I know the year Teddy died. 1999. November. He was 33. I can remember this because the next month I saw a pair of glasses in the shape of the year 2000 and was certain he would have bought them. He would have loved the millennium hype as much as he liked the count-down before Christmas when he could barely contain the secret of what presents he bought me. In the early days of our dating, “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman was a hit. We sat knee to knee in front of his stereo playing the album song over and over again trying to learn the fast paced chorus. He got it quicker than I did. I kept singing and fumbling the words. He kept pulling the record needle gently back a few grooves each time I messed up, until finally we sang the chorus into each other’s faces.
Thoughts like this come and go, and never for any good reason.
I met Teddy at Skip’s Restaurant where we both worked. I was 15. The relationship lasted up until my second year in college, the year I decided to study in London. He wanted to Fed Ex a journal back and forth so we could record each other’s thoughts. He said he’d pay. I said no, trying to become someone new without my past following me, like a cat tail. I broke up with him, as you do, when the high school has left your heart.
Not long after he died, I started having steamy dreams about him. I woke up and pondered whether or not in the after-life one gets to visit the dreams of old loves and have sex with them. Maybe he knows I’m lonely. He still makes appearances. I wonder if he visits me to tell me he’s okay or whether my consciousness is holding onto the way I remembered us. A time when vulnerability was not yet something to fear or be calculated around, unlike the way adulthood experiences have changed my point of view. I’m tired of the too many to count. I need a face to sing to. Teddy was a kind of first and last. Words like issues and history were unknown vocabulary. Few hurts preceded us so we loved the freshest versions of ourselves.
A couple of years out of college, I heard “Fast Car” in a hotel lobby in Eritrea, Africa. I turned my head toward the speaker expecting to see him. Instead, I saw the front desk clerk crouched down over a coal oven. She was making coffee in a clay pot. Teddy was still alive then. I did not know his last four years were being lived out and that our one letter exchanged at that time would be our last. I thought of him, just as I do now, when I try to sing the chorus without a skip.
At the wake, his brother told me the autopsy revealed Ted had a heart of an 80 year old man. I thought, that sounds about right: when you give so much from the heart, it gets worn-out.
None of the men I’ve dated since have had that kind of heart. Maybe it’s one you can only find in high school. I want to feel the same way I did when I kneeled with him near the stereo, learning the words to a new song, feeling perhaps the most loved and adored I have ever been, but there is no needle, now, to pull back.