Grief Talk: The Corner

You might notice I changed the photograph I use as a logo for my website. It’s the same east-facing view of downtown Jasper, Minnesota, but this one is a more apt summer view.

I chose this photo because pictured on the bottom right is the street corner where…

Wait, let me back up and tell you the long version of the story.

Background: I met my late husband, Bruce, at a Styx concert in Sioux Falls (where I was living and working) in June 1981. We “dated” for a few weeks (and by dated I mean we went to parties and made out) until one day, he decided he wanted us to just be friends. My story starts a few months later, when I made the decision to move back to Minneapolis.

September 1981. Even though he said he felt like he could tell me anything, after our two-week make-out session, Bruce largely ignored me. After I went to see him at the farm that July, I didn’t see him again until September, when I was barely eking out a living waiting tables. My parents agreed I could move home until I had a plan for what I’d do next.

Before I left, I wanted to say goodbye to friends in Jasper, so I went to a home football game with my friend Lisa. While there was a good chance I would run into Bruce, I hoped I wouldn’t. I felt defeated enough without him ignoring me. Friends, he’d said. He didn’t know the first thing about being my friend.

Lisa saw him first, standing on the sidelines with his best friend Curt. I watched him throughout the game and he didn’t seem to notice I was there. When the game was over, and Lisa and I were in the parking lot with a group of others discussing where we’d go next, Bruce tapped me on the shoulder.

“Hi there!” he said. “How’ve you been?”

I’m so excited to see you! said the butterflies in my stomach, but common sense replied, “I’m OK. You?”

“Better,” he said.

God, I’ve missed that smile. “I’m moving on Sunday,” I blurted out.

His smile faded. “Oh.”

“Yeah, going back to Minneapolis. You know, find a better job.”

He nodded.

Lisa tugged at my jacket and said it was time to go.

“Well, it was good to see you again,” which wasn’t a lie, but at least I said it without sounding like a thirteen-year-old. “Take care.”

“Yeah, you, too.”

He looked hurt and I didn’t care. Maybe now he knew what I felt the night he ducked into a bar rather than talk to me at the Edgerton Dutch Festival. He knew I couldn’t follow him because I wasn’t old enough to go inside. Not that I would have followed him anyway. That’s how little he knew me. I had no desire to stalk him. But that’s when I knew he didn’t mean anything he said about being my friend and it still hurt. He said he had things to work out, things he couldn’t share with me, and that was OK, but he didn’t have to be a jerk about it. 

Lisa drove us to a party on some dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Same crowd, same beer, but nothing felt the same. I was leaving Jasper again, and this time I was leaving more than the place I considered home. I was leaving Bruce, too, even though he wasn’t mine to leave.

When I didn’t feel better an hour later, I decided to go back to my grandma’s, where I was staying that night. Lisa was having fun and I didn’t want to take her away, so I asked around to see if anyone was going back to town.

“Pat’s going home soon, I think,” someone said.

When I found him, I asked if he was leaving.

Yes, he said. He had to work the next day.

“Can you drop me off at my car?”

“Sure. Meet me in a few. I’m parked right down there.” He pointed into the dark. I’d find it.

Pat drove a 1969 Dodge Super Bee, but that night, instead of asking him, “How do you shift this thing?” like I did the first time I was a passenger, we sat mostly in silence. As he glided down the road, I closed my eyes and remembered the last time I was in his car. Six of us, driving around the back roads, listening to REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity, back when life didn’t feel so complicated.

Pat dropped me off at my car parked on a side street a half block from downtown. As I drove toward the main street, I saw Bruce walk out of the municipal bar alone. Seeing me, he waved for me to stop.

Great. He is absolutely the last— Oh, who am I kidding. He’s the only person I want to see right now!

As I drove toward the main street, I saw Bruce walk out of the municipal bar alone. Seeing me, he waved for me to stop.

Great. He is absolutely the last— Oh, who am I kidding. He’s the only person I want to see right now!

I rolled down my window.

“Hey, I’m glad I ran into you,” he said. “Can I get in?”

“Sure, yeah.” I threw an empty Wendy’s bag and Mountain Dew cans in the back and shoved a half-empty bottle of vodka under the seat.

“Can we drive around a little?” he asked.

A little stretched into an hour, so I pulled in next to his car so we could keep talking without using up any more gas. While he didn’t get specific about why he broke things off with me in July, he apologized more than once for hurting me. He asked if I was seeing anyone and I told him I’d been in contact with someone I dated a few times in Minneapolis and that we might go out when I got back.

“Can you tell him no?” he asked.

“Um… I think so. But why?”

“When you told me tonight that you were leaving, that tore me up,” he said.

“Huh,” I replied. “But you haven’t tried to contact me all summer. What if you hadn’t run into me just now?”

He was quiet for a moment. “I didn’t realize how I felt until you said you were leaving. I was going to get your parents’ phone number and call you next week to tell you what I’m telling you now.”

I liked him far too much to risk pursuing the next question: Would he have realized how he felt if he hadn’t seen me at the game?

“A bunch of us are going to the Viking’s game next Sunday,” he continued. “We’re driving up on Saturday and staying overnight. Can I call you?”

Yes, I said, and then he kissed me like he wouldn’t see me for a week. “I’ll call you as soon as I get there.”

I’ve always wondered, if I hadn’t run into him on that corner, what my life would be like now. It’s why I chose that photo for my website. Grief is a big part of my life, yes, but so is love, and to me, that corner represents love.

10 thoughts on “Grief Talk: The Corner

  1. Yes that corner and street does show alot of LOVE doesn’t it. You definitely have to have been from Jasper to understand I think. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This essay is emotionally suspenseful. Even though I know that you and Bruce married I can still feel the suspense in your essay. And because I know Bruce died young, the essay tugs on my heart.

    1. Thank you, Vickie 🙂 Although we only had 21 months together, I have a lot of stories, thankfully.

  3. The universe works in funny ways. Chance or fate … who knows exactly but you can’t minimize right place, right time events. Beautiful write up.

    1. Exactly, Courtney. I have a feeling you experience the universe in a similar way. Sending much love your way 🙂

  4. Such a simple picture, but it represents so much! So hard to think of what life would have been like if we had made a single different decision at any given point. I had my eye on 2 different apartments when I moved with my young son to a small town 45 miles from my family. I chose the one that was next door to the lady who has been my sister-in-law for 30 years now. If I’d chosen the other one 8 miles away, I never would have met my husband or had 2 more fabulous kids. Love does find a way, it seems.

    1. Soooo much randomness in life, isn’t there? I’m more aware of it in my oldish age. I don’t make decisions as easily as I did when I was younger. I’m more cautious, probably overly so, about which path to take and at times it has paralyzed me. I used to be spontaneous. Now…not so much 😦

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