Times of our lives

If there ever was a girl that I had loved, as lonely and frustrating my love life has been, it had to be Angelina. Angelina Arianne Symonds. Quite the strange name, considering that Arianne isn't that common and I've never met anyone who had the last name (or any name for that matter) of Symonds. Every time I think of her, for a few seconds I get that warm tingly feeling that I got the same day I met her. But after those few seconds melancholy takes over and I am forced to stop thinking of her, spare me the feelings of anger over not doing what I should have done when I was younger.

After all these years, all those descriptions that I have given to others about her, I still can't capture her remarkable beauty. Let me start with the physical aspects. She had light brown hair, with blonde highlights on two strips of hair that ran down near her eyes to rest just below her collarbone. A cute little nose, perfect eyebrows and a smile that could send my senses reeling and make me feel that there was hope for this world, that my problems would just melt away as easily as that smile formed on her face.. Her eyes were beautiful, yet so simple. Brown, like many other peoples'. Yet if I had asked, I could lose myself for hours within the endlessness of them. Her hands were tiny and delicate, yet strong when I needed them to hold mine. Of course, I could go on and on about her smooth legs, tiny feet and such, but that would take me forever and I would surely lose your interest, as I have done so to many others before you.

Her personality was amazing also. For if she had a horrid personality, no matter how much I loved her deep eyes, bright smile and other somewhat unmentionable qualities, I wouldn't be interested in her. She was strong when times were rough, yet sensitive and feminine when she needed to be. She would laugh along with you, never at you, and was usually the first to offer help to someone. She always put others first, was nice to most yet tough enough with the others to keep them nice also. And she loved my eyes, how I don't know, as they were hazel and were a different shade every day-sometimes more brown, sometimes green, blue, or gray. But she loved how mine melted into hers, usually right before we kissed, and how even if I had them slightly closed in ecstasy after we parted, she could still marvel at their beauty. But beauty was never a word that I liked to use to describe myself. So naturally, I didn't see what she saw in me. To this day I still don't.

Now after my lovestruck description you must be thinking that I am describing some super woman. I'm sure that she had her problems and imperfections just like everyone else, and there have been people who just didn't seem to get how I thought that she was so beautiful. But it's true; I can't find a single flaw in her, though love can make you blind to those little imperfections which we all have. In fact, I couldn't find a single flaw in her until a few weeks ago. This, kids, is where the story begins.

Like I said, it was until a few weeks ago that I still had my childish feelings for her. Then, out of the blue, after a good decade or so of silence, she called me. Upon answering the phone I discovered that my former girlfriend still had the same voice, one which froze my insides as soon as I answered the phone. So, of course, I was rendered motionless, mainly out of shock. She must have been married, for the name on the phone was a different one than her maiden name (if that's what they call it nowadays). She asked if it was really me. I responded that it was. Then we went of for five minutes gushing over how long it had been since we talked. Then we spent another twenty minutes reminiscing, and I'm sure she shed a few tears. Then, shakily, almost afraid of what I would say, she asked if I wanted to come over to her apartment that afternoon. Now this story wouldn't be a story if I didn't agree to it, now would it? So obviously I agreed. It was a date.

Fast forwarding through the disbelief and anxious anticipation, we'll pick things up that afternoon. I showed up at her apartment complex in my "nice" clothes, which for me were khakis and a black polo. I had gelled by hair like I used to in my teen years, put on some Gillette and slapped on some of that cologne she used to love that I still used. So, with a bouquet of flowers in my hand and a head full of a million thoughts, I buzzed her on ye olde intercom. She answered and called me up. I took the rickety elevator through ten painstakingly slow floors to the second last. I stepped out into the hallway, and went down, left, right, right, then stopped. She was in room 206. I was at 200. I went down the hallway until I saw it. Then, I raised my hand a knocked on the door.

When the door opened, I found myself face-to-face with a tired looking woman in a bathrobe. I didn't say anything. The woman grinned and put her arms around me. I reluctantly hugged back. This must have been her friend or something, and she was happy to see me because her friend, who was Angelina, had been wanting to see me for so long. It wasn't until she said how long it had been since we last met and how much she'd missed me that I was looking at Angelina herself. Needless to say, I was thrown for quite a loop. She was so different. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail but was frizzy and didn't have the blonde highlights. Her skin was somewhat saggy and her hands were cut, I suppose from near misses with the kitchen knife. She seemed like a shadow of her former self. Whether she really had decreased in beauty or my mind had simply built her up over our years apart to be more than she was, I don't know. But she still had that warmth in her beautiful eyes that captivated me so many years before, and it drew me into her apartment.

Her apartment was run down, with cracks all over the walls and chipped paint. The whole place smelled like cigarettes, possibly from the tons of butts in eight or so ashtrays on every table. The furniture was ripped, stained and looked twenty years old. One of her couches was even from her old house, the one which we always used to make out on (sorry for the typical male bragging). While examining the room almost tripped over a variety of toys on the floor. Toys? She hadn't mentioned that she had any kids. By previous thoughts of her shattered, I really was at a loss for words, something surprising to me. It was scary, seeing all this. I knew that deep down inside an imaginary world of mine was collapsing, leaving part of my soul crushed under the debris. Reeling, I sat down with her we and began to talk.

After a few minutes of the usual pleasantries with as much awkwardness as can be expected when meeting a good friend you haven't been with for years, she called out two names. Instantly, two small children about five years old appeared. I could tell they were twins. She introduced me to Johnny and Suzy, her kids. I was shocked, but still I got over it and tried to shake their hands. The boy shook mine but the girl just swayed side to side, her hands drawn into her chest, grinning. Angelina explained to me that Suzy was shy and was developmentally disabled, unable to talk yet. So I just returned her smile. Bobby, who had obviously inherited Ang's outgoing personality, started a conversation with me. He had obviously taken interest in me from hearing her mom speak of me, and he bombarded me with millions of questions using that unlimited energy five year-olds seemed to possess. I smiled to myself as I was reminded of how I used to be as a little boy. Bobby mainly asked me about my job as a writer, especially about what kinds of books I write. It didn't occur to him yet that writers didn't just write books for kids, and I had to tiptoe carefully around my subject matter, as it's a bit racy. Angelina just smiled and laughed as I used every ounce of my wit to out-duel this five year-old. I liked the kid immediately. It was a comforting thought to know that her kids both seemed to be relatively good. After all, if there was a girl with a pure heart who deserved to live out the North American dream of family life, it was Angelina.

After I was introduced to them, Angelina dismissed her kids and they started to play tag as we talked, the cracks in the walls becoming ever so noticeable to me with each passing minute. She told me her life's story from where we parted, after high school graduation, which was many more years ago than I thought it was. She had went on to university and majored in English, for she was quite the writer. Then, she went to teacher's college. But during college her "friends" introduced her to alcohol and that lead to parties and then, to drugs. Busted for DUI near the end of a semester, she had a stain on her permanent record so that made no schools want to hire her when she graduated a year later. So, desperate for money, she went to her parents. Despite how nice I had always thought there were, they showed their true feelings towards their daughter and took the hard line. No dice. They never envisioned their daughter an alcoholic on drugs as well who was busted for DUI and almost forced to live on the streets. So, shocked and hurt, they turned her away when she needed them most. That part brought some tears to her eyes that wouldn't go away for a few minutes, so I was left to digest this as best I could. Her parents never envisioned her to be like this, and neither had I. If I had only stayed with her as a boyfriend through college, she'd probably be married now, to me or someone else. I would have kept her away from alcohol, drugs and whatever was out in the world to hurt her. I would have lent her what little money I had. But should have, could have, would have. Too late to change that now.

I always used to dream that I would meet up with Angelina one day, and she would be as beautiful as she used to be, the principal of a school, with numerous awards as a teacher. She would be liked by all of her students and their parents, and she would have a great reputation. Then, she would start dating me, the multi-million dollar author, and we would marry, have two kids (one girl one boy), two dogs and various fish and live in a large house on the lakefront. Having her tell me her story shattered those dreams and many others. Sure, I wasn't a multi-million dollar author yet, but I had sold enough books to make at least $75 000 or so a year, so I was in good standing. What's that? Lolled off again, have you. I know, I know, I get carried away, so I'll just get back to her story. It's just that I had a lot of dreams and fantasies of mine broken that day. And to a guy who spends most of his days dreaming about being somewhere else, that hurts.

Anyway, shunned by her family and having no good friends, the bills piling up at her apartment door, she changed her name to Ariel ( which was shocking to me because I loved her original name) and became a prostitute. And a damn good one at that, or so she said. The money rolling in, she paid off her bills, and also became a dancer to make some extra cash. An exotic dancer. You know, a stripper. So anyway, one night when she was 'hooking', things went, for lack of a better term, "wrong" and she was left pregnant. She gave birth to Bobby and Suzie the usual nine months later after almost killing herself because of depression. She smoked, drank, did drugs- the usual things desperate people would to in hopeless situations when the world has run them over and parked on top of them. She was surprised when Bobby came out all right, but Suzy wasn't so fortunate, as I mentioned earlier.

But lately, according to her, her life has been looking up. She had only a few months before met a 29 year-old construction worker (for the record, she was 32) who she described as 'strong enough to snap me in pieces, yet gentle enough that he was a good lover'. I almost laughed when I imagined some huge construction worker with a beard and a beer gut, but she shot that vision down when she said he was big because he worked out, not because he was fat. Oh Angelina, you always knew what I was thinking, didn't you? I hope to God you don't know what else I was thinking when I was sitting with you that day. Dark thoughts indeed.

So after that chat, we moved on to my life, which as boring as it was to me was fascinating to her. She didn't know I was an author. I promised to send her my nine books that I had published. I hated seven of the, but hey, what can you do. Knowing her she'd love them all anyway. I believe she'd be quite biased.

From there we went on to what we did in the good old days, to friends we miss, or in some cases, don't miss. Teachers, enemies, people who have become big in the real world- we went on and on for an hour or two. That is, until someone opened the door of her apartment.

In stepped a large man who I supposed was Angelina's boyfriend, for he sure looked like he could rip me in pieces. But he was clean shaven and didn't have a beer gut like I envisioned. He obviously had changed from his work clothes, and was wearing a gray polo that was tucked into his faded blue jeans. After greeting the kids who ran up to him, Angelina went over, kissed him, and introduced him to me. He didn't flinch at my name like I expected, knowing I was her ex lover and therefore was visiting her not because I missed her but because I was back in town for some action. We shook hands, and surprisingly he didn't crush mine. He said a few words, mostly 'I've heard a lot about you', and I could see him eyeing me suspiciously. Then he said he was pleased to meet me, grabbed a beer from the fridge and went into the living room to watch the afternoon NFL game. Stereotypical male. But by seeing him, I felt a little happier knowing that Angelina was in decent hands, at least by the look of things. At least, I hoped so anyway. He could have been a raging drunk for all I knew. I sure as hell hope not though. Because if that guy ever did anything to hurt her, well, he was in for it. You don't know what a skinny man can do when provoked. Don't even ask.

We tried to continue our conversation but my eyes kept wandering off to the living room to see what 'Tom' (or so she called him) was up to. Sensing that I was uncomfortable, she said that she had to start dinner. Tom then called from the living room that I was welcome to stay. But I declined the invitation using a little lie that I had a meeting with my publisher over dinner that night. Angelina gave me a hug (Tom watched her the whole time, by the way) and sent me on my way.

* *

I did send her the nine books, but I haven't seen her for a few months now. We talked on the phone a lot for the first few weeks after my visit, but eventually I think she got the hint and we broke off contact. I feel absolutely horrible as I think about it. Maybe I should have tried to get to like her again. But she was such a different person. She wasn't the Angelina I fell in love with. But I guess all people change. I should have known she would be different. I expected her to be even prettier than before, and I was hurt by my own expectations, and so was she.

I saw Tom at a construction site the other day while I was downtown. He waved, I waved, he walked over, we talked. He didn't mention anything about Angelina or what she thought about me. We talked about the NHL (How 'bout dem Leafs?), and then parted. I was relieved that he didn't try to kill me, so that meant Angelina wasn't mad. Whew, I guess. Maybe I did need my face rearranged for ever abandoning her. Maybe I needed to be dragged through the streets and thrown down a set of subway stairs and left for dead. It took a lot of effort for me to not do it myself. Honest to God, I felt like running into a brick wall over and over until I could find a good reason for why we parted before college. Needless to say, I'd die of a hemorrhage before even coming close to figure that one out.

As I think about Angelina now, all I get is the picture of her sitting at her table, her cut up and wrinkled hands clutching a cup of coffee. I think about her torn furniture, cracked walls, horrible past. I seem to have forgot what she used to look like, what she used to mean to me. I know it's not the way I should think of her, but I've had a lack of control over my mind for years now, and there's not much I can do. All people change, I guess. Even me.

I just wish that I can accept that.