When I see pictures of my late father, I know it’s him. And when I see my reflection in a mirror, I know it’s me. But even a mild case of prosopagnosia – face blindness – can be a bother. Too often I don’t recognize longtime customers in my sweet shop where we sell bonbons and books, where hanging out is half the fun.
Me: “See you tomorrow!”
Yet I always need a nudge, a memory I can pin to you even though it might not stick and next time we’ll start all over again until one day you walk in and a bell will go off and suddenly…
I see you, I see you. I know who you are.
But one face I thought I’d never forget belonged to a boy from Ohio who came to Virginia Tech to be surrounded by mountains. His name was Scott.
Our story began on a Saturday night in January 1975 when my dorm mate Laurie and I, both sophomores, stumbled into a blues bar called 117. The honkytonk saloon wasn’t a place you’d expect to find me, a girl of Asian descent riddled with insecurities but trying to fit into a rural Virginia college town not to mention my Levis. Drinking beer, lots of it, helped.
Then I saw him, leaning over the balcony railing. First the grin. Beautiful. Then the face. Gulp. A certain type, fully loaded, crazy blond, part innocent, part badass, totally irresistible. With a shameless finger, I come-hithered him to me and he flew down the stairs and the rest is forgettable history: I drank too much, made a fool of myself and who knows how I got back to my dorm that night. Crawled, probably. The next morning I vowed to ignore this Scott from Ohio for the rest of my life.
Our paths wouldn’t cross again until my senior year. On the eve of fall semester, my roommate Carol and I were walking down Main Street near College Avenue, a corner where sub shops, hippie boutiques and bars converged. My heart stopped in its tracks: Scott, also with a buddy, was walking on the other side of the street.
Scouting out the situation: “Stay cool, Francie.”
Ooh, no can do.
Within the hour, Scott from Ohio and I were splitting a pitcher and whatever happened to our friends is lost to the ages along with most of the night’s conversation except that we laughed about our disastrous meeting of two years ago. Curiously, he’d never heard of ‘quiche’ or the word ‘emaciated’, when I called him that. And he said, Aw a lot. Grinning.
“Really, Francie? You’re never getting married?”
Marriage? The kiss of death. “No.”
“Aw, you’ll change your mind.”
We were ripe for love, you know, having both gone through summer breakups. That said, love never had a chance.
In those days, I was reckless for attention for reasons that had little to do with love: An amped-up ego after dark made me feel like somebody in a white world. Yet Scott’s twenty-one year old heart, more broken than mine and seemingly unrecoverable from a girl back home, ultimately resisted me and that drove me to the edge. Huh? Did he think I was nobody? Too, I’d come to realize his rock ‘n’ roll hair and lip-perched cigarette were more props than persona – think Opie not Robert Plant. Desk job-portfolio-wife and kids were on his immediate post-college horizon; he was, after all, from Ohio and if his family didn’t collect Hummels, I’d eat my hat. Meanwhile, I was the mad-about-him demon girl he saw no future with, what with my toxic talk of two a.m. New York subway stories and writing dark novels and acquiring new lovers to my dying day, half of which I said just to blow his Midwestern mind. It all backfired on me. Even when I was in his arms, he held me at bay. Still, the lust was unquenchable and our conversations in the pitch black were like bedding: messy and layered.
“What do you want from me?” he whined.
“I don’t know but, Scott…”
“Are you glad I’m here?”
“Yes… and no.”
That aloofness became my drug of choice, my aphrodisiac; not exactly a formula for love. In the end, things got ugly and when I left Tech there were no good-byes.
Two years later my father suffered a fatal stroke, ending Life as I knew it. I left my job, put all calls, friendships and writing dreams on hold, looked after my mom and younger sister. We ended up opening a chocolate boutique so we could stay together and heal together.
In time, memories of Scott from Ohio came back to haunt me, the relationship so unrequited I couldn’t get him out of my mind. Sure, I had boyfriends. None could live up to him.
Seven years after college, I did a most humbling thing: I wrote Scott a letter. A note, really, not a long note, not a love note, just a hello note with telling details: My dad had died; I’d opened a shop. I never heard back – the letter got lost in the mail or the alumni office gave me an old address, I convinced myself.
Over the next decade, Scott from Ohio went from real person to Scott the Dream, weaving in and out of my thoughts like metallic thread in a gray sky. I see you, I see you. That he existed at all seemed like a gift during periods best described as the drudgery of my days. Real life, yawn. Difficult times, no way out. Remembering him was like hearing ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ on the radio, bringing back a time before Death hit the wall. I could conjure up his face, his grin, while driving to work in the rain or drinking coffee in a café and still feel what I once felt. Alive.
More years passed and I lived my life: writing and publishing books; making media rounds; operating my little shop. I had my circle of friends, I had my lovers. Maybe the calendar was dating me but the lack of traditional milestones like marriage and motherhood kept me young.
Had Scott from Ohio vanished from my mind’s eye? As he might say, yes… and no. By now he was Scott the Myth, someone I’d never see again, never touch again. But there were those humdrum moments when I’d escape back to one moonlit autumn night when we stood in the parking lot of Squires Student Center about to lock in a kiss so hungry you’d think we’d been starving to death our whole lives.
Did I ever see him again?
One unassuming summer afternoon in 2009, Scott’s name popped up in my Inbox. My poor brain could barely process the subject line: Time passes quickly said the boy you once called emaciated… My finger – the same finger that beckoned him to me in a college bar – froze on the keyboard. Dare I open a note I’d been waiting for forever?
More than a note, his message was long and heartfelt and eloquent. Above all, apologetic for never replying to my letter of yore, explaining that he’d received it on the very day he returned from his honeymoon and felt guilty. Married now for twenty-five years, he had nothing but praise for his wife. Yet between the lines were misgivings: He said he often thought about me, of us, through the years and on more than one occasion had called for me at my shop, each time hanging up before I got to the phone. I wrote him back, numbly excited. His next message mentioned the first time he ever laid eyes on me: So many years have passed, but my synapses are seared with that experience. I’ll always remember it as if it happened last week. True, Scott was married but life is short, happiness rare and we were human. After a few exchanges, he wondered if we could meet for lunch.
At an appointed café several miles from my home, several hundred from his, I arrived a few minutes before two o’clock and waited in the entrance. Patrons swung through the café doors – no, no, no… So what if years and decades had passed? I’d know Scott from Ohio a mile away. Momentarily, a well-groomed businessman with cropped fair brown hair stood over me. No seventies vibes.
Logically, I knew who this was but prosopagnosia set in like a clay mask. Blindly, I searched his face for a trace of recognition.
Once seated, our shared history took over. His recollection that my father had worked for the World Bank and traveled during much of my childhood confirmed that this person was no imposter. We talked for hours, lost track of time. Then, out of character and out of the blue, he laid his middle-aged heart on a plate:
“I’ve been tortured all these years, Francie – had you’d written that letter earlier, our lives could’ve been completely different.”
Literally speechless, I heard him bare his soul two more times until I heard myself blurt:
“Scott, I don’t think we would’ve been happy together.”
Just like that, I shut the door on our second chance at love. Sacrificed a thousand longing daydreams. Deep down I guess I knew it was too late, though I might live out my days tinged with regret.
As we walked down the sidewalk to our respective cars, I looked over at Scott from Ohio when the unexpected happened: His profile in the late afternoon sun struck a familiar silhouette, restoring my vision.
I see you, I see you. I know who you are.
Yet it was time to say good-bye.
After we parted ways, Scott rushed back to kiss me on the cheek. The kiss was sweet and desperate, enough to leave an impression. Last us a lifetime. Maybe dreams dim and Levis fade but if youth was gone, you wouldn’t know it from our eyes.