goodbyes
When I got word that Reba’s boyfriend was going to be visiting her I became very jealous and defensive. As soon as he arrived, I wanted to be as far away from him as possible. I didn’t know the guy, but knew enough to hate his guts, as cruel as it may be. I was relieved when he finally left. Maybe it was a bit juvenile for me to have felt that way, but that’s just the way it was.
During the time leading up to our departure from camp, I was asked by my friend Dave whether or not I came clean yet and grumbled when I told him I didn’t. Call it cowardice if you want to, but I just didn’t have it in me to do so. And so during the final night in which all of the campers and counselors would spend together that summer, we had a special event in which all of us sang songs around a huge bonfire. In the middle of, “You Are My Sunshine,” Reba got up suddenly and ran away crying. I had no idea at the time why, but was really sad myself in anticipation of seeing everyone leave the following day.
“Did you see Reba tonight?” My friend Dave asked me. “She was looking at you the entire time." I stared at Dave for a time and told him that it was really wrong to play games with me, after which he and I began arguing, until one of my own campers spoke up:
“I saw her crying too,” Ian said.
“She was watching you the entire time,” Jesse said.
“I saw her too,” my nephew Johnny said.
That’s when I became sure that all of this was real and began to believe in the impossible. During a very emotional and memorable last few days we had together, Reba and I barely spoke. When I heard that her boyfriend was coming to pick her up, I again made myself invisible. Besides that, I hated goodbyes. The truth was, I never wanted to say goodbye to her. When all of us finally went home, I was a mess and no one knew why but Dave. "This isn't over," he told me. "Promise me you'll tell her?" I did.
The Bravest Thing I Ever Did
About a month after we left camp, I thought to give Reba a call. Mind you cell phones were yet to become widely available and I had yet to get a land-line phone. I gave in to the urge to call her and did so while standing in the rain on a pay phone via-phone card. “How are you doing at your new school?” she asked me. I thought about how I was sleeping on the floor of my new studio apartment of which size the Japanese would have scoffed at, with my 13-inch color TV and no cable. “Okay,” I told her. But even then, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how I felt…Neither did I tell her a few weeks later when she was in Spain and studying abroad. After swapping emails for at time, she stopped doing so on her end. An entire year would pass...
But then one day I was harshly bitten by the writing bug, a kind of Jerry Maguire moment. The thought finally came to me. One night, I stayed up late poring over a letter to Reba, recapping basically what I’ve already discussed in this opus of a hub—thanks for sticking around by the way. I actually got choked up by the time I finished the letter to her. The time had finally come to confess to her how I really felt about her after all these years. Writing her letter was the most emotionally draining piece of writing I’ve ever endured. I felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders just as soon as I finished. It was finally happening!
To paraphrase the letter to her, I said the following, at the very end of her letter:
“I want to tell you, Reba, just how much I love and respect you. You have always been near my heart and always will be. You are the one sweet reminder that there is hope in this world and that life is worth living.
The following morning, which was a Saturday, I went out and a made a photo copy of Reba’s letter and sent it out before noon. I then returned home and waited for her response. It wasn’t until Wednesday that I’d hear back from her (I finally got a phone in my tiny apartment by the way). A couple of seconds before the phone rang; I knew it to be her. My heart was beating too fast. I pressed TALK. “Hello?” I said. I don’t remember breathing. After the two of exchange pleasantries, I heard Reba draw in a breath.
“I don’t feel that way about you…” Silence. I didn’t know what to say, but remember thinking that she wasn’t telling me the truth. Reba then began crying. I don’t know if it was the sound of her crying or pain I was feeling in my heart, but in either case, my eyes began filling with tears. “I’ll be okay,” I told Reba or myself. “It’s all right.” After which I hung up the phone and shut off the ringer. I needed some time to think. It wasn’t until two days after did I force myself to eat again.
Many years have passed since I sent that letter. I’ve had a couple of relationships here and there, but have yet to simply forget about her. The worst thing that I could be is a stalker in her midst and keep on telling myself that when the urge to search for her happens. If I had to guess, she is most likely married and with children. A part of me wants to know how she is faring in this world and another part of me just wants to move on and remember her the way she was always was and always will be: Flawless and absolutely beautiful.
Someone once asked me if I believed in fate. I told them that I didn't, but that life is a mix of both free-will and fate. Foretelling the future is another abomination. It's like predicting how a tree is going to grow when it's only a sapling. There are just simply too many variables. So with this in mind, I don't think that Reba and I were meant to be together. I do regret not acting on a few things sooner, but I don't dwell on it. I am however a firm believer that all things happen for a reason and am sticking to it.
So wherever you are Reba, I hope that you are well and that your family is happy and healthy and safe from harm. I hope that whoever did steal your heart loves you more than I ever could. I want you to know that I will always love you, no matter who I end up spending the rest of my life with. We will always have that night, won’t we Reba? Nothing will ever change that.
Stories Inspired By Reba Ashkar
- The Road That Leads To Your Heart: A Short Story
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- Why I Write: A Reflection
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- If I Had Wings: A Short Story
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- Nancy : A Short Story
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- First Crush: Reba Ashkar: A Short Story
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- For the Love of Buddhism: A Short Story
Thinking back, I can still see her now. Shes imperfect but clear in my mind. Shes as clear as the crystal orb that my clouded mind endeavored to envision back then when trying so desperately...
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