Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Lost Ones

I’m a sucker for sentimental songs and the mind-pictures they evoke. ‘Suzanne’ by Leonard Cohen is probably the best example of this. Any song from the soundtrack of ‘A Man and a Woman’ is an easy second. So, it wasn’t a surprise when ‘Suzanne’ recently slipped back into my car and took me back in time.

It got me to thinking about all those people, especially the women, who have come into and then slipped out of my life. It’s a subject I’ve examined in past blogs numerous times. That theme has also crept into some of my novels. A few of those women left an indelible mark on my consciousness while others were merely blips in a time and place long since forgotten. The images of those gentle souls who remain have become blurry by a fading mind yet their impact on my life somehow remains poignant and memorable.

It stretches as far back as grade school and the redhead who sat just two desks ahead of me. It was my girlfriend in high school and the one in college. It was the special connection I felt with Susan and those friends, acquaintances, associates, colleagues and dates I had during those lean, mean years until I found ‘the one.’ Most have been relegated to the dust-bin of my mind sans pictures and only traces in old work papers and letters. Tina was such a person.

It was late 1967 and winter was fast approaching. We were two lost souls seeking solace and companionship in a small town a dozen miles north of Copenhagen, Denmark. We shared a mutual dissatisfaction with our jobs, a yearning for companionship and doubt about our future in Scandinavia. We were surrounded by signs of an encroaching winter and had no idea what our next steps were going to be…other than get out of town before the first snow storm locked us in for another six months.

I can’t remember where I first meet Tina. It was probably at some student party in the city centre of Copenhagen, not far from the harbor. She worked as a nanny for a well-to-do couple who lived outside of town. This twenty-year-old expat tried to escape the confines of her work as often as she could. She would hang out at the university, drinking strong coffee in the student center, sharing a weed or two in the shadows of the campus and partying too much on weekends.

Drugs were easy to acquire back then and the laws loose. Sex was a casual affair and there were plenty of male suitors to answer her physical needs. Tina earned extra money by waitressing in her spare time. She would earn an extra Kroner wherever she could and never apologize for her short-comings or ambition.

Back home was a closed book. There were occasional references to a father who had passed away a couple of years earlier, a mother with a serious drinking problem and a younger sister Tina worried a lot about. I never found out how Tina ended up in Denmark. She never said and I never asked.

She was nothing like the kind of woman I thought I wanted in my life permanently but she was an anchor in our foreign wilderness and another voice to talk to. She was damaged goods but I was a good listener.

I thought a lot about Tina and whatever happened to her after I stuck out my thumb for the south of France. I made it as far as Paris before malnutrition and loneliness got the best of me. Once safely ensconced back in the Twin Cities I sent a package of Tina’s clothes to her Mom along with a letter.

Ten months later Tina replied with several letters. They covered a period of time in my own life when I was trying to establish a career and adjust to life stateside. I was working fulltime as a writer for the Minnesota Department of Health. Most evenings, I was volunteering at the public television station and mixing and matching relation-ships in hopes of finding one that would stick.

I came across those letters recently. There were four of them. All written after Tina had returned home and was trying to put her life back together again. I shared those letters in two blogs: Letters from Tina, part one and part two.

After those blogs were published, I went on a voyeur hunt. I found nothing on Google about her but managed to find, I think, her Facebook page. I have no pictures of us back during that time and there were only faint clues that led me to believe it was the same Tina back in her Southwestern home town.

Now she’s gone again. No more Facebook page. There is no trace of her on Google. Maybe she got married and changed her name. Maybe she moved on ‘again’ and purposely left no clues behind. Maybe the drugs finally did her in. She’s now just a name and a fading memory once again lost to time and space and no cyber clues for me to follow up on.

She joins a list of other women who are nowhere to be found. My wife and I have strikingly different memories of our own first encounter and subsequent dating. Memories are a funny thing. Truth be told, I’d trust hers more than mine. So who knows what really happened between Tina and I. Or for that matter, all those other women who touched my soul back then.

Were those relationships all as one-sided as I remembered them? Or was there something there after all? Perhaps intentions not realized or thoughts not grasped? Might it have turned out differently if only…? It doesn’t really matter anymore. What’s done is done. Tina joins that group of women for whom I have only the fondest memories and wishes for continuing health and happiness.

Perhaps they’ll arise again in some future story or song; embellished and enhanced by a fading memory and tendency to puff up the edges and trim the fat. Bright bold colors where muted grays and blacks might have really existed. A rich tapestry of thoughts and imagination run amok amid the boundless energy and hopeless optimism of a star-struck kid looking for who knows what.